I Tried to Get Along With Every Other Mother and Then I Came to My Senses
Getting along with other mothers and why you shouldn’t sweat it if you don’t.
“Welcome to hell.”
Those were the first words I heard after standing in the corner with my then-toddler, Cal, for several minutes after arriving at our first pay-to-play group. The woman’s deadpan expression coupled with her screaming daughter immediately put me at ease. I liked that she found humor in the messiness of motherhood.
“I don’t mind the noise. At least I haven’t seen any hitting yet.”
“I wasn’t talking about the kids. This is a gossipy bunch. Watch yourself,” she said, as she tried to unfurl the tiny fingers around her hoop earrings. (Side note: Much respect to women who wear any kind of jewelry around very young people. That takes a level of bravery I don’t have.)
I assumed that all mothers were willing and eager members of the same sacred team before I had my daughter. Kind of like a gang, except this was a Do No Harm gang.
It didn’t matter if two women spoke the same language. At the very moment those women became mothers, they would suddenly understand each other through a secret ritual of head nods and hand gestures. A left-leaning head and a sneer meant Hey, I’m sorry your baby had gas and cried during the entire Los Angeles to Frankfurt flight. It happens to all of us. Can I get you a soda or something? A raised middle finger signaled I told you that Little Tommy can’t watch Caillou because he has nightmares about losing all of his hair, and you let him watch it anyway for six straight hours, but I embrace you and celebrate your style of parenting.
That’s not what I mean when I raise my middle finger. Not even close. But there’s no fellow member to rally my community spirit because, as it turns out, there is no team. At least not a magnanimous, all-inclusive one anyway.
I thought I was alone in feeling alone until another friend moved to a different city and her twins started a new middle school. Most of the other women had known each other for years and cemented their bonds as their children glued down shapes and learned to spell in elementary school. “They asked about my skinny jeans like I shouldn’t be wearing anything with the word ‘skinny’ in it. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.”
I’ve used that word for years to describe the uncomfortable, out-of-place feeling I get every time I stand in the schoolyard for afternoon pickup. Or when I check my spam folder repeatedly for the Moms Pottery Painting Palooza. I don’t even like painting pottery. I would chide myself for feeling paranoid. Then, I would give myself a lecture on not actively getting involved in moms groups or striking up conversations at school.
I must try harder! I must be the change I want to see! (That last sentiment is etched on an acrylic magnet that used to taunt me every time I faced the refrigerator. I took it down because, I mean, who needs that kind of pressure? There is no place for exclamation points in my life.) I tried harder. I made mental notes of interesting current events that did not touch on religion, politics, or vaccinations to use as small talk starters. I wiped the scowl off of my face. And complimented footwear.
Since follow-through is not one of my skills, I didn’t stick with this routine for very long. It was exhausting. I’m one of those people that can only plan one major activity per day because the rest of the day is either gearing up for or recovering from that activity, and this Befriend All business became the one thing every school day. Just….hell no.
What I’ve realized is that not even motherhood is enough of a commonality to forge bonds. Many of us will experience the same joys or overcome similar hurdles, but it’s more of a parallel play situation. It becomes an interactive adventure when we make friends with women who would have been our friends anyway.
I’m still friends with Jaime, the woman who welcomed me in playgroup so long ago when our children were just toddlers. And along the way, some of the closest friends I have are other mothers I’ve met through Cal’s school or activities. We like and respect each other as people, and not just for the roles we play. I feel less lonely because of our genuine connections. Ok, and also less hungry because they can cook far better than I can. (I promise that’s not the only reason we’re friends. I swear.)