Mean Girls Grow Up: How to Remain Sane Amongst the Alfa Moms
By Ellen Feig
Clique: A narrow, exclusive circle or group of persons held together by common interests, views, or purposes. ~ Webster’s Dictionary
Growing up in an affluent suburb of Long Island, I never fit in to any of the high school cliques. The cheerleaders, with their Farrah Fawcett haircuts and perfect clothes, canoodles with the jocks who chugged beer while delivering a French kiss. The science geeks hung out in the lab and dreamed of winning the coveted Westinghouse Award. The theater kids recited Shakespeare while balancing their Earth shoes on their toes. The nerds would spend their insufferable days with their heads down, an open book in hand, determined to graduate with an acceptance to Harvard. The stoners hung out behind the school sneaking cigarettes as they proudly gave the rest of us the finger. Each day after school, I’d lock myself up in my room, the outcast, put on Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, and pray that some day I would live in a world without cliques.
Lines in the Sand
Unfortunately, cliques didn’t end with the advent of adulthood. From the minute my son and I entered the neighborhood park, the lines between moms were as defined as those in the high school lunchroom. Near the swings sat the women who had married well; perfectly coiffed, nanny by their side, Jimmy Choo’s on their feet. Seated by the sandbox were the women who had left high pressured jobs and now used that same level of energy to raise their children. By the jungle gym were the women who wanted nothing more than to replicate the 1950s world of Mrs. Cleaver. At the slide were the working moms who every now and then gave the nanny a day off and spent the day in the park with a look of sheer pain on their face, waiting to return to work where they felt wanted and viable. There were exceptions to these groups: women who managed to cross lines either because they possessed more than one characteristic (married well and had a high paying job, stayed at home and dressed in couture) or because they possessed sheer bravery and were unafraid to cross into enemy territory. The playground was high school redux.
All across America, women relate the same experience. For better or worse, all of us want to feel as if we belong. In her book, Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads (NY: Crown Publishing, 2006), author Rosalind Wiseman notes that the desire to be part of a group does not necessarily end with the close of the teen years. Rather, as adults and as mothers, we are led to believe that we must be part of a certain group in order to belong: or more importantly, in order for our children to belong. This pressure has grown over the last couple of years as society’s passion for perfection has reached an all time high. We not only expect our children to be perfect, we expect that of ourselves and others. Wiseman calls this the “Act Like a Mom” checklist; a set of unwritten rules (trendsetter, thin, perfect marriage, organized home, lots of friends, constantly cheerful, athletic) that create a nearly impossible standard of perfection which, when unmet, lead to a feeling of rejection by the group.