Don't be intimidated by school mums

School community: you get out what you put in.
School community: you get out what you put in. Photo: Getty Images

When my first child started school, I'll admit I was intimidated. The intimidation was not vicarious; I was not worried about him. I was intimidated for me. Intimidated by the rules and the schedules and the office staff, the parents, the teachers and the getting-to-know-you sessions. They were all new and unknown and therefore a tad daunting.

So, I approached it like a new job. I gave myself a three-month probation; an adjustment period to allow myself the time to learn all about this new culture where us new-to-the-school parents were the beginners. I'm not quite sure what I was going to do if I failed that self-imposed probation. I'm not even sure what defined failure. All I knew was I was going to be at this place a long time, with three other kids to follow, and it would be best for all of us if we enjoyed coming.

It shouldn't be surprising but I felt comfortable in the school within weeks. I chatted to other parents as we waited anxiously at the door to see if our cherubs had survived their first days and weeks without tears. I volunteered for reading help, despite my excessive impatience at listening to young children sound out words. I dragged younger siblings to sports days and assemblies. Apart from the beaming smile on my child's face when they saw me wrestling their brother into a pram at the back of the hall during an awards ceremony, these seemingly small gestures did something really important: they helped me get to know the school community.

I've had many friends and relatives with younger children ask me about "school mums" and how I adjusted to school life. Seems like an odd query, given school is about the kids. The reality is, school is about all of us. As a parent you hope the school has your child's needs and best interests prioritised. However, home life and personal issues all flow into a household's happiness, which inevitably impact a child and potentially their learning. A school is first and foremost an educative environment but broader than that, it is a community of support.

I firmly believe you get out what you put in. Most of us work and/or have other children to take care of, so time is a golden commodity. Schools understand this. Helping out where and when you can is always appreciated. That goes for dads too.

You don't have to attend every volunteer committee meeting, sign up to turn snags at sausage sizzles, or spend half your life sharpening pencils in the classroom as the teacher's lackey. You don't have to hang at the school gate gossiping in your gym gear until 10am or succumb to the oft-repeated clichés of overzealous, judgmental parents who dominate the school – in my experience they are a rare breed.  

However, when someone invites you out for coffee, or suggests a group email for the class parents, don't be frightened off. Don't screw up your nose and think "I don't have time to make friends with these people". They may be the very people you turn to down the track when you are going through a difficult time or your child is displaying challenging behaviours. They may be the person you call on when you're running late and can't get to school to collect your child. They may be the person who gets you through an excruciating instrument recital by whispering completely un-PC jokes in between Twinkle Twinkle and Mary Had a Little Lamb.

There is no need to force friendships but be open to the idea that there is great value in connecting with people who are going through similar experiences. Embrace the unexpected; you never know who you may meet.

Did you find school mums intimidating? What did you do to embrace the school community? Comment below or join th conversation on the Essential Kids Forums

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