What, or should I say who, is a mama-tomo (ママ友)? This is an interesting phenomena that is experienced by many Japanese mothers. Aptly explained by aki-chan:

“Mama-tomo is made up of MAMA which means mother and TOMODACHI which means friend. For example, I have a baby, so I’m a mother. If I have friends (mothers) through my baby, these kind of people called Mama-tomo. I have a friend who is (an) ex-coworker, and we have know each other over the past 10 years. She has a child too. But in this case, she isn’t my mama-tomo.”

ママ友たちの城南島の昼下がり・・20130921” by kazutan3@YCC is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.5, via Photozou

The situation with mama-tomo is that mothers with children will have to interact with other mothers when they pick up their children from school, or when they meet the teachers to follow up on their children’s performance. These mothers then form friendships, have regular gatherings and confide in one another the ups and downs of child-rearing, as well as receive support during tough times.

However, competition between these mothers underlie their friendship, and things can become rough when conflicts arise.

A survey done by NHK shows a “ranking system” between mothers within the mama-tomo circle:

Image taken from NHK’s 女性リアル ママ友トラブル via 斗比主閲子の姑日記
1. Husband's income (66.7%)
2. How much money is spent on child (55.6%)
3. Child's academic & athletic ability (50.9%)
4. Size & location of house (45.4%)
5. Is the mother able or unable to be a full-time housewife (31.5%)
6. Mother's job before marriage (25.9%)
7. Mother's appearance (17.6%)

Furthermore, more than half of the mothers surveyed (53.0%) said that friendship between mothers was exhausting. Why is this so?

Image taken from sirabee

Conflicts within the mamatomo community:

1. Parents interfering with quarrels between children (29.8%)
2. Being outcast or ignored (17.0%)
3. Being talked about badly (17.0%)
4. Having conflicting opinions or feelings (17.0%)
5. Someone who you are supposed to be angry at is getting angry at you instead (10.6%)
6. Others (36.2%)

Hence, this intricate yet delicate relationship between mothers has gained attention in recent times, where popular culture tries to unravel the mystery of mama-tomo.

The TV drama series Desperate Motherhood / 名前をなくした女神 (which literally means “The Goddess Who Lost Her Name”), depicts the lives of five mothers who face challenges within the mama-tomo community. Why the unusual title? Mothers in Japan seldom call each other by their names. Instead, they are often referred to as -insert child’s name-‘s mama. For example, Terry’s mother would be called Terry-kun mama (テリ―君ママ, Terry’s mama).

Mamatomo manga series
Image taken from Amazon Japan

For those who prefer to read, Matano Nao drew Mamatomo no Okite, Honne & Sadame (ママ友のオキテ、ホンネ、サダメ) based on her personal experience as a mother of 15 years, and observations of mama-tomo around her. This light-hearted series deals with the competitive spirit that mamatomo hide behind their sparkly smiles!

So, how exactly should mamatomo interact with one another?

Would you follow these advice?

Image taken from あんふぁんWeb
1. Mamatomo are NOT your friends. 
They are the mothers of your child's friends and not to be treated with the same value as friendships. It is better
not to treat such feelings as friendship like you felt back in your school days towards other mamatomo.

2. Socialising with mamatomo is a form of society training.
You will not be able to get along with everyone. Even if you do feel a sense of dislike towards someone, society is
such that you would have to continue socialising with her even under such circumstances.

3. It is better not to just live in a world of mamatomo.
If relationships between mamatomo were to become your main social interactions, trivial matters would come to be
thought of as serious instead. It is advisable to be in contact with your interests and other people as well.

Despite subtle rivalry between mamatomo, many do achieve satisfying and long-lasting friendships! Let’s then ponder these questions:

  • Are mothers in other countries facing the same situation? 
  • What are some differences in relationships between mothers worldwide vs. those in Japan?
  • What advice would you give to these mothers?

*Header image fromママンとパパスの育児日記

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