Playground Rules…

I have tried to suppress my memories of awkward school playground moments wondering who to play with.  I do remember however praying night after night for a good friend who I could be with at break and lunch times – it all worked out in the end and I had some brilliant childhood friends.  More and more recently though I have found myself revisiting these memories.  When I go to pick up my daughter, who’s in reception, from school, I find myself in that awkward playground moment once again.  It’s like I have de-ja-vu.  It’s like groundhog day.  I stand awkwardly looking at my phone or being particularly attentive to my small son.  I pretend not to notice the clusters of others – laughing, with their ‘in-jokes’ and their posh buggies.   I don’t know how to make friends – how to break into the cliques and I don’t know that I have the emotional energy to do so.  Don’t get me wrong I know a couple of people and I do try to strike up conversations with others but the pervasive culture is one of ‘the it crowd’ and I feel so different.  I feel absolutely exposed and vulnerable.

A couple of weeks ago I chatted to one Mum who spent our entire conversation assuming I wouldn’t be working.  Many of the mums don’t work and that is fine with me, but I can’t be the same as them.  I haven’t got time to hang around the playground from 2 just to ‘catch-up’ with other mums.  Nick and I work 6 out of 7 nights a week between us at the moment so I can’t go for a ‘girl’s night out’ with the reception mums.  I work during the day so I can’t do lunch.

Now I have great friends outside of the school playground scenario and I’m not necessarily looking for life-long bosom buddies, but I worry that not being part of the gang will affect my girl.  We don’t get the posh hand-made party invites.  I stand looking on as the token ‘thank you’ cards are passed out from the child’s birthday party on the previous weekend.  I worry my girl will miss out because I am the awkward one in the playground.

I find myself thinking again and again maybe I should just try to be like them.  Maybe I should prepare a little longer before heading out to the school gate – maybe I should show my hair more than just a glance at a hair-brush.  Maybe I should invest in some real Uggs, an enormous ‘Kidston’ and a snazzy ‘Quinny’.  Maybe I should be at home preparing tea for the entire day, or dusting the house (to be honest it needs it!) or meeting others for lunch.  Maybe my ideals about bringing up my children, working and sharing things with Nick are just that – ideals.  Maybe I should put all that on-hold in order to further my girl’s chances of being popular.  Maybe then, just maybe, I might get an affirming look or my girl that allusive birthday party invite.

So I have this dilemma do I pretend to be something I am not – a ‘yummy mummy’ who seeks to make friends with people who’s only commonality is being a parent?  Or do I struggle through being me – happily letting my daughter dress up as a dragon for ‘world book day’ rather than being another Princess – but risking her being without social invites and perhaps friends?  I know, I know I am probably over-reacting about this all.  The playground scenarios from my childhood have cast a shadow that has blurred my perception of all this.  I think I am going back to the praying for a good friend thing!

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9 Replies to “Playground Rules…”

  1. Thank you…everything you write about here is so true of where I am too. It’s taken 6 months before I’ve had more than a two sentence snippet of conversation at our school gate. The party thing is so terrible…I understand completely and it was such a dilemma at our daughter’s 5th party as to who to invite…the kids she told me she played with at school or the kids whose mum’s I briefly chatted to maybe once a week? we opted for the former, which got people in our home but it hasn’t extended into further connection. We moved in August and she started at the school in September, so we have no pre-school connections to work on. One solution is I’m having a fundraising cake sale/tea at my house. I have had 1 positive RSVP so far, but that’s better than nothing. The other thing is PTA…makes me feel like my own mother, but it’s a way of meeting people more regularly for a different purpose. Working nights is an issue tho – when I go back to work in June, I’ll have the same problem. Just praying for you lovely lady – our intentions and attitudes are right and I figure that if you and I feel that way each day, we’re probably not the only ones in our respective playgrounds. It’s just hard to find the other misfits! xx

    1. Thank you Alice. So nice to feel that I am not alone in this whole thing. I think your child starting school is much more complex than it initially seems! I love your cake sale/tea idea – thinking maybe I might steal it!
      Nick, my husband, has been to a PTA meeting (trying to help bring some ‘Dad’ representation – it’s very ‘Mum’ at the moment). I guess these things take time, but it feels lonely now.

  2. I understand your concens regarding your daughter’s popularity and whether this will be determined by your social behaviour. However a child learns firstly from their greatest tutors in the world. Parents. If you feel obliged to become something you are not, then you teach your children that it is more important to conform than to be an individual. I always tried to instill in my daughter.( yes your niece ) never to be a sheep. She ended up with the most diverse group of friends and was the richer for it. There is nothing wrong with being who you are and managing your life as fits you and your family.
    Showing your chidren that they have options is the greatest gift we can give them. They will become more independent and well rounded if shown that they do not have to follow the crowd. Friends yes are very important and they will find the friends that suit their lifestyle and share their rich, nuturing upbringing.

    ps and sis you know im no social butterfly xx

    1. I was in full flow and my phone threw me out, but basically I agree with Paula. My son’s in year 1 now and I remember last year feeling something similar, I think a lot of mums do. Your daughter will make real friends in time and so will you if you want to. But don’t try & be something you’re not, it won’t work. And dragons are great!

      1. Thank you for your response – good to hear from people who have already gone through this stuff. I am determined to be me – dragons and all!

  3. Ruth, please don’t stop being you. You are an inspiration to many people including me. I am dreading the school playground thing in 4 years time and will be asking for your wisdom about how you survived it! There was a great Lunchtime lecture at UCL about a study looking at the effect of women going to work on both their own health and their children’s – definitely no negative effect, benefit for mothers health, no apparent difference for boys and positive benefits for daughters of mother working. It doesn’t seem to be on the archive yet but if it does get on I’ll send you link. It did my soul the world of good.

    I had similar experiences at stay and plays but had the freedom to decide to stop going, won’t be able to do that at school! These forums don’t have to be like this though, I really enjoy the stay and play at my church – its the only one I go to. I think it helps that I have relationships with the people there based on things other than our children but also that we intentionally let each other be different from each other and that that’s OK. In other contexts I’ve sat and listend to mums and childminders discussing child in front of them’s mothers disicion to work full time and the negative impact on said child. These people knew I also worked.

    Mummy wars are painful. we don’t have to join in.

    1. Jenny – yep not good at ‘stay and plays’ either! Thanks for your encouragement. Mummy wars are certainly painful but I am determined to continue being me in it all – tough though.
      Thanks for you info re:working mums too – refreshing to feel like working is an attribute rather than a shady compromise! x

  4. I am already very bad at “stay and play” and M is only 5 months old. When we go for his monthly weigh in at the Surestart centre I try to look busy and efficient – the kind of person who has other places to go and other people to see, so couldn’t possibly stay and chat. Ha!

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