When my twins were tiny, an actress I might have liked if I’d had time to watch TV wrote a book with a title that I can’t forget: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I never read it, but I’ve never let go of that title. Isn’t this our biggest fear as women? That all the other women are in some secret club and we’re so clueless that we don’t even know that we’re being excluded? Motherhood exacerbates this fear on so many levels, and then we feel ashamed for the fear and assume we are alone and abnormal, because the world says, “Look at all the playgroups and MOMs groups! Look at all those ladies in the Stroller Squad!” (Or whatever it’s called…those ladies exercise…they really ARE hanging out without me, and I’m totally okay with that).
Over the summer, the mom of one of my daughter’s friends and I were texting. The daughter was changing schools, but I wanted to keep the friendship going. The mom was receptive, but also miffed that she hadn’t heard from any of the other moms. Her relief was palpable when I told her that I hadn’t heard from anyone, either. She was sure that we were all in fact hanging out without her. Maybe the other moms were hanging out without both of us, but I don’t think so.
I find that, as a working mom, I’m DONE at the end of the day. Conventions like “dinner” have come to seem exotic, as going to bed without eating right after getting the kids to bed by 8:00pm looks better and better. Theoretically there’s nothing I would enjoy more than sharing the Thursday evening class at the local yoga studio with a girlfriend, or flights at the new brewery with a group of moms from school. But the reality is it’s all I can do to pack snack bags and soccer cleats while making sure I leave the house wearing pants. It’s a red-letter day if I remember to put the laundry in the dryer instead of rewashing it to eliminate the mildew smell. And guess what? Every mom I talk to feels the exact same way.
This school year I either did something really smart, or completely self-sabotaging. I bailed on Back-to-School Night at both of my children’s schools. On the one hand, this would have offered a great opportunity to socialize with other parents at the same stage of life. But on the other hand–the one that won–was the fact that I work past the children’s bedtimes twice a week, and if we go out for date night, I end up missing bedtime three times each week. So, I am very protective of the nights when I can be home, and although I love teachers and support them in every way I can, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to miss any new information. Bottom line: I couldn’t give up a night at home with my children, tucking them in, and maybe eating an actual dinner.
By skipping the event, though, I actually created the scenario where all the moms were hanging out without me. The next day at drop off, my truancy left me embarrassed to speak to the teacher, and I found myself shyly making eye contact and saying “good morning,” assuming that the moms were wondering what kind of slacker I was and where in the heck I had been twelve hours earlier. Maybe they had even talked about it. Cue spiral of anxiety about what kind of mom I am and what kind of mom I appear to be.
Meanwhile, I learned that the parents who attended my daughter’s Parents’ Night had filled out a guessing game of sorts. Of course the teacher got the information from me so that my daughter wouldn’t be left out, and gave me the charming note she wrote for me to find in her cubby. Thus, by 8:00 a.m., I was really wallowing in it: I had not only brought my FOMO to life, I also added new guilt about creating extra work for an already over-worked teacher, and bailing on an event my daughter expected me to attend and prepared for.
The truth is, as moms we’re not always great about self-care. We put everyone else first and spend way too many years cooped up in our playrooms watching SVU marathons and eating cheese. Then we worry constantly about both every choice we made that day and what all the other moms are doing.
I tried something radical recently. I texted a mom that I’d like to be closer friends with, and before I knew it, we were bemoaning the isolation of these years and the need to get out more. We planned a moms’ night out, and I am going to work really hard not to feel guilty about it. I’m also going to be vigilant about inviting every mom I come across, because while I am going to hang out with my new friend, we’re not trying to hang out without anyone else.