How many mummy friends do you have? One? Five? None? Mummy friends are, for those whose children haven’t yet started at nursery or reception, the mates you’re going to make (or not) at the school gate as you drop off and pick up your children.
Through the friends that I have made since my son started at school I’ve saved time, money and most importantly of all, my sanity. I wouldn’t even begin to figure out how to put a monetary value on this. From the mother who picks up my child for me when the bus is running late, to the mum who lets me know that the local swimming pool is doing a big freebie event and if I call this number RIGHT NOW I’ll be sure to get a ticket. So just how do you get plugged into this supportive network?
According to a survey by the Children’s Mutual, a child’s saving trust specialist, mums make an average of eight new friends when they have children.
It gets more interesting. Apparently, three in four mothers rate these friendships as being more supportive than any others. And, one mum in three says that the strongest friendships are the five forged with other primary school parents.
So, if you didn’t already feel enough pressure and guilt as a mum, you’re also got to worry about your social standing in the playground.
Or do you?
Braving the crowd
Those first few weeks of reception were just awful. Not for my son, who went off happily every day. But for me. It was a horrible, lonely time to be honest. My son had attended a small school for nursery. There was just a single class intake. It had a lot of parent involvement, and a large PTA that ran a lot of events. Everyone was friendly. For reception though, he started at the school down the road. It was a much bigger school with a three class intake.
No-one seemed at all friendly, and no-one wanted to talk to me. I work from home, and hadn’t realised how much I’d come to rely on those few minutes of social interaction a day. Without it, I felt like I was going stir crazy.
It seemed to take forever. The breakthrough came in the local park. In the late autumn sun, Daniel started playing with another boy. As it became clear that this was a boy he went to school with, I realised that the mum was one of the ‘unfriendly’ mothers. I sucked it up, and just went for it. Just started talking to her.
To my surprise, she turned out to be really quite chatty. And that’s when I began to realise that it was fear not unfriendliness. We were all standing out there in the playground, afraid of each other. Afraid of being snubbed. She was just as worried about me finding her ‘inferior’ as I was.
I was also probably being more than a bit off putting myself. The North Face bulky hiking jacket I frequently wore probably made me look like a rather frightening person to most folks in that part of London. I did find that I got a quicker, friendlier smile from other parents when I switched to my smart, red, woollen winter coat left over from my days of working in an office.
The blog Beyond Jane offers five top fashion tips for mums at the school gate. It is mind boggling stuff though. Take this extract “Plain black shoes are always a winner, and wearing a dash of make-up and perfume really shows you’ve made an effort. “ Yikes. That’s more than I can manage for ‘date night’ with the other half.
Debretts, the ‘modern authority on all matters etiquette, taste and achievement’ has a section devoted to School Gate Etiquette. No seriously, it does! This does not contain, as I’d hoped, the key to all the unspoken playground parental rules that seem to trap me into almost continuous faux pas. But actually has a bit of commonsense to it. I like the bits about never boasting about your child’s achievements and not turning up dressed to the nines in a huge SUV (very bad taste).
It probably helps to be a little bit circumspect during the first week, a sort of slightly toned down and tidier version of yourself. But really and truthfully being yourself is the way to go. Other ‘types’ of parents might make instant friends straight away, but it is, as I found eventually, worth the wait. By being yourself, the friends that you will make are going to be most like you. And since you’re going to be together for the next seven years, that’s really the best way to start!