Tackling a toxic mom: Surviving a mom bully

First, remember you're not alone.

August 20, 2018, 4:06 AM
Mila Kunis, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Annie Mumolo in "Bad Moms," 2016.
Mila Kunis, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Annie Mumolo in "Bad Moms," 2016.
STX Productions

A few years ago, Dorathy Gass was mom-bullied.

It all started out when one of her daughters had a conflict with a girl with whom she had previously been friends.

"My daughter wasn't being nice, her daughter wasn't being nice," Gass told "Good Morning America." "I didn't see it as anything other than two girls having a conflict."

Soon though, Gass said she noticed the mom of the other girl, as well as other moms in her social circle, stopped saying hi at school. Then Gass said she noticed she wasn't in on those "group mom texts" that for many are a social lifeline.

"People were avoiding me at school," she said. "They stopped reaching out, stopped inviting both my daughters to play dates."

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Limor Weinstein, a parent coach and psychotherapist, told "GMA," "Mom bullying affects different moms in different ways, but it’s very similar to how kids deal with the same issue. In general, it produces insecurity, which affects a mom’s ability to parent."

Gass stopped going to school, stopped volunteering her time. "I was devastated," she said. Eventually, she was approached by people who were outside the social circle of the mom Gass was having conflict with.

"They said she [the other mom] was saying my daughter was a bully, and that I thought she [my daughter] was perfect."

Gass said she went to the teacher to make sure her daughter was not being a bully. The teacher, according to Gass, confirmed that the girls did in fact have conflict, but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

I thought to myself, "If she's talking about me to these people, she must be talking about me to everyone."

Gass wrote a blog post on the incident and in the process, researched adult bullying, she said.

She came to the conclusion, she said, that "I did nothing wrong. I'm going to continue to live my life." When she was approached by others about the drama, she would tell them, "I'm going to say nothing about her or her child."

The other mom, Gass said, continued to talk about both Gass and her daughter. "Eventually, she talked herself into a corner. A handful of moms said, 'We don't care what she says, we still want you to be around.' The community eventually came around."

Weinstein told "GMA" that in her 20 years of work, she has seen moms bullying other moms "for everything from feeding preferences (e.g. formula vs breastfeeding) to how they dress their kids, to decisions about vaccinating their children and even having kids with psychological or sexual identity issues. I’ve also seen mom-shaming over physical appearances, time spent volunteering at a school, which classes and extracurricular activities they enroll their children in, the list goes on and on."

Just this week, she said, a client called her in tears because other moms were bullying her at her daughter's camp. "Her daughter, who is transgender, called from camp saying that some of the campers told her that some of the moms are bad mouthing her [her mom]. My client was crying, telling me that the other moms were judging her for supporting her transgender daughter. One mom even sent her a copy of a Bible with a note saying 'You will end up in hell.'"

The mom decided to pick her daughter up from camp the next day.

One variable, she said, is that what happened to Gass -- gossip that eventually got back to the victim of a mean comment -- can also be delivered online.

"I see that the bullying is done more and more on social media, specifically on the various mom groups," Weinstein said. "Hiding behind a computer, it seems, has given certain moms a platform to really unleash their feelings."

But however the blows are delivered, Weinstein said, "It’s important for moms who feel bullied to understand that once they are able to cope with those who bully them, they are also more able to be positive role models for their children. It’s important for moms to model not allowing other people to affect the way they feel and act."

This was advice Gass came to on her own.

"The sad part of it is children had to learn adults aren’t perfect -- adults are not always the role model should be," she said. "Don't think your child does not hear you bad-mouthing another parent, they do."

Weinstein said, "I have noticed that there is a strong correlation both between moms and kids who are being bullied and moms and kids who do the bullying."

"Bullies are not awful people," Gass said. "People who are hurting tend to lash out. They do it not because they are bad people, but because they are insecure."

In the end, Gass said, much good came out of a painful situation. She and her daughter made new friends, became more confident and became closer as a result of all their talks about the situation.

"I had faith in the goodness of people and that good would prevail," she said. "Just know if this happens to you, you are not alone. Believe in yourself."

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