That’s weird. She
didn’t smile at me today. She always smiles at me. Last week at pick-up, we had
that great chat. At least, I thought it was great. She was laughing, wasn’t
she? Maybe she was just being polite. Oh shit, maybe I've done something to upset her. Did I? What did I say? Oh god, she obviously hates me…
School mums. They get a bad rap. Before I became one myself,
I heard the stories about how cliquey they could be, bitchy, rude,
judgemental. And maybe in some cases, those accusations are absolutely valid.
But that has not been my experience.
For me, school mums are a huge part of what I love about the
whole schooling experience. I look forward to catching up with them each day
after school (and at kinder drop-offs and pick-ups), and in some instances, they
have become dear friends. Friends I expect to keep whether our children remain
close or not. These women have offered me a real and essential connection to
the community in which I live.
But for all that, I have been known to have the above
thoughts from time to time. I think we all do. Particularly in the beginning,
when we are new to a community, it can be hard. Relationships are not easy to
build and social interaction can feel awkward.
Luca began 3-year-old kinder a few weeks into the third
term. He struggled to find a place within already existing friendship groups
and initially, I did, too. But I had to push myself to go beyond my comfort
zone and talk to people. When I would arrive at the kinder, mums would be
standing in groups chatting. This is what people do. They gravitate towards
certain people and friendships develop. After half a year together, it was
natural that they would have formed bonds. And of course, they didn’t know me at all. So standing in groups
talking was not a deliberate “fuck you” to me even if it felt that way when I arrived. If I had attempted to join a
conversation and they had ignored me, that’s a different matter. But I didn’t
necessarily expect them to shout, “Hey new girl, come over and join us!”
For new friendships to blossom, two things need to happen.
You need to reach out to people and you need to be responsive when they reach
out to you. Remember that most people feel a little shy when first meeting
someone. There are seldom few people who are completely confident in social settings. Most
of us are just faking it in the beginning. But this stage doesn’t last long and is
the pathway to creating a meaningful relationship or at the very least, someone
fun to chat with before and after school.
Not only is it important to put yourself out there with new
people but to check how available you appear to others. In my early 20’s, I was
full of the self-conscious angst so typical of that age. To protect myself from
being rejected, I presented a 'fuck-you' exterior to new people. If they didn’t
like me, well, I didn’t like them first. I used humour to deflect but
ultimately, I was acerbic and defensive. Thankfully, enough people gave me the
benefit of the doubt anyway and as I relaxed, so did that tough front.
Underneath it, I could be warm and funny. But to protect myself, I never let
people see that in the beginning.
So when you’re standing there at school pick-up feeling
really uncomfortable about not knowing anyone and wishing someone would approach you, your body language may unwittingly be sending a
“stay away” vibe.
And then, remember that you are meeting parents possibly at
their most stressed moments. For me, Luca's kinder drop-offs and pick-ups were a
nightmare. Someone was always crying – Ziggy at drop-off because he wanted to
stay with his big brother and Luca at pick-ups because he didn’t want to leave. And the more children a person has, the more distracted you can expect that parent to be. So if someone does rush past you or doesn’t return a smile, remember that
they are juggling a thousand things, co-ordinating kids, school bags, artwork and
probably the shopping list in their heads. It is almost never, if ever,
We recently had a new girl start in Luca’s class. I was
talking to a school mum friend, Kate, and she interrupted me to say, “Sorry. I
just noticed the new girl’s parents over there and I wanted to introduce myself
before they leave.” I walked with her and we met the parents who were so
thrilled that we had gone out of our way to say hello. They mentioned that the
parents at the last school were very stand-offish. And you know what? Maybe
that’s true. Or maybe they could have
made more of an effort. I think it can often be a little of both. But Kate was
a shining of example of how a small gesture can make a huge impact. And I was
so happy to have been along for the ride because certainly it had not occurred
to me to introduce myself. The irony of this is that I had been at pains to
stress to Luca how important it was to make the new girl feel welcome.
I will never forget what Kate did. When next the situation arises, I will do it myself.
Moral of the story; Reach out. Let people reach out to you.
And don’t be too quick to form an opinion of a person. Shy can read as
aloof, stressed can read as rude. Genuinely unpleasant or judgemental people
will reveal themselves in time and from there, you can avoid them. But you lose
nothing of yourself by being open and kind from the beginning.
And don't dismiss the opportunity to make new friends. I had enough wonderful friends. I didn't need any more. This makes my school mum friends an especially lovely and surprising gift. I am grateful for them.
Exception to rule: if my school ever brings in 'kiss and drop', I may never speak to another school mum again…..
Oh I totally get it. Sigh! I missed out on a lot of the “meet and greet” first 2 terms because I had TAFE and final placement. Now when I do the drops off in the mornings I often felt like the “odd one out” because they do have their clicky groups, I do make an effort but by goodness some days it is tough. My daughters best friends mum never drops her off so only recently met her, but I had one of those moments when picking my daughter up after an after school play date and swore I must of said something wrong, but seems all good now that I think it was all in my self concious head. School parent groups do my head in, especially when it is such a small school only 1 prep class and a prep/1 class
It is hard if you’re not there much because you miss out on forming those friendships early on. I know it can feel as though you’re being excluded but I bet nine times out of ten, it really isn’t intentional. It takes a bit to put yourself out there though, doesn’t it? Tricky stuff. xx
Like, Like, Like!!!!! This is sooooo true!!!!!!
🙂 Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
I relate to this – I was incredibly nervous when F started school because I had those same cliquey notions in my head. Turned out that her starting school – in a city where I knew very few people – was the catalyst for making the best friends I could have possibly asked for for in L.A. I, too, began to look forward to the afternoon pick ups. Californian year-round sunshine is conducive to standing around, having some good old chats outside. No mater how shitty a day I was having, the knowledge of seeing friends for twenty minutes or so each day always made it seem a bit brighter. I made wonderful, generous friends who we socialised with on weekends and I never imagined forging such strong bonds.
Cut to now, and once again, I’m nervous about F starting school in Seattle. For one, the parents have all known each other a couple of years (her previous school’s programme was a closed-off enrollment so there were no ‘new’ parents to meet each year). Secondly, she’ll mostly be catching a school bus so I’ll have far less opportunity to meet parents… and the cold wet weather here means (I’m guessing) that parents won’t be arriving early for social chit-chatting at the gates. I’m going to have to work *that* much harder to put myself ‘out there’. It’s going to be… different.
Sorry for the mini-essay. This is just something that’s been on my mind lately, what with the new school year only a few weeks away.
I relate to it too. There are some people I talk to at W’s school and a lot I don’t. Some of them are very cliquey. I don’t judge people if I’ve never spoken to them before. But there are a handful of parents who spoke to me last year who no longer do and they pretend they don’t see me while they’re striding in the gates with their phones plastered to their ears. Yet mysteriously, they are pretty dang chatty when one of their in crowd friends show up. Yes, their kids are exactly the same.
I had a bit of angst over it. Well, a lot of angst. It pushes all my “rejection” buttons and that is never a nice experience. But I try to remind myself that there are people like this everywhere, all throughout life. I just talk to the ones I like, try to include the ones I don’t know, and be polite but no more to the others.
I never expected the ‘school mum’ to become such a rewarding part of our schooling journey. And being new in L.A. as you were, making those friends was magic, I bet.
I really enjoy being a part of the school community. Ours is small and the area is lovely so I think we are blessed in the types of families who go there. Parents whose children are not in Luca’s class smile at me, you know? It’s just a great community.
I would be equally nervous in the lead-up to F starting school. It’s natural – you’re both starting again and it’s daunting. But you’ve done it before and despite the challenges of weather and the bus, I bet you find kindred spirits again.
I’ll be thinking of you both. xxx
I must say, Mel, I think we are incredibly fortunate where we are that there does not appear to be any of that bullshit – at least not between the mums of the preppies. The area is very middle-class family-oriented with most parents being my age or older – I don’t doubt that would have a bit to do with it. I think younger mums may be more inclined to hold onto that residual shit from high school.
I’ve been thinking that if a new parent arrived at pick-up,they might feel like our school has cliques, too. I arrive and naturally gravitate towards the same group of women (although there is plenty of fluidity in the groups). It’s not an intentional exclusion of others but I can imagine being new, it would be so hard to break into pre-existing groups. That’s why I was so impressed by Kate going out of her way to say hello to the new parents. So though I have never excluded anyone, I know I can be more inclusive.
Social interaction – ugghh. Humans are so much hard work! xxx