I have a dear friend who is one of the funniest people I’ve ever known, with rapid fire humor and a keen observational eye. She’s a hard-working single mom who has gone above and beyond to give her teenage daughter a comfortable life and is someone anyone would love to spend time with.
Recently she posted on her social media about accompanying her daughter’s class on a year-end field trip that involved a trip to a nearby city and an overnight stay. But her post wasn’t about the sights and scenery or her teenage charges – it was about how she felt unable to talk to or connect with any of the other moms on the trip. They seemed to all belong to some secret club she didn’t know about and the trip was lonely and awkward. You could feel her frustration in her posts.
I Often Felt Like an Outsider with the Other Moms at My Daughter’s School
Her sentiment brought back my own time as a field trip mom when my daughter was younger. Chaperoning was something I was rarely able to do because as a working single mom myself, time was definitely a commodity in short supply – and working for a performing arts center meant my days and my nights were often busy.
As a result, when I was able to volunteer for something – a class party, a fundraising event, or field trip — I felt as though I had wandered into a foreign land where other moms knew each other’s first names rather than just their identities as “so and so’s mom,” and seemed to exude a magical, nearly tribal bond with one another.
They wore smart sweater sets or ironed blouses and printed capris, they had polished toenails and dangly bracelets and enormous pocketbooks that held goodness knows what. They seemed to have all sorts of insider knowledge and shorthand, they knew where things were kept in the school and the classrooms, they knew the first name of the school secretary and who all the coaches were in the town soccer leagues.
They had ways of moving in the world as women and as moms that seemed elusive to someone like me who was struggling with the basics of a work life balance that seemed precarious on my best days and outright disastrous on my worst. I was oversized, newly out of the closet, unfashionable and awkward in their presence and it was easy to look at them and feel as though I was getting it completely wrong.
It took me several years of this awkwardness before I finally felt like I had ‘cracked the code’ with the other moms – just in time for my daughter to finish elementary school and move on to middle school.
At this point in my mom journey, I had learned that volunteering for school committees and events and field trips was not for me, and by the time she was in high school I had a small group of, at best, four other moms I felt comfortable with and that was enough. I had come to think of everyone else as “the other moms,” the ones who had girl’s nights out with each other and coordinated prom photos and graduation parties.
But then something interesting happened.
As graduation neared, I found myself having more opportunities to socialize with the other moms of the class of 2017 – more than the few I had clung to like life preservers for the past 12 years. And I heard over and over again some variation of “you are so funny. You’re so quick-witted, you’re so fun. I always envied that.”
Come again now? Someone envied me? The mom who stood sweating or squeezed uncomfortably into auditorium chairs at all the senior activities? The mom who felt like she missed so much because she was working all the time? Wait a minute. What was going on here? If I was standing around thinking those moms had it all together and I was nervous to talk to them, did that mean they were thinking the same thing about me?
Whoa. Was I the ‘other mom’ in this scenario? Mind. Blown.
And then I realized that to a person all I heard from my mom friends was some variation of “it’s so hard to connect with the other moms,” or “I’m ignored by the other moms” or “the other moms are all cooler than me.”
These sentiments came from literally every mom I know at some point or another and I wondered, “if we all think the ‘other moms’ have it pulled together then who does that leave to actually be the other moms? Doesn’t that mean that every once in a while, we are “the other moms’?
We spend so much time so convinced of all the things we tell ourselves about our perceived shortcomings — things that we would never tell anyone else. When my friend had shared her field trip frustration on her social media she was instantly flooded with people, myself included, telling her that she was one of the funniest, most fun people anyone knew and not to let the other moms intimidate her.
We are so quick to bolster and hold up our friends, why can’t we do it to ourselves? For years it never once occurred to me there might be another mom (or dad) who was thinking they wanted to hang out with me on the fringes of school life for all those years.
When my daughter started college two years ago I was grateful to put 13 years of ‘parent volunteer’ requirements behind me. But at orientation and on move-in day I felt the same familiar anxiety rising behind my eyes. I was all wrong, too poor, too fat, too clumsy, too frazzled and hot and sweaty next to moms who navigated move-in day in Lily Pulitzer blouses and jewelry!
I’d love to say that my inner sense of self-worth rose up and stamped down all my feelings of inadequacy but I’d be lying. The struggle definitely continues, but I’m trying to remember that at the end of the day we’re all just parents trying to do the best for our kids.
So, the next time you’re in a position, like my friend was, and your first instinct is to think anything that begins with the phrase “all the other moms…,” try to kick that thinking to the curb and remember that for someone out there, you are “all the other moms.” You just might surprise yourself.
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Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 29 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college junior . Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously.