A channel for moms who want to be alphas
By LESLIE BRODY, STAFF WRITER
Parents are constantly being told to drag the kids away from the television, but a new cable channel devoted to child-rearing aims to lure mothers to the tube.
Alpha Mom TV hopes to attract mothers who can’t get their fill of advice from all the relatives, friends, books and Web sites already eager to tell them what to do. It’s betting on a big audience driven by self-doubts as well as ambitions to be the best parents around.
Launched in May and free for Comcast digital subscribers, Alpha Mom TV touts itself as crucial for the "new breed of go-to moms who are constantly looking to be ahead of the curve on the newest innovations, hippest trends and research breakthroughs.” Viewers can tune in to 15-minute episodes on breastfeeding, "sleep training" or infant massage whenever they choose, thanks to video-on-demand technology.
Promoting reverence for tips from the experts has become ingrained in this era of so-called hyper-parenting, when Amazon.com lists more than 3,600 child-rearing titles, you can dial up "parenting coaches" to untangle sticky issues over the phone for a fee, and the discipline strategies of "Super Nanny" draw millions of devoted viewers.
All this zeal for detailed instructions from the pros seems a far cry from the days when Dr. Benjamin Spock paid homage to natural loving care and common sense. "Trust yourself,” he urged in his reassuring 1945 bestseller. "You know more than you think you do.”
For the creators of Alpha Mom TV, however, maternal instincts and a basic baby book won’t always suffice. "Being a parent is the most difficult job on the planet,” says Vicky Germaise, a co-founder. "What important job doesn’t require some level of training?”
Some skeptics, however, lament that an excessive reliance on experts has taken some of the fun out of raising kids. "The only thing we need now is to have someone standing in our house all the time, an on-demand parenting consultant,” says Anne Cassidy, author of "Parents Who Think Too Much."
"Parents have lost all sense of proportion and totally lost their ability to trust their own instincts. It’s scary and sad,” says Cassidy. "There’s a market based on parents’ insecurities and parents’ desires to keep up with the Joneses."
The catchy name "Alpha Mom" suggests a competitive spirit to nurturing; "alpha" means the first, the brightest, the leader of the pack. Germaise pooh-poohs the idea that the term ratchets up pressure on moms to out-parent their peers or pursue perfection.
"We created the name Alpha Mom as a reaction to the legions of alpha moms already out there,” Germaise says. "She’s already out there juggling a million different responsibilities. We’re just trying, hopefully, one day, to be her one-stop shopping for information, to address some of her needs and make her job easier.”
Sometimes, though, the programming would seem to add to her to-do list. One episode, for example, encourages moms to lead infants in "wee exercise" routines, because that ”stimulates important connections in the brain that are the foundation for fine and gross motor skills.”
Alpha Mom TV was conceived by Isabel Kallman, a chic and hard-charging former Wall Street executive who hungered for information when she had a baby two years ago. She says she felt isolated and confused, figured many new mothers were struggling too, and decided that easy-to-swallow videos, available at any time, would be a blessing for their hectic lives.
After all, golf, pets and sex have their own cable channels. Why not meticulous mommies?
Now Kallman calls herself "Chief Operating Mom," and sees her product as a community service that brings established child development experts, such as the heads of the Soho Parenting Center, into the homes of families who couldn’t afford them privately. She believes the programs don’t dictate but gently suggest good approaches. One show will even focus on finding "your inner mother voice.”
"You’re an alpha mom!" she declares with gusto over a salad lunch. "You can make decisions for yourself!”
For now, Alpha Mom TV can be seen for free by Comcast digital cable’s 8.5 million subscribers nationwide, including 620,000 in New Jersey. Comcast serves North Arlington and the Meadowlands, parts of Essex and Hudson counties, and areas farther south. Alpha Mom’s founders hope to negotiate a deal with Cablevision to extend their reach farther into Bergen and Passaic counties.
So far they have about five hours worth of short programs and plan to have 10 hours by winter. The menu is on their Web site, alphamomtv.com.
Some New Jersey moms interviewed about the Alpha Mom TV concept expressed interest; others laughed, saying that after they had a second child, they were too busy to fuss with consulting the pros at every step.
Julie Wolfe, who was pushing her son in the baby swings at Van Saun Park in Paramus one morning, said the shows might prove useful and quicker to digest than reading whole articles. "You do get bombarded with advice at this stage,” she said, "but sometimes it’s easier to take it from someone you don’t know than from family.”
Her playgroup friend, Beth Eisenstein, said she might browse it for tips, but what women truly need isn’t targeted television – it’s strong advocacy for paid maternity leave and affordable health insurance. She has to return to full-time work as a teacher in September, before her daughter’s first birthday. "I’m so angry about that,” Eisenstein said. "I feel I’m depriving her and I’m being deprived of her at this wonderful stage.”
One grandmother wished she’d had access to some of today’s parenting resources back when she was a new mom, but worried that the flood of information these days can make people neurotic.
"Parents are all really striving to do their best, but sometimes they carry it to extremes,” said Anne O’Brien as she chased her toddler grandson around a jungle gym. "The information age has scared them to a certain extent. They’re much more aware of what could happen with safety issues and health risks. … They’re trying to be perfect, and that’s hard.”
Alpha Mom TV’s founders say it’s too early to tell how many viewers are tuning in and how many are coming back for second helpings. They see profits ahead, however, in advertising and sales of branded merchandise.
They argue the channel’s ultimate message will be a soothing one; their business cards proclaim that "everything’s gonna be alright.”
"Instinct is good,” Kallman says, "but instinct with knowledge is better.”