The Mom Timeline

Here is a piece I wrote for MediaPost’s Engage: Moms newsletter, called “The Mom Timeline.” I added the live links to this one.

New moms, single moms, soccer moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms, urban moms, hybrid moms. From the moment the home pregnancy test shows positive, women officially enter the world of motherhood and the marketing world tries to categorize them.

It’s with good reason anyone would try to get a handle on the estimated 82.5 million women in the U.S. with children. According to the independent industry organization The Marketing to Moms Coalition, Moms represent the most powerful consumer group in the U.S., controlling 85% of household spending and estimated to be worth $2.1 trillion. The more marketers can understand these buyers and influencers, the better they can build and nurture a long-lasting (read: profitable) relationship with them.

However, it’s not so easy to put a label on this group. There are at least 100 ways to carve up the Mom market. You could do it by location (DC or Silicon Valley), by their age or by their lifestyle interest. But what do all Moms have in common? Their kids. What better way to slice up a multi-faceted, wide-ranging demographic than to create a Mom Timeline tracking the course of motherhood through the ages of their children.

Most Web sites and research groups focus on the early stages of a Mom’s experience. Babycentersolutions.com identifies the Moms in their various age groups (“Millenial Moms,” “Boomer Moms,” etc.) but focuses on the first eight years of their children’s lives, noting that it’s during this period that Moms make more purchasing decisions.

I’d argue that, like the old adage “a woman’s work is never done,” so is the timeline of a Mom. Once a Mom, always a Mom—you don’t stop being a Mom when your kids turn 18. Instead, your relationships morph until the grandchildren come and the Mom Timeline cycles around again in various degrees.

Like Mamasource, an online community of Moms that advise each other, I’d prefer to dissect the Mom Timeline into small time periods based on age ranges. While Mamasource begins its timeline with the pre-birth stages of trying to conceive and pregnancy, as well as a special nod to adoption, I propose starting here:

  • Infant (0-12 months):  That first year of life with a baby can be tough, whether it’s the first (I started with twins) or fifth. These mothers are dealing with a whole new world and are just trying to get some sleep. They’ve had nine months of baby product research and now have little time to really put them to any test but trial and error.
  • Toddler (1-2 years): Moms at this stage have some experience behind them and have usually bonded with several groups of similar-stage Moms. Many are still grappling with sleep issues, starting potty training, toys, and the possibilities of more siblings.
  • Preschooler (3-4 years): Several studies indicate that this is when mothers begin to consider the education options for their children. By the time their child is four, Moms have pretty much chosen private versus public and are often dealing with little brother or sister(s).
  • Child (5-6 years): Kindergarten looms large over the early part of this phase; this is also when life shifts to a September-to-June calendar year.
  • Older child (6-10 years):  By now, most Moms are in the groove of raising their children. These are the good years! It’s pre-hormone, pre-scary teenage years. Moms in this phase are concerned with homework, nutrition, extracurricular activities and starting to see that maybe, just maybe, they can start regaining a life of their own.
  • Tween (11-14 years): Thus begins the hormonal, scary years, including junior high, high school and the expenses that entails. I ask you, how much technology does a 14-year-old need?
  • Teen (15-19 years):  While we tend to categorize the baby years as the most physically challenging, the teen years are the most mentally and emotionally challenging. Teens are taking those first steps into adulthood, trying to push away from parents.   College (and the stressful process of choosing and applying) looms large for families now, as well as the painful evolution of an emptying nest.
  • Adult Child:  Yes, a Mom’s role is never done, it just changes. Today’s Moms remain in close contact with their adult children, offering support in ways the previous generation didn’t.
  • Grandchildren: Here, the timeline recycles starting with infants all over again. Many grandmoms participate in the raising of their grandchildren directly and indirectly. Some might not babysit, but most provide input.

Of course, Moms can be at multiple stages simultaneously. What’s important for marketers to understand with the Mom Timeline are the needs of Moms at each stage of their children’s lives. The days are long and the years are short, but the Mom Timeline is evergreen—it just keeps spinning around.

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