Becoming a mom can make you feel vulnerable and isolated. This is compounded when you find yourself in a new community without a support system. You eagerly open yourself up to other moms expecting to find people who share and understand your need for camaraderie. When instead you find the kind of judgment, cattiness and cruelty usually relegated to high school cliques the results can be devastating.
After Diana and her husband, Kevin*, had their first child, their once comfortable Park Slope apartment became a sea of baby stuff. Realizing that this issue was only going to compound as the baby grew and others came along they decided to leave Brooklyn and move up the Hudson to Westchester County.
Diana didn’t know anyone in her new town so she started going to Mommy and Me classes, she joined the pool and became a regular at the local parks. Soon she was befriended by a tight knit group of moms.
The group did everything together. Besides having regular playdates at each other’s homes, they sent their kids to the same pre-school. They hosted brunches and dinner parties. They had regular mom’s nights out and the men got together for poker and cigar nights. They even started planning group vacations together. This was exactly what Diana and Kevin hoped suburban life would be like. This situation continued this way for several years. Diana and Kevin had a second child, and everything seemed great.
Then one Sunday morning, as Diana was drinking coffee and scrolling through Facebook she saw pictures of her friends and their kids having a picnic in the park the day before. The photo gave her pause, but then she decided not to worry about it. Then a few days later she saw a photo of them picking apples at a local orchard. She checked her phone to see if she might have missed a message, and she asked Kevin to do the same. Nothing. She wracked her brain to figure out if she’d done something wrong.
The following week, when she saw her friends at the school carnival they ignored her. She was shocked. It got worse later that day when her daughter ran to her in tears asking why everyone but her got was invited to Emmy’s house for a BBQ later. It was bad enough that they hurt her, but seeing her daughter cry was infuriating.
Diana tried several times to contact her friends to find out what was going on. What had she done wrong? Why were they treating her and her family this way? After a few months, Kevin even tried to ask the husbands, who he still saw occasionally, but he got no answers there either. After being tortured by the plethora of Facebook posts with photos of her friends having fun together without her, she finally “unfriended” them. Diana heard through the grapevine that they were very offended.
Diana felt at once enraged and hurt by her friends. Plus, she felt ashamed for caring so much.
Diana told me this story in my office on her first day of therapy, and with her permission, I’m sharing it with you.
I was particularly struck by how foolish Diana felt for having such an intense reaction to being rejected. It was as if she thought as an adult, she should let such loss roll off her shoulders. In reality, Diana’s reaction is perfectly normal. The fact is humans are social creatures. We need connections and without them we suffer. However, with connection comes vulnerability, which deepens and enriches our relationships, but it also opens us up to pain when things go south.
Here are some thoughts that might help you make it through if you encounter "mean girl" mommies:
1) Know you’re not alone: I’ve heard story after story about run-ins with “mean girl” mommies.
2) It’s not you, it’s her: The “mean girl” mom is likely behaving this way to keep from revealing her own vulnerabilities. She projects her aggression outward rather that turning it in on herself. Knowing this you might even come to feel empathy for her…maybe.
3) You deserve to be treated as you would treat others: Think about it. Do you really want to have friends who treat people so poorly? Of course not. A real friendship involves kindness and respect not cruelty and contempt. You deserve better.
4) There are other fish in the sea: Not all suburban moms act like a high school girls in yoga pants pushing Bugaboos. There are many women like you just trying to get through this thing called motherhood. Don’t give up the search.
*Names were changed to protect privacy.