Mean Girls Grow Up: How to Remain Sane Amongst the Alfa Moms

By Ellen Feig

The mom clique also forms because its members are going through similar situations. Motherhood, one of the most difficult jobs in the world, can be lonely, and accordingly, we reach out to others who, we believe, can empathize with our day-to-day lives. The desire for acceptance begins early and does not end when we are adults. Rather, that desire becomes stronger when our children are involved. If we are accepted by the popular clique, then, ipso facto, our children will be popular. In many instances, who you’re friendly with determines the social status of your child. D, a single mother with two children under the age of 12, recently enrolled her children in a new private school and was shocked to discover the hierarchy involved in social standing. “The first month at the new private school I went to pick up my son from a friend’s house. The friend’s mother said, ‘Welcome to the popular group! It’s not common that a new student gets in-it usually takes a year or two’.” D, disgusted with the comment, showed her disdain and soon neither her child nor she was invited back to the group. “My face gave away my strong dislike for her obvious choice to raise a bully.”

We’re Friends Because They’re Friends; They’re Friends Because We’re Friends

Even a place as mundane as the school parking lot can look like a caste system.  My children’s elementary school parking lot would have been perfect fodder for an anthropological dissertation; Margaret Mead meets the women of Scarsdale, New York. The tennis moms, dressed in their finest whites, chatted about their children’s physical prowess and the amount of sporting events they had attended that weekend. The working mothers, always in a rush to catch the 9 am train, fixed their suits as they confirmed meetings via Blackberry and advised the nanny on the week’s events. The type A moms, former executives, huddled together to discuss the latest educational research and to confirm that their children were busy from sun up to sun down. The granola moms, few in this predominantly Jewish upper middle class area, held on to their brood (at least three with one on the way) as they carted trays of home baked cookies and discussed PTA meeting times. We were cartoon characters: what became remarkable over time was how much the children began to look, talk and act exactly like their mothers, dividing into groups and excluding others.

The birthday party (from an early age on) becomes the outward indication, the scarlet letter, of whether or not a mom is part of the clique. “When my son wasn’t invited to the cool kid’s bar mitzvah, I felt that it was a clear statement on my outcast standing. I was the single parent living in an apartment and they were all living in the big houses on the hill,” states A, a single parent living in Chappaqua. “I didn’t feel badly for myself as much as I did for him. It broke my heart.”

Lisa, a mother of three in Pelham, relates a similar experience. “Last year, my daughter was invited to a birthday party thrown by two of the super mothers for their extremely popular daughters. These moms actually rented out an expensive restaurant, had a full course meal, a DJ and swag bags that were filled with IPod shuffles. Being unable to compete as I had just given my last cent to my divorce attorney, I threw my daughter a party in our backyard. Needless to say, she’s been ostracized since.”

In my own life, I have been a member of a clique and then, seemingly overnight, an outcast. While I considered myself friendly with everyone, the clique turned quickly and vehemently against me after I went through breast cancer and then divorce in quick succession. My status as the social leper was set in stone when I had to go back to work full time, insuring that my children would have an uphill battle on the road to popularity. Even after moving my children to a new school, I felt the extreme delineation between those women who were married, lived in the nice homes, wore the right clothes and drove the right cars. I’ll never forget when, after a long day working, I drove to school to pick my daughter up after her week long class trip. The PTA moms had spent hours decorating the school with balloons and welcome home signs. While the sight was beautiful, it only served to make me feel guilty and subliminally judged for having to work, for not having had the time to decorate. Of course, the first words out of my daughter’s mouth as she descended the bus steps were, “Mom, did you at least help with the decorations or were you busy at work…as usual?”
One of the questions I asked myself while researching this article is, “Why can’t we use our energy to support one another and do away with the mom clique?” If we all stopped for one moment and actually called a truce, we might be able to work together as a team, to support one another as we raise our children, to act as role models so our own kids do not live in a world filled with cliques and social strata. A world without cliques…that’s exactly what that teen-aged girl, listening to Elton John in her shag carpeted bedroom dreamed of.