You love your mom friends. Honestly, you’re not sure you’d survive raising kids without them. They share their horror stories about babies pooping in bathtubs, their sympathy when your kid is the class biter, and their inside info about which camps and classes won’t rob you of your life savings or your child of her self-esteem.
But bringing up little humans is a highly emotional marathon, and it’s easy to get tripped up by anxiety, gossip and judgment. Here’s how to identify the types of “friends” who can suck the joy right out of your parenthood journey—and advice on how to manage.
1. The Taker
How to spot one: It’s your pleasure to bring her daughter home from dance, but suddenly you’re doing it every week. It’s a birthday party “carpool,” but you’re the only driver. You agree to co-chair the PTA book drive, but you’re knee-deep in Judy Blume while she ignores every email. And you don’t mind, do you, if your nanny watches her four-year-old twins this afternoon…again…for free?
How to deal: First of all, you need to recognize that the taker is, in fact, taking advantage of you (get it?). She is practicing what psychologist George Simon calls “covert-aggressive” behavior. This is different from passive-aggressive behavior because there’s nothing passive about it; she is actively trying to manipulate your desire to be a good friend to serve her own needs. She is relying on you to pick up her slack, without reciprocating or even acknowledging your sacrifice. Parenthood can be a lonely road. It helps to share some of its burdens. But there’s a lot of potential for imbalance in these relationships, especially because no two families are the same: Perhaps one mom works outside the home full-time and the other doesn’t, or one is nursing a newborn and the other has older kids and thus more “free time.” Boundaries must be drawn and respected. If you’re crystal clear about what you can and can’t do for each other, the friendship may even flourish.
2. The Know-It-All
How to spot one: She had the easiest time breastfeeding. Loved it. Puréeing her own farm-to-table baby food is a cinch (she just freezes it). Her kids adore snowboarding. They started lessons when they were two. They speak three languages. They’re like sponges! And she stares at you blankly as you stress about your son’s algebra struggles because why not just use her tutor? She’s seriously happy to help—just call her anytime.
How to deal: This friendship is troubling because—perhaps without meaning to—this mom makes you feel like crap. If you feel like she’s got it all figured out and you’re flailing, own your envy. Next, reaffirm what you value most about yourself as a parent (maybe you haven’t exposed your kid to a new language yet, but you love to read to her nightly). Then try to dispassionately assess the know-it-all’s intentions. “If you mention something in your life you’re concerned about, she wants to tell her story and how she handled it,” psychologist Andrea Bonior has said of this friend type. “It’s a clumsy way to empathize, but her heart is in the right place.” If, on the other hand, she’s offering unsolicited advice as a way to elevate herself and put you down, simply cut off the conversation with “You may be right…”—and stop telling her all of your problems.
3. The Complainer
How to spot one: Isn’t this pickup schedule so annoying? Can’t they just offer hot lunch every day? If the coach doesn’t put her son in, she’s seriously going to say something, because that’s just wrong. This teacher has no control over the rowdy kids. That mom talks too much at book club, and she doesn’t even read the books. Your husband didn’t say hi at the gym—is everything OK?
How to deal: If your relationship with a Debbie Downer is worth fighting for, or if it’s one you’re stuck with, say, because your kids have been best friends since pre-K, there is a way to empathize without joining in. Chronic complainers “seek sympathy and emotional validation,” writes psychologist Guy Winch. The quickest way to avoid getting sucked into a negativity spiral with your complainer is to validate her grievance (“It would be nice if they offered pizza every day!”); express sympathy (“I’m so sorry Harper comes home hangry; that must be stressful”); then redirect her attention, much like you would with a tantruming toddler ("What time are you guys leaving for the concert on Thursday?"). Generally, complainers do not want advice—even if the solution to their problem seems obvious. They want to be heard.