Playground politics 101: Should moms be making school friends too?

Eve Dugdale

Published: Updated:

Skidding into the soft play center car park, I sigh with relief that I’m only five minutes late.

Grabbing my daughter’s hand we dash in and she heads off with her friends. I notice they’re all wearing pretty, crease-free dresses with bows in their hair. My girl has comfy track suit bottoms and a T-shirt. Despite her complaints that she wanted to wear a dress that morning I’d insisted that comfort prevailed for a session of slides and ball pools thinking I was, for once, being a sensible mom.

Now I’m racked with guilt that my beautiful girl looks like she’s dressed in lost property items.

My partner still can’t comprehend what goes through my mind on a daily basis. The guilt, the worry, the fear of what other mums make of me.

And I’m scared it’s about to get a whole lot worse as we begin looking at primary schools for my daughter.

We’ve all heard tales about school moms, bake sale bust-ups and sports day rivalries and while much of it is sensationalized, I still hear the odd horror story from older relatives who warn me not to make friends in the school yard.

But is it really all that bad?

Sure if we were to believe everything we see in films such as ‘Bad Moms,’ we would never stop to say hello to anyone on the school run but Natasha McQuillan says she actually misses the daily interactions.

“School mom friends have been and continue to be my saviors, I’m so forgetful and last minute, I’d be lost without them,” she says.

“Us working parents need a support network, we need to help each other out and take turns. Your kids will have friends for life as will you. I was the new kids’ mom and they made me feel very welcome. Whether I had bad hair, a tired face, if it was a bad day or good day at work, I looked forward to my Friday playground catch-up and I miss it now my son is too old to be picked up from school.”

Similarly Farah M says she enjoys having people who are going through similar experiences to talk to. She says: “My husband isn’t a great talker. We speak about our son’s schoolwork but not at any length so it’s good to have other moms to chat to about it. Through talking to other moms I can work out if our son is achieving at the same level as his friends and find out if there’s anything going on that I should know about.”

Just as we have work friends, university friends and family friends, there’s a place for school mom friends, says Leandra Meintjes. But we need to exercise caution at times.

She says: “My problem is the class WhatsApp groups. Some mommies can get real evil on there. Also I pick the mommies who closely relate to my lack or inability to be the perfect working mom. That’s why my advice would be to make friends but keep the ones close who are not too crazy bake sale mommies. Keep those moms at arm’s length but don’t dismiss them entirely as you need to know when to run to Spinneys for the bake sale!”

‘The good enough mother’

Reminding yourself you’re good enough and not allowing yourself to be drawn into competition or feeling like you’re inadequate just because you’re not doing the same things as the other parents at the school, is key, believes Devika Singh Mankani.

Devika is a psychologist at The Hundred Wellness Center and says, when it comes to making friends in the school yard, go for quality not quantity.

“A popular psychology concept known as ‘the good enough mother’ has been used to articulate that while in the very early years mothers need to be available for every squeak and cry, gradually children need to experience developmentally appropriate levels of frustration so they can learn to cope with these situations where their needs aren’t always going to be met. If they don’t learn this over time they may not develop resilience,” she says.

“The same theory needs to be applied towards a mother’s analysis of herself. Sometimes you’ll be able to whip up the best meal and other times you will have them show up to a birthday party an hour late because you read the invitation in the middle of the night and got the time wrong. It’s OK. We teach our children by forgiving ourselves, first. So, my message to mothers, fathers and caregivers is to focus on the gift of perspective and optimism and seek out others who help you achieve that within your family. You may only find a few people to join you on this journey but you don’t need to go with the majority on this one.”

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