When I decided to settle here once I left the military, I looked to the internet to find other parents so that I could build a social network of fellow parents for me, and their kids for the boys. There are a few websites I looked into: raisingthem, meetup, mommeetmom, etc. All have parenting groups, mom’s groups, play groups, or ways to link up to make them; they all amount to the same thing. I found several groups in my area, and most of these had its own niche: All natural, green parenting; parenting kids with special needs; working parents; “geeky” gamer parents; pagan parents; fundamentalist christian parents; “fitness” parents; and then a few groups that were just location based, some that specified they are open to anyone in the area joining, and that they “don’t judge” different parenting styles. Those groups all had a very inclusive message, and I figured they were basically for parents who weren’t fired up about any one interest.
My parenting style doesn’t really fully fit into any of the niche crowds. I like video games and own several gaming consoles, and I am definitely a fan of some geeky stuff (Yay sci-fi/fantasy games, books, movies, shows!), but I’m not into D&D or Magic:The Gathering, I’m not into LARPing (Live Action Role Play) and I’m not the type to keep up with the latest games the minute they come out. I’m not hard-core enough to be a geeky/gamer parent. When the price isn’t prohibitively higher I try to make pro-environment choices and opt for some organics. I even grow a small, very amateur, all-organic garden in my back yard, but I own an SUV and I’m definitely all about murdering the crap out of a bug if I find it in my house. Plus it doesn’t make me sad to drink water out of a plastic bottle, even though I usually use reusable ones just because I’m cheap. Again, I’m just not hard-core enough about being green, so I don’t think I fit into any nature-lover’s parenting group. My kids don’t have special needs, so that’s out. We aren’t religious, and while I have plenty of mildly religious friends, I’m way too liberal to belong a group of any kind of fundamentalists, whether they’re christian or otherwise. Even though I belong to a gym, I’m not in amazing shape, and I felt intimidated to attempt to join a group of moms who identify at fit. Even though I am a fan of working out regularly, and during my time in the military I have amassed a pretty comprehensive understanding of physical training, I’ll never be confused for a fitness trainer on sight alone. I worried that my fitness level wouldn’t be high enough to be welcome in one of those groups.
So the location based ones are it, right? The problem with a random group selected solely by location is that it’s a crap-shoot as to whether they’re at all socially compatible. There was no way to know whether you had anything else in common with any of them without just jumping in. I found that many groups were centered around a core set of moms that was very cliquish, and even without any purposeful rudeness, you knew you were not really “in.” Sometimes you just can’t break into a group that really isn’t interested in expanding, so some of those groups I just didn’t bother to make a real effort with. I tried out about a half dozen groups, and with every group I found that the initial few playdates went about the same: there was a warm reception, everyone was friendly, and it was like an awkward first date in that everyone makes polite inquiries about your life and background, while offering up a bit about themselves in exchange. Some of the groups had just started, and due to weak participation or schedules not lining up, the groups fizzled before they really even got going. With others, even when I didn’t feel excited about the group, I went to several events just to give it a real try. It’s almost impossible to get a realistic feel for the group in one meeting, unless it is dramatically wrong for you.
Once I did get to see more, I noticed that a lot of the moms would gossip and snipe about other moms in the group who weren’t present. There was a whole lot of judgement being slung around about any mom who exhibited any deviation from the group’s parenting norm. This phenomenon wasn’t exclusive to any one group. Some of the things I noticed being picked on in particular were moms who were too busy with their kids’ activities, who were too cautious about what they fed their kids, who worked especially hard on their fitness, or who were extra crafty and seemed like a “supermom.” I expected some amount of gossip, which I’ve found to be common amongst groups of men or women equally, but the thing that surprised me was that I didn’t expect it to be centered on things that are generally considered positive. Anything a mom was doing that took extra time and effort was on the table. It was as if every mom doing well was somehow doing those things only to show up every other. These women’s own insecure or inadequate feelings were eclipsing their ability to even acknowledge that making the extra effort could possibly be for the person’s own sense of accomplishment, or simply because they were doing what they considered to be best for their family. Anytime I didn’t weigh in against the behavior in question- especially if I disagreed that it was a problem, but even when I merely stayed silent- I felt like I was filed away into the same category alongside those other judged moms. I’ll admit there were times that I agreed with the group simply from a feeling of peer pressure. I’m no saint, and I don’t claim to be. Sometimes I just wanted to feel accepted, and I would nod, and give a bland, “Yeah, I know.” or “Weird.”
While on some level, I would feel a twinge of guilt at participating, on another I just liked having other moms to go out with and having kids for my boys to socialize with, and there was still a significant part of the time that no one was being insulting or hurtful. These people weren’t villains with one dimensional, petty jealousy summing them up. Some were very thoughtful and helpful, there was a genuine element of friendship developing at various levels amongst group members. There just happened to also be a lot of judgement about anything “other.”
I realized that most of those niche groups were likely formed not in an effort to exclude the people who weren’t hard core enough about their particular interests, but rather, to find a group who wouldn’t ostracize them for those interests. It gave me a whole different perspective about the type of moms that must make up these groups, and I saw that I shouldn’t automatically assume they’re one-dimensional, either.