It’s astonishing what goes on beneath the surface. Any surface. If the apparent innocence of “mama-friendships” is deceptive – and it is, claims Josei Seven (April 18) – then probably all innocence is deceptive.
What are mama-friendships? Simply groups formed by mothers of small children. They meet at the playground, at pre-school, at school, and get together periodically for talk and mutual support. The support is necessary and valuable. The strains and stresses of child-rearing are hard to cope with sometimes. Having friends who understand, who are in the same boat, helps – when it doesn’t hurt.
Mrs A is 37. Last year, her son started elementary school, and she naturally became involved with other young mothers in the neighborhood. They’d meet for lunch, tell each other their troubles, offer advice, lend encouragement and so on. One day Mrs A, not being thirsty, didn’t order a drink, as the others all did. Who cares? Well, everyone did, and everyone took note. Mrs A was not invited to the next lunch. The other mothers stopped greeting her in the street. She was completely isolated. “They must have thought,” she says, “‘If you have to be that careful with your money, we’d only be imposing if we invited you.’”
What lesson does a sensible person draw from that? Two possibilities suggest themselves: (1) Order what everyone else orders; (2) Maintain your independence and shun mama-friendships.
Mrs B, 39, is the mother of a fifth-grader and she, too, has her little circle. It’s a particularly stressful time for her – her daughter is studying for junior high school entrance exams – and she appreciates the support she draws from the other mothers. Over tea one afternoon attention was drawn by a Celine handbag carried by one of the women. “How nice!” “It’s lovely!” – and so on. Well, said the lady, she got it quite cheaply via a friend living overseas, and if anyone wanted one, she would be happy to make the arrangements. Of course, everyone wanted one. Mrs B didn’t, particularly. Her family’s finances are tight, education costs press, and the handbag was a dispensable luxury. Still, she couldn’t be the only one not ordering one – could she? Not to stand out, she put her name down with the rest. “And now every time I meet them, I worry: What will I have to buy next?”
In a sense there’s nothing new in this, but it’s getting worse, Josei Seven says, as economic woes widen the gap between rich and poor. The friendship on the surface is belied by an almost feral competition beneath it. Competition over what? Everything: husbands’ income and job status, family property, kids’ grades, kids’ looks, moms’ high-end makeup and brand-name shoes – even diapers. Some kids are out of them at one, others still in them at three. So the race is on to hustle the kids out of diapers.
An informal survey by Josei Seven finds the majority of mothers still value their mama-friendships – 60.8% primarily for exchange of information regarding education, 57.7% for the chance to consult others over problems that arise, 44.3% for moral support generally. It would be great if that was all there was to it.© Japan Today