Among all of the motherhood truths they don't tell you before you have kids, the prevalence of mean moms is up there.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but the mean girl phenomenon doesn't simply disappear once you cross the threshold into motherhood. It's not just a problem on playgrounds and in cafeterias. It doesn't discriminate and it certainly doesn't feel good.
Rachel Sobel with her "non-mean-girl girlfriends."
I know, because I have felt the effects first-hand many times since becoming a mother for the first time almost a decade ago and again almost two years ago.
I don't know where it stems from. Some say insecurity. Some say unhappiness in their own lives. Some say jealousy. I don't even know that it matters.
I moved close to my hometown after many years away, when I already had a toddler and shortly after, went through a rough divorce after an 18-year relationship that started in college. I was already having a tough time thrown into this new sea of moms at my daughter's preschool and just never felt completely comfortable. I'm a girls' girl and my track record of long-standing friendships dating back to my preschool days is testament to that. However, this was a tough group to crack.
I soon realized that there was nothing I could do. I was swimming with sharks. Mean moms of the worst degree. Judgy, gossipy, opportunistic mean girls disguised as doting preschool PTA members. They stared others up and down taking inventory of the bevy of designers present in that day's wardrobe. They brought people into their coveted circles based on shoe budgets and choice of luxury SUV. And they talked about everyone. Even each other.
They got wind of my divorce and sent minions out to canvas the area and grab intel. They didn't talk to me at school but did quite a lot of talking behind my back. Whether they realized it, or cared, it all got back to me. Every hurtful word. Strangers who knew nothing about me or my family were using my life, my divorce, as girl talk.
Ironically, some of them even reached out privately when they were going through their own marital struggles, looking for some guidance. Probably because they were fearful of falling from their thrones if their real friends knew there were cracks in their perfect facades. I could have been spiteful. I could have told them to eff off.
But I didn't.
Because I am NOT a mean girl. I believe in that "village". I believe in karma. So if someone reaches out in despair I will try to empathize and give them some insight where I can.
I experienced mean moms once again when I decided to quit a long time, successful career to follow my passion of writing full time. Some local bloggers and writers were not happy with my entrance into this new club. I was purposely and regularly left out of industry events. One woman in particular would literally pretend not to know who I was even though we had met dozens of times. Others would ignore my invitations outright, to get together and chat or even discuss how we could collaborate. It was another period of my life where I was facing major change and instead of being met with yes and support, I was met with disinterest and blatant rudeness.
And that's when I realized that you cannot change a mean mom.
They will always be there judging, shaming and holding it against you when you deviate from how they might do something. Or even worse when you are doing something well and they see you as a threat. You can't dissuade them from being competitive about their own children's milestones, sleep habits and ability to take down an entire sushi boat at age 4 when your kids only want McDonald's for every meal. They won't be in your corner cheering you on. They won't offer a shoulder to cry and and they certainly won't be a safe space for you.
But, what I realized is that much of their mean behavior may come from a place of them not having a safe space among their gaggle of seemingly like-minded mom friends.
Motherhood is hard on a good day. Kids, although little walking and talking miracles, can take every ounce of energy and patience you have. There's homework and tantrums and picky eaters and pediatrician visits. It's the type of dynamic that demands a supportive circle of cheerleaders, and hopefully you are lucky enough to curate your own tribe to help you get through the days - good and bad.
No matter where you are in your life, how many kids you have or the state of your marriage, other moms will have something to say. The moms armed with any shred of empathy will voice those opinions (if you are open to hearing them) in a completely non-judgmental way. They will offer perspective and compassion and celebrate your wins just as much as as they hold your hand in grief.
Stick with those moms. They are your people. Don't let the mean moms get to you. Don't let them take up space in your head and heart. Rise above it and stick with those who are clearly in your corner.
You cannot change a mean mom.
They will always be there, trying to break you down. Don't let them. You are better than that. You are stronger than that. You don't need their negative energy. Despite how you feel during these days filled with sleep deprivation and never-ending laundry, Motherhood gives you strength, physically and mentally, that you didn't even know you had. Instead of giving airtime to the mean moms, hope that one day they too can find that safe space they so desperately need and you just continue to revel in the ones who are providing yours.