Posted July 17, 2014, By Claire Tonks, Strategy Director
First day nerves, cliques and playground politics…and we’re not talking about the children! For many first-time mums, sending your child off to school can be an anxious time.
We asked our KI Mums Board to share how this new chapter in their child’s life makes them feel. What appeared to emerge was a reawakening of the playground insecurities they themselves felt as a child. Here is what our mums told us…
Our ‘first time’ mums admitted that they feel nervous about the school run and the politics at the school gate. There is the perception that other mums will be passing judgment. For some mums, the fear of not integrating with other parents heightens their anxiety for their child’s own socialization:
“I’m already worried, like is someone going to judge me from day one for wearing the wrong thing? Should I just not bother doing my hair and makeup rather than setting a precedence?…perhaps that’s just my own insecurities” (Harriet)
“I work out in my head why they don’t talk to me (pre-school gate)…I always go home and say to my husband that they don’t like me because they think I’m really young…for a lot of them it’s their third child and most of them are in their forties and they’re stand off-ish with me…I don’t want [daughter] to not get invited to stuff because of that..” (Katherine)
What’s clear is that by the time mums start taking subsequent children to school a lot of these anxieties have disappeared. The Mums in our sample with older children were notably more relaxed. Despite their negative connotation, some mothers admitted the existence of ‘cliques’ and taking refuge within existing friendship groups:
“At pre-school I’m definitely part of a clique. I’m part of a committee and we all talk. There are certain mums that turn up each day and don’t talk and don’t engage….but I won’t know anyone at [the new school] and that really freaks me out” (Michelle)
“Yeah I guess we can be quite clique-y. I’ll talk to anyone, but I guess we don’t speak to the ‘new mums’ much” (Chris)
“I feel more confident because I know people from the toddler group, part of my decision [to attend this school] was that we’d know some of the people there” (Harriet)
Sadly some mothers reported a cultural divide evident in their pre-school playgrounds, with an expectation that this will continue when their child starts school.
“It’s sad but there is a divide. Yesterday I spoke to a lady about India and her culture. It was nice she made the effort” (Amber)
“There will be a lot of kids there who don’t even speak English. I know they’ve got to start somewhere, but they can’t even understand the child next to them when they are talking to them” (Chris)
For many mums there is the hope and expectation that they themselves will make new friends when their child starts school. However, existing friendships and new connections are increasingly influenced by the child:
“We do lots of play-dates but it’s generally people that I’m friends with, I guess that’s going to change now” (Michelle)
“When you like the mum and the kids don’t get on…yeah that’s annoying!” (Chris)
“I normally organise joint parties with my friend and her son. This year my son said he didn’t want him at his party because he cries all the time…that was awkward!” (Harriet)
“I went on a nightmare play date recently, the mum was really weird – she force fed me noodles…I’d rather just look after their kids!” (Susie)
“I won’t get to meet any of the mums because of work…I worry we won’t know anyone” (Lucy)
The slightly over-sized school uniform, hands tightly clasped as you approach the school gate and that surge of pride as they race into the glass without a backward glance. It’s enough to bring a lump to the throat of every parent! When your first (or last) child starts school, it can be an emotional time for mum:
“They started to cry the other day because I told them that they won’t be at home with mummy in the mornings any more…that then made me cry, I’m actually really hurt by the whole school thing. Going from two to zero is such a heart wrenching thing” (Amber)
“I’m not sure if it’s him or me. He’s my baby. He’s not even four yet, he’s just so little” (Lucy)
“I’m going to really miss her, I’m making the most of the quiet trips to the park..I won’t have that again” (Chris)
However, despite these ‘wobbles’ many of the mothers relished the thought of greater independence, freedom to work more hours and less personal pressure to stimulate their child at home:
“Someone to take the weight off you, you don’t have to stimulate them when they get home” (Chris)
“It’s got to a point now where every morning is a battle, they are so lively, talking at the same time, it’s crazy. I can’t stimulate two four year olds at the same time, it’s just got too much” (Amber)
So is the first day at school harder for child, or mum? Our KI Mums Board are definitely going to carry the weight of their own insecurities to the school gate with them. But with everyone seemingly feeling the same way, shouldn't this be a time of comraderie between mums, freeing up much more headspace to support your little one on their new adventure?
Let us know what your experiences were like on your child's first day of school, or the anxieties you feel in the run up to the big day. We'd love to hear your thoughts.
(Next week we're following on the conversation with our KI Mums Board, as we discuss the factors that they consider make their child ready for school. From toilet training, to social skills)