Too Much Drama Between Our Mamas?

Mommy beef can ensue when one parent always complains about snacks but never brings any, or when someone insists on playing by the rules, even when they don't make sense. This week's parenting conversation focuses on how parents run into and handle conflicts between each other. Michel Martin speaks with regular Tell Me More contributors Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner, blogger Sarah Maizes and freelance journalist Jamila Bey.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. Today, though, we want to talk about the people who are making a mess in the village, and I know we all have our pet peeves, our beefs, if you will.

But there's nothing a mommy beef to get under your skin. There's the mom who's always complaining about the snacks, but can never manage to bring any. The one who says she can never have the kids over to her house because she just got her rugs cleaned, the one who signs up for class parent and never passes on any of the important information, like where to get the flu shots. You know what we're talking about.

We wanted to talk about some of the beefs parents have with each other, and how these parents have handled the drama when it comes to their kids. You know, we reached out to NPR listeners via Facebook, and it seems that the question touched a nerve. Here is mom Dawn Patty's(ph) beef from San Diego, California.

DAWN PATTY: Far too many people don't RSVP to kids' parties. I don't understand it, because we're all in the same boat. We well know the preparations and expenses incurred. Nowadays, they even often send by Evite, which actually send out reminders, and they still just don't respond. Ugh.

MARTIN: And from Omaha, Nebraska, here's Angela Necassi's(ph) beef.

ANGELA NECASSI: My five-year-old daughter and another girl were put on a wait list for a micro-league soccer team because we didn't know the sign up was four months prior. The person in charge refused to add them to a team. It's soccer for five-year-olds. They play with the grass when they're on the sidelines.

MARTIN: So we thought: Why should our listeners have all the fun? Let's vent.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Take the gloves off. Sarah Maizes is with us. She founded the blog Mommy Lite. She's author of "Got Milf? The Modern Mom's Guide to Feeling Fabulous, Looking Great, and Rocking a Minivan." She's a mom of three. Jamila Bey is a journalist. She's a contributor to the NBC "Today Show's" parenting blog. She's the mom of a three-year-old boy.

Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner are two of our regular contributors. Dani's a mom of two. Leslie's a mom of three. She's also the editor of the bestseller "Mommy Wars." Okay, ladies. Get ready to sound off.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SARAH MAIZES: All right. You sound excited.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah, I know. Sarah, do you want to start?

MAIZES: I would love to start. I recently had a situation where we just started at a new school, brand-new school, all three of my kids, don't know a lot of people there. And we're in school the very first day. Everything seems to be going well that week. Everything seems lovely. And I decide to take my daughter, indulge her - one of my little ones - to go get a feather put her in hair, which she decided she absolutely had to have.

We're at the hair salon, and the woman found lice in her hair. I had just had my daughter checked maybe three weeks before, because we had just gone to camp. It turns out, there was a mom in the class whose kids had lice, sent her kids to school knowing they had lice, and didn't say a word about it. I was not happy.

MARTIN: Ooh. That's a good one.

DANI TUCKER: That's unforgivable. That is unforgivable.

MARTIN: Dani, what about you? You were another one who set fire to the keyboard when we asked you about your biggest mommy beefs. How about just give us...

TUCKER: One of my worst nightmares.

MARTIN: ...just give us one.

TUCKER: Of course, in little league. You know, I was on a football field for, what, 10 year or more. And I was, you know, my daughter's cheerleading coach and, you know, Davon played football. And there was always those moms who wanted to bring beef who never came to practice, but always complained that their kids didn't play. Or why wasn't, you know, he getting this time? Or why wasn't my daughter getting this routine?

And then, you know, why didn't my daughter get a snack? Well, did you donate to the snacks? You know, it was always - everybody always wanted to bring the drama with them. I didn't understand that. If you're not doing anything and you know you're not doing anything and you know you're not helping out, sit down on the sideline and shut up. But if you want to complain, and I don't like their hair do. And I don't - maybe you should coach.

Why did your daughter get that routine? Because I'm the coach. I mean, you know. And it was, I'm like, why am I having this conversation with you? I don't even know you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TUCKER: I know your child, but I don't know you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Barely, because they never come to practice, right?

TUCKER: Exactly.

MARTIN: Jamila, what about you? What's your beef?

JAMILA BEY: Well, you know, as someone who's been thrown out of a lot of mommy groups, and I will admit that...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TUCKER: You are the one.

BEY: ...maybe even with cause. One of the things - now, mine is still a toddler. He's three. But one of the things that is a peeve for me is these parents who have these children who are delicate little flowers who cannot be touched or looked at askance. For example. If you know there's moon bounce, if you know the invitation says come and be ready to moon bounce, toddlers, they yell, they scream, they push. They're only 30 pounds. They're not going to do any damage to each other. And they...

MAIZES: And they bounce very high.

BEY: Exactly. So don't come to me and go, you know, your son bumped into my little delicate snowflake a lot in the moon bounce.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: I go, well, maybe your delicate snowflake should go over in the corner and not get in the moon bounce. You know, if there's nothing that's going to harm the kids, quit acting like they're made of glass.

MARTIN: My personal favorite, though, from one of your blog posts was the people who pass on medical advice from tabloid magazines.

BEY: Oh.

MARTIN: That's my favorite.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: Oh, yes. So I'm feeding my son a cereal grain bar and my girlfriend, who I named Jan, and we're still girlfriends, we didn't talk for a year, but now we're girlfriend again, she goes...

MARTIN: We'll check with her on that. But...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: One must never eat cereal and fruit together because it putrefies in the gut.

MARTIN: Oh.

BEY: Yes. You can't put sunblock on an African-American baby because he will have vitamin D deficiencies and get rickets.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: And you don't want to go you blinkity blink blink...

MARTIN: No.

BEY: You don't say that. So you just go oh, uh-huh. Here, have another cereal bar, honey.

MARTIN: Yeah.

BEY: You know, would your son like one? But, yeah. So...

MARTIN: That's why you got thrown out of the playgroup, by the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: That group.

MARTIN: But Leslie, you have a beef.

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Oh, I have so many.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEINER: But I also have to say that, you know, one of the things that I learned from writing "Mommy Wars" is that other moms for my salvation, and so I feel really guilty criticizing them. And I feel like so many parenting mistakes come from a really good place - even though they cause us to do terrible things.

MARTIN: Oh, see, now she's trying to make us feel bad. Okay.

STEINER: No. No. No. I'm just - this is all a big prelude.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEINER: Because I'm going to do it that I want to do it.

MARTIN: Okay.

BEY: Well, thank God.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEINER: Well, let's just say I also am not a perfect parent by any stretch. And the world that I live in - for better or worse - tends to be a really privileged kind of white bread world. And my kids go to a wonderful private school that's very diverse, but still we have problems of - the problems that we have are parents who do too much and who push their kids way too far, and who treat their children and expect the entire school and the world to treat them as if they're the only child in the world.

And I had a terrible back-to-school season this year. In the space of two days, I had one event I went to where a mom could not come and the reason she couldn't come is that she was helping her son with an English paper and her son is a sophomore at Harvard. And I just thought, oh my god, I can't, I can't live in this world.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEINER: And then two days later I was at another event with parents of 12-year-olds. And several of them were talking about the weekly SAT class they've enrolled their kids in. The SATs will not be taken by these kids for five years and they've already signed their kids up. And the reason that I hate this is that I feel like it ruins parenting and it ruins childhood - to have it be a competitive sport instead of this messy, chaotic, you know, insane endeavor that we have all jumped into having no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

And so that's my, that is my real pet peeve, is the parents who push their kids too far and kind of ruin it for everybody, in my opinion.

MARTIN: Wow. That's interesting. That's interesting. And see, that's why you've got to get a view from different neighborhoods, 'cause that's a new one. That's - I mean it's not new to somebody, right? It's all new to somebody.

If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about some of our beefs. Yes, we're venting. Our guests are Leslie Morgan Steiner; she's the editor of the book "Mommy Wars." Also with us, one of our other regulars, Dani Tucker; freelance journalist Jamila Bey; and Sarah Maizes, of the blog Mommy Lite. Jamila, we should mention, is also a contributor to NBC's "Today Show" parenting blog.

All right. So wheel it around - Leslie, you already started in this direction, but you know, your book "Mommy Wars" on the surface was about the divide between women who work outside the home and women who don't, but it's actually really about some of these kinds of tensions and really the judging that we are frankly engaging in right now. What did you kind of discover in the course of reporting that book about why it is that we seem to A) feel the need to do this, but also why these kinds of these differences that you have with other parents kind of really stick with you, kind of get under your skin. What did you discover?

STEINER: What I discovered is that all of us have a little bit of the seventh grade girl still in us - that if we can't feel good about who we are as moms, the next best thing is feeling better than another mom. And it just comes from insecurity and the fact that our culture never tells us that we are good enough the way we are, and that motherhood is a very unique thing and - you know, endeavor - and that we all are entitled to do it the way we want to and the way we see fit. There is this idea that there's a perfect mother out there - at least I see it that way and that's what I see in my world. And we're very competitive and we, as I said, it comes from a good place, we want the best for our kids, but I think that sometimes we lose all reason and we forget that kids are not an extension of ourselves. They are just their own unique being.

MARTIN: But isn't part of it not just that we want the best for our kids but we want it easy for ourselves, because if everybody thought like us, isn't part of it that it would be easier if everybody was on the same page?

STEINER: You know what? I don't see it that way though. I think that one thing that really bugs me about parents who parent in a helicopter way is that I think they're making it much harder for themselves. I think to parent that way is absolutely no fun at all, and that a little bit of easy-goingness goes a long way. And those of my favorite parents now, are the ones who laugh about when their kid comes home with a D. And you know just, or laugh when their kid, you know, messes up a huge goal on the soccer field. That to me is a voice of reason. Now, I think, you know, I think suffocation is bad and I think neglect is bad and that you've got to find something that's in between.

MARTIN: You meant suffocation meaning just being all over your kid. You don't mean literally, physically...

STEINER: No, I don't mean – literally is bad too, but I'm speaking figuratively here.

MARTIN: We're going to be calling the police for that one.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Jamila, you started on this road too. But you've been that one, and actually, Sarah, you've too, right? So why (unintelligible)...

MAIZES: Oh god, I...

MARTIN: ...asking you to be the one who was the one, right?

MAIZES: I spent my whole life being that mother.

MARTIN: But you...

MAIZES: ...even for mediocrity.

MARTIN: No. No. No. But you talked about this in your blog, the time that you were the jerk. I mean you were the jerk...

MAIZES: Oh, god.

MARTIN: ...and what was going on there briefly, if you can, tell us, you know, what happened and what you learned from it. You were the one that the other people were saying...

MAIZES: I did. And I did learn a lot from that. Oh, god. And I learned to keep my mouth shut is what I learned. Of course here I am on the radio. Anyway...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MAIZES: My kid had been when he was really little he was bullied by another little boy whose mother is the sweetest person on the planet. And one of those people who, by the way, mommy beef, mothers who don't realize that their kids are pains in the necks. Mothers who don't realize their kids have any issues, are completely avoidant of it - maybe I say this because my oldest daughter has Aspergers, and so I'm very sensitive to any issue my kid - anyway, to make a long story short, turns out at this new school we were going to this kid was going to be in school.

Now, my son is an incredibly sensitive boy - overly sensitive. We laugh about it. It's like for him he just, he worries about everything. He was very worried this kid was going to be in class with him. And you realize and somebody, I'm not sure who had said it just before, but one of the you had mentioned that feeling that we are all kind of on this highway together and we're all parenting, and our goals are to see our kids thrive, and to see them happy.

MARTIN: Okay.

MAIZES: And sometimes in doing that we tend to run each other over. Anyway, I said to my son, we're standing in front of the school. First day of school, we see that this little boy is not in my son's class and I go, hey, you know, look, he's not in your class. And we high five, turn around, the mom's right behind me. And, oh my god, what she devastated. I was crying. She was crying. I felt horrible, because in this protective bubble I was trying to make my son happy and comfortable, I hurt her and I felt awful.

MARTIN: Hmm.

MAIZES: Yeah.

BEY: Well, Sarah...

MARTIN: Jamila, what about you?

BEY: ...you felt bad 'cause you hurt her feelings 'cause her son was a pain to yours. I was just a bleep. I got at this play group and this uber type A mom had like out-Martha Stewart-ed everyone else and made these beautiful nametags, hand decorated and everything, and I'm getting mine and I'm getting my son's and I'm handing the ones to everybody, and I see what is clearly the computer made a mistake, it's got a whole bunch of hyphens and apostrophes and like no vowels anywhere. And I was like, yeah, the computer messed up on this (unintelligible) this kid is never going to get a job. And little baby (unintelligible)...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: ...his mother looked at me and snatched it out of my hand and pinned it on her son. And I was just like, oh man, I'm never getting...

MARTIN: Why did you do that?

BEY: I thought it was a mistake. I also thought that it was a rather classist thing of me that I made my kid something that nobody is going to make fun of. And I...

MAIZES: She named her kid an apostrophe?

BEY: Well...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: ...(unintelligible) all of these, it was that stereotype of I'm going to name my child something that nobody can pronounce, that has a bunch of apostrophes and it sort of signifies I am the child of uneducated parents. And so I looked at that and I was like...

MARTIN: And you don't think that was mean? You...

BEY: That was - oh, I know it was mean. I know...

MARTIN: So why are you being mean?

BEY: I was hoping that it was a joke and I thought other people would laugh, and then it was real and I realized that I really should have been shunned by that particular group. And I'm admitting it. And so I'm sorry, but naming your kid something with 12 syllables and not one vowel is bad.

MARTIN: Oh...

MAIZES: Child should not be named for sound effects.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Okay. Well, I'm going to stick with that was bad.

BEY: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Dani, what about you? Have you ever been that one?

TUCKER: No, I'm sorry. I can't share that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MAIZES: Liar.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: But let me just, just - I'll just, in the minute and a half we have left, I realized that actually, as we were preparing for this conversation, that, you know, when I was growing up I was that one because we never had people over. And the reason we never had people over was - and I'm sorry, I don't mean to get a little emotional about it - is that, you know, there was alcohol abuse going on and nobody wanted to expose other kids to that. So help me out here, please. Leslie, help me.

STEINER: Right. I mean I grew up in the same kind of home.

MARTIN: So...

STEINER: I was always in other people's houses.

MARTIN: And sometimes the reason that people are doing something is that - is not the reason that you think.

TUCKER: Right.

MARTIN: Sometimes the reason the parent is not inviting people over is because something is going on that they really are trying to protect your child from and so...

STEINER: Right. I think that that is, you know, definitely the case. And I guess a little bit of understanding and forgiveness goes a long way when it comes to kids and parents, you know?

MARTIN: So, I don't know, what did we learn from our venting session? Do we feel better or worse?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Dani, what about you?

TUCKER: I feel, I mean I think we all feel better because it's always good to talk about it. It has helped somebody that's listening.

MARTIN: Sarah, what about you, being on both ends of the vent - being both the one who was the one being vented about and being the ventor, what do you think?

MAIZES: You know, I just find also from the blog it's really good to talk about it. I think we all have this in common and it's something that brings us together, and I always think it's good to talk about it because you hear someone else's point of view.

MARTIN: Jamila, what about you?

BEY: I think...

MARTIN: We haven't decided yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: We're going vote on - we're going to be mean girls and decide whether we're going to vote you off the island or not.

BEY: I think that...

MARTIN: Did you apologize, by the way?

BEY: I did. I did. I think it's a good learning opportunity to show our kids, you know what, sometimes we're not perfect. We do our best and when we blank up, we admit it and we say, you know what, I hope you learned from mommy to not ever do that to someone else. You don't be mean because you see what happens when mommy did it.

MARTIN: Jamila Bey is a journalist. She blogs for NBC's "Today Show" parenting site. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio, along with our regulars, Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner. Leslie is the editor of the book "Mommy Wars." And with us from Culver City, California, NPR West, Sarah Maizes. She founded the blog Mommy Lite and is author of "Got MILF? The Modern Mom's Guide to Feeling Fabulous, Looking Great and Rocking A Minivan." Thank you all. I feel better too. I do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIGH)

MARTIN: Thanks everyone.

BEY: Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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