Pledging Beta

Recovering Alpha Mom shirt from

Recovering Alpha Mom shirt from

The book practically leapt off the library shelf and into my hands. How could I resist a title like, The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit? Jill Conner Browne‘s sassy bon mots just cracked me up.

–(On men) “They’ve basically got two gears–horny and hungry.”

–(On women) “There is all kinds of stuff that you just shouldn’t ask any woman. Directly. If you want to know something personal about her, ask her nail technician or somebody who went to high school with her. You can find out just about anything you want to know about her this way–especially if she’s a bad tipper or was prone to stealing ninth grade boyfriends.”

–(On children) “Somewhere around 11 to 13, the eyeballs of children become extremely loose in their sockets, so that just about any disturbance in the air around them–say a word issuing forth from, say, your mouth–will cause immediate and severe rolling.” (My son must be precocious, because he started doing this at age 8)

–(On aging) “Who cares how old you are anyway? I’ve got waaay more interesting stuff to lie about in my life, thank you very much.”

I related to a lot of the book, but there was one section in particular that really hit a nerve. I had been struggling all summer with the question of how much I want to volunteer at my son’s school this year, and her observations about Alpha Moms really hit home for me. Last year I raised my hand to volunteer a few too many times and by the end of June I was burnt out, bitchy and resentful–leaving my husband only hungry.

Not wanting to go through that again–or needlessly torture my family–I thought long and hard and decided to give up some of the boards and committees and projects I had been involved with. My problem was, I still felt guilty.

Then I read the chapter titled, “Life is Hard Enough–Pledge Beta.” Conner Browne talks about how researchers have now come up with official categories for moms, including the “dearly demented and overtly overachievers,” otherwise known as Alpha Moms.

I’m sure you know the type. These women volunteer for everything so energetically that you could swear they’ve sucked all the energy out of the universe for themselves. Just looking at them makes me tired.

These are the women who laugh at the black and orange crepe paper you were so proud of yourself for remembering to bring for Halloween party, then furiously whirl around the room until it’s transformed into Disney’s Haunted House, complete with magic elevators and hitchhiking ghosts. Then they refuse to take compliments because they “just whipped everything up” the night before after their Pilates and Mandarin Chinese classes.

Those are Alpha Moms I realized. I always thought they were called Skinny Witches. Who knew?

A light bulb went on. I had been struggling to be an Alpha Mom, but I just don’t fit in. Why didn’t I see it before? I was trying to pledge the wrong sorority.

I can’t keep myself perfectly groomed and wear heels all the time. Who am I kidding? I consider myself well dressed if I go a day without spilling something on my shirt. Clearly I’m meant to be a Beta Mom.

Beta Moms, according to Conner Browne, “show up late, running down the halls, flip-flops flapping on the floor, breathing hard, sweating, wearing oversized T-shirts and frantic,” because they forgot about the stupid party until five minutes AFTER they were supposed to be there.

These are my people. I belong with the Betas, who the Alpha Moms only trust to bring paper towels and garbage bags to the party, but still bring extras in case we forget.

Boy do I feel better now.

I think I’ll take Conner Browne’s advice–“I can tell you this with absolute certainty: Nobody goes to the nursing home wishing they’d served on a few more committees or kept a cleaner house”–and just say no to a whole lot of things this school year.

And in keeping with my new Beta Mom m.o., “The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit” is overdue to the library. But I just may have to keep it a teensy bit longer.

Send an email to email if you want to pledge Beta. There are no meetings, no dues, and no expectations. But we just may have a party someday.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 29, 2008.