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Pauline Gaines Headshot

Why I'm Glad the Cool Mom Cliques Don't Want Me

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MOM FRIENDS
Inti St Clair via Getty Images

I read with bemusement an article a friend posted on Facebook about the rise of back-stabbing suburban moms whose ruthlessness led one woman to pack up her family and leave town. While I certainly was on the receiving end of Mean Girl antics in high school, I have pretty much side-stepped those of the Mean Mommy. With a relentlessly hellish divorce, one kid with energy-consuming issues, and starting a new career, my life is way too off the grid for me to be courted by real-life Desperate Housewives.

The good thing about going through a lot of bad stuff is that you figure out what matters. Being seen with the right Prada bag and hosting Princess Spa Day birthday parties are ridiculous things to worry about, especially when so many people in this country are struggling just to keep a roof over their heads. And while I would have liked the resources to entertain more, or to travel with friends, I've cultivated great friendships by having people over for potlucks.

Another good thing about going through bad stuff is that, as any bad stuff survivor will tell you, you learn who your real friends are. They're the ones who've got your back as you downsize your life and have nothing to offer besides your friendship.

Last year, one of my friends helped me pay rent so I could stay in a 3-BR apartment, then paid for my move when I had to lease a smaller one. Recently, two other friends threw me an apartment-warming soiree in my new place. And a college friend whom I have not seen in years sent me a shiny red bag full of make-up.

While getting gifts is always lovely, and getting help to stay in a place with a bedroom for my son jerked every one of my tears, it's the coffees and lunches and hanging-out-in-the-living-room-drinking-wine evenings that have made my life richer than elbowing my way up the mommy food chain ever could.

My daughter Franny has navigated her share of mean girl shenanigans and, to my profound relief, has chosen salt-of-the-earth girls for close friends. Her two closest gal pals could care less about cliques, a quality that I hope has rubbed off on Franny, who tends to be a people-pleaser. These girls don't care that we don't have a yard or a pool or, most recently, that we have a 16-year-old sleeping on an air mattress in the living room. They come over because they like hanging out with Franny. There is no drama during these playdates; the girls are sweet and thoughtful, and any misunderstanding they might have, they work through on their own.

One reason these girls have their heads on straight is because their mothers do too. Both women march to the beat of their own drums, and one loves to tell the story of being kicked out of a mommy group because her kid didn't fit in. These women are close friends of mine, and I like to think that our own friendships -- also sweet and thoughtful and devoid of any drama -- have been a template for our daughters, one that they will pass on to their own kids should they venture down the treacherous path to motherhood.

Franny turned 12 recently. I didn't have money for a party, so I told her I'd take her out to dinner with her two best friends. One was away for the weekend, so it was just Franny and Hermoine. I sat across the table from them while we ate Indian food and marveled at how un-precocious and grounded they are. They talked about books -- they both love the story of Malala -- and TV shows -- they both love "Glee" -- and the time they snuck the scissors at preschool and cut each other's hair.

When I poked my head in Franny's room at 10:00 to tell them goodnight, I found them, arms entwined, on a make-shift pallet on the floor. I took a photo on my phone and texted it to Hermoine's mother Laurie.

"They're so damn cute," Laurie texted back.

And they are.