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"Other Mother" Cliques

We define ourselves in different ways, and we can be drawn to other mamas who may be like us in one way or another.  When we gravitate to other like mamas, do we then alienate and exclude others?  Do we find ourselves on the outside of a circle, do we struggle to find ways in?  How can we approach a group of mamas who already have such strong bonds and intimacy?  An urbanMama recently emailed about her experiences with mama circles and wanted to hear about yours:

I'm hoping to ask a question about dealing with the "other mother" cliques.  I have three children, two of whom are school aged.  For both of their classes, I feel like I'm back in junior high when it comes to interacting with other mothers.  There are sub-groups, parties they talk about, inside jokes, etc.  Unlike other adult relationships, I have to see these folks all of the time.  I certainly have some friends among them, but considering I'm an introvert, it can certainly be overwhelming.  I'd love to have some strategies before my third enters school.  Any thoughts?


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I don't really have any strategies, but I do wonder how all these moms have time for these parties and social events with each other. Between work, tending to my 2 kids, my relationship with my husband and taking care of my house, I have no time to even think about socializing with other moms. Maybe when my kids are older? Or is it just me?

Is it that you want to avoid these parents or be a part of them? I'm an introvert too. I'm finding that having a child helps bring my social side out a bit, I think because we have a natural topic of conversation -- our kids -- that can help break the ice a bit. I also find that focusing on individual friendships, as opposed to the group as a whole, helps.

Genevieve, I think some of it depends on circumstances. As an at-home mom, outings with other moms/kids, play dates, park trips, coffee while kids play, that kind of thing happens alot. I typically will have a get together with another mom/family two to three times a week. It's not nearly as glamorous as you make it sound! (I say this without any hostility at all, just as a way of putting into context the "social events" that may be going in.)

But to the original question, it is awful sometimes! I agree that it can feel like middle school. I think some people are just naturally better at navigating some of that social stuff than others and I know I'm not particularly good. For me, when I was working everyday it was easy because I saw people everyday and had time to build those relationships. As an at-home mom, I see the same people everyday whether it's at the park or school, but we don't have the long length of time together to get to know each other more slowly. It takes more effort to engage with others, and it's much more about actually developing a friendship instead of it just naturally happening because you're there all day together.

What I've found helpful for me is to get involved in a specific activity that brings me in more purposeful contact with the same group of people. For example, joining a specific committee or something at school. Then I don't have to engage so socially at first, but rather with a purpose.

One of the differences I've found from middle school though is that some of what appears to be clique-ish isn't necessarily out of hostility and exclusion like it was back then (certainly there are exceptions, mean moms are just the grown up mean girls in some cases). I know sometimes I just forget to look around me and include someone who looks like they want to join but don't know how.

I've found the "mom clique" is very real and, in some ways, more hurtful than junior high school social politics. After all, we are adults now. There's a righteousness that goes along with all of our individual parenting choices, staying at home vs. working full or part time, starting our families at a younger or older age, how many children we have, how we food, clothe, provide for and educate our children, etc, etc, etc. The righteousness is borne out of a need to reassure ourselves that the choices we make are the best ones, but it inadvertently implies that other choices are less, as are the moms who make them. In the end, it's ridiculous, really. We are all flawed and thankfully so. I would not want to meet the child of the "perfect" parent.

I've often found myself feeling like I was on the outside looking in, for a variety of reasons, but it has stopped bothering me the way it used to. I have a handful of good friends that I can be utterly myself around, warts and all, and they keep me from feeling isolated. My daughter started at pre-K this year and I am again, on the outside of an well-established social circle. Even more so, because I work and can't participate in field trips or volunteer in the classroom, but I've got my friends outside of the school and just having them gives me more confidence when trying to strike up new friendships with the parents of my daughter's classmates.

My one piece of advice is hosting small gatherings of your child's playmates (not a birthday party) and invite the parents to stay. I threw a mother-daughter tea party last Summer for five of my daughter's friends from preschool and their moms and all of us moms drank coffee and mimosas and swapped stories while the girls played. I was kicking myself afterwards for not doing it sooner. Now that my daughter has made herself a gaggle of new friends in her new school, I think it's time to do it again.

e., that is a great idea!

we dealt with this a LOT last year, when we were in a school made of mostly stay-at-home moms of either school-age or preschool kids. since we both HAD to work and had an infant, there was a lot of exclusion, and it hurt soooo much. my daughter would even ask, "hey can mikey come over? how come the OTHER kids moms hang out? " and i never really knew what to say because "mikey"'s mom made it abundantly clear she wanted NOTHING to do with us....

this year it's a little easier. it's less "clique-y" at our new school, something that is facilitated by the school, through things like list serves, a hierarchy of pta/ grade reps/ class reps/ class meetings, etc... so everyone is reached by all levels. our school also has class events on no-school days, potlucks, grade-wide and school-wide events and camping trips, etc... and on evenings and weekends too.

maybe if you are feeling alienated, YOU could organize things like this for your school. you wouldn't actually need to do all that much, maybe just pass out a little slip of paper in the kids backpacks with a requsest for email addys... or just make a yahoo group and ask teachers to distribute or add to a school flier or something. pick a thing that'd be cool and cheap to attend and post a flier on the bulletin board. in this way, all the moms and dads who feel like you, are not clique-y and really want to connect but don't know how, can socialize but under the guise of being "parents" and slowly develop relationships. it also gives you a chance to see which kids your kid gravitates to, because these are often the moms you would have most in common with, because similar moms tend to produce similar kids!

I am new to Portland and have one child in preschool and another in 2nd grade. I have tried both the group approach and one on one approach. I have found the one on one approach to be much more successful. I've found that if you make friends with one person in a circle of friends, that can lead eventually to being part of that circle. It's hard to make new friends but I've found direct, honest language works best. I am a full-time parent and I've found it easiest to approach other mommas in the same boat. I have initiated playdates, coffee, walks, and even formed a bookclub. Granted, it's a slow process, but I'm trying to be patient and know that with time I will find a few mommas that I like that also like me. As for the moms that talk about parties and inside jokes at your school...my mom would say their behavior is "tacky". :)

What kind of strategies are you looking for? Do you want to be friends with these women that you find overwhelming or...? I am new to Portland and have one child in preschool and another in 2nd grade. I have tried both the group approach and a more direct one on one approach. I have found the one on one approach to be much more successful. I've found that if you make friends with one person in a circle of friends, then that can lead eventually to being part of that circle. It's hard to make new friends but I've found direct, honest language works best. I am a full-time parent and I've found it easiest to approach other mommas in the same boat. I have initiated playdates, coffee, walks, and even formed a bookclub. Granted, it's a slow process, but I'm trying to be patient and know that with time I will find a few mommas that I like that also like me. As for the moms that talk about parties and inside jokes at your school...my mom would say their behavior is "tacky". :)

I am glad to know I am not the only Mom trying to figure it out. Mine LO is only 15 months, but she is going to be an only child. So, I've already started trying to be social for her sake.
I tried play groups on playgroupsusa.com and that didn't really work out. Either nobody showed up or it was out of the way and I was shunned for driving so far for friends.
Recently, I tried momslikeme.com and have made some friends that way.
I just keep my head up and my fingers crossed.

Of course there are exceptions, but my instinct is that a lot of the exclusion being mentioned both in the original post and comments is less deliberate than might seem. I also sense some stay-at-home-mom vs. working mom vibes in some of the comments. Of course stay-at-home moms are hanging out during the day--they aren't necessarily excluding working moms on purpose, but when you're home at 10 am, you tend to hang out with the other people who are. If you feel excluded, try inviting people to your home or to join you on an outing.

I've found open invitations are a great thing. If your child's class has a listserve or email list, post a park gathering or a walk or an outing to everyone and see who shows up. No one is excluded, and you may find unexpected people show up! If no one shows up, don't take it personally and try again. If your child isn't in school, start a playgroup in your neighborhood. It is really easy to do--when my daughter was an infant I put up a few flyers in our neighborhood and now there are close to 80 neighborhood families with 3-yr-olds on our playgroup's YahooGroup, as well as five new playgroups for younger kids (including our younger daughter) that grew from it. Making friends with the kids who live nearby is great because it's so easy to get to those families on a moment's notice. I really think proximity and familiarity drive a lot of mama friendships much less than deliberate choices about who is in and who is out. Good luck!

I totally agree with "e".
There is a sense of righteousness with many of our fellow mamas. There is also blatant judgement that is doled out, as well as the constant comparing of our off spring.

I remember after my DS was born we went to the New Moms group organized by the hospital he was born in. That was good - since it was moderated by the hospital staff. Then 8 or so of us new Moms that all lived one another gathered at one of the Moms homes.

The group's dynamics was now all different -initially I was the only Mom with a boy at this first mtg and within the first 10 minutes I was being asked if we circumsized our son - eventhough all of the other first time moms had girls - why even go there?!?

My son is in a preschool now where we feel like we are the outsiders again - perhaps it's because the preschool is associated with a church that we do not attend. Perhaps because we work - who knows - I will be inviting all of classmates to the party - not sure who will attend but it is unfortunate how parents can shape your child's friend base.


You have to ask yourself "would I want to be friends with this person if we did not have children?" A lot of the playgroups I have tried out feel like high school a lot of comparing children and sizing each other up. I am a SAHM for the first time feeling isolated and then further felt isolated by my supposed peer group or so I thought... Now I just simply enjoy spending time with my son doing community outings and spending more time with my friends that have older children. I want true friendships not a lot of acquaintances I hardly know that make me feel insecure or that I need to prove myself. It's kind of like the whole myspace, facebook twitter thing do you want authentic relationships or ones that are more based on fiction. I need to be myself and I guess that is the example I want to set for my son.

I have to agree that the first thing to ask yourself is what you want out of this situation.

For me - and I know exactly what you are talking about - I'm simply not interested in being part of the "school moms clique." Although I'm a sahm and theoretically have the time to be involved in that kind of socializing, I'm an introvert like you, and value my time alone far too much. I don't find the dynamics of the "in group" terribly appealing.

Sure, I'm friendly in passing with this group (and they with me), but by the time my kids started school, I already had my core of mama friends (forged in the crucible of sleep deprivation!) and wasn't looking for new bosom buddies. So I just go my own way.

I think that a lot of moms give off a "I've got enough friends now, thanks" vibe.

I don't know if it's deliberate or not, but it definitely makes socializing difficult for those of us who ARE looking to make new friends but are maybe a little shy about expressing it.

Maybe those of us who do want new friends could wear buttons ... "New friends welcome!" or something like that?

Kidding. Kind of.

interesting topic. maybe because i'm not introverted, i don't really get it though. i think that it's normal to feel on the outside at times, but you can't (usually) take it personally. think about moms clubs and baby groups. i think that the purpose of those is to introduce you to a lot of new people. some you'll click with, some you won't. and then you take those friendships and move on. that may sound clique-ish, but like some other people said, i think it's weird to have a big group of "friends" most of whom you wouldn't socialize with outside of being moms. i think you can apply this to any situation. you come into a school and it seems like there's already a set group of moms. you see if there are any moms that you like and you possibly become part of that group. if you don't feel included, it probably doesn't have to do with you personally. then you go out of your way to befriend anyone that you find interesting and things usually roll from there.

you really have to take control over your own friendships, i think. it can be hard, no doubt about it, but i think you have to cut other moms some slack and you have to really put yourself out there. the reality is we don't want to be friends with every nice person out there, but there are people that will want to be your friend. you might just have to work a little to find them.

I say, if you want to hang out and be social, go do just that. Insert yourself into the conversation. If you really aren't interested, then don't, and don't worry about it! You're not creating any horrible damage situation on your kid either way. Your teaching them that it's OK to be either. And the whole SAHM vs working outside the home is so tired. Let's just leave that one alone for once.

Moms are cliquish, its really weird and sad. Especially once you get into the SAHM vs the working Mom. I wish people wouldn't get so held up on that. Each family is different and we should not judge!

This is a really interesting topic to me, as a young single mother, student, and working gal I often struggle to make freinds.

I am a VERY social person but I have a crazy schedule. I have an old school/holistic parenting style so in that sense I vibe alot better with older mommas who often assume I am some dingy teenager (granted I look VERY young), that often try to parent me. I have a great mom so I am not looking for a replacement! And my classmates tend to act like I might influence them to have a kid. I find the whole thing to be frustrating!

I have a bunch of friends that are young, mostly kidless and thats grand (hard becasue they don't truley understand the unflexibility when you have a kiddo especially regarding childcare) but I desperately would love to meet other young Moms similar to me!

I really liked the e.'s mother/daughter tea. Im not sure if it would make sense for me to do that, but its a cool idea!

The SAHMs on my side of town run marathons together. Sigh, that is SO not me. To keep in the loop, I volunteer in the school, go to PTA meetings and sign up for those "hospitality" kind of things. I do fine and I have picked up a friend or two along the way.

I'm fairly new in town as well, this is not quite my third year in Portland. I have two book clubs and group of tea ladies. I'm friendly, I throw parties and silly gatherings. If folks don't want to know me, it's their loss.

It's too bad that this is a SAHM/work issue. I'm not sure it started that way, but isn't it amazing how that just creeps in. Anyway, the friends I spend the most time with these days are not people I knew before my kids were born. It's mostly because that's when I have time for friendships, during the weekdays, and it's other moms with the same free time that I've met. All my older friends still see eachother at work, or want to get together on weekends, which is my family time. I've had to work hard at developing the new friendships, mostly by striking up multiple conversations with the same faces at the park, and then suggesting a planned meet up at the park, and then a play date. Thank goodness for school, because that makes it so much easier to get to know people on committees, etc. It certainly has been intimidating to walk into groups where the moms already know each other, but as I've started talking with them more, it's less so. They're just other moms, like me, trying to make friends and feeling like they can't.

It seems like there are many parents don't feel part of "the scene" and just assume stay on the periphery. Sometimes it's actually more people than the more vocal few. I too feel a bit on the outside but have gradually found many of those other "outside" or quieter parents to be so nice and interesting. Like many suggestions earlier, just throwing a bbq, or even having one family over at a time can slowly build another community, people that get turned off by those few, but are kind of another community waiting to happen.

Reading all these posts, it seems that there are a lot of factors keeping mothers from connecting with each other, personalities and the SAHM ( I do like to think of it as Work In Home!)/Working Outside Home Mom seeming to be most common, as well as one's ability to volunteer in school/extracurricular activities.

I think the key to all of this is to keep an open mind and be willing to keep your door open as well.

I'm a fairly introverted person (love one-on-one relationships, had to learn to feel comfortable at parties, etc) and found myself really having to stretch when it came to going to the nearby hospital's New Mom's group. I was surrounded by clusters of women that all knew each other, which was pretty intimidating. Thinking I had "nothing in common" with these women was easy-- I'd had a home birth, coslept, planned on nursing until doomsday-- but thinking I had nothing in common with these women was the biggest mistake I could have made.

Assumptions are traps. I joined up with an informal group of New Moms who walked together. As time went on, we starting going out for drinks together and our babies sat on blankets and played together. They were very nice gals, but other than a couple women, I wasn't quite convinced that this was a group that would work for me.

In the meantime, I'd started an attachment parenting group, not because it was the "best" way to parent, but because I wanted to be able to provide new mothers support in their choices to cosleep or nurse, etc. While this group had much in common philosophically, I am not sure we ever bonded as women, and there never seemed to be a sense that we could just call each other up and chat. That group has since dissolved.

The other group, however, has somewhat tightened up and blossomed. I've noticed that these friendships, full of so many different parenting styles, really seem to mean something to the women in this group. They call each other, and call on each other for support. I've discovered that, although I could find a hundred differences between myself and these women, I've really grown to love them. It's been almost two years, and I've really been given a chance to see past the superficial stuff to who these women really are, what makes them tick, and I value what each one brings to the group.

None of them are just like me but they are, in short, amazing women. And I'm so glad I stuck with it and gave myself a chance to get to know them.

Sometimes it takes a gut instinct that "this is okay" to inspire us to keep on, even when we feel really uncomfortable.

One more thing: there's a very thought-provoking book at the library called "The Wall Between Women" which focuses on the dynamics and feelings between SAHM and working moms, and all aspects in between. I've worked with kids for a long time and know that there are some very strong feelings around this issue. Our society has a long way to go before this conceptual divide will disappear, but if we can focus on what we do have in common, it goes a long way toward finding friendships with other mothers.

I'm a new mom in a new n'hood--and am experiencing flashbacks to 7th grade clique-isness. Yuch. I am a friendly, sociable person who loves being a mom. However, I've already felt very uncomfortable with the very tight clique in my 'hood. Dads seem exempt... but the work at home moms, well, eek.

As a new mom, I have been vulnerable in numerous new ways about my choices... one of them being breastfeeding and formula. You would think I was deciding to run off to Vegas and leave my baby at home by the reactions of other moms (and men!). This is my choice, and I've been made to feel like I have to explain to everyone, be it the mommy clique or the aging neighbors! It would be funny if it wasn't so hurtful. I know I'm a great mom, but I've been shocked at the way people seem so ready to "cluck cluck" if I'm not following every current trend. Because of this, I feel even more like the new outsider. I'd like to come to a happy place, and pick my mommy group with mommies who are more like me--non judgmental, kind and supportive. Mommy cliques suck!

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