The Secret Anxiety of the School Run
Many mum’s dread the school run. I’m one of them.
Is it the military operation of getting everyone washed, dressed, fed and out the door by 8:15 am that causes the problem? Nope. (Although I’m certainly not underestimating it.)
It’s social anxiety. Which may sound absurd.
I consider myself to be a confident, chatty person. But I feel a sinking feeling as I approach the gates. (That’s a lie. It starts at attempt 756 to park the car.)
My tactic these days is to dive in 3 minutes before school starts, to avoid the hoards. At pick up, I give myself a stern talking to about getting a grip before exiting the car. I grab my son and I’m practically running to get out the gates.
I figured if this is something I feel so strongly about, I couldn’t possibly be alone. So I began the research.
When we polled our Instagram following, you predicted an average of 65% of Mum’s feel the same social anxiety on the school run. Women who are typically confident in all other aspects of life, crumble at around 3pm term time. I asked a local Mum’s Facebook support group about their experiences to find out why.
‘I keep my head down, no one talks to me. I’m not socially anxious anywhere else in my life except for the school run.’
‘I hate the school run, it feels so judgemental. Unless you mould yourself into one of the groups and adapt yourself to fit in, the playground can be a lonely place! As others have said, it’s really the only place I have social anxiety because I’m such an open, chatty person but there is just something about the school run that makes me feel on edge! It’s also one of the only places where I feel pressure to make sure I’m dressed well and my hair and make-up is done?! Thinking about it, I think it’s because if I feel judged as a person then I’ll be judged as a parent.’
‘I found myself feeling very self-conscious and thinking others would judge me for being a single mum.’
If Mumsnet is correct, it seems that the catty cliques, teachers’ pets and slapdash last-minuters that we all recall from our schooldays simply regroup 20 years later, this time outside the school gates rather than inside them. The online discussion host users have identified a number of different types of mums and have been having fun coming up with their own categories. I thought I’d share a few:
At the head of the Pavement Mafia is PTA Mum. She gave up a top job to raise her children, but she now needs an au-pair because she’s so busy ‘at school’.
She regularly sends ‘all points bulletins’ Whatsapps at 1 am to the entire class about PE kit and tray bakes, igniting a string of notifications which has forced many a mum to get a separate number just to maintain sanity.
PTA mums feel they are saddled with an unfair workload, but who else will organise the charity cake sale/quiz night/safari supper? (If you don’t know what a safari supper is, be thankful for small mercies).
Harassed Working Mum wishes she could give a tenner and stay in instead. She vows to buy her cakes from Tesco but then, in a misplaced display of maternal guilt, stays up baking and swearing until 2 am (actually, it may just be me with the swearing).
But cheer up, there’s always Ridiculously Dressed Mum to make everyone else feel better.
On Monday she will be wearing a bespattered artist’s smock for her painting class. It will be tennis whites on Tuesday. Wednesday is tai chi. Thursday it’s spacesuits for the simulated moon landing at the country club. Friday, is riding boots and a whip – we’re not sure what she does on that day.
Closely related is Lycra-clad Super-fit Mum – she offers less variety of costume but leaves the rest of us feeling like we’ve let ourselves go, particularly in the parents’ games at Sports Day.
Mum With One Child (also any non-working mum with a full-time nanny) exists to make the rest of us feel bad. For example, many classes have a mascot – a germ-encrusted cuddly toy, typically called Barney – which is passed from child to child along with a book in which your child writes about the creature’s evening with your family.
When the mascot comes to Mum With One Child, she takes it and her child to a preview at the Tate, produces a photo-montage with graphics and has her child paint a visual interpretation of the experience and write a poem in French.
Others are forced to write a few sentences in the book because their children are only four and can barely spell their own name.
But despite the laughs, the predominant emotion also characterising the Mumsnet discussion is anxiety.
Mum of Disruptive Child and Organic Muffin Mum eye each other suspiciously, afraid they are being judged.
Even those of us who breeze up to the school gates too preoccupied with the rest of our lives to notice much can identify with the stereotypes and the angst.
I’m a novice being only one term in but do have a potential solution. At the risk of sounding trite, maybe we should all be nicer to each other? It seems there’s a lot of insecurity lurking around those gates.
Read more parenting tidbits over on our Kids Column
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