You might think that you'd successfully ditched cliques and bullying after high school, but becoming a parent can plunk you back into a teenage nightmare, full of queen bees, constant gossip and a competitive edge. Instead of growing out of exclusionary, catty behavior, some "mean moms" simply carry these childish tactics on to parenthood. The typical drama mama will constantly compare herself, her kids and her life to others. You've probably seen her presiding over the dance moms, gossiping in the schoolyard or strong-arming the principal into letting her child retake his math test.
Unfortunately, mean moms can often zone in on a target, just like a bully zeros in on a weaker child during recess. Whether you're a friend to a mean mommy or you're a target, you're in a bad position. As a member of a "mom clique," you could be dragged into drama you didn't start. As a target, you can practically feel the breeze off of her cold shoulder, making you feel like the 15-year-old who wasn't invited to the slumber party.
If you're the friend of a mean mom...
- Don't add fuel to the fire. Psychologist and founder of the Stop the Drama! Campaign, Dr Robyn Odegaard recommends taking a no-nonsense approach to diffusing gossip. "Don't get sucked into the gossip mill. Avoid talking about other moms and remember that silence is often taken as agreement. Try saying something like, 'I might have handled that differently than Kate did, but I don't think it is fair for us to talk about it when she isn't here.'" Remember, you don't have to be a participant.
- Assume that it goes both ways. If a mean mom's gossiping about another woman's parenting, you can pretty much assume she's doing the same behind your own back. Don't be naïve and think that you're exempt. Spending time with a bad-tempered mama just gives her way more ammo to keep the rumor mill churning when your back is turned. Keep your hand close to your chest by chit-chatting about surface stuff—don't give out personal information that a queen bee mom can use against you in the future.
- Don't get involved. If a drama mama calls you up and wants to prattle on about the cupcakes another mother brought to the bake sale, plead the fifth and change the subject. Even if you don't say much, you could be implicated if and when the grievance gets out in the open. When you agree and tell the back-stabbing mom what she wants to hear, it only validates her position, making the issue worse.
If you're the target of a mean mom...
- Cool down. Dr. Odegaard suggests taking a break from all of the drama. "Your body will tell you when you are about to boil over. Maybe your heart races, you feel hot, or your shoulders get tight. Know what yours is. When your body sends you that... warning, remove yourself from the situation. Most of us are not on a reality TV show where we are contractually obligated to stay in a situation that is bad. Excuse yourself and walk away." If you overhear a mean mom talking about you, or you're confronted by a drama mama, leave until you can both cool down.
- Make other friends. When it seems like every mom in the schoolyard is against you, it can be isolating and upsetting. Even though you're an adult, feelings of "not fitting in" can affect you and put you back into awkward teen mode. That's when it's time to seek out and make your own friends. Avoid making it a contest or an all-out war between cliques—make it clear to your friends that you don't want any mama drama.
- Be responsible for yourself. Sure, it might irk you that the resident mean mom's bullying the drama teacher into making her daughter the lead in the school play, but in the end you don't have to worry. "Remember, the only family you are responsible for is yours," says Dr. Odegaard. "What other people do is their problem and if you let them make you angry you are wasting your emotional energy on them rather than having it to support your family and your children." If the drama mama refuses to drop her tirades, forget about it and focus on your own thing.
Look, you're not in high school anymore. The trick to getting the better of these overgrown queen bees is to simply refuse to participate. After all, your child learns from example. If he sees you joining in and gossiping about another mom, he'll learn that it's OK to bully. If he sees you being targeted, he might see himself as a victim too. You might not be BFFs with every mom on the block, but you can make nice to set an example. Remember, mean girls are only fun as characters in movies—don't add their antics to your real-life script.