A comment on The Spike from Mills last week has been on my mind. She said that she had read Christine Armstrong’s brilliant book “The Mother of All Jobs” and she had been left a little troubled by the recommendation in the book to have a lot of mum friends and be very involved in the school right from the start.
Just for background, Mother of all Jobs is a book about the challenges of combining work and parenting, with special focus on mothers.
I, too, have been thinking about this a lot recently as the admin required by my children, (who are at different schools, one relaxed, one very strict), seems to have doubled-down this year and I have to be extremely on it to make sure that not only has everything been done, but everything is planned for.
Yes, I am slowly transferring more responsibility onto my children to do things for themselves, but they cannot read the emails, sign the consent forms, order extra football socks from that one place that stocks my son’s school uniform and also tap through the three dozen questions on the NHS app in order to get some antibiotic cream for Kitty’s infected cuticle.
I really wonder, a lot, how women with full-time jobs get it all done. It’s just not something that you can outsource very satisfactorily because with so much of these things you need to be able to see the bigger picture. Or maybe I’m making it all too complicated.
Sorry, I’m getting off topic – Armstrong argues that it is important to be very IN at the school gates metaphorically if you cannot be there much physically. An awful lot gets done, decided, negotiated and sorted out at the daily pick-up and drop-off and if you’re not there, rubbing shoulders and smiling and remembering names, you and therefore your child will get left out of certain things. You will not be in the loop.
I mean, yes sort of. I know women who simply refuse to engage in any aspect of school life. Some of them are my dear friends, some of them are not. They pick up and drop off in silence, if they could wear blinkers they would, they despise the ones who show up in gym wear, they never ever say a word in the class WhatsApp. This is a perfectly okay way to go through school life if you are confident you will never need a favour, that you will never need goodwill personally or goodwill for your child. If you are confident that you and your child will sail through school life with your child never – I don’t know, just off the top of my head – sending a picture of her and five of her friends flipping the bird to an emotionally fragile classmate over WhatsApp.
Put in the very bluntest most brutal terms, putting your time in at the metaphorical school gates isn’t about right now, it’s an insurance policy.
But that doesn’t mean you have to snog everyone at the pickup line and know the health of the school secretary’s mother. Again, you can do that if you like, but it’s not necessary.
Your only goal as you land, blinking at the Reception classroom door – the smell of poster paint and fuzzy carpeting high in your nostrils – ought to be striking a balance between what you want to do and doing your basic duty.
If you are a full time working mother it must be very easy to assume that non-working mothers judge you and are just waiting for you to drop the ball. I haven’t found this. I think it’s true to say non-working mothers don’t particularly like full time working mothers who behave like the school gates is the Bog of Eternal Stench, but are happy to lean on non-working mothers when they find they need to.
But most of the time, non-working mothers appreciate the fight working mothers have on their hands. A good portion of them will have quit their jobs because they looked at what it takes, the sacrifices you have to make and went: “No thanks.” But if you do absolutely nothing for the school or the class and act, even out of fright and shyness, like you’re too good for the place, you may find your panicked request to the WhatsApp group goes unanswered.
The effort required from working mothers is minimal. One appearance at a parents’ social, the occasional useful comment on the class WhatsApp – do someone a favour if you possibly can, donate something to the raffle. You know it’s a token, everyone else knows it’s a token but it is appreciated nevertheless.
As for general socialising, as in getting one or two mates for yourself, the advice is the same as upon entering any institution and that is: keep cool and be yourself, even if it feels wrong, even if that means not getting to know anyone for years. School is not NCT, it’s not nursery – it’s the long haul. You’re going to be there for years. Your children will make the friends that they are going to make and nothing on Earth will be able to stop them, who you choose to be friends with will certainly have zero influence on who they are friends with.
Sod’s Law says they will end up best mates with the mother you couldn’t stand on sight from day one.
But, look, no-one said this was easy.
How about you? How are you finding the Gates this year? I know everyone will have a lot to say about this. Let’s talk.