How We Got Here
“There's information overload, and it has created an environment where we constantly second-guess ourselves,” says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends. In past generations there were no listservs, no Twitter feeds, no Tumblr. “Now we're so used to this feedback loop where we think we have to research every single decision we make,” says Bonior (don't forget to post it on Facebook to see how many likes it gets!), “and that leads to doubt and insecurity and anxiety. It makes us feel better to say ‘Oh she's screwing it up, at least there's someone out there more clueless than me.’”
“I had this idea that I'd make mom friends and we'd all be in the same boat,” says Pamela Haag, Ph.D., cultural historian and author of Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age. “But instead there was a lot of worry, and it felt non-supportive. Mothers turned the time that they breastfed, or the intensity with which they did it, almost into a competition,” she notes.
That's because we're hyper-focused on how our kids are going to turn out, says Bonior. “It's hard for women in particular because we already put so much pressure on ourselves to excel in all these areas,” she adds. “No one gets enough sleep, no one has enough ‘me’ time, no one feels like they're doing enough, and so we snipe at each other in a way that's not productive.”
Here's the thing about this kind of judgment—it doesn't always come wrapped up in a perfect I-think-you're-wrong-and-here's-why package. Sure, sometimes these put-downs are done subconsciously, and others are unfortunate by-products of our own fierce beliefs and how we carelessly communicate them. But sometimes this stuff is purposeful passive-aggressiveness, and that can hurt just as bad as any sanctimommy's rant.
A friend of mine nearly lost her best friend of 30 years recently over their differences in parenting styles. One believed in family beds and no consequences for bad behavior, the other in cribs and time-outs. After nearly coming to blows on a weekend getaway—the attachment mom couldn't believe my friend let her baby cry in her crib for a few minutes—they agreed to never again have overnights together or debate their choices. According to Bonior, it can be the lifelong girlfriends who suffer the most from judgment because they're used to telling each other exactly how they feel.