Mama Drama. It’s a label that quickly describes the growing number of mothers who engage other mothers to resolve the social dilemmas of their children. This does not apply in situations that involve the safety of our children or in cases of bullying––those are times when parents must step in and get involved.
Mama Drama occurs when mothers get involved in the normal and sometimes painful life experiences that cause hurt feelings and heartache for our children (who is playing with whom at recess, who is invited to so-and-so’s birthday party, who “broke up” with whom). Mothers may start the drama by approaching other mothers on the school playground, via email or even by requesting a meeting of mothers to resolve the social issues of their children. I have even witnessed a nanny smackdown where two childcare providers were heatedly arguing the positions of the girls they watch who were in conflict––an example that illustrates how Mama Drama can ultimately spread to others involved in the family system.
Of course, fathers can be affected as well, but because of differences in how men process emotions and relationships, they are less likely to get involved in the drama. Removing Drama from Conflict I have been guilty of Mama Drama. I see my friends get engulfed in it too. In a generation of helicopter parents, many parents are getting overly involved in the dynamics of our children’s friendships and social experiences. Perhaps this is because our mothers were of a generation that let us sink or swim and perhaps did not offer a tremendous amount of support or guidance.
Our generation may be overcompensating and erring on the side of over-involvement when we should be aiming for a healthy balance between providing support and letting go. Parents need to give their children roots but also wings. It is about balance. We have good intentions. We love our children and we want to help. The Mama Bear in us comes out and we want to protect our kids from pain. But are we causing ourselves stress? Taxing our relationships with other mothers? Robbing our children of the experiences they need to develop effective communication and conflict resolution skills? By jumping in and contacting other mothers to resolve our kids’ social issues, we may be unintentionally communicating to our children that we do not trust in their ability to resolve conflict. We might be unconsciously encouraging our children to remain dependent on us rather than fostering empowerment, confidence, and independence. We may also be adding more fuel to the fire and making a bigger drama out of a smaller issue that may have blown over more naturally without parental involvement. Wipe Away Tears, Not Boundaries
Children, particularly girls, tend to socialize in friendship triangles and somebody is often left out. It is heartbreaking when your child is the one being left out. Like many mothers, I have spent many a bedtime wiping my daughter’s tears as she shares the anguish of hurt feelings that are a normal part of her social and emotional development. It is also upsetting and stressful when your child is the one leaving out other children. There have been times I have felt so frustrated and embarrassed when a friend reported that her daughter was in tears because my daughter was choosing to play with different kids at recess. As parents, we want everyone to get along and for there to be no hurt feelings. But real life doesn’t operate that way and these experiences, although painful, will help our children to prepare for life’s challenges.
We need to be mindful of having healthy boundaries with our children, their friends, and their friends’ parents who may also be our friends. With our children, we need to separate their emotional and social experiences from our own so that we are not enmeshed. With our children’s friends and their parents, we want to be mindful of boundaries so that we are not engaging them directly to resolve the issue for our child (which is triangulation). We want to teach our children the skills to deal with their negative emotions, such as sadness and anger, and develop the communication and conflict resolution skills to resolve these issues themselves––promoting self-esteem. Also, we don’t want to tank our friends with all the negative feelings we are having about our child’s struggle. Yes, friendships between mothers have ended due to Mama Drama.
- Recognize we are all biased and partial to our own children. We need to gain objectivity by “zooming out” and looking at the situation from a larger perspective. There is probably more to the story than what our child realizes or is reporting.
- Separate our own emotional response from our child’s. Make sure you are not overly identifying with your child or that your own issues are not getting triggered. These may be your own childhood issues or current issues with the mothers of your child’s friends. Pause before becoming reactive.
- Maintain good boundaries with your kids. We cannot control our children’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors. We can only control our own. We cannot force our children to be friends with our friends’ children (I learned this from a 22-year-old preschool teacher who had to sit me down with my friend––both in tears––after our girls were quarreling). Conversely, we should not change our social plans to accommodate our child’s issues (do not cancel a dinner with a family who your child is having an issue with—you are the parent and should socialize with whomever you choose and your child can take this time to better develop coping and social skills).
- Practice detachment. Detachment is the ability to emotionally unplug from our kids stuff in a loving and healthy manner—we must separate ourselves a bit from their pain so we can tolerate it. It’s much like what we needed to do when they were tantruming toddlers. Our children need us outside of the pool with a lifesaver, not swimming in the pool with them. They also need the experiences of making their own independent choices and sometimes if the consequences are negative that can be just as important a learning experience as a positive outcome, perhaps even more so.
- Take care of yourself. Practice good self-care and stress management so you can best cope with your child’s emotional and social issues. Get support from your girlfriends who are not the moms of your children’s friends on how to cope with the heartache and stress of your child’s social bumps and bruises. Make sure your life is full and meaningful so that you are not becoming overly involved in the lives of your children.
- Empathy: Reflect that you understand their feelings and that their feelings are a normal response to the situation at hand. This can be very normalizing and reassuring for your child.
- Support: Provide TLC and a safe place for them to process their feelings.
- Insight: Ask questions that will promote higher emotional/relational thinking and insight (How do you think that made Katelyn feel? Why do you imagine she may have responded that way?).
- Coaching: Role-play with your child to practice working things out with their friends. Teach them communication skills to successfully navigate conflict by being respectful, direct and authentic. Encourage them to develop those friendships that make them feel supported and positively about themselves, rather than succumbing to peer pressure and group social dynamics.
- Modeling: Children learn by example. Be mindful of how you and your partner deal with conflict or how your child sees you managing your friendships and social relationships. Set a positive example.
The next time your internal Mama Bear gets awakened and you feel compelled to start some Mama Drama, grab this article. The next time somebody tries to engage you in Mama Drama, be kind, empathic, detached, have healthy boundaries, take care of yourself and work directly with your child to help him or her develop the skills needed to deal with the issue at hand and, ultimately, the journey ahead. Stopping Mama Drama will result in less stress for moms and more growth in our kids.