I have found that healthy community is vitally important when you’re raising children. It gives your child a sense of stability and gives parents the support and companionship they need on their journey. When I first had a child, I found I needed to form new friendships, because many of my friends did not have children. It proved more difficult than I anticipated.
When I first became a mother, I felt like I was back in junior high again. I was surrounded by cliques and gossip. My reaction in junior high was to simply hide in a book and wait for adulthood. The problem is, this time, we were the adults. I had no idea what to do.
Over time, I’ve crafted my own strategy. I focus on nuturing good friendships and devote my time to them. Strong, kind, secure women deserve my time and support and will provide the same in return.
I also have some rules for my own conduct I try to follow when possible. I cannot control others, but I can strive to meet my own ideals and set the right tone for my relationships.
1. Be your genuine self.
Moms form their little tribes and try to fit a list of rules about how they are to conduct themselves. There are the traditional moms, the crunchy moms, the attachment moms, and a myriad of other categories. No one fits any of these perfectly, and categorizing ourselves can be a way of excluding others. It can also lead to making parenting decisions for other people, and not choosing what’s best for us and our family. A good mom friend will be ok with your differences.
2. Try not to judge.
I have pretty strong feelings about a lot of my parenting choices. They are often deeply personal or based on hours of research. There is a temptation to judge. Sometimes I do, in spite of my effort to avoid it. If someone hurts their child physically or emotionally, I might make an exception, but there are a lot of healthy ways to relate to a child. I don’t know another mom’s family or situation as well as she does. I also come with my own set of cultural values that might vary from hers.
Little, cutting remarks are judgemental, too. A struggling mother doesn’t want to hear “Well, my child never does that.” If you think you have a helpful solution, by all means offer it, but realize that your situation and your child might be very different.
3. Make other mothers comfortable.
Share words of affirmation. Be kind. Reassure them. Validate them when they need it. If their kid are acting up, smile kindly and ask what you can do to help instead of making them feel awkward about it. Always be ready to offer a cup of tea and a chat. Parenting is hard, so do your best to be a kind a reliable ally.
4. Share concerns honestly.
It is hard to know when to talk about issues or differences. Sometimes large issues will crop up and need to be addressed. If Joey next door has been watching violent TV and reenacts it in front if your preschool kid, you might be right to be concerned. Talk about it kindly and without judgement. His mom probably needs to know. Hopefully, she’s adult enough to have a productive conversation about it. If my kid had a similar problem, I would want to be told politely and respectfully.
In mom circles, we tend to talk about people behind their backs or deploy passive aggressive tactics to control their behavior. This leads to an atmosphere of distrust and dishonesty. People with good, strong friendships can talk to each other about concerns like adults. If you have a friend who does not do this with you or who you are afraid to talk honestly with, reconsider that friendship. Our friends need to be trustworthy and reliable.
5. Be inclusive.
Mom cliques cause another problem. Not only do we have immense pressure to fit in, we might find ourselves excluding others. While it might be natural and easy to do accidentally, when we exclude others, we rob ourselves of the richer interactions that come from a diverse group of friends. We are also modelling something we probably would not want our children to do.
That mom with a child with special needs might be having a different parenting experience than you, but I bet you could learn a lot from her. That single mom working two jobs to keep her kid fed might not be able to do the fancy mom and toddler class on a workday with you, but she might be able to go to the park on Saturday morning. It is important to get to know people who aren’t exactly like you. It will keep you grounded, and your life will be richer for it.
I also find a quiet sort of classism has seeped into a lot of parenting culture. People who do not buy the right food or the right toys are looked down upon as inferior parents. I’ve done it myself. We’re surrounded by ads suggesting we need more expensive products to make the best choices for our little ones and it is very hard to escape that message. As a middle class mother I can make choices others cannot and the quality of my parenting doesn’t depend on my consumption. I have seen women excluded because of this and I think it is another thing we have to strive to overcome.
Parenting is hard. Mothers work long hours, give of themselves all day long, and are under immense pressure to be perfect. While I know I make mistakes, I believe we should all do our best to encourage and stand with each other. Kindness and inclusion build healthy communities, model good values for our children, and provide us with a sense of acceptance and stability.