School Gate Chatter and Cliques

AD I’ve been a school run mum for 5 years and before that I was a nursery run mum for 4 years. I should have perfected the art of the school gate chat by now shouldn’t I? I don’t think I have.

People often say the school gate is cliquey and I don’t think that’s the case. Yes you get groups of the same people who stand around chatting and of course there will be a few grown adults that feel the need to be negative about others. There will be parents who judge parents of the child that comes in with unbrushed hair, the pyjama wearing mum (although I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen one myself) or who think badly of others because of some perceived parenting fail, but I honestly think these are few and far between.

Am I being naive? I know they say that there is always one person in every friendship group that no one really likes, and if you think there isn’t it is probably you, but I’m choosing to see the best in people and take them at face value. I think if people aren’t chatty it could be due to a whole list of harmless reasons and nothing to do with cliques. 

A mum standing looking cold in a grey reversible gillet and a black hoodie dress
My school run style is to be comfy and warm

Morning School Run Style

There are enough mornings where we have struggled to get to school that I’m not going to judge any one else that makes it in, whatever the state or behaviour. My children have been bribed into the car on many a morning with biscuits. Some days my toddler refuses to wear his coat, or jumper, or even shoes. It’s normal for us to have breakfast on the go (luckily my children love dry cereal). There are mornings we have forgotten to brush hair and even when I did still bother to iron the school uniform my children  managed to roll around creasing it in the 5 minutes before we left the house.

And then there is me: my style these days is very much one of warmth and convenience. Now the cooler months are here I love a baggy jumper or a bodysuit under a gilet or jacket (great for keeping drafts out), if I want to make a bit more of effort maybe I’ll throw on an easy hoodie dress. My look is complete with a mum bun and make up free face. When it's colder still you will find me snug in a ski jacket.

And then there is the conversation. I’m more than happy to chat to anyone, but I tend to talk to just a handful of parents over and over again. It’s not about being cliquey, it’s about the effort that it takes to chat to someone new and come across as a relatively normal person. Many of the parents I have known since my eldest started at the school or before, or are parents of children I know socially through friends. After hundreds of 5 minute audiences over the years they hopefully know my heart is in the right place. 

In the morning I can easily be forgiven my grunt of a reply to people who say “hi”. I’m generally exhausted, if not from lack of sleep, then from the battle I have been having with my children for the last hour or more. Negotiating requests for my children to put socks on, navigating hyper sensitivities which mean that suddenly the school t-shirt is too uncomfortable and arguing that no my toddler can’t take an entire toy box on the school run and he’ll just have to make do with a handful.

It's sometimes hard to know what to say at the school gate

Some mornings it is hard even to smile and say "hello"

Afternoon Pick Me Up

The afternoons aren’t that much better either. My toddler often has to be bribed to come to school to pick up his sisters. And when he comes he’ll either be in a grump or charging around full of beans so I worry about him darting into the road or falling flat on his face (the latter seems a regular occurrence). So I’m distracted and tired and lacking in polite conversation. Not that it stops me talking some days.

Perhaps worse than the days when I can’t remember my name are the days that, instead of a brief reply to  “how are you?”, I switch to overshare mode. I have been known to tell near strangers intimate details  of our lives. I know I do the same every day on Instagram stories, but at least there people can swipe away with no offence taken. At school pick up they have to send out a silent prayer their child’s class will be out soon and that they can rush out the playground. 

And despite all this. I will miss the camaraderie of the school gates. As my eldest gets ever closer to secondary school the number of parents I know well enough to grunt at or say a manic and weirdly pitched “hello” decreases. More parents are going back to work, more children are walking home on their own. 

The relationships with parents in my younger daughters class never got as well established due to social distancing and face masks. There was no “Tea and Tears” session for new parents on the first day of school, we were just grateful they got to be there in person for their first day and it wasn’t enforced home schooling. There has been no parental attendance at school concerts or sports day, no Christmas fayres or coffee mornings. We have the class WhatsApp group, but the less said about that the better (strangers communicating in short sentences never ends well). We have a few years yet to bond so maybe it will improve. If all else fails I get to do it again with a new cohort of parents when my youngest starts school.

I just need to remember the *correct answer* to “hi, how are you?” is “I’m good thanks, you?” said with a friendly smile and eye contact.

I'm always happy to make friends, as long as they can do the talking

***Post contains gifted items from Femme Luxe***

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