The Hyphenate Mom
BY ANN SHRAKE
Did you really think you could tame the stay-at-home mom? While you blinked, modern moms everywhere stepped outside their kitchens (and their comfort zones) to cross over to a category yet to be defined. Women formerly known as the stay-at-home variety are creating a life on their own terms beyond the diaper years — and here’s what it means for marketers.
Get out your labelmakers, friends. We’re gonna need a new label. Preferably one a little catchier than mom-preneuri-carer.
Stay-at-home mothers talked to Slate, and what they said will make your jaw drop. A staggering 62 percent contribute to the household income; 34 percent work an average of 4.5 hours a day and earn income; 23 percent volunteer often and are “heavily involved” with school and activities; and 12 percent are caregivers with special-needs children.
None of these numbers bring visions of well-coiffed ladies channel-surfing between leisurely naps, do they?
For those lumped into the SAHM group by default, it’s complicated. These women do so much more, leaving some to resent the archaic acronym. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover where these alt-category women find themselves during the chapter of life when the days are long and the years are short.
HOUSEWIVES OF HOME OFFICE
The post was innocent enough on a Tuesday morning. A thread on a closed Facebook group for neighborhood moms burst to life when one mom suggested: “Hey moms, link to your small business in the comments below. Let’s support each other!”
Within minutes, responses piled up like dirty laundry and rolled in for the rest of the day. According to Pew Research, the share of mothers who don’t work outside the home rose to 29 percent in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23 percent in 1999. But what did this weekday Facebook invitation reveal, exactly?
The links posted by moms included:
- Multilevel marketing partnerships, selling supplements, skincare, and essential oils
- Online Etsy shops featuring beautifully merchandised crib sheets and personalized baby blankets
- Services offered for party equipment rentals, 3D printing, photography, counseling, tutoring, and lessons in piano or swim
- Homemade baked goods and organic catering, making life more convenient for those too busy to bother with homemaking
- Doula support and child sleep specialist helping new mothers survive the early years
Mom-preneurs are on the rise. Forbes reports that between 1997 and 2012 the number of businesses in the United States increased by 37 percent, and the number of women-owned firms increased by 54 percent — a rate 1.5 times the national average, according to the American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.
Moms want to create an income source while maintaining the flexible schedule they’ve grown to treasure. If they can sell it and still “stay at home,” they’re in.
Why you should pay attention: As moms’ businesses grow, so does their potential to influence their social-media followers. If your product is what turns them on, they could share that information organically (a marketer’s dream) or plug your product as a sponsor.
PTA HER WAY
Not all moms are busy starting businesses, but that doesn’t mean they’re sitting on the sidelines. Another facet of the hybrid mom is her active engagement in her child’s school and community.
Studies of stay-at-home moms show their education levels have risen: 25 percent of 2012’s SAHMs were college graduates, compared with 7 percent in 1970. And 19 percent in 2012 had less than a high school diploma, compared with 35 percent in 1970. Moms involved in their children’s community are likelier than ever to be highly educated.
Moms involved at school shouldn’t be dismissed — not that they’d let you. They come to committees and board meetings overflowing with skills from their former careers and maybe a little something to prove. Ask any school mom who has seen the cattiness parodied in Bad Moms or dramatized in HBO’s Big Little Lies. The PTA ain’t for the faint of heart.
The statistics might tell some of the story. Half (51 percent) of stay-at-home mothers care for at least one child age 5 or younger, compared with 41 percent of working mothers. School involvement might be the halfway house for moms who eventually return to work.
Why you should pay attention: Their word-of-mouth game is strong. PTA and school-involved mothers influence through the natural interactions they experience daily with children and other parents. Event committees, classroom activities, and even the seemingly innocent pickup and drop-off times are all opportunities for these moms to ask for advice or share the latest thing they can’t live without.
BECAUSE SHE CARES
The hyphenate mom can be entrepreneurial, resilient, and far savvier than she often gets credit for. But another kind of SAHM is there for sons and daughters who need extra care. She’s a soldier whose deployment has been extended indefinitely. When other moms are ushering their children into preschool with glee, this mom is puzzling out the next stage of challenges in her child’s life.
How does this “careworker” mom stay home, when presumably more income could ensure better care for her child? The better question might be “Why?” Though they make financial sacrifices to stay home, these moms could perceive that the benefits outweigh the cost. In a recent Pew Research survey, 60 percent of respondents said children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family, compared with 35 percent who said children are just as well off with working parents. Parents of special-needs children may feel this sentiment more acutely.
The rising costs of childcare might also offer some explanation. In 2011, families with employed mothers whose monthly income was $4,500 or more paid an average of $163 a week for child care, representing 6.7% of their family income. Families with monthly incomes of less than $1,500 paid much less –$97 a week on average — but that represented 39.6 percent of their family income. Factoring the costs of specialized care for special needs could lead some moms to opt out of working altogether.
Why you should pay attention: For moms plowing through caregiving, the advent of the internet and social media was a lifesaver. Though in some cases the mobility of these moms is limited, you’ll find them seeking solutions and connection online.
Walking the tightrope between staying home and the needs of their families is the closest some women get to having it all. From a marketing perspective, these all-around moms — sometimes cleverly disguised in leggings — are worth figuring out.
When she’s not telling jokes on stage, Ann Shrake is usually laughing with her kids, ages 5, 7, and 8. Manners and a second language are nice, but Ann would rather verse her children in cheekiness. In the competition of whose kids are silliest, she’s going for the win.
Ann uses her screenwriting and stand-up comedy background to brighten the branding of clients in fashion, tech and business. She finds humor and a good story are great vehicles for letting the world know what you’re doing here.