I can still vividly remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when the bus would drop me off at school. It happened every day. The stress of social situations haunted my every movement from sixth grade until I graduated high school. I finally found myself comfortable in the university, surrounded by a group of people who accepted me, even if they didn’t understand me. But back in sixth grade, I had those dreams. You know the ones where you show up at school without clothes, or your teeth are missing, or something else goes horribly and awfully wrong?
I hated those dreams.
I thought I had escaped them for good. Maturity had entered my life, and approaching thirty, I was confident, comfortable, and carefree. Then my daughter stopped being a self-contained infant who needed only myself and my husband, and demanded more social interaction. I had to join a playgroup, (enter horror music here followed by a blood curdling scream).
Before I knew it, I was standing at the door of a stranger, facing a table full of women staring back at me silently, and feeling every inch a sixth grader.
I was shocked to find myself back in the throes of adolescent torture as I struggled to grasp at something to say, to fit in somehow. My daughter didn’t want to cooperate by playing with the other kids and clung to me like chimp at the coffee table. It was awkward to say the least.
Doing research on my old/new anxiety, I discovered I wasn’t the only one experiencing this phenomenon. It seems that during stressful times, like adolescence or parenthood, we feel the need to associate with others going through the same trauma. It only makes sense then that I’d revert back to my old habits of adolescent social practices, since that was the last time I had to belong in order to survive. I know. It’s a jungle out here. And we are creatures of habit.
Rosalind Wiseman, the author who wrote “Queen Bees and Wannabes” has an excellent breakdown of the mommy hierarchy in this article she wrote for parenting.com.
So now that we know it exists, we need to know how to survive it better than we did in high school. Smoking cigarettes in the back parking lot didn’t work for me then, and I’m not about to take up the habit again, so here goes some constructive ideas for “making it” in a mommy clique:
1. Remember you are not in high school anymore. I know this may be a no-brainer, but take the time to recognize that you have accomplished a lot since then. You are not a nerd. Even if you are, it’s cool to be a nerd now.
2. Don’t use your kids as social movers. Do your own dirty work. Hopefully, we are all past the popularity contest, but if you must play, don’t make little Timmy your mascot. This being said, do use your experience as a mom to bond. We may not have struck up friendships before by saying, “Hey doesn’t this teen thing really stink?” But we can lean on each other with parenting tactics and concerns, i.e.: “How do you get her to use the potty?”
3. Volunteer without overextending. Go ahead and bake cookies for the bake sale fundraiser. Sewing the costumes for the entire school play however, may not be such a hot idea.
4. Don’t gossip. As tempting as it may be, it’s a slippery slope. If you must indulge, do what I do and talk about celebrities. Brad and Angelina: saviors of the world, or full of themselves?…discuss.
5. Be nice. It may not have always worked in the adolescent jungle, but in grown up land, it counts for a lot. Ask questions, act interested, and listen.
6. When it gets nasty, leave. Simple. Unlike school, we have errands to run and chores to do. If the group starts comparing designer jeans, and your thrift store finest just aint’ cutting it, or if the conversation seems to always be negative towards other mommies, maybe this isn’t the group for you. Just excuse yourself gracefully and be patient until you find moms more like you. It’s better to be a loner than to compromise who you are to fit in. (I know, how very after school special of me, but seriously. Be true to yourself!)
I also like to say a little mantra when I feel nervous. You should try it: “I am a ninja.” It works. Try it next time you’re faced with the catty moms that “forget” to invite your kid to their three-year-old’s birthday party.
They just aren’t ninja enough. And ninjas are cool.