* This one’s for the ladies – School Dads are a different kettle of fish all together *
“So I was watching this show, and there’s this psychologist – no psychiatrist -,”
“Or clairvoyant, whatever,” I interject.
We all laugh. It’s an in-joke reference, now several years old. I pause in this moment to look around the table. It’s easy company, with dear friends, enjoying our sacred ritual of morning coffee after school drop-off. These women are woven into the fabric of my heart, and are friendships for a lifetime.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Here we are in January, with a bunch of parents about to take their eldest children to school for the very first time. It’s exciting – daunting – and definitely a Whole New World. For many families, you will be about to meet a new community which you will be attached to for the next 14 or more years.
A Google for “new school mum anxiety” returns a plethora of advice about how to help your CHILD adjust to schooling, and a large selection of advice for dealing with separation anxiety (yours and theirs). But what about those other anxieties that crop up? In a survey of 1800 first-day-mums, conducted by netmums.com, 55% of mums were concerned about how to make friendships with other school mums; and 54.5% were worried that they wouldn’t look as organised or “glam” as other mums. Other anxieties I commonly hear about include:
- I didn’t fit in / was bullied at school – going back there now brings back all those memories
- The other mums are all connecting better than me
- They’re not interested in me
- They’ll judge me because I’m an at-home mum
- They’ll judge me because I work
What to do about it?
- Acknowledge that these feelings are normal and common. You are not alone – and the mum beside you that you might be worried about is probably feeling the same way.
- Treat yourself with the same compassion you are (hopefully) extending to your child. You are expecting him/her to enter this new environment every day; to open up, be present, and make friends. They’re going through this too, and you can be their model.
- Be open to the (likely) possibility that your protective mind isn’t accurate on this one.
- Remember that the more open and approachable you are, the easier it is for other mums to connect with you. You can act this way, even if you don’t yet feel it.
Why bother connecting with School Mums?
I cannot overstate how incredibly valuable school mums are in my life. I learn from them All. The. Time. These are the women that see me day in / day out.
- Often when I’m stressed that Hiccup or Toothless is doing something unusual or concerning, talking with other mums I discover that actually, that’s what all their cohort is up to at that moment. All five-year olds are fussy eaters… Most six-year olds aren’t sitting still at the table… Everyone gets end-of-term ratty behaviour… School swimming IS making them all over-tired… Apparently the specialist teacher was cranky with ALL year ones that day… Most year twos are swapping lunches right now…
- Sometimes it’s the other mums that realise before me that I’m tired, over-analysing, out-of-sorts – and they gently guide me back.
- Other parents have alerted me to important school-yard dynamics that my children hadn’t deemed important enough to share with me.
- Friendships at the parent-level can help monitor and support dynamics in friendships at the child-level.
- School-mum-friendships are easy to stay in touch with – they’re right there, every day! If your kids are in a public school, then they’re all living in your local community too.
Ways to foster connection:
- Be the one to “go first” – greet other mums, open up conversations, show interest (remember the mum that appears “stand-off-ish” is probably actually just anxious and shy – like you)
- Start play-dates. A wise friend of mine advised me to do as many playdates as possible with as many different children during kindy and pre-primary – at that age it’s still okay for the parents to go along too, so you’ll feel more comfortable later when they’re ready to go it alone. It’s also a great opportunity to build some one-on-one connections with other mums.
- Leave your phone in your bag so that you’re clearly available for communication!
- Send out an invite to all parents (via the teacher) to a class play-date in a park / play centre; or a parents dinner/lunch/morning tea. The parents who are most interested in connecting will either (a) come; or (b) express their disappointment that they can’t come – this helps you narrow the pool to know where to focus your friendship-building energy. I’m grateful to the first mum that did this in Hiccup’s year (it wasn’t me!).
- If you have time after drop-off, invite other parents to join you for a coffee nearby. If conversation doesn’t flow easily the first time, try again. The more often, the better! I find a minimum of once a week is incredibly beneficial for maintaining a sense of connection (and my sanity). It is worth prioritising this. If your school isn’t near a coffee shop, why not organise a coffee van to arrive for half an hour around the start or end of the school day?
- Arrive a few minutes early for school pick-up to actively make time to chat.
- Consider attending a P&C meeting, or becoming involved in a school committee.
- Remember that friendships take time to blossom and grow – it’s okay if you’re not all great buddies by the end of kindy – you have YEARS ahead of you yet.
- Stay open to new parents within the school community – avoid become the very clique you worried you’d be excluded from 😉
Most of the tips above are ones that have been passed to me by other wise parents. This blog has greater value to all when we build it as a community – please share your wisdom, ideas and experiences below.
As for the fabulous school mums in MY life: You know where you’ll find me the first week of term – and I’ll be desperate for you all to join me xxx