The other moms in my child's class all seem to know each other. I feel like a loser when I hear them talking about scrapbooking parties or potluck dinners. What can I do?
"Just as there are kid cliques, there definitely are mommy cliques," says Michele Borba, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know. If you really want to crack the group, don't approach the ringleader. "Instead, watch for someone who's friendly and somewhat on the edge," suggests Borba. Chat with her when she's alone or with just one other parent, instead of sidling up to the big group. Then, questions are easy conversation starters: "Is your son joining Cub Scouts?" If she's chilly, try not to take it personally -- as hard as that is. Move on until you find someone you click with, whether she's part of the Cool Mom Club or not.
I'm a little intimidated by my child's teacher. Is there anything I can do about it?
You'd be surprised (and relieved) to know how many parents privately feel the same way, says Rebecca "Kiki" Weingarten, a former teacher who is now a New York City parenting and education coach. She says our own memories of cutting out paper turkeys (badly) or getting in trouble for talking in class often zoom back into focus when school starts. "Plus, when you meet the teacher, she often has you sit in those little chairs, at that little table. Is it any wonder you suddenly feel like you're back in kindergarten?" Weingarten says. Teachers have a lot of power over our kids' lives, too, which can be unnerving! But know this: The teacher may be as anxious as you are. "She may worry that you're sizing up her ability to handle your child," says Weingarten. Your best bet is just to be friendly. Try asking her something about herself to break the ice, and talk to her like a regular person. Pretend she's someone you're meeting at a book club. She'll probably respond to you the same way: nice, respectful, relaxed. Oh, and it's also okay to ask if there's a bigger chair at those teacher meetings.
I'm just not a "group" person, but the other moms in my daughter's class are so chummy! They seem surprised that I don't stay to chat after pickup or offended that I'm not joining their knitting group. How can I respond without seeming rude?
"You don't need to undergo a personality transplant," says Jodi R.R. Smith, a mom and owner of Mannersmith, a Boston-area etiquette consulting firm. "You can be sweet and breezy when you see these moms," she adds, "but it's okay to be very picky and choose only those gatherings you really want to attend." Still, you can bow out without burning bridges. Smith, also the author of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman, suggests having a mantra for saying no politely, such as "Thank you so much for always inviting me! I can't make it this time, but I really appreciate being included." Even if you know you're going to turn down the next invitation (and the one after that), you don't have to avoid the other moms. A little chitchat is probably all they need to know you're perfectly nice, just perfectly busy with other things.