Aloha friends! Recently I posted an “ask me anything” query to find out what readers wanted me to talk about. One of the topics that came up a few times privately was the issue of mama drama. I use the term not because it doesn’t happen with dads or non-parents, but because I see it in a much higher frequency in groups dominated by women. Specifically parenting style groups because often that’s the only thing bringing these people together.
First off, what exactly is this mama drama thing? Drama in general is unnecessary fanfare, urgency, or overreaction in regards to disagreements. Many situations that result in drama begin with fairly minor problems that could have been handled easily open dialogue. Mama Drama erupts when decisions and disagreements become more emotionally charged than they have any business being. Honestly they often come down to a personality clash, but because we can’t deal with the idea that perhaps we just don’t like someone and would prefer not to spend time with them, the only reasonable solution is to start world war three over the brand of diapers they use. Or which books qualify for classic book club. Or whether a certain policy is actually necessary and/or effective.
So why does it happen? There are of course as many reasons as there are people, but these are some recurring themes I’ve noticed. First, and I notice this most often is the Queen Bee mentality. The leader presents themselves and their ideas with a “get on board or get out” mentality. People who want to remain in the group have to either fall in line or be ostracized. It’s important to recognize that the queen bee is not necessarily the actual leader of the group. They simply feel their ideas and beliefs are the most right, or the most important, and they have enough people unwilling to disagree with them to back this up. This is all fine and dandy as long as the entire group is at least willing to play along. Or until a second queen bee arrives on the scene. This may be someone new that comes into the established group, or an existing member that decides they’ve had enough. The new queen bee then starts collecting followers (typically people previously targeted or ostracized), factions are formed, and everyone is required to take sides. This is one of the number one reasons I’ve observed groups splitting.
Another frequent issue is the “too many cooks” situation. We all want our groups to be inclusive and take everyone’s opinion into account, but in practice it’s really better if the actual planning and regulating is done just by those the responsibility falls on. For example: Sally schedules an event and rents or reserves a space. Beverly jumps in with some really great ideas that Jeanine hates. Sally loves the ideas, gets the ball rolling, and then Beverly flakes out. Now Jeanine is mad at Sally, Sally is mad at Beverly, and everyone that Beverly told about her ideas is still expecting Sally to pull them off. End result: Drama. This could have easily been avoided by both Jeanine and Beverly staying out of this, since neither of them intended to do the actual work.
Yet another conflict causer is incompatible philosophies. Although this one may seem the most drama worthy, we don’t see it as often because people who are truly incompatible tend to stay away from each other. We see this in action most often in smaller subgroups like neighborhoods, classes, or co-ops. Something brought the group together, be it geographical location, children’s ages, or scarcity of other options, but the common cause isn’t encompassing enough to have everyone on the same page in regards to pretty much anything else.
So you may be saying here “whoa there, wait a minute. I’m not actually involved here, why is it bugging me so much?” Drama seems to bother certain personality types more than others, and certain types of drama affect us for different reasons. Regardless of personality type and reason for drama, I think we can all identify with the Mama Bear response. This pops up when your kids are being directly impacted by the drama. Friends leaving the group, events being cancelled, or a beloved teacher being forced out of co-op is enough to get even the calmest mama bear riled.
People who tend to be very logical or analytical can be extremely put off by drama. When suddenly others are not acting in a straightforward manner it can baffle the logical person to the point of irritation. On the other end of the spectrum is emotional investment. Having a higher than warranted emotional investment is a one way ticket to drama town. We see this in ridiculous amounts on social media. Nobody is THAT emotionally invested in the proper way to serve cucumbers, until you put them on Facebook and then suddenly leaving the peel on is grounds for felony charges and CPS removing your children.
Being of the fairly independent sort also makes for a hard road when it comes to drama. You intensely dislike being pulled into things that you don’t feel the need to be involved in, and being forced to take sides just because you wanted your kid to learn Latin is the worst thing about group activities.
Are you a natural peacekeeper or people pleaser? Boy have I got some bad news for you. There will be no peace until one of the warring parties tucks tail and runs. Even then there will be no pleasing everybody. I suggest you practice repeating the phrase “not my circus, not my monkeys” to yourself at bedtime.
All of this begs the question “how do I avoid this nonsense?” The bad news is you may never be able to avoid it completely unless you decide to go into full on hermit mode. There are however some things you can do to minimize it’s occurrences and impact on your day to day life. Start by setting clear expectations and boundaries for yourself. Check in and make sure you’re not seeking out these situations or fanning the flames. Decide ahead of time what you are and are not comfortable with engaging in.
If you’re in the market for a structured group, try to choose one with clear policies and guidelines in place. Find out what their plan is for dealing with conflict between members. If you’re beginning a group, make sure to decide ahead of time how disagreements should be handled. Then give any new group a trial period. Before committing yourself and your kids, watch to make sure policies are being followed by all members, including leadership and their friends. If this isn’t the case, consciously decide if you’re ok with how things are going, and if you’re not then bow out and move one.
Now, the big question. Once you’re embroiled in drama, how should you respond?
- Ignore it. This may be the easiest and best decision, but it require a conscious decision, especially if you’re the type easily bothered by these things. It also requires that you ignore the drama on BOTH sides, otherwise you’re engaging.This works best in structured situations where social drama has little impact on the benefits of the activity, like classes, some co-ops, or informational forums.I don’t recommend this course of action however is someone is being targeted directly for bullying or being ostracized. Ignoring what’s happening in that case means you’re participating in the behavior.
- Remove yourself from the situation. This isn’t always an option honestly. Sometimes you’ve made commitments to certain activities, or this is the only group or class available. However this may be the only solution if the drama is so overwhelming that it overshadows any benefit of the group.Remember though, leaving is not the same as flouncing. Quietly bowing out of the group, even if you make a calm collected statement about why you’re leaving is worlds different from storming out with a dramatic passive aggressive statement. One is taking the high road and looking out for the best interest of yourself and your family. The other is an immature manipulation designed to try enticing others to come after you. In other words: Drama.
- Speak up! State or restate your boundaries and expectations as necessary. If the actual leader of the group is not involved in the drama, then it is important that they know how it is negatively impacting the group. If they are directly involved then you may need to be prepared to leave the situation if they can’t be reasoned with.
- Above all, maintain your personal boundaries and expectations of behavior. Do not allow yourself to become a silent partner in other’s nonsense. You will regret this, take it from a one time silent partner people-pleaser. Inevitably, the drama monger will turn on somebody else, leaving you to play the silent partner repeatedly to avoid being targeted. These are junk situations all around, and nobody leaves them happy.
For more about staying free of the drama wars check out this post: What does parenting need? DEFENSE! Except, it doesn’t.