Now, I need to point out, there are inner circles and there are Inner Circles, and one is a true community of love and support and is a quiet (or not quiet) form of rebellion and the other is a Mean Girl dynamic that buys into and promotes our culture.
I would love to tell you that in my younger years I had this amazing community of love and support. And, in truth, with certain women, I did. And also in truth, I was very much a part of Mean Girl culture and tearing other (young) women down.
In my mid-20s life it was all about competition. Who was cuter, who was smarter, who had the better boyfriend, car, cat, clothes. And there was definitely a stepping on top of and shoving down that happened.
I am not proud of this part of my past, this part of me. And yet, this is part of me, of who I was and a part of what makes me who I am today.
Here’s a thing though, we are conditioned in our culture to be Mean Girls and if we aren’t part of the actual Mean Girl Inner Circle, boy howdy, we’d best do all we can to be.
This is patriarchy. This is misogyny. This is also ablism and racism and homophobia and xenophobia and and and and… because if you are different, in any way, from the leader of the Mean Girl Pack, you are a target.
What is interesting for me to look back on and dissect a bit, is that I was only a Mean Girl during a very specific period in my 20s. Prior to that, I was relatively oblivious to Mean Girl culture. Many people talk about their horrible experiences in middle school, but I had great experiences. I wasn’t one of the “popular kids” but I had my good friends and we had fun and I never felt any need to be a part of any other group. This was also true of my experience in high school and even early college.
But something clicked in my brain as I approached my early-mid 20s that I needed to be at the top of the heap. I can’t tell you what it was or if there was a specific event that triggered this, but it did happen. And it lasted a couple years and then mostly stopped until my daughter was born.
I’ve written before about how the birth of my daughter was a huge turning point in my life. This is true in so, so, SO many positive ways. But it is also true that it brought about the Mommy War Syndrome in me and I was constantly comparing myself to other moms and comparing them to me and each other. I had a constant running dialogue in my head of how this mom wasn’t doing enough here and that mom was failing there and this other mom should never have been allowed to have children and so on and on and on.
From the other side of this, I could tell you this had everything to do with my own insecurity as a new mother, my own feelings of failing, and my need to feel like I was at least doing better than HER (whoever that “her” was on any given day).
And sure, that was probably part of it.
But here’s another thing: I was feeling insecure and like I was failing at motherhood because we live in a culture that sets mothers up to fucking fail.
Yes, I have a husband who has always been very involved with the upbringing of both our kids and who never once expected me to Do It All nor has he ever said “oh, this is your job because you’re the mom.” But he is one person, one voice (and yes one important voice, but only one voice nonetheless) against a cacophony of voices about how mothers should be, how working mothers should be, how working mothers are failing their children, how mothers who stay home are failing society and their children, how if I only had my shit together I could actually Do It All and don’t I dare “expect” my husband to do anything.
So. Lack of support of mothers in our culture definitely played its role. Which includes lack of affordable childcare, lack of decent healthcare, and a lack of true communities.
The culture we live in wants us in-fighting. It wants us to be looking at other women and judging the ever-loving hell out of them. It wants to be pointing out all the ways they all do it wrong, all they ways they are all failures. It wants us climbing on top of each other to be the cutest, the smartest, the best mama, the best worker, the best wife, the best housekeeper, the best crafter, the best, the best, the best.
Here’s yet another thing, though: If all we are doing is looking at other women as some sort of measuring stick of our own value and worth, we will never come together in community.
This is intentional. This is by design.
There is a reason many of us are longing or have longed to find Our People.
Because our culture isolates us. It tells us resources (men, food, money, prestige) are limited. It tells us there is not at all enough to go around and if she gets some, then you certainly won’t.
To which I call bullshit.
Resources are not actually limited. There really is enough love, enough success, even enough food and shelter, to go around.
It is not true that if Jane succeeds then Sue can’t. It is not true that one person’s version of success has to even look like another’s. It is not true that we have to constantly be clawing at each other so we can each “get ours.”
Our culture wants us separate. Those in power know that we as women come together in true sisterhood, as true comrades in arms, that shit is going to burn the fuck down.
And because of this, our culture encourages us to compete with other women, to distrust them, to consider them less than so we can be “enough.”
Here’s some good news though: we actually don’t have to follow the conditioning and training of our culture. We can say No thank you and No more and Not on my watch. We can dig into the stories we have about women, others and ourselves, dislodge them, and come together in community. In true community, where we are all comrades, locking arms, supporting each other, lovingly pushing each other outside of our comfort zones, and doing the work to create a better world for the generations to come.
I talk even more about the complexity and intricacy of mother-daughter relationships in this 20-minute video below. I hope you enjoy it.
This essay and video are the second in my three-part series Unleashing Our Self as an introduction to the topics we’ll be unearthing, examining, dislodging and embracing in the six month circle Unleashing Our Mothers, Unleashing Our Selves. We begin April 1. If you are interested, you can learn more and request an application here. xoxo