Making friends in the mom world is hard. If your kids aren’t in the same place developmentally, then they aren’t going to play together. With toddlers, a few months age difference can seem like years. You’re stuck with the kids who are aged within a couple of months of your child for the most part. That’s it. Everything evens out developmentally by 3 years old (so I hear), but until then, tiny age differences are dramatic. Adi plays with older kids one-on-one, but in a playground setting she can’t keep up. She needs to be with kids her own age, and I, as her mother, need to hang out near the clique of moms who have kids the same age as her. The hardest part of being a mother is having to interact with other mothers.
I wasn’t a cheerleader in high school. I was the opposite of a cheerleader. I had blue hair and I sat in the corner of the lunch room with all the other blue haired punks and rolled my eyes at the cheerleader table. And the cheerleader table rolled their eyes at us. That’s pretty much the high school dynamic. When I was done with high school I thought I was also done with the chimpanzee-esque social structure nonsense. I was wrong. So so terribly wrong.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the popular girls from high school? The ones who seemingly benefited the most from the Mean Girls dynamic? I know what happened to them! They became mothers, and they kept up their high school behavior at the playground. They all sit together, just like in high school. And they compare notes on how their little brats are doing developmentally. And they actually gossip (I know, because I’ve heard them do it) about other moms who are supposedly doing it wrong and screwing up their children. And everyone at the cool table is great and everyone else sucks.
Conversations in their clique usually go like this:
“Oh, she uses THAT baby carrier? Well at least she’s carrying her baby.”
“I saw her at the park yesterday using a stroller.”
“That poor baby.”
And then they all exchange glances and smug smiles. Because they all genuinely think (even though they won’t admit it) that they are better parents, and that “fact” gives them the moral capital to talk smack about other moms.
“She’s still breastfeeding?”
“She isn’t breastfeeding?”
“She went back to work after only 6 weeks?”
“Her 2-year-old son watches television?”
“She was HOW OLD when she got pregnant?”
It doesn’t matter what kind of parenting method you use, if you don’t pass some kind of GOP purity test with it, there are going to be mean girls talking about it, at the playground, with a side eye in your direction. It’s enough to drive you crazy, to question yourself and your parenting decisions.
I teach babywearing on the side, but sometimes I use a stroller. I had a student once who actually apologized to me for using a stroller when I bumped into her on the street. Why did she feel like she needed to apologize? I asked her, and she told me that she was afraid that I would judge her poorly for using a stroller. She was surprised when I told her that sometimes I used one also. She asked me what I did when other babywearing evangelists (yeah, those people exist) judged me for using a stroller. I told her that what other people think about how to best raise my child shouldn’t carry more weight than what I think. Once you have the skills (babywearing, breastfeeding, or otherwise) it’s up to you, and ONLY YOU to figure out how to best apply them to your family.
Why are these “Mean Girl” moms getting the better of us? Why do their cliques seem appealing? If you find yourself at the playground with a group of moms and the conversation turns into gossip about another mom’s choices, get out. Unless that mom is doing something abusive to her child (and no, stroller usage does not constitute abuse), it’s none of your business. And know this, as soon as you aren’t there, the mean girls will talk about you and how you introduced your baby to solid food before it was 6 months old. Isn’t that terrible? You’re a terrible mom.
Kids imitate their parents. If you gossip about other people, your kid will grow up to do the same thing.
I suspect that these moms, are just as insecure as you are when it comes to parenting. I also suspect that, just like in high school, they are masking their insecurities by making their fellow mom feel even more insecure. They’re still in high school. I’m still in high school too, it seems. My hair isn’t blue anymore, and most of my face piercings are gone, but I’m still in the corner with the other terrible moms rolling my eyes at the cheerleaders.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.