“I don’t want to go to school today!”
“You have to”
“I don’t like it, I don’t fit in and nobody talks to me”
“But darling….you have to pick up the children!”
For any mum with school age children, for whom the school-run is a daily part of life, I’m sure you’ll identify with that feeling. There are simply some days when you cannot face the chit chat with other parents at the school gates or in the playground when dropping off and collecting your kids.
It’s like a weird microcosm of society, or perhaps of high school all over again- the same groups and cliques, except now they have different names.
There’s the PTA crowd; the full-time-mummy crowd; the working-mums; the trendy types; the earthy-hiking boots crowd. There’s the Ugg Boots- Cath Kidston crowd. Perhaps in some schools there are cliques based on racial and religious lines- the hijabis, the Asian mums, the Black mums. All look at other groups with suspicion. Very rarely do its members break ranks; some will try- those brave types who seek to build bridges with other groups or individuals. But they do so only with varying degrees of success, and very little inter-mingling ever really occurs.
Whatever the groups and stereotypes are, one thing I’ve learnt from talking to lots of different mums, from those who have been doing it for just a couple of years to almost ten, all of us find the school playground hard, perhaps even dread it. And everyone I’ve spoken to, however popular and easy going they seem, will tell you that they feel they don’t fit in.
Ultimately, breaking through the groups and making friends with other parents will only benefit your child. In my daughter’s nursery a few years ago, I found I was the only brown face at the school gates. I tried my best to get to know her best friend’s mum and as many of the other mums as I could. I tried to arrive early to have time to chat to others. I went on a night out with them. And as nice as they all seemed, I just never managed to build any lasting relationships and I always felt I stuck out like a sore thumb. What’s more, my daughter never got invited to any of the parties or after- school picnics. We’d turn up at the park and there’d be a group of them sitting there and we’d awkwardly say hello as we walked past. I spent that whole year wondering: is it my fault she doesn’t get invited to anything? At nursery she had lots of friends of her own, so perhaps the mums simply didn’t want to spend time with me?
So when she started school, I took all those experiences and channelled them. Here’s what I learnt:
You have to make the first move
I know you don’t want to, but you have to. If you wait for the other person to initiate a conversation, more than likely it’ll never happen.
Smiling and saying good morning goes a long way
It sounds simple but I’ve found it does wonders to break the ice. A cheery “good morning!” soon opens the way to a conversation and before you know it the awkwardness is gone.
Keep building and maintaining relationships
Work at it. I’ve spoken to mums at birthday parties or school events only to find they ignore me on Monday morning. It’s very disheartening, but when I get the opportunity I pick up where we left off as if they never ignored me. This usually works. Make sure you follow up an initial conversation with a quick “how are you?”
If you are someone already involved in a group, try standing somewhere else at pickup time- you might encounter someone you’ve never spoken to before. Building bridges will only help your child in the long run, as it opens the doors for them to be get to know other children. Though they may seem happy enough in their own little friendship group, it’s so important for them to know other children in their year group.
Get involved with school events and PTA
Destroy the notion that you are an insular person. If the PTA is too much for you or you simply don’t have time, volunteer to man the class stall at the Christmas Fayre or help chaperone the next class trip. It’s also a great way to get to know your child’s teachers and classmates better.
Trying at least one if not all these things will almost certainly help you make new mum-friends. And if there’s that one mum who you just can’t get through to, she still gives you an icy stare or simply looks past you in the morning, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s probably her own insecurities or life- difficulties that are holding her back- and not something you’ve done.
So go on, get out there! You might meet someone who becomes a really good friend.