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In 2003, Rosalind Wiseman realized “parent world” was just as fraught as “girl world,” which she chronicled in her bestselling 2002 book Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence—the basis of the hit movie Mean Girls. While speaking at a school, Wiseman was repeatedly interrupted by sighs and eye-rolling from two almost identical women in hip-hugging designer jeans, trendy boots, and perfectly cropped hair. “This isn’t just mean girls growing up to be mean moms,” says Wiseman. “It’s more complicated than that.”
So the 36-year-old Mount Pleasant resident and mother of two set out to write a guide to parents who haven’t quite left the schoolyard. She spent the next two years interviewing countless role models for Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads: Dealing With the Parents, Teachers, Coaches, and Counselors Who Can Make—or Break—Your Child’s Future, which was published in March.
Sometimes it seems impossible for parents to choose the right course of action when Chloe isn’t getting enough playing time, Landon complains that his teacher has it in for him, and parental cliques make Back-to-School Night as nerve-racking as a middle-school dance. To help parents recognize the dynamics at play, Wiseman breaks down the different parental types, including such characters as Pushover Mom (“No…I said no…I mean it, no!…Oh, okay”) and Sidekick Dad (bossy, overbearing Kingpin Dad’s sniveling yes man). She says she names the behaviors not to label people but to create a starting point for important conversations. “I’d really like this book to get parents to have a bit of a sense of humor about themselves, to laugh at it a little,” says Wiseman. “If everything is a big deal, then you fight all the time.”
Wiseman also incorporates crazy parental anecdotes she heard to illustrate her points in Queen Bee Moms: the principal who had to ban goody bags because class parents kept trying to one-up one another; the permissive mom who—figuring that if her kids were going to drink they might as well do it under her roof—was discovered by her son being held upside down by his friends, doing a keg stand at a party.
Wiseman still receives about 100 messages each month from parents, teachers, coaches, and kids. She recently heard about a coach in Fargo, N.D., who tried to light a fire under his boys by telling them that they were “running like they had sand in their vaginas.”
Paramount Pictures, which released Mean Girls, optioned Queen Bee Moms three weeks before the book came out, but Wiseman’s success doesn’t always go over well with her audience. Occasionally, she’s accused of practicing pop psychology and gets defensive, thinly veiled oh-yeah-well-what-about-you questions from other parents at readings. Washington queen-bee moms, Wiseman says, can make you rethink your profession. “These parents always go after your integrity and your competence,” says Wiseman. “People in Washington can really wield that power, and it’s scary to be on the other end of that.”
Wiseman readily cops to the irrationalities she writes about. She worries about her children not being liked. She bought an SUV because a minivan was just too uncool. Once, while sitting at a dais as the keynote speaker at a luncheon, she unknowingly rolled her eyes the entire time a chirpy beauty queen prattled about her platform. “I’m always catching myself,” she says.
“That’s why I work so well with teenage girls,” she chuckles. “I still do this stuff.”—Huan Hsu