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How to Navigate Mommy Politics

Amy Ettinger
Oct. 25, 2012

It's a jungle out there. Even in the world of lemonade stands and the PTA. Here's how to keep your head high and navigate the diverse personalities.

Election year or not, it might seem like you're always navigating a political arena -- right in your own neighborhood. It might sound catty, but the reality is that women can be tough on each other, especially when dealing with kid comparisons, school involvement and friend loyalty. "I think it stems from some of the insecurity we carry with us," says Tracey Bianchi, author of Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood." Sometimes this leads us to lash out at those who seem to have what we desire." Remaining independent can be key to staying sane.

Becoming a mom means learning about mommy politics, figuring out whose toes you can't step on, when to bite your tongue and who you need to befriend. Here's how to handle 6 complicated (yet very common) mommy politic scenarios -- and come out a winner.

1. You're friends with two people who are no longer friends. Cliques have inevitably formed around the two women.

Do your best not to get stuck in the middle, advises Bianchi. Be up front with both sets of friends from the very beginning by saying that you feel as though you are in a tough spot and you love the other person. Let each woman know that you you are stuck, yet eager to forge ahead in friendship with both sides. "One side may say that you are betraying the friendship by taking the other side, but I think a rational and true friend would see the pinch and understand," says Bianchi.

2. Playdates are more like debates. Each mom is vying for time to discuss her kid and her life.

"Jealousy can strangle us," says Bianchi. "If we're not careful we'll overlook all the amazing things our own kid has done."

Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., advises thinking of these brag-sessions as a learning opportunity and actually taking mental notes. See what your friends are doing well, and decide whether you can make a change in parenting techniques. "There's a good aspect of competition if it allows you to be more ambitious for yourself or your child." But don't try to turn your kid into a math whiz if he really has a knack for music and art. "Your goal as a parent should be to figure out how to be the best parent to your child," says Dr. Ludwig. "Your child is not someone else's child. If the bragging is really getting out of hand, be direct and diplomatically bring it to your friend's attention.

3. Your kid has a new best friend. The only problem is you and the other mom have a mutual (unspoken) dislike for each other.

Try to create a friendship by offering an olive branch, says Bianchi. "Focus on the positive qualities of the other woman (even if it's something small). If that fails, maybe you can now relate on a different level -- your kids' friendship. You don't have to discuss anything else.

You can always dilute the negativity by asking other moms along for a group playdate, inviting her child for "drop-off" playdates or signing them up for an activity (and having a babysitter take them). You do not need to be ensconced in a negative relationship.

4. A friend's discipline style (or language) makes you uncomfortable.

Have a date night with your friend, without the kids, says Bianchi. "Sometimes it's best to look at certain friends and decide to have a friendship that's separate from your kids," she says. There's a lot of social anxiety that can come up when you're trying to have a playdate and your parenting styles just don't mesh. A friend can be an amazing person who just parents differently, and you should leave the kids out of your relationship. "You can have different categories of friendship," says Bianchi.

5. You want to be involved in your child's school, but running for a spot on the PTA is full of drama you don't want to deal with.

"It's okay to have a lot of different personalities in our life," says Dr. Ludwig. "Sometimes there's great value in dealing with someone who's unpleasant." The most important thing is to continue to be involved with an activity that you feel passionate about, despite some of the unpleasantness. Bianchi always encourages women to think the best of each other, even in the most difficult moments. "The mom who is having a hard time, might have been up all night with the stomach flu the night before." Take the risk, especially if it makes you squirm. "Force yourself into situations where you have to get over your fears and insecurities," says Bianchi, who has volunteered to host massive PTA events in her bungalow-sized home. "I don't have the sense that anyone is judging." And if you do feel judged by someone, remember to keep them at arm's length.

6. A friend has a bad nanny or another neighborhood family has poached your nanny.

If you see a nanny behaving badly, communicate clearly and directly with the other mom about how you see the situation, says Dr. Ludwig. If you feel the nanny isn't doing a good enough job, make sure your friend understands that you're not criticizing her choice. You just want her know what you saw.

If someone has hired your nanny out from under you (aka " nanny poaching"), it is a horrible feeling. It often happens if the nanny is unhappy and has a better financial opportunity. It's a break up (just like any other kind) and there are often many factors to blame. You will have to take the high road and move on. And when you see the nanny and those poachers, you should wish them well -- it'll help set a good example for your kids.

Remember, you don't have to be best friends with the moms you encounter every day. Push yourself to find a group of women who are helpful resources for each other. "I really do think that there are great people out there," says Dr. Ludwig. "Keep looking for positive women to include in your life."

Need help talking to your little ones about the election? Read our article on Five Tips for Teaching Kids about Politics ť

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