I kind of hated high school. The entire experience was rife with drama; most of which centered around girls being (mean) girls. By the time I graduated I was over it. Surely now the drama would cease, because we were out in the great, big world where no more silly categories would exist…right?
Well, apparently the mean girl drama isn’t just for teen/pre-teen/tween girl set. Moms are at it too. Now that I am a mom, I can confidently declare that where drama is concerned, motherhood is the new high school. Yes the cliques are different, but they exist nonetheless.
You’ve got your crunchy mamas – think home birthing, co-sleeping, hippie types. Then there’s the tiger moms who are good at ALL THE THNGS and are raising their kids to be good at them too. There are the moms with their own soccer teams of kids who are basically a hot mess on (minivan) wheels. There are the working moms, the work-from-homers and the stay-at-home moms. And finally – just like the popular kids in high school – there are the “cool moms” (they aren’t like regular moms).
Sadly, the hierarchy is real.
I’m not new to this dicey dynamic amongst mothers, having been a mom for more than five years with three offspring under my belt, but was recently reminded of just how prevalent it is as I saw a recent Marie Claire article “The Rise of the Mean Moms”. As writer Anne Roderique Jones, painted a picture with words about what it’s like to navigate this new landscape of millenial motherhood, I couldn’t help but nod in agreement as she shared her suppositions regarding bully moms. The “Plastics” from high school are now the “cool moms” at play group…still up-staging, judging, shaming, and flat out bullying their peers.
As a parenting writer with an online presence, I have experienced both sides of the coin. Thanks to the joys of social media I (along with most other parents you see in your Instagram feed) am able to present myself in a flattering light that often garners positive comments. It can be easy to get caught up in the praise when people write things like “Oh, your family is so cute!” or “You make having a third kid seem so appealing!” or “#familygoals”.
Early in my parenting, I went through an “Idealistic/I’m-such-a-great-mom phase” because of this one-dimensional praise. Even though it’s a bit mortifying to admit now, I was receiving so many virtual pats on the back day in and day out back then that I truly began to believe that I had a corner on this parenting thing. Honestly, I became a bit smug about it. While I never shamed anyone outright, I couldn’t help but feeling a sense of superiority over my own parenting choices (water birth, breastfeeding…the list was long) and I have no doubt that this played out in a relational hierarchy amongst my peers. When you feel superior, you start to act superior.
Thankfully, I had a second child who completely rocked my world and showed me that I truly had nothing to be smug about. He was 180 degrees different than his sister, and raising him has been a constant exercise in humility – a reminder that I am still completely clueless.
Being in the world of writing words about parenting and sharing them with the world via the internet has given me plenty of opportunities to be on the other side of the table as well. I have been bullied as a parent plenty of times. After writing about particularly charged topics (think breastfeeding, working from home, co-sleeping…) I have received thorough online lashings. I have been told that I was a selfish, terrible mother who didn’t care about my kids. I have been told that I am “all that is wrong with the world” and that I should have never procreated. I have also found threads about myself on a popular online forum (it shall remain nameless so as not to send them more traffic) where people go specifically to trash bloggers and Instagrammers. I couldn’t help myself as I scrolled through page after page of complete strangers picking apart the most mundane parts of my life (all the way down to the names I chose for my children). It was like high school all over again.
I cried myself to sleep that night.
The ironic thing is that as parents, we preach kindness to our kids, but often exhibit the exact opposite behind closed doors (or rather behind the safety of a keyboard) with our own peers: other mothers. Motherhood is something so closely tied to our sense of self, that it becomes incredibly easy for others to play to our insecurities surrounding it.
That Marie Claire article on mean moms, broke it down best with this,
“Belittling someone else’s choice makes you feel better about your own. Art Markman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Texas and author of Brain Briefs, points to the scientific and historical evidence that people within a social group—like women with kids around the same age—gain stature by tearing down others around them. ‘It’s easy to maintain a sense of group cohesion by creating a distinction between an in-group and an out-group,’ he explains. ‘By being mean to outsiders, the clique is strengthened and the mean moms’ status in the group rises. Yes, it’s all very junior high—and no, it’s not uncommon in adulthood. ‘It is actually a deep part of human social interactions,’ says Markman. The way he puts it, bullies are narcissists, and narcissists prop up their self-esteem through the energy of other people.”
The sad truth is that motherhood is the perfect setting for mean girl behavior to breed – especially in our current social media saturated culture where everything can be perfectly curated to appear far more perfect than reality. I think it’s time for us all to agree to come together and stop the cycle. Let’s admit that we each have our strengths and weaknesses and stop depending on mom-shaming to make us feel better about the job we’re doing as parents. And, who knows…perhaps a virtual trust fall exercise (a’la the movie “Mean Girls”) is in order. This motherhood journey is hard enough without all the bullying, so let’s band together to support one another instead of constantly tearing each other down.