Kristen Kingsbury, a mother of of seven from Washington, wears a tutu just for fun when she grocery shops.
“I’m quirky. My kids are quirky,” Kingsbury, 41, told TODAY Parents.
When the blogger and her cinematographer husband, Pippen Beard, bought a home in a traditional neighborhood in 2017, they weren’t concerned about being the quirky ones on the block.
Then Kingsbury met the mom bullies.
'You’re not our people'
"At first, it was lovely. There were kids everywhere riding their bikes around and playing outdoors,” Kingsbury TODAY Parents.
Kingsbury’s daughter, Pascal, who was 9 at the time, bonded quickly with a girl down the street. “They were inseparable,” Kingsbury said. One day, Kingsbury received a text message from the mother of Pascal’s new friend. She wanted to come over and chat. Kingsbury, who had been busy unpacking boxes, was excited to socialize.
“I was thinking, ‘This is going to be great. I’m going to have moms I can have a glass of wine with,’” Kingsbury said. But as soon as Kingsbury opened the door, it was clear something was amiss. The woman parked herself on the couch and cut right to the chase.
“She said, ‘I wanted to let you know that our daughters can’t play together,’” Kingsbury recalled. The woman ticked off a laundry list of reasons, including Pascal’s taste in music, which she deemed inappropriate. “She was playing it off like her daughter was innocent and her innocence was being ruined because of us,” Kingsbury said.
Each time Kingsbury tried to respond, the woman would cut her off.
“She said, ‘You’re not our people. You will never be anything like us and the whole neighborhood knows it.’ It was almost like she was sent over as a representative,” Kingsbury said. “Then she got up. She didn’t even put her shoes back on. She just ran across the street with her shoes in her hand in the pouring rain. Her friend was waiting for her and they stood on the porch laughing and pointing at our house.”
Her pain is all too common. In a TODAY.com survey of 1,400 parents, 69 percent reported they'd been bullied by another adult.
Bullied at school by other moms
The cattiness trickled over to school.
In the fall, Kingsbury joined the PTA in hopes of building connections, but the neighborhood moms iced her out. “I never got the newsletter or the PTA meeting schedule. I had to go to the office and ask to be put on the list,” Kingsbury said. When PTA photos were taken, Kingsburg didn't get the memo.
Next, Kingsbury began volunteering to chaperone field trips. But she wasn't wanted there either. "I remember sitting at a picnic table with a bunch of moms I didn't know and I felt so invisible," she said. "Every time I chimed in or asked a question, they would just pretend they hadn't heard me. It really hurt. All I wanted was to be included."
Though Kingsbury knew the women weren't worth her tears, she found herself crying a lot and "overthinking the situation." She felt like she wasn't good enough.
She noticed other parents weren't saying hello
Freelance writer Dorathy Gass can relate. She was mom-bullied too.
It started when her elementary school-age daughter had a conflict with a classmate. “I wanted them to work it out themselves,” Gass, who lives in Newcastle, Ontario, told TODAY Parents. “I told her to lead with love and I left it alone.”
Gass even met with the teacher to make sure it was nothing serious.
Soon after that, Gass noticed that parents weren’t stopping to say hello at pickup and drop off. Suddenly, she was being shunned by people she considered friends. “I was removed from Facebook message chains,” she said. “Eventually, I learned that the mother of the other girl was going around and telling people my daughter was a bully and I was bad mom. She used my Christianity against me and said I talk the talk but can’t walk the walk.”
Gass was devastated and even stopped volunteering at school for a few months. “I was embarrassed,” she told TODAY Parents. “I wanted to jump on social media and shout my side of the story, but I decided not to feed into the toxicity. It’s all about ignoring and being the bigger person.”
Why adults bully, and how to react
Though Gass believes the woman who bullied her suffers from low self-esteem, it’s usually the opposite, according to Nickerson and her colleague Dr. Kathleen P. Allen.
“The position that seems to have the most support from researchers is that bullies have high, but fragile egos, which makes them prone to narcissism,” Nickerson told TODAY Parents. “In other words, some women who bully may feel an inflated sense of self-importance, and when they perceive that others are not complying with them, they may seek to diminish or degrade others in order to reinflate themselves.”
There are no strict rules when it comes to managing a bully. It really depends on the situation, the impact and the comfort level of all the people involved.
"Ignoring, separating or disconnecting from the person may be necessary for self-preservation,” Dr. Allen told TODAY Parents. “In doing so, remember to also disconnect from these mothers on social media in order to protect yourself and the constant exposure to it.”
Kingsbury has found that steering clear of mean moms works best. She feels nothing she can say will make them change.
"My advice is to do your best to rise above it," she told TODAY Parents. "Don't get caught up in making nasty remarks back because that never works."
Kingsbury followed her own advice. She still sees the "mean moms" around town but has made peace with not being part of their crowd. When her daughter started a new middle school, she was able to get a fresh start with new parents and made some real friends. She was even elected PTA president.
"Focusing on my family helps me to stay strong," she said. "I refuse to let them win by changing who I am."