By way of introduction, I am a single working mom of three kids. Notice I didn’t use an adjective to describe them, because to me there aren’t enough in the dictionary, but to the outside world, they are probably just three average, well-mannered, hopefully well-raised children. (And to all you fellow parents reading this right now — that IS enough!)
My work is in a male-dominated field. As an attorney specializing in criminal law, I have to be tough. And I am. Give me a cranky judge any day of the week, and we will be laughing over coffee in chambers in a matter of minutes. Put me up against a notoriously difficult opponent and we can meet in the middle every time. A recalcitrant juror? I will make sure that doing their civic duty is the most fun they’ve had in ages. I am not intimidated by the courtroom; in fact, it is my comfort zone. I thrive on the pressure of my job. And I fit in.
Surely there are many parents out there who also flourish in their professional lives and consistently second-guess their personal ones. At least I hope I’m not alone here. I wish I were as confident in my decisions on the home front as I am of those I make at work. There is nothing quite like being a parent to really make you question everything.
The kids I told you about? Those wonderfully average offspring of mine attend an amazing school. They are afforded so many opportunities just by virtue of being matriculated there and I am thankful we are a part of it. But our family is of the non-nuclear variety, most certainly a minority amongst their peer groups. I juggle two fathers and that, at least in my mind, further sets our particular homelife apart. I don’t fit in. I enroll my children in every activity they show interest in and am there to support them at every game, revue, presentation, concert, and play — as are all parents of involved kids.
Our family recently went on a vacation and ran into my son’s classmate. The mom was so effusive in her astonishment and praise about the fact that I took my kids on a trip by myself. She called me a wonder woman and told other moms about my maternal feat of achievement. And you know? For a second, I felt like a rock star. I was embarrassed by her gushing words but also proud of myself. But in the next second, I also felt somewhat defensive. I mean, let’s be real here. What choice do I have if I want my chickadees to have the same opportunities as those in other roosts? I do my best, but our vacations are always as a four-top. We don’t go on the cool-kid family Spring Break trips. Why? Yep — I don’t fit in.
Lest you take this as a pity party for this mom, hear me out. One of my concerns about not being an in-crowd mama is that it might have a ripple effect on my babies. Do they have fewer playdates than other kids because I am on the outskirts of Hip Town? Are they invited to fewer birthday parties as a result of me not being in the right clique? Is it a reflection of me as a mother or is it my fault in some way? And worst of all, do my precious womb gremlins see my awkwardness and failed attempts to fit in and blame me for it? Or is it all in my head? We tend to over-scrutinize everything when it comes to our children, and for me, this is no exception.
Y’all, it is hard to make friends as a so-called grown-up. I thought I would have a “cool” mommy group by now but it has just never happened. I don’t have “mims” after carpool drop off, and it is not just because you would never, ever, ever, not even once, ever hear me call a mimosa a “mim.” I am just too busy doing life to be able to fit in. I cannot make small talk to save my life. As quickly as I can think on my feet at work, my banal blathering about the weather isn’t much of a draw at the class Christmas party. When put in that situation, I hyper-focus on my kid who probably doesn’t want to hang out with me anyway — it’s my defense mechanism. Ya know, that whole “not fitting in” thing.
Every day social decisions seem to tilt and whirl and whizbang around your head when they involve your children. As confident and fun and carefree as you might be with your “pre-kid” crew, there seems to be a subtext when trying to make friends with fellow parents. A fissure of uncertainty as you wonder if you are being sized up as “sleep-over hostess worthy.”
Of course, all of this mental anxiety over fitting in could be my own fault. I have a legendary RBF. I perceive myself as socially awkward, which has the catch-22 effect of making me even more socially awkward. Although I might make a great first impression (and now that I am masked up in public, my RBF is somewhat hidden and diminished, so I’ve got that going for me), I am still lousy at following through with acquaintances because I overthink everything to the point of it being comically painful. Or painfully comical.
Honestly, it’s not that I don’t like you. Or worry that you don’t like me. (Okay, that’s not true — I do worry, when I’m not busy trying to remember if I grabbed the dance bag, football gear, soccer cleats, band instruments and school play costume, AND if it is my weekend with my babies, and if so, WHAT AM I GOING TO FEED THEM AND OMG THEY EAT SO MUCH.) I want to like you and fit in with you — it just doesn’t seem to pan out.
Do I have a magical solution for any mama out there who feels like an outsider? Unfortunately, not really. Except to be you. Do you. Parent how you see fit. Try not to keep up with the in-crowd as tempting as it might be, because let’s face it, the perfect lives you see portrayed on social media aren’t real. Don’t compare yourself to the posed moments. They are but a glimpse into someone else’s life that’s likely as messy as your own. (I feel certain that even the most enviable in-moms doubt themselves in some ways as well. Perhaps the stay-at-home mama is wowed that you both work and parent. The mom who brings store-bought treats is envious of your Pinterest-worthy goodies.) I remind myself of that all the time. To paraphrase a meme I saw recently, just because you don’t act like someone you think is cool doesn’t mean that you aren’t cool. I mean, think about the movie Pretty in Pink. Quirky outsider Duckie and slick, popular Blane don’t act alike at all but they are both cool in their own right.
One of my college friends told me that Facebook lies, and she is so right. I have reconnected with my gang of pre-children girlfriends and that is probably my safe zone. So if you have someone from your past, or even present, that makes you feel like you can be yourself, cherish them. Perhaps this is the time to reach out and revitalize a friendship with someone who might need the contact even more than you do.
Really, moms. Let’s all take a breath. Inhale some kindness for ourselves. Soak up the kind of grace we show the mothers whose cliques in which we might secretly wish to be included, and particularly the solidarity we secretly feel for the moms we know are not, just like us. Because in today’s world, does any of this matter? In the face of a terrifying racial divide and a very real and unknown viral pandemic, how much importance can be put on feeling like an outsider? Not much.
Just think — it’s fewer people you have to try to social distance from. Now you can just ride in the next drive-by car parade for your kid’s school mate and wave from the comfort of your own car like the queen we both know you really are.