We all know mom friendships can get a little dicey. I was recently watching clips from an episode of The View (#guiltypleasures). The panel was discussing Katie Couric’s admission in her new book that she had, over her career, “iced out” other female professionals to “protect her turf”.
Ana Navarro led the discussion with one of her famous truth bombs:
“I think there are two types of women: I think there are women who think that the more women, the stronger we are. … And, then, I think there are women who always see the other as competition, as a rival.”
One of the hats I wear is as a yoga teacher working, primarily, with families and with preschool and primary school-aged children.
This year, one of my favorite students, a 7-year-old girl who has been practicing with me for 3 years, told me she’s changed schools after being harassed and bullied by other young girls in her class.
Rival energy starts early!
I started thinking about my own female and mom friendships throughout my life.
I’ve had relationships with women that have raised me up and those that have brought me down.
I feel really lucky to have an incredible group of friends who, as Navarro described in her first example, make me feel stronger. Badass women who have had each other’s backs through playground antics, new jobs, lost jobs, marriages, divorces, pregnancies, pregnancy losses, parenthood, life.
But, I’ve also had friendships that have ended dramatically and those where we’ve drifted, silently, apart.
When I was 12, our friend group of 6 expelled one member and became the 5 Musketeers. I can’t even remember why we kicked her out of the group. But I remember that she, too, left school soon afterward.
A similar situation happened with another group of friends my senior year of high school.
I’ve been in women’s groups, on and offline, that has erupted in chaos and had members leave in disgust. I’ve heard more than one woman exclaim, “This is why I can’t be friends with other women!”
Where does this idea that women must be rivals come from?
Conflictual female relationships and mom friendships have been portrayed in literature and media for centuries: from Cinderella’s stepsisters enslaving her over their jealousy to the back-stabbing “frenemy” plotlines of each episode of Real Housewives.
But, it turns out there is also a biological component.
Dr. Joyce Beneson is a retired professor of psychology who has spent her career studying gender differences in competition and cooperation. She wrote a book called Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes that looks at the differences in survival adaptation in men versus women.
Her research shows that the rival energy among women is not just part of the human experience. It can also be seen in our primate relatives too, such as chimpanzees.
Dr. Beneson found two key features of female interactions that shed light on why it’s hard to make mom friends.
First, she showed that women are less likely to cooperate with non-related females. In other words, women naturally tend to feel threatened by other women.
Second, when two women find themselves in conflict, they are less likely and slower than men to “get over it”. As the mom of two boys, I have seen my sons literally want to rip each other’s heads off one minute and then go outside and play catch the next. I’ve seen it in their interactions with their friends too. According to Beneson’s research, this is par for the course in male relationships. Males are more likely to fight and then move on.
Even in a sports arena, Beneson found that female competitors engage for less time with each other at the end of a match than male competitors do.
Her research suggests women have naturally evolved to feel less comfortable being vulnerable in front of women, especially those outside of their families. This makes mom friendships difficult
And, as we grow up and search out a mate and start having children, our primal instinct to protect our families makes us even more wary of and threatened by other women.
While Beneson’s research may not be true in all cases and for all women, if you’re reading this article it’s likely that, like me, you’ve had this experience of feeling uncomfortable, judged by, or insecure around, other women. Especially other moms.
What I’ve learned from my personal and professional experience running parent groups and teaching family yoga is that we don’t need to be mom friends with every other mother out there. We just need to find those moms who feel like they belong in our tribe. Our sisters from other misters.
What this means is that, outside of our biological family, which might not include a large female contingent, many of our female and mom friendships aren’t meant to last. I believe they are, instead, meant to help us learn to set boundaries and align with our personal values. To discover what we want, need, and desire.
Because that awareness – that understanding of who we are and who we want to be – is the first step in connecting deeply with other moms who we feel safe befriending. Mom friends we feel safe to see as our (chosen) family.
Women today are feeling more pressure than ever to find balance. We juggle so many roles and responsibilities each day. We’re becoming more and more isolated in this busy world and COVID has only amplified that sense of isolation and insecurity. Those emotions make us feel more reactive and easily triggered.
We’re living in a time when we need mom friendships more than ever.
There are loads of articles on the internet with tips and tricks for how to make mom friends. How to put yourself out there to meet new people.
- You can sign your kids up for activities that you can take them to so you can “bump into” other moms.
- Join a gym or mindfulness for moms sessions.
- Or just start up a conversation with a random woman at the park (as my mother-in-law has done every time they’ve moved to a new city. It’s inspiring!).
Those are all great tactics for meeting new people. Some of those people may become close friends. Some won’t. And that’s ok.
How do you prepare yourself for the inevitable rejection that comes with this process?
To quote Whitney Houston: by “learning to love yourself”.
Get started by journaling on questions that will help you get really clear about who you are and what you value. Questions like:
- What makes me special? (Not sure? Ask your kids! One of their superpowers is seeing yours.)
- What are my passions/things that inspire me? (If you’re a people-pleaser who finds this question difficult to answer, start by thinking about what you liked doing as a child or before you had kids).
- What qualities am I looking for in a friend? (Think about your past friendships and how you were inspired by them).
These types of questions help you to align with what you need, want, and desire so that you can set clear, specific boundaries about what type of person you’re looking to connect with and make mom friendships that will go the distance.
And if you meet someone with whom you don’t resonate, great! Spend some time reflecting on why that person didn’t feel like a match and celebrate trusting your instincts. Trust that, for each person you meet who doesn’t feel like a soul sister, you are closer to meeting a person who does.
You are worthy. You matter. When you trust that, it’s so much easier to open up and find others with whom you can create meaningful, mutually beneficial sisterhoods.
I believe in you!
If you feel it’d help to have a safe, supportive container to explore these questions deeper, I can help. Readers of Christine’s blog are invited to connect with me for a free 30-minute, no-strings-attached call because I know how much stronger we can be together!
Marisa Raymond, MS MPH CGC CYT-200 is a playful parent coach, yoga teacher, and board-certified genetic counselor for parents and children who feel mentally and physically EXHAUSTED from trying to do all.the.things. Her clients crave more family time but then, when it comes, they don’t know how to connect in a way that’s meaningful and enjoyable for everyone. Tempers flare, buttons get pushed, and everyone ends up feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated. Using a swiss army knife of tools as unique as her clients, Marisa helps families create more calm, ease, and joy.
Learn more at: https://marisaraymond.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.