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I Tried to Get Along With Every Other Mother and Then I Came to My Senses

I Tried to Get Along With Every Other Mother and Then I Came to My Senses

By Elizabeth Jayne Liu

“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.)

Published September 27, 2013. Last updated September 27, 2013.
About the Author

Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she s...

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she survived, and now records a series of weekly challenges called Monday Dares. She fails a lot.

Elizabeth writes candidly about her former addictions, love of four-letter words, and her affinity for all things rap. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, whom she married after dating for just eighteen days, her 13-year-old daughter, and her complete collection of Yo! MTV Raps Trading Cards.

Connect with Elizabeth on The Huffington Post, Facebook, and Instagram (@flourishinprogress).

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  • Jennifer Clark

    September 27, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    They must have been young mothers. Us geriatric types are too old for that shit. The young ones and the ones with their first child tend to be amazingly neurotic. Sanitizing everything in sight, worrying if their kid samples a non-organic grape, trying to get a 6 month-old in to Toddler Violin classes, etc.

    Be you and don’t worry about it.


    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      September 29, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      I always love your straight talk, Clark. 

      is it really okay to eat a non-organic grape?? 😉

  • Ally

    September 27, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Reading this made me feel sad. I’ve have the complete opposite experience. I live in a small military town (we are not military). The women I have met over the last 7 years are incredible. Most of them I met through my kids. I have forged so many real friendships and really have found my tribe. I’m sorry that you experience has been different. I don’t know how I would have survived without some of the people in my life over the last few years. 

    • Isabel Kallman

      Isabel Kallman

      September 27, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Ally! I think you’re right. Some mom have the opposite experience to Elizabeth’s. So happy you have found supportive women. For me, I found the vast majority of my “mom friends” by running this website. I cherish my friends “who live inside my computer.” 😉 Luckily, we visit each other and meet up and get to know each other in person, too.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      September 29, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      I LOVE that you’ve had such a supportive and wonderful environment. I think it not only positively influences moms, but it trickles down to their kids as well. 

  • Hi, I'm Natalie.

    September 27, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Wow – you just described my life. I live in White Picket Fence Land – the mommy cliques are far worse than anything I witnessed in grade school. And it’s amazing when you find a Real Person – I LOVE my “welcome to hell” mom friends.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      September 29, 2013 at 5:44 pm

      They keep me sane…and they keep me in stitches. I’m always happy to cross paths with a Real Person in any life situation. Sometimes, they are far and few in between, but their quality definitely makes up for the dearth in quantity. 

  • Lulu

    September 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    I have a one year old and I still haven’t made any mom friends.  I tried to go to these meet ups in my neighborhood (I live in NYC) when I was pregnant and I just didn’t click with anyone.  Granted I’m 40 and was having my first baby at 39 but I was shocked that there were no other women my age as this is SO common in the city to have kids later.  Most I met were late 20’s and I just felt a major disconnect.  Now that he’s 1, I’ve been to the playground, met up a few times with random moms in the neighborhood, took him to a music class, and I still haven’t made a friend.  Maybe it’s me, but I just don’t naturally meet people and it’s hard to keep up a new friendship when you have a baby.  I assume I’ll meet people as he gets older, but it’s an odd place to be in.  Most of my friends have 7 year olds or multiple kids so there’s no bonding there..I feel like I need to post a personal ad “40 year old first time mom looking for friends.”  Pathetic as that is.  But, as an aside, there’s definitely an attitude in my neighborhood that I don’t mesh with.  Lots of uptight, snobby, judging and overly protective parents, so, it’s hard to imagine finding the diamond in all that.  I need a matchmaker.

    • Isabel Kallman

      Isabel Kallman

      September 27, 2013 at 5:54 pm

      don’t be discouraged Lulu. You’ll find those diamonds and then you’ll have a tiara.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      September 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      I’ve always felt out-of-place because I had my daughter at a very young age, so if our kids were the same age, then the mothers and I might be in different life situations, and if I was in a group of similarly aged women, then they most often had children who were much younger than my daughter. I felt so discouraged at times, but I’m glad I didn’t give up. The wonderful women I (eventually) met were worth the wait. Don’t give up!

  • Mona

    September 29, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    I also sort of thought of motherhood as the universal level playing field. But now that I’m here (particularly now that my oldest is in school), I realize moms – and no doubt dads- are largely just the people they are otherwise. I feel that most when around the ‘clique moms’- who seem to use any life event as an opportunity to perpetuate high school. I have to try not to take that personally and remember I’m 40, not 15.

    And other moms are just nice people, and real, and I like them. And somehow that is different from how I thought it would be!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      October 5, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      I don’t know why this realization shocked me so much, but it totally did! People just end up being exactly who they are, and no role or circumstance makes them shift into a different person.

      And, lolol, I’ve always thought this but didn’t know a way to articulate it until just now- “use any life event as an opportunity to perpetuate high school.” Excellent.

  • Rehana B.

    September 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I don’t feel so alone now. I am one of the few working moms in my daughter’s 2nd grade class. There are a lot of cliques. Every time since pre-school that I have gone to an activity, I have felt out of place. I have tried to introduce my self to the other moms but no one reciprocates. I have come to the realization that it doesn’t matter if I fit in or not, what matters is that I am there for my daughter and she sees my smiling face in the crowd when she looks.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      October 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      The woman who are looking for a reason to ostracize always seem to find one. Working/stay-at-home, married/single, tall/short…to me, it just seems like a losing battle to try and fit in with those who don’t want to welcome us.

      I learned along the way that when I allow myself to feel awkward, my daughter can sense it as well. So I also just try to focus on the real reason I’m there and enjoy the ride.

  • London Jane

    August 22, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you for your honestly, I really needed to read this.