There are a lot of mean people roaming around in our society. They cross all economic lines and are not specific to any particular age, gender or race. Are you one of them? I’m not talking about your ongoing struggle with road rage (My pet peeve? Driving under the speed limit) or the occasional psychotic episode (i.e. all Black Friday shoppers). If you are mean as a general rule, my question is, why? If you’re not sure, let me work through it for you, because I think I know…and if you’re a victim of mean people? I can help.
We could examine this condition from a broad, anthropological perspective but that’s boring and I won’t get to pick on anyone specific, so let’s just stick with our wheelhouse – moms (Species: Homo Burnedouticus-Momicus). This mean subset of our species (Sub-Species: Homo Burnedouticus-Momicus I-Cope-By-Being-A-B*tchicus) is surprisingly vast. They exhibit a herd mentality, usually traveling in packs in search of unsuspecting victims. They are cannibalistic, feeding on the confidence of others in their species. They are predators, and they pass on their superior hunting skills to their offspring. They are chameleon-like and blend in with all of the other moms, thoroughly capable of hiding their razor sharp teeth (figurative, of course, although isn’t it funny how so many adults have seriously goofed-up teeth? And funnier still that all their kids have braces so they obviously know that braces exist for people with crooked teeth. I realize that having braces when you’re 40+ ranks 2nd or 3rd in the top 10 most humiliating adult experiences, but Tom Cruise did it, so maybe bite the bullet and get them fixed? Because everyone is super focused on your bad teeth when you talk).
Now, some would say that these moms are mean because they’re insecure or maybe have a social blind spot and don’t know how to properly interact with others. Unless they’re sociopaths (and some of them are, heaven help us), I don’t buy this. There is no way that people aren’t at least minimally aware of the vibe they give off in public. I would go so far as to say it is an intentional – and maybe even consciously practiced – bearing that is finely honed over the parenting years.
These mean moms probably had mentors. Perhaps it was their own moms? The ‘together’ mom they looked up to during the preschool years? Who knows. Suffice to say that they have become quite good at making others feel small and insignificant. It’s what they do.
What are the motivators? Usually money and the physical appearance and/or skill set of their kids. Sometimes the absence of money is the culprit (ah, jealousy, such a productive emotion), and every so often a lack of awareness is to blame (Silly sociopath!). Whatever the reason, their meanness is probably the manifestation of an underlying proclivity toward narcissism (my college English teacher would love that sentence!). In other words, these mean moms are super self-centered and they act mean as a way to feel better about themselves. Absolutely no one (except Donald Trump and that Kitchen Nightmares guy) has the self-confidence to actually embrace their inner a*shole and ‘own’ the behavior; so if they’re ever backed into a corner and called on it, no one will act more surprised than they themselves. That’s where it gets cloudy for those of us trying to identify the mean behavior.
You see, the mean moms are not usually direct in their meanness and they don’t own their meanness. Their work is subtle, and cannot always be classified as purely ‘mean’. Instead, the victim may be led to believe that they are too sensitive. They begin to doubt themselves and their own good judgment. Let’s look at an example:
Three moms are sitting together at volleyball practice. The mom of a new kid wanders over and says hello. One of the three moms says hi back. The other two, oblivious to the new kid’s mom, continue talking. When the new kid’s mom attempts to engage them further (at this point the new kid’s mom is fighting a junior high lunch flashback), the two oblivious moms stop their conversation long enough to glance sideways at the new kid’s mom, apply a facial expression that conveys poorly masked irritation, and after a simple acknowledgement of the greeting (‘I’m fine, thanks’ or ‘this is our third year’), turn back to their conversation. Seeing this, the mom that originally said hi quickly regroups and disengages from the new kid’s mom. No invitation to sit. No friendly banter. No attempt to ask about the new kid’s mom or her kid. Nothing. The new kid’s mom is then left to awkwardly walk away, wondering if she has a stain on her pants or if somehow these moms found out that she’s a Barry Manilow fan (I’m a Barry Manilow fan, so shut up, haters).
That’s mean. Do these three moms realize how awkward they made the new kid’s mom feel? Just by virtue of their exclusionary behavior? My next thought would be, what in the heck is happening out on the volleyball court? Are their kids just as nauseating? Now I realize this is subtle, and not all people will have this reaction. In general, though, shouldn’t we all take a moment out of our Very Important Lives to show some basic kindness and good manners? I mean, the new kid’s mom made an effort.
Unfortunately we can’t control the mean moms’ behavior, and it’s too subtle in a lot of cases so if we call them out we’ll just look pathetic…and it might just be due to their under-developed personalities which can’t be solved…so we might need to look inward for a solution.
When-My-Kids-Were-Little-Story-Alert: When my kids were little, fitting in was super important. I felt that connecting with the moms was critical to the process of kid-socialization. After all, in those days the ‘playdates’ and ‘playgroups’ included the moms, so if a mom was inviting people to her house and she didn’t like you? Your kids were out. Once or twice I missed out on attending a neighborhood ‘playgroup’ when the kids were really young (unfortunately I was eventually invited), and I remember that vague feeling of agitation when I wondered if the lack of invite was intentional. I used to think it meant something was wrong with ME – maybe I wasn’t interesting enough (which is ridiculous because I can promise you that in the history of ‘playgroups’, nothing interesting has ever happened at one. ‘Playgroups’ are insipid little mini-popularity contests wherein moms compare the development and achievements of their spawn and discuss such earth-shattering topics as making organic baby food, sleeping strategies and disposable vs. re-usable (disposable, end of discussion). Also, there is always one really ugly baby there and everyone has to smile and pretend he’s cute, which is tiring).
The fact is, fitting in was important back then. Not so much now. As it turns out, a lot of what goes on at these various mom-oriented events (or conversations) is of little interest to me. I think the events we want to attend and the people we want to talk with end up finding us (or we find them). If the fit is awkward, I think a sort of natural culling takes place. As we get older and more confident in our role as parents, eventually we recognize this. Until then we just have to buck up and realize that every ‘snub’ is an opportunity to be the bigger person, and also a sign that we probably wouldn’t fit in…and that’s OK. I’m a cynical person – certain parenting rituals (like ‘playgroups’) offend me. Certain people bore me. I am sure the opposite is true.
So, maybe that’s the key to dealing with this whole mean mom epidemic – take a close look at who you are, and adjust your behavior accordingly. Shed the vanilla mom approach, embrace your unique style and seek the company of others that share your world view, or who you find interesting. Take away the power of these exclusionary mommies, because their style is to feed off your need to fit in (whether consciously or unconsciously).
I’ll break it down even more…stop caring. I guarantee you that you will never fit in with everyone, so why are you trying so hard? Just because you have a kid doesn’t mean you instantly have something in common with every other mom (other than the kid).
In closing, if you’re a mean mommy, listen up: stop now or your kids will grow up to be mean people. You don’t know it yet, but you are the parents of school bullies, snooty waiters and future sexual harassers in the workplace. Next time someone makes the effort to say hello, try kindness. You don’t have to exchange phone numbers or pretend to be their friend, but just a small dose of NICE can be transformative. And for the good of mankind, make sure your kids are not acting like little versions of you.