The Perks (and Drawbacks) of Being Part of the "In Crowd"
If I could go back and do it all again, I’d skip middle school. As if keeping up with a different teacher for every subject, dressing out for PE and developing an inexplicable interest in boys were not enough, I also had to worry whether I was in the group or out of the group. And if I chose to assimilate into a different group for the sake of having a group, I had to worry about all the groups that I couldn’t be in because of it.
No one waxes sentimental about the crazy confusion of middle school, a period of finding out the order of the universe and where we fit in. Negative connotations run alongside the word “clique” like groupies. Mom’s cautionary words, “Well, think how you would feel if you were the one left out,” whisper from the recesses of memory.
I learned one of the most important lessons of my life in middle school: Humans form groups. No matter how old we get or how we mature, we will always collect into groups. We yearn to mix with people who are like us in some way. Informal social cliques organize around interests, hobbies, political ideals, life stages, offspring’s activities, daily routines and so forth. Being in one group and out of another will always be a fact of life. We can’t be everything to everybody, and, a little older and somewhat wiser, we don’t wish to.
Dawn of the Mommy Clique
Just when women think they’ve turned a corner and left behind the jostling for inclusion, it appears on the horizon. Motherhood can make us feel like we’re wallowing in middle school angst again. “Moms are quick to form cliques and create unnecessary drama to hide their parenting insecurities,” says Margaret Taylor, M.Ed., LPC, with Charleston Parent Coach.
Whether we work or we parent full-time, our children become the purpose of our days. Mothers are thrown together in playgroups, in mommy-and-me activities, on sidelines of soccer games, in hallways of schools and in parking lots at piano lessons. “It’s easy to identify with the person who has the most confidence,” explains Taylor. That individual, with intent or not, attracts other mothers to her and becomes the foundation for the “soccer mom” group or the “music mom” clique. “That’s the beginning phase.”
We gravitate toward other mothers with whom we can share child-rearing stories, strategies, pitfalls and failures. “We feel good having people around us who we can build a history with,” says Nicole Zangara, LCSW, author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. “We bond when we have similar interests.”
Drawbacks and Benefits
“Whether you’re inside or outside,” says Zangara, “there are always going to be some issues.” On the inside, competition and jealousy can disrupt harmony. Personality differences can incite stress and tension between group members. The resulting drama and discord may not be worth the connectedness.
A needed shift in group dynamics is thwarted when a clique of this nature closes to new members. Comfort with the status quo exists despite the lack of harmony. Bringing in someone new takes work. It requires a level of risk. The woman on the outside may wonder why she’s being excluded. She might fault herself or slip into old insecurities, never understanding that the problem lies inside the set.
When functioning well, however, mom groups lighten life’s load. Securing a circle of support can be critical to a woman’s well-being. A group of women with a common tie makes a great sounding board for each other when working out solutions to problems. The group is a safe place to vent frustrations and receive encouragement. Group members bring out the best in each other. They cheer on successes, and when crisis strikes they arrive with casseroles. A strong clique of female friends provides a sense of place and belonging in a world in which families are far-flung from their roots.
Coping with cliques
Don’t get locked in. You don’t have to hang around with the pool moms just because your kid is on the swim team. It’s your child’s activity. If you’d rather be somewhere else doing something different, that’s okay. “Often moms are caught following their child’s interests/activity and end up in a group of moms that they have nothing in common with. These ‘outsiders’ in the wrong clique are at risk of losing themselves even more,” advises Taylor.
Actively choose the groups with which you associate. Don’t get swept along. Taylor says, “Moms who lead the way and forge their own path through the ins and outs of several cliques gather more confidence and experience.”
Capitalize on not being in a clique. Zangara warns, “We get stuck in our friendships and we’re afraid to go outside of them.” The outsider isn’t locked in to a certain set of friends. She can develop relationships with women in a variety of contexts without the obligation of devoting time to any one group.
Maintain your individual identity. A clique provides valuable support to a woman, but at the same time it might stifle growth. “You tend to lose your voice in the search to validate yourself as a parent,” says Taylor. It’s okay to have an opinion that runs counter to the majority. She adds, “The overwhelming pressure for Mom to do it all forces Mom to forget that she is a grown-up with a mind of her own.”
Reframe your interpretations. When on the outside of a clique, it’s easy to feel excluded, but this isn’t middle school anymore. “It’s not an intentional exclusion,” says Taylor. “Reframe it as ‘I’ve not been excluded. I choose not to be a part of this group.’” Embrace the freedom to find friends whose interests more closely align with yours.
It takes a friend to have a friend. Be open to people. Instead of waiting for someone to approach you, be the first to smile, extend a greeting or suggest going for coffee after morning carpool. Be the one to take the newcomer mom under your wing and introduce her to the other mothers.
Follow the golden rule. Minimize the discomfort of drama within the group. Squelch gossip. Instead of judging others’ actions, appreciate that all moms worry, make mistakes, fail, work hard, possess a talent and desire positive feedback.
The best thing about being an adult is that we’re more rational than we were at age 13. We know ourselves better, and we accept human nature because we’re subject to it, too. Humans band into groups. They always have and they always will. Now that we’re not in middle school anymore, we know that cliques aren’t about who is in and who is out. They’re about building a history with people caught in the same whirlwind of daily chaos. If we don’t like the story line, we have the power to choose another.
Lucy Adams is a freelance writer and the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson, Ga., with her husband and their four children. Contact Lucy at email@example.com.Edit Module