My tips for making (mum) friends at school
By Riyaza Rodriguez
For any mum with school age children, for whom the school-run is a daily part of life, I’m sure there are days when you just don’t want to go to school. The days when you simply cannot face the chit chat with other parents at the school gates or in the playground when dropping off and collecting your kids.
School (albeit your child’s) can often feel like a weird microcosm of society, or perhaps of high school all over again- the same groups and cliques, except now they have different names.
There’s the PTA crowd; the full-time-mummy crowd; the working-mums; the trendy types; the earthy-hiking boots crowd. There’s the Ugg Boots/ Cath Kidston crowd. Perhaps in some schools there are cliques based on racial and religious lines- the hijabis, the Asian mums, the Black mums. All look at the other groups with suspicion. Very rarely do its members break ranks. Some will try; those brave types who seek to build bridges with other groups or individuals. But they do so only with varying degrees of success, and very little inter-mingling ever really occurs.
Or perhaps you live in an area where you are one of the only brown faces in a sea of white ones. This can be particularly daunting if the other parents don’t seem that welcoming. Really colour shouldn’t matter (ever) but the reality that I’ve found is that sometimes you do get treated differently.
In my daughter’s nursery a few years ago, I found I was the only brown face at the school gates. I tried my best to get to know her best friend’s mum. My repeated invitations to our house were met with excuses, time and again. I also tried to speak to as many of the other mums as I could, often arriving early to have time to chat with others. I even went on a night out with them.
As nice as they all seemed, I never managed to build any lasting relationships and I always felt I stuck out like a sore thumb. What’s more, my daughter never got invited to any of the parties or after-school picnics. We’d turn up at the park and there’d be a group of them sitting there and we’d awkwardly say hello as we walked past. I spent that whole year wondering: is it my fault she doesn’t get invited to anything? At nursery, she had lots of friends of her own, so perhaps the mums simply didn’t want to spend time with me?
Whatever the groups and stereotypes are, one thing I’ve learned from talking to lots of different types of mums, from those who have been doing it for just a couple of years to the pros, all of us find the school playground hard, perhaps even dread it. And everyone I’ve spoken to, however popular and easy-going they seem, will tell you that they feel they don’t fit in.
Ultimately, breaking through the groups and making friends with other parents will benefit your child. Building bridges with parents is a great way for your child to get to know other children in their year group – because pretty soon the mums want to get together and it’s great if this can involve the kids too. Though your child may seem happy enough now in their own little friendship group, things can change quickly in the playground; or simply when they do mixed group activities in the classroom, there’ll be a friendly face there.
So when my daughter started school, I took all those experiences I’d had, all the advice I’d been given and channelled it. Here’s what I learned:
1. You have to make the first move.
I know you don’t want to, but you have to. If you wait for the other person to initiate a conversation, more than likely it’ll never happen.
2. Smiling and saying good morning goes a long way.
It sounds simple but I’ve found it does wonders to break the ice. A cheery “Good morning!” soon opens the door to a conversation and before you know it, the awkwardness is gone.
3. Keep building and maintaining relationships.
Work at it. I’ve spoken to mums at birthday parties or school events only to find they ignore me on Monday morning. It’s very disheartening, but when I get the opportunity, I pick up where we left off as if they never ignored me. This usually works. Make sure you always follow up an initial conversation with a quick “How are you?”
4. Break ranks.
If you are someone already involved in a group, try standing somewhere else at pickup time. You might encounter someone you’ve never spoken to before. Try and be available to talk to different people rather than always being seen huddling with the same group.
5. Get involved with school events and PTA.
Destroy the notion that you are an insular person by getting involved. The PTA is of course an excellent way to throw yourself into school life. If the PTA is too much for you or you simply don’t have time, volunteer to man the class stall at the Christmas Fair or help chaperone the next class trip. Volunteer to listen to the children read in class. It’s also a great way to get to know your child’s teachers and classmates better.
This last tip is also great for either working parents or those who are on the shyer side. Most schools will do a Christmas or Summer Fair on a Saturday morning – make sure you volunteer if you work during the week. And if you are shy and find making small talk quite difficult, then it’s always much easier to connect over a common activity.
Trying at least one, if not all, of these things will almost certainly help you make new mum-friends. And if there’s that one mum who you just can’t get through to, she still gives you an icy stare or simply looks past you in the morning, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s probably her own insecurities or life difficulties that are holding her back and not something you’ve done.
So go on, take a deep breath and get out there! You might meet someone who becomes a really good friend.
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