Mommy Cliques – Are You In or Out?
Kate Klaiber was hoping to meet some other moms and make new friends when she took her daughter to a Hampton park recently. So when Klaiber saw a group of moms with kids about the same age as her 2-year-old daughter Maureen, she approached them and tried to strike up a conversation. She said she quickly felt like the odd mom out. “They just seemed very clique-y,” said Klaiber, who moved to the area just two months before when her husband was transferred from Germany to the Langley Air Force Base.
Klaiber’s experience isn’t unique. While often associated with teenage girls, experts say cliques – tight knit and seemingly impenetrable groups of girls or women – are alive and well among moms. While their children play or are at school, the moms meet, bond and socialize, often becoming so close that they exclude others, making it difficult or impossible for other moms to break into the circle. Cynthia Eller, professor of women’s studies at Montclair State University, said her first experience with mom cliques was when her daughter was a baby 13 years ago. “I went to my first mommy and baby group, and it seemed the rules among the moms there were written in stone, and it reminded me of another time in life when we were going through very powerful changes,” Eller said. “Mothering was a one-way ticket back to high school.”
In the years since Eller, the author of Am I a Woman? A Skeptic’s Guide to Gender, has researched and written about mommy cliques. Becoming a mother and going through adolescence are similar in that both are major life changes, a time when a woman often redefines herself. Which could be why women who in their teens felt like outcasts have a hard time breaking into cliques as moms and vice versa. “Who you are in high school certainly bares a resemblance to who you are in your 30s, 40s, and 50s,” said Janice Sanchez, chairwoman of the psychology department at Old Dominion University. Most mommy cliques form when a few like-minded moms – those with similar backgrounds, interests and parenting styles – come together and form friendships.
“People tend to look for people who are like themselves,” Sanchez said. “For example, chances are if you move into a neighborhood, you will be expected to join in and do what the people in the neighborhood are doing. Very rarely do you have people going out and looking for someone new or someone who is going to challenge them.” In fact, Eller said many of these cliques form around just a handful of key decisions that new moms make when they have a baby. Are you bottle feeding your little one? If so don’t expect a clique of breastfeeding moms to welcome you with open arms. Is your baby sleeping in a bassinet or crib? It’s unlikely you’ll be asked to join a clique of co-sleeping moms who take their babies to bed with them. Staying at home? It’s probably best to stay away from a clique of working moms.
“Moms will grab on to one of those areas and then sort of cling on to the people who are doing it the same way for reassurance,” Eller said. Why do these groups tend to send off a signal that new people aren’t welcome? Sanchez said there could be many reasons. It could be that the members feel threatened by people who may think or live differently. Or it could just be that with all the things going on in a mom’s life – family, friends, responsibilities – they just don’t have the time or energy to add a new person to the mix. “As your life gets complicated, you’re not looking for something that’s going to make it more complicated,” she said.
Another factor may be that once a group of moms becomes an established clique, the women have gotten to know one another so well that they have shared thoughts and feelings that they wouldn’t dream of telling a newcomer. “We talk about a lot of personal stuff here,” Eller said. “If another person shows up, and they may be very nice, you don’t have that shared history.” However, Eller said that despite all the angst some women may feel, cliques can play a positive role in a mom’s worlds. “I do think there’s a huge up-side to this,” Eller said. “Becoming a mom is a huge transition in your life, and you will make some of your best friends with people who are going through it with you. You develop a shared history with these people so fast.
“It’s just that the stakes are so high. When you’re whole life has changed like this, you are so much more dependent on social networks in a way that you are not at other points in your life,” she said. So what’s a mom to do? Anne Crocco has lived in three different states in the five years since her oldest daughter was born. She knows what it’s like to have to make new friends, ideally ones with children about the same age as her three daughters, who are now 5, 3 and 15-months. “It’s so important, when you are a mom, to have friends who are moms to talk to,” Crocco said. “You have to find people you are comfortable with.” Crocco said she didn’t have to worry about joining an existing mommy group when she was living in Texas and Pennsylvania. Instead, she met some new moms in her neighborhoods and they started their own playgroups, becoming friends as the babies played.
That wasn’t the case when the family moved to Virginia about a year ago when her husband, a business consultant, went to work with Northrop Grumman Newport News. This time she turned to Mama Source (http://www.mamasource.com), an online site that helps moms connect with other moms, to find playgroups for her daughters. She also met other moms and got invited to their playgroups when she dropped her oldest daughter off at a neighborhood church for preschool.
Finding the groups was the easy part. Feeling like she fit in with the other mom’s was a little more intimidating. “Here I felt more uncomfortable,” Crocco said. “Because the groups already existed, at first I was kind of hesitant to insert myself, even though the people seemed nice. When you’re new, you want to fit in. You need to try and be friendly, but it’s a delicate thing to do. You just have to insert yourself.” Inserting yourself is the key, said Barb Parcell, site administrator of Peninsula Mommies.com, (http://www.peninsulamommies.com), an online connection site for moms both on the Peninsula and Southside.
“It’s very hard to meet people,” said Parcell, mom to two daughters. “Moms are busy. And I think as far as moms groups are concerned, everybody is shy when they first join. Anybody who comes into a group new is shy and thinks people don’t like them. A lot of times it’s our own insecurity that makes us feel like we don’t fit in.” And moms who feel that way need to realize that just because other moms know one another ahead of time doesn’t mean they don’t want to get to know you too, Parcell said. “They hear the moms there talking about the things they’ve done together and it’s intimidating,” she said. “But that’s just what groups of women do.”
Parcell said that Peninsula Mommies recommends that new members attend at least five events or post at least five messages to the site’s online forums before making any judgments. That gives new members a chance to get over any shyness and get to know other moms. And since Peninsula Mommies has more than 500 members and a variety of different events, new moms have a lot of opportunities to meet different people and try different things.”While a mom may go to one event and feel like they don’t fit in, it could just be the wrong group for them and they might find another that fits them better,” Parcell said.
And that’s just what Klaiber says she plans to do. “It’s been a challenge for me to find friends,” she said. “But I’m going to look for a playgroup, probably with other Air Force moms, and then I’ll have my own group.”