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Surviving the 'mommy mafia'

By Jen Klein, Special to CNN
Jen Klein says all moms are figuring out motherhood as they go along.
Jen Klein says all moms are figuring out motherhood as they go along.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "The Mommy Files" author Jen Klein: There's no way to be sure you are doing it right
  • Insecurities and comparisons can lead to judgments and lashing out
  • Learning to accept that we're all different and imperfect as parents is hard
  • Once you accept yourself and own choices, you can support other moms
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Editor's note: Jen Klein is the author of "The Mommy Files: Secrets Every New Mom Should Know (that no one else will tell you!)." She is also writes a weekly parenting column for SheKnows.com.

(CNN) -- C'mon, you've done it. You judged another mom on her choices, maybe even a close friend. You likely felt a little guilty about it -- but the judgment was still there.

The way moms -- well, women in general but especially moms -- judge one another is one of those dirty little secrets of mommy social structure, and it's not so secret.

Being a mom is incredibly hard work, and there's no way to be absolutely sure you are doing it right. Kids don't come with instruction manuals and checklists. There is no annual performance review with incentive awards for successes and improvement plans for less-than-successes.

For many of us, it will be decades before we have a real sense of how we did as a mom.

Amid that incredible level of uncertainty in this oh-so-vital job, it's no wonder we look to other moms for support, reassurance -- and maybe some smug self-satisfaction.

Insecurity about our own efforts combined with the appearance (good or less-than-good) of others' efforts makes conditions ripe for judgment and lashing out. Even among close friends, it's easy to slide into this not-at-all productive dynamic -- whether we want to admit it or not. Best friends or worst enemies -- or both -- the social dynamic among moms is a complicated, two-faced beast. It's the "mommy mafia."

Ah, yes, the mommy mafia. Enforcers of local social structures and norms and judgers of all who dare to do things differently. The mommy mafia can be brutal.

There's a little bit of the mommy mafia in each of us. Throw in one or a dozen of the hot-button issues in parenting today, and it's a potentially combustible situation -- the makings of a mommy mafia turf war!

Working-outside-the-home or stay-at-home, breast or bottle, cloth diapers or disposable, organic or processed, public school or home school, or any one of a myriad of topics from pregnancy to adulthood.

You make your decisions and hope you got them right, but a friend or a "frenemy" makes a comment or gives you the stink-eye and you doubt your decisions all over again -- or you're the one making the comments or giving the eye to a mom who dared to do it differently from you.

When we have any kind of insecurity about our own parenting decisions, pointing fingers at the choices and parenting decisions of others is the easiest thing to do. It deflects attention from issues in our own parenting situation that might rightly need more personal thought and attention. Whether we are think we are convinced that one way is the right way -- or we are still trying to convince ourselves that our decision is the right one -- it's base insecurity that drives this lashing out, this mommy mafia on display.

The mommy mafia, however, is more about perception than anything else. The enforcers (ourselves!) are real, but the basis on which we enforce is myth: the myth of the perfect mom, something none of us will attain.

Here's the thing: We're all figuring it out as we go along. Every last one of us. There is no single right way to parent and we all parent differently by necessity -- and none of us are perfect. We all have a different set of circumstances, different strengths and weaknesses, and a different set of lenses through which we make decisions for ourselves and on behalf of our families. From the ones you have judged to the ones who have judged you, we're all doing the best we can, imperfections and all.

And if we all did parent exactly the same way? Sure, the noise around parenting issues would be much quieter, but it would also be a much more boring world. But those differences don't have to slide into mommy mafia turf, either. Learning to accept that we're all different and imperfect as parents is hard, however, especially when we want so much to do a great job.

It starts with accepting ourselves and the choices we have made. We each make a set of choices based on our life, knowledge, resources, and the information before us. No two sets of circumstances are exactly the same either, even within the same family -- and when you are making decisions for your family, the response of the local mommy mafia should be the last thing on your mind.

Once we get to personal acceptance, it's a short hop to real support of one another as moms. Banish the mommy mafia and reject the turf wars. Be the best mom you can be, but accept your imperfections and just keep working at it. You'll likely find you are more resilient and have less need to lash out -- and that's just plain good parenting.