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Dealing with mom cliques? 5 ways to create your own "in-crowd"

by Meagan Francis on February 23, 2011

Does trying to get in with the cool playgroup moms make you feel like you're in junior high again? Photo Credit: Christiano Betta

So you’re new to town and haven’t been able to find a group to wiggle into? Or maybe you’re not new in town, but new to your preschool or daycare scene, and though you’ve been trying for months to make headway with that gang of gals whose kids have known each other from the womb (they were all in childbirth ed together, and have kept the gang intact since) but there just doesn’t seem to be any room for a newcomer?

1) Don’t take cliques personally
My friend Toni dealt with “new girl syndrome” when she moved to the small town of Woodstock, IL while pregnant with her second son, Nolan, who’s 8 years old. And while she knew nobody in town until her oldest son was in preschool, even then Toni experienced some discouraging false starts–like when a mom she was talking to at a coffee date actually swiveled her chair around mid-sentence, turning her back on Toni in order to strike up a conversation with another mom. Ouch.

Hinting around didn’t help much, either, Toni told me. “Many of them formed a book club and I would say, “Hey, I’d love to be in the book club” but never got an invite. Yes, I checked my ‘pits for telltale odor, teeth for spinach, and shoes for trailing TP.” Though she wasn’t smelly, green-toothed or dangling any paper products, Toni never made much headway with a certain set of moms–and though it stung, she learned not to take it personally.  “It’s tough to crack existing cliques; not because we smell or are inherently unlikeable, but rather because existing friendships often don’t need to expand. Members of cliques are choosing each other more than they are trying to reject outsiders.”

In other words, it’s not about you. It’s about them. Don’t let it get you down–but definitely move on if you keep getting the cold shoulder. How?

2) Think outside the mommy-group box
Your people are out there. I promise. But often we get so hung up on the potential friends right in front of us that we forget there’s a whole wide world of different kinds of people out there–yes, even in a small town. When you’re dealing with a clique, you aren’t likely to find future friend prospects hanging out at the so-regular-it’s-nearly-school-sanctioned Wednesday afternoon post-kindergarten park playdate, or chatting around the preschool lobby. Why? Because if the moms who frequent those hot spots present themselves as a closed group, chances are a lot of the other moms have felt snubbed, too, and have stopped hanging around.

Instead, get involved in activity you enjoy: join the local chorus, take a yoga class, or volunteer someplace that has nothing to do with your child’s school or sports team, like a political campaign, an environmental cause, an animal shelter or food pantry. Not only will you be sure to meet other people who share some of your values and/or interests, but this is the best way I’ve found to break out of those parent-clique dynamics. You’ll also meet people of a range of ages and backgrounds, which is a big part of creating a rich and diverse social life: “in the same boat” mom friends can be a great part of your support system, but so can older people, veteran moms, and childless friends.

3) Give it time.
The older my kids get the easier it seems to be to meet new people–they’re involved in more and more things, and since they’re more independent I can actually sit and chat with the other moms instead of always having to keep one eye trained on the kid. Also, those mom cliques seem to loosen, or at least seem less important, as children get older and their interests expand.  That’s been Toni’s experience as well: “Now that my two younger boys are at a new elementary school, I’m starting to meet the moms of their new friends and I can see potential friendships happening there, too”

4) Keep trying. (It’s worth it.)
I alluded to this yesterday, and Toni agrees: if you want to meet people, you have to put in the effort. “No matter how shy you are, you’re going to have to put yourself out there, whether it’s attending preschool coffees, library reading groups for infants/tots, PTO meetings, or volunteering elementary school functions. There are also great organizations like La Leche League and MOMSclub.org that provide opportunities to get out of the house and meet like-minded parents.” Squeezing in one more activity might seem like more hassle than it’s worth, but in the end, your friendships should give back more than they take away. As Toni wisely puts it, “Make the effort because you are worth the effort.”

5) Move.
Yeesh, that’s a bit of a dramatic solution, isn’t it? But if you’ve tried everything and have waited patiently and just can’t seem to find any like-minded people, it may be that you’re just in the wrong place. I don’t necessarily mean that you should pack up your belongings and head to a new city, but you might want to try a new church, daycare, school, or neighborhood park: one where the people are friendlier, or just seem to have more in common with you.

And if your current town is a lonely place for you no matter how much you’ve tried, I think that’s an absolutely valid reason to head somewhere else. There’s no shame in heading back to the hometown you left in a huff after high school because now you’re realizing how much you miss your cousins and parents. Or if you just know you’d be happier in the big city or that organic-farming planned community you keep hearing about, by all means, take control of the reins and make a plan. No family can be an island, and our relationships–all of them–are the fabric of our lives. Do what you can to make that fabric as strong as it can be–it really is worth it.

Have you dealt with mom cliques or new-girl syndrome?

Thanks to Toni for sharing her thoughts on motherhood and friendship! Be sure to check her soon-to-launch site Outdoorsy, which is all about getting people out and enjoying nature. You can subscribe over at Toni Writes to be sure to get updates when it’s launched!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren February 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I once had a mom tell me that she “already had enough friends.” That set me back about ten years. On the flip side, I met one of my best mom-friends ever in one chance meeting at the same library. My son insisted on sitting in her lap, and we eventually had to make conversation.

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Meagan Francis February 24, 2011 at 6:20 am

Lauren-OUCH! You know what’s funny, I have thought that before–not in an “I’m too important to need more friends” kind of way, but in an “I’m really starting to get overwhelmed with life and the last thing I can do is give a new friendship the attention it deserves.”

BUT…the LAST thing I’d do is tell somebody else “I already have enough friends!” that’s so RUDE and thoughtless. I’m so sorry that happened to you–but glad you got back up on that horse :)

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Lauren February 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm

You know, it didn’t register that way at first, but after I had a kid… another kid… and a bunch of other life to deal with, I started to see that someone coping with a baby and all the social obligations of having lived in one place for their entire life could be an issue. For example, advice to prevent people from over-visiting during a babymoon is common. I never had that problem. My family showed up for a week, helped out like crazy, and then were gone in a flash. After that, since we didn’t really know too many people, no one came, making for almost the polar opposite problem. Anyways, thanks for your great posts and interesting blog. I’m glad to have found it.

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Lorien February 23, 2011 at 6:03 pm

We’re about to make a move from SC to Pittsburgh in a couple of weeks and this was just what i needed to read! Thanks for the great ideas! Cheers to new friends!

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Kristen Ciaio April 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Hi Lorien,

How did your move go? Do you like Pittsburgh? I hope you have better luck than I did… I moved from NY six years ago to Ephrata, PA and still do not feel at home–sort of treated like an outsider. This sucks and I can’t wait to move.

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Theresa February 23, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Great series of articles about making Mommy friends. We moved to a new town, and most people actually think of me as a social and friendly person, but I HATE Mommy dating. That’s what I call it, and I was just telling my husband I need to put myself out there and start meeting moms with young children the same age as mine. Thanks for so many good ideas.

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Betsy February 24, 2011 at 3:14 am

I’m currently dealing with French mom cliques. Extremely daunting and hard to know where the language barrier ends and the snobbery begins. It’s a shame to confuse the two. In my two years here I have been invited into four French people’s homes. Three of the invitations were akin to candle/tupperware parties. Sigh.

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Meagan Francis February 24, 2011 at 6:21 am

Betsy, that’s rampant in the states right now, too–the invitation to a “get together” that’s actually a sales pitch. I may write about that one today…

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Gretchen McNary February 24, 2011 at 8:57 am

I experienced the same thing many years ago. I would form friendships with moms that looked like me but we just never clicked. It wasn’t until I opened myself up and gave the moms I would have never thought I would have anything in common with a try. Now- I have an amazing circle of friends and all ladies that I would have never met being closed minded.

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Olivia February 24, 2011 at 8:57 am

Betsy, would you believe a year long sales pitch? Shortly after we moved to this town, my husband and I began what we thought could be a long lasting friendship with 2 other couples (one in particular). They invited us to dinners and bbq’s, we had them over for Scrabble and drinks. They are members of a tight knit religious organization, and we thought it was great that they were open to friends who don’t belong to that group. They invited us to attend their meetings a couple of times. We went, but didn’t find it to be a fit for us.

About a year later were were asked if we would consider joining the organization, to which we politely declined. From then on all attemps to get together with them were thwarted. They were polite at first, “So, busy. Sorry.” Then they stopped returning phone calls and emails. We were really surprised that an entire year of new friendship was all about recruiting for their religious group!

Coincidentally, we have still remained friends with other members of the group who are a little younger, but love a game of Scrabble. Two of them invited us to their wedding recently and when we ran into the aforementioned couple they were visibly surprised to see us there. Hey, not everybody is a shallow as them!

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StephJ February 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Great post, Meagan! As I commented the other day, I have been living in my current city for a year and a half and have yet to meet more than two or three friends, and even those I only see rarely. The hardest part for me was going FROM where I used to live where I had a good group of about half a dozen really close friends. but that area was much more transient so people were constantly reaching out to new people because friends kept coming and going. Where I live now, I find that most people have lived here all their lives, so being the “new girl” is much harder because they already have their friends and family nearby.

One strategy you didn’t mention was to welcome “newer” new people. My daughter recently got a new classmate who moved from out of town, and her mom sent me her phone number via our kids, which had I not been sick and out of town for the past month, I should have taken more advantage of. Thanks to your inspiration, I will be calling her and arranging a playdate to get to know someone new.

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Lesley February 25, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Thanks for this great article. I just had a little cry because I tried to talk to two moms in my apartment complex and I felt like I was intruding. They looked at me kindly, but with that, “that’s nice dear….now let the real mommies talk” look. I don’t seem to fit into any of the mom circles. I’m a musician and my life was very social and active before having my son. It’s been such an enormous transition in my life. This last year has been the toughest of my life. Oddly enough, I’ve met some great moms online and I feel more supported by them than I do my friends who are right down the street. Gonna need to work on this one. Jr. High is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Definitely don’t want to go back to those days. Will re-read your article. Tomorrow is a new day.

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LonelyinStepford February 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm

There is a very tight clique in my neighborhood book club. The ladies always have b-day luncheons for each other and I *am* invited to most of those, but… in spite of the fact that I remember to give them cards & gifts each year for their b-days they never even acknowledge mine. It’s rather hurtful, especially after knowing them since I moved here 6 years ago. Still, it’s impossible to force people to care. My son is disabled, so there is the added pain that he is never invited to anything either. So, what can you do?

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mO March 26, 2012 at 11:37 am

Go with your gut, if they don’t see you as equal or your son as a desireable playmate for their kids, they aren’t your friends. Find new ones.

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Roseanne May 2, 2012 at 2:09 pm

When I pick my daughter up from school, she is in first grade, I know and observe all the mommie cliques, and I have associates, out of my associates I call one mommie my friend. I dont consider myself in a clique I think Im more of I say hi and talk to everyone, and go about my day. I always thought why cant we just get along…..lol, it bothers me when moms (people) cant be real, and not tell you the truth, and I see how children make cliqes they see teachers and parents do it and the cycle will never stop. Sorry, didnt mean to like writhe a novel…..lol, just, ya I guess brought up some memories for me as a child and now my child has to deal with the cliques of her peers.

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Crinkled May 22, 2012 at 11:30 pm

When I first moved to my current location, I found it very difficult to make friends, so I started attending a mothers group, but it was very cliquey. I felt really awkward and out of place. I did eventually make friends with one lady who was new there (we are still friends), but it was generally not a nice experience going to that group. I got brave enough to try again at a different group (mostly because the one friend that I had made started going to the different group) and the people there were lovely and open and friendly. It was a great experience and continues to be.

Now, if there are new mums and dads that seem to be uneasy about being there, I make sure I talk to them and try make it inviting for them. Even if they don’t seem to be a good match for me as a friend, I can normally point them in the direction of someone who has similar interests to them and help strike up a conversation between them. As someone who has suffered from excruciating shyness in the past, I go out of my way to try help the shyer ones, because I know how horrible it feels to be in that position.

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LakeMom May 25, 2012 at 10:10 am

“…it’s not about you. It’s about them.”

I think this is the most poignant thing to remember when trying to make new friends. It really is not about the new person much of the time. I also think that people trying to “break-in” should try a few times. I was sitting on the beach with a friend yesterday, for example, when a woman I knew from another activity (a new woman new to the activity) came down to the beach. Though I wanted to be kind and invite her to the conversation, my friend and I were have a pretty private conversation at the moment. It would not have been appropriate to include someone else. However, the next time we are at the beach and we are just chatting about small stuff, I’d love to invite the new girl over. So try and try again.

I have also found that when I do not find myself fitting into any group that the type of activity/group is probably not right for me. If I have to work THAT hard, I know I need to move on and try something new.

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countrymom November 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

I never anticipated how lonely it would be to move back to my “hometown” area. Granted, none of my high school friends live here anymore, so although I know the area I really don’t know anybody except my folks and my in-laws. We have no siblings in the area, no cousins. If I had known how hard it would be to live in a rural area – where (from what I’ve observed) most people have tons of family for social interaction or those old high-school buddies – I would have given it much more thought before moving “back home”. Nobody needs a new friend it seems. It’s been lonely and difficult to find people I can relate to, or people who will expand their little clique to include me. Plus I work from home, so no work friends either. Hoping as the kids get older I’ll be able to make more school friends with other moms.

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