Meeting new mum-friends is a bit like dating. You quiz them from the get-go to ascertain as quickly as possible whether you are compatible. I started “mum-dating” a friend when our kids were babies, but as they started to grow and develop their personalities, I realised quickly I couldn’t stand being around her fussy, attention-seeking child. My friend would constantly stop converstions to satisfy the whims of her child, who would shout, whine and burst into tears if she wasn’t heard. To top that, I noticed her daughter’s behaviour was making my daughter tense. It was a relief when they went to different schools.
Another mum, let’s call her “Sally”, befriended “Jane” at the school gate some years ago and they’ve really clicked. They go out regularly for a glass of wine. However, it’s recently come to light that Sally’s 11-year-old daughter is being bullied at school by Jane’s daughter, who belittles Sally’s daughter in front of her classmates, but jealously wards off anyone who tries to befriend her. Sally’s daughter stopped walking to school with Jane’s daughter and no longer associates with her at school. “There’s an elephant in the room when I see Jane. Either she doesn’t know the girls are no longer spending time together or she’s avoiding the young girls’ drama to retain the friendship,” Sally explains. “I can’t understand how such a warm, funny and kind person can be raising a bully.”
When children start school it becomes almost impossible to avoid the “play date”. Another acquaintance met what she thought was her ideal school gate mum, only to discover her new chum’s child was barely tolerable. Both mums worked, and when they realised their seven-year-old sons were friends they started to arrange reciprocal play dates after school, which also helped with childcare. “The problem is, I find her son the most sneaky tell-tale I have ever come across,” she sighs. “He knows, as the guest in our house, he’ll get to choose first at snack and meal times. But when my son blurts out his choice, for example strawberry flavour yoghurt, the boy, about to reach out for raspberry, takes the strawberry instead. I can’t break our guest etiquette in front of my own children, so a meltdown ensues.” She’s trying hard to teach her son the art of reverse psychology but it’s taking time to sink in.
“This boy is also consistently telling tales. He comes to me four or five times during every play date to give me the micro-details of unfairness from both my kids. Annoyingly he doesn’t even make concessions for my son’s younger sister. I explain that she’s only four years old but he just doesn’t listen.” Exhausted by this behaviour, the mum has decided to handle it as if he were one of her own children, telling him he shouldn’t be telling so many tales and that he should try resolving the dispute himself. “If that risks the friendship, then so be it. I could sadly lose my only class-mum ally,” she concludes.
The school gate can be a lonely place for many parents. But pinning your hopes on meshing with the parents of your children’s friends can be a disastrous waste of time. Better to take a step back, keep your options open, and play the field.
You finally get talking to A friendly face in the school gate crowd. She’s pleasant, funny and intelligent. Then you realise she’s the mother of that kid – the one you dislike