The Best Laid Plans: Why New Parents Fail to Habituate Practices

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Thomas, Tandy
Epp, Amber M
practice theory , new parents , practice misalignment , practice habituation , consumer planning , goal failure
Consumers regularly fail to habituate newly adopted practices. In contrast to established practices, this often occurs because understanding a practice is different from actually doing it. Our work explores this “messiness of doing” and explains why consumers successfully habituate some newly adopted practices after experiencing obstacles (i.e., misaligned practice elements) but not others. Utilizing a longitudinal approach that follows first-time parents from pregnancy through the first eight months postpartum, we track how parents plan for practices and how those plans unfold. We document a process whereby parents first engage in extensive planning and preparation prior to the birth of their child, during which parents build two realignment capabilities (anticipation and integration). After the baby’s arrival, some practices invariably do not work. Parents respond to these misalignments by following one of five paths—differentiated by the capabilities parents build while planning—that result in practice abandonment, vulnerable habituation, or habituation. Our work highlights the challenges associated with translating a social practice into an enacted practice and the corresponding importance of accumulating realignment capabilities during planning. To facilitate habituation of newly adopted practices, how consumers make plans for these practices may ultimately matter more than what they actually plan to do.