Navigating The World Of Mom Cliques

Cliques seem like a high school thing, but some things never change.

January 8, 2018
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Becoming a mom at 22 really turned my social life upside down. I was among the first of my friends to become a mom, which meant that my life and theirs were suddenly drastically different.

While many of my friends were still going out in the evenings, my schedule was suddenly very full with balancing life with the newborn and working a job with unusual hours I picked up because we couldn’t afford childcare.

I was technically a working mom, but my schedule resembled that of stay-at-home mom since I was working overnights and weekends. It made sense to try to get in with a group of mom friends, but I was surprised to find that it wasn’t that simple. There appeared to be rules and guidelines that, although unspoken, excluded certain kinds of mothers.

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I found that it didn’t matter what my schedule looked like: Being a working mom excluded me from many stay-at-home mom circles. In most cases, it was unintentional, with their get-togethers scheduled during my working hours. There were times, however, when it was clear that they disagreed with my lifestyle, with one mother talking of the “sacrifices” she made to stay home full-time, another of how staying at home was the best choice for all families, and another offering unsolicited budgeting advice so I could quit my job.

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And then there were exclusions that were strangely specific. I noticed that some moms grouped together because of the way they chose to discipline their kids. Others were friends because they ate organic food and had natural childbirths. It was difficult to find a place where I felt I fit in. It was strange as a person who was new to the world of motherhood to see that social circles were forming just like they had in high school.

The World of Mom Cliques

It’s natural to gravitate towards other people who share your common interests, according to licensed clinical social worker Kimberly Hershenson, who specializes in working with mothers coping with various motherhood issues.

“Mom cliques are a way for women to feel united in their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs,” she says. “Being a mom can be difficult, so it’s natural to want to seek out like-minded people who understand what you’re going through.”

… some moms can be kind of apprehensive or distant or cold. I think there is insecurity that is always there.

For the most part, groups of moms that are friends are just that. They’re just groups who have formed because their kids are in school together or they have common interests. Many mom groups are open to new members—they’re not intentionally exclusive, according to Lynn Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker who practices in the Chicago area.

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However, some groups do form on a foundation of exclusion. It all comes back to insecurity, says Nicole Zangara, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. She believes exclusive groups form as a kind of buffer for these insecurities. Those insecurities create competition between moms who make different choices about how they parent.

“I find that, unless a mom or a woman has friends that she’s known, when she tries to meet other moms, some moms can be kind of apprehensive or distant or cold,” she explains. “I think there is insecurity that is always there.”

Are all mom cliques bad?

I chatted with other moms who, like me, found themselves looking for friends once they become a mother. We all agreed that there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be included and being happy when you found a group of people who make you feel that you belong.

For this reason, a few of the moms said that their experience with cliques was largely positive. It was their chance to find companionship and support while they adjusted to their lives as a brand-new mom.

You gravitate toward people you have something in common with.

“I have friends that all became moms around the same time, and we have kept in touch all these years,” shares mom of two Kristel Acevedo. “We have a group text that we call ‘The Mommy Text.’ Sometimes the text gets annoying (because hello, group text!), but for the most part, it’s such an encouraging thing for me and all of us.”

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Dawn Alcott describes a similar experience, admitting that her mom clique isn’t all that stereotypical because it isn’t exclusive. They’re a group of moms who met while they were all serving on the PTA board at her kids’ school. She considers these moms to be her very best friends and says they’ve been through a lot together, but they are also always open to new members.

”I don’t think cliques are inherently bad,” she says. “You gravitate toward people you have something in common with. It’s not like we exclude others.”

When Good Cliques Go Bad

Although many moms I spoke with cited positive experiences with cliques, the same argument continued to arise. Most of the women, even those who had positive experiences in cliques, didn’t believe a clique is still a clique if it is inclusive. Once everyone and anyone is allowed, a group actually loses its title as a clique.

I do see a few groups that are, well, the same kind of people I saw forming groups like that in junior high.

The moms I spoke with were right. When it comes to the textbook definition of a clique, it has to be exclusive, and there have to be some spoken or unspoken rules or social norms. A group of moms who connect over common interests is not necessarily a clique, according to Hershenson; some friendships simply form because people share opinions, hobbies, or are located in the same area.

Lydia Markoff is one who shares how she found her crowd after becoming a mom. It’s a group of friends she’s met through the relationships her children formed, but she is quick to admit that there are other kinds of cliques in her community.

“I guess we kind of do have a mom clique, but it’s not exclusive,” she says. “I do see a few groups that are, well, the same kind of people I saw forming groups like that in junior high … insular, exclusive, and catty about it.”

It doesn’t bother Markoff much. She simply smiles and waves at the women in these groups, keeping her distance. Other moms, however, haven’t been able to ignore the cliques in their schools and towns.

“I’ve never felt completely comfortable in any mom groups,” shares Sharon Van Epps, a writer and mom of teens. “There are mom cliques for my kids’ sports teams, and I don’t fit in and it’s hard. Everyone’s very nice, but I don’t have the time to invest to try to work my way in in a more meaningful way.”

Epps certainly isn’t alone. Olivia Christensen, a mom of three, said her exclusion was less direct—it just kind of happened. After becoming a mom, she sought out others in her city through her local Mothers of Preschoolers, but she never quite felt she belonged. Everyone was friendly, but she felt like she was disrupting a group of close friends who were simply being kind because they were polite, not because they were looking for new friends.

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It may be hard to imagine, but some mom cliques go beyond simply snubbing others. Some groups of moms, bound together by common interests, go the extra mile and actively work against other moms to make their lives miserable. The most common story I heard was one of ghosting: women previously at home in a clique suddenly learning that they were no longer welcome.

“I was ghosted by the self-appointed leader of the mom group, and it was surprisingly painful,” confesses Kimberly McGee. “Felt like I was 12 again and had lost the tools I had gained through previous (teenage) experiences. Why does it feel so personal? I felt very immature for feeling so rejected.”

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Jody Allard, a mom of seven, shares that her experience with mom cliques has never been positive. Even when she felt she belonged to a clique, she was uncomfortable with the exclusive nature of these groups and eventually left; she was then was targeted for removing herself from the group.

Navigating the World of Mom Cliques

Unfortunately, it seems that rejection and exclusion is a part of looking for new friends. However, Hershenson advises moms looking for friends to avoid focusing on rejection or exclusion and instead focus on what they’re looking for in friendships.

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“It’s important to recognize what you want out of a friendship and what doesn’t work for you,” she says. “If you value close relationships that are supportive and free from drama, keep this in mind when you start focusing on feeling left out: Surrounding yourself with negativity will only make you feel worse, so focus on the positivity you do have in your life.”

Additionally, if you happen to have a rich social life, be careful to watch for others who may feel lonely or excluded. Try to remember what you first felt like as a mom looking for a way to connect with others.

As for me? I gave up on finding a single of group of friends to call my own. I realized that what I needed wasn’t a squad—it was a couple of intimate relationships with people who understood what I was going through. So I reconnected with a friend from college, joined a book club, and kept myself open to the possibility of building friendships with people who live lives that are different from mine.

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