Imagine constantly having to listen to catty comments, vicious gossip and thinly-veiled insults every time you leave the house. While it may sound like a typical day in high school, it’s also what many moms have to endure as they shuffle their children between school and their various activities.
“I know so many smart, talented women and they truly fall back into that high school mindset as adults,” says novelist Emily Liebert. “It’s very ‘Do I want to be friends with her?’”
In “When We Fall,” Liebert’s latest book, she details the trials and tribulations of Allison Parker, a 30-something mom of an elementary schooler who moves back to her ritzy hometown in Connecticut while still grieving the loss of her husband in a tragic accident a decade earlier. While Allison and her son adapt to their new suburban life, Allison – a working artist – also visibly struggles to fit in with the other mothers in her town, many of whom lead lives filled with nannies, second homes and volunteer work.
We asked Liebert for her tips on navigating the often treacherous waters of suburbia.
Master the art of small talk:“I’m a very outgoing person,” says Liebert. “And really the way you meet people is through your kid and saying things like ‘What classes is he taking? and ‘Oh, how’s your other kid?” she says with a laugh.
It’s also perfectly fine to gravitate towards people you naturally have things in common with. “For me, generally speaking, I relate more to moms who have careers and are also balancing raising kids,” she notes. “We sort of have the same struggles and things we’ve got to balance out.”
Never get into a bragging contest:One of the hardest parts about living in a town filled with investment bankers and CEOs is constantly dealing with talk about money. “I change the topic,” says Liebert. “In any suburb of New York, people feel the need to let you know how much money they have. It’s like they’ll say, ‘Oh, I can’t go to that playdate because my Mercedes sl550 [needs a tuneup] and you just say, ‘Oh, ok.’”
Just because your kids are friends doesn’t mean you have to be:It’s human nature that you simply aren’t going to click with everyone. “Send your babysitters to the playdates,” if you don’t like a certain mom, advises Liebert. “I have friends who are moms and it’s understood that it’s as much a playdate for us as it is for our kids. But there are other moms where I either don’t like the mother or I just don’t want to go.”
As for the families that don’t have sitters, Liebert admits that it’s a bit tougher. “You either endure it for your child or you say to them, ‘So, would you rather have a playdate with so-and-so?,” she advises.
Remember that it’s hard to be a mother, no matter what:“In many ways, it’s harder to stay at home with your kids,” says Liebert. “I spend a lot of time with my kids, but I’m not with them all day… I need time to put into my passion, which is writing.”
Rise above the gossip:Gossip in tight-knit communities spreads quickly and it can be very painful to be at the center of rumors. “It’s not pleasant to maintain your character,” says Liebert. “But I think that if I only had my husband, my kids and my family and 2 or 3 very close friends, that’s really all I need.”
You can always get a second chance:When Liebert’s main character Allison moves back to her hometown, she’s at a turning point in her life and is wondering if she’s ready to love again. “I am a firm, firm believer in second chances – and third chances,” says Liebert. “There’s no clear definition of a path you should follow.”
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.