Mom of Teens



Last Sunday I painted a giant spoon. 

I set up a canvas in our sunroom and, wearing an old apron from a client promotion, I queued up a YouTube tutorial on how to mix linseed into the oil paint to get it glossy, transparent and more fluid.

The house was dead quiet. No guilt registered on my mom meter. Our 15-year-old Flannery was off to driver’s ed, while our 17-year-old son, Riley, was playing basketball and lifting weights with his friends. According to “Find My Friends,” our college freshman daughter, Delaney, was at the Tulane library, 2,600 miles away, I guessed she was studying for her Public Health midterm. For 19 years, I’ve been doing the 3-kid-comfort checklist. Are they fed?, are they rested?, are they educated?.  Check, check, check. The early years were easier. I had control over the checklist. Now, they are out driving cars packed with friends, going to parties, and living 2,600 miles away, hopefully choosing to eat vegetables.

Before the 3 teenagers were even conceived, I took art classes. I drew nude people. But then I hung the paint brushes out to dry for 18 years! Now, with 3 independent teenagers, I’m back at it.

I’ve entered a new demographic: “Mom with Teenagers.”

More time. Less control. 

So I’m painting a spoon.

My teenage son came home with the usual suspects of sweaty friends, post hoops, passing me on the way to the blender to make protein shakes, and with a short pause, said “why are you painting a spoon?”

“Because I can.”

I turned 50 last year. I’m practically fired from my main job: mom. If it weren’t for my day job as Director Market Strategy at the agency, I’d have nothing to do! I don’t even drive them to sports any more. I miss getting to their games early so I could get my own run in. I miss doing the coffee run for the bleary-eyed parents. Now, I savor the weekend evenings when the kids come home with their posse of smelly friends and eat up all our food. These fleeting moments in the kitchen recharge my mom battery to 100%.

Pew Research asked, "How do American mothers feel about being a mom?" The answer: It depends on how old their kids are.

Too often marketers lump “moms” into one bucket of lifestyle, behavior, attitudes. But that’s a mistake for brands. 

Brands often think of the "mom market" as a homogenous group of women. In reality, the mom market can more accurately be subdivided into groups based on the age of their children. As they age, moms motivations, activities and focus shift.

This is a huge opportunity for brands to understand, not only their changing shopping habits, but more importantly, the unique changing emotional insights of moms with teens.

For example, compared with mothers of preschoolers, “moms with teens” feel less tired and have more time. Only 26% feel tired. While 45% of “moms with young children” say parenting is tiring all of the time. And only 34% moms of teens say they don’t have time for friends or hobbies, compared with 56% of moms with only young kids. “Moms with Teens” have newfound emphasis on sleep and exercise, along with preparing and eating healthy foods, an overall new interest in her own wellbeing and enjoyment.

And we’re entering our highest earning years, so we can afford more luxuries than we used to. I know my kids have jobs and now pay for their own clothes and expenses. (caveat:  not their own cell phones, data, or phone chargers, but we’re working on that). I have time and energy for new things, like painting, and taking on a butter chicken recipe for Oscar Night. And I bought a new pair of lululemons (vs. borrowing my daughter’s hand-me-downs) recently.

Time. Energy. Money. That sounds like a winning combo for any brand trying to engage mom.

So as I rekindle my relationship with paint, I have time to think about how different momming was THEN versus NOW. 

If you cut a tree, each ring tells a story of the tree’s life and what happened. Like years of insect infestation year (aka lice!), drought (college debt!), good weather (getting the 3rd kid potty trained!), forest fire (having 3 kids in dual sports), research gives us insight into moms at different stages in their momming. 

I know I’m feeling the benefits (and sadness) (and self-examination) of having more time, money and energy.

So I did a quick segmentation in Simmons research to observe 2 segments: “moms of young children” (ages 1-12) and “moms of teenagers,” (ages 13-18). 

On a superficial level, moms of teenagers buy more lip gloss, lipstick, lip stain, lip pencils than moms of young children. Why the sudden need for hot-looking lips? They buy more bras/panties/hose than their younger moms. They watch more romance movies. And they buy more Spanx! I wanted to validate this, so I polled my friends at book club. Sure enough, going around the table, 5 out of 6 was the “recently purchases Spanx” count, (the yoga instructor was the holdout). Moms with Teens also bake for fun, so that explains the over-indexing on Spanx. Moms with teens garden more, they read and buy more books, than their “moms with younger children” counterparts. 

They are clearly revisiting themselves, their appearance, but let’s go deeper.

Brands have an opportunity to look at the emotional needs of mom at this stage. 

Take for example the emotional space that getting a kid prepared for college occupies. For most moms it is preparation in letting go, and it starts junior year.

I think about last fall when I flew my daughter to New Orleans to do the final letting go. I think about the role Target played in our experience. Sure Target advertises their college dorm section, and for more than 10 years they’ve honed in on the students themselves with their #TargetRun which gets them on buses to go get mini-fridges in the middle of the night as Target hosts DJs spinning music in store.

But what they missed was an opportunity to connect with me/MOM, to understand that I was standing on a giant precipice, looking down on the imminent “goodbye” to the baby I’d walk on coals for. And how I found myself in a strange new city of New Orleans, trying to navigate this goodbye weekend. Upon making my 3rd run to Target, I realized Target felt like the only thing familiar – same aisles and brands as at home. If Target was a guest in my story with my daughter, they’d understand that, beyond the $500 cart opportunity, there lies the deepest MOM insight about how it feels to let go. And within that is a deep and very irrational fear that your kid’s teeth will rot if they run out of toothpaste. So you buy enough for the semester. Target could have helped prepare me in the months leading up to the big goodbye, beyond their retargeting digital ads.

Target could act as mom's emotional ally in saying goodbye.

And Target could be part of the story that is “Mom with Teen” revisiting myself, my gardening, my baking, and of course, my PAINTING.