Sam Kassam-Macfie decamped from Toronto to suburban Milton, Ont., just a few months before her son was due in 2009. Sure, she didn’t know a soul in her new neighbourhood, but whenever she needed a little face time with friends, she figured she’d simply bundle up the baby and hit the road.
Then Jaxon was born — in snowy, miserable November. “There was no way I was dragging my child out in that,” she says. So she attended an open house for momstown, a souped-up playgroup that joins together mothers (and the occasional dad) in communities across the country.
Ann-Marie Burton founded momstown in 2007. She had quit her job as a sales exec a fter having her first baby (she now has three kids), and was determined to stay at home. “ Then my daughter turned 18 months, and I said ‘I’m glad I’m here, but I’m just missing something,’” says Burton. She belonged to a casual moms’ group in Burlington, Ont., that gradually started organizing itself online. Word spread, and women began asking how they could set up a similar group in their own communities. It didn’t take long for the marketer in Burton to see the potential and turn the group into a business.
Momstown has sponsorship deals with brands like Fisher-Price, Crocs and Huggies. Local owners make money through online advertising, product reviews and hosting events for local companies — say, taking moms and tots to a demo class at a local gymnastics studio that wants to boost registration. “At the end of the day, our core focus is to connect neighbourhood moms, and to do it in a really community-focused fashion,” says Burton.
Momstown’s 19 licensed chapters, each owned by a different mom entrepreneur, organize 400 events each month from Victoria to Ottawa. For the kids, there’s Alphabet Play, Junior Chef and a host of other programs based on momstown’s six “pillars” — literacy, art and music, fitness and adventure, nutrition, science and discovery, and play and social. For the moms, who pay a $45 annual membership fee, there are book clubs, dance classes and nights on the town. There’s also a vibrant online community.
Momstown’s model was so unique that Diana Parry, an associate professor of recreation and leisure studies at the University of Waterloo, set out to study how it helped ease the transition into motherhood. “ These women developed deep friendships — ‘momances’ — in a safe, comfortable, child-friendly environment,” she says. And for the 20 percent of momstown members who’d been diagnosed with postpartum depression, joining the group lessened their symptoms. “It helped them move from surviving as a mom, to thriving as a mom,” she says.
A version of this article appeared in our September 2012 issue with the headline “Social Medium,” pp. 76.
This fall, momstown is celebrating their fifth birthday. Keep track of their special birthday events in your community by visiting our events page.