With the summer holidays in full swing many people will be anxiously awaiting the start of the new term and their child’s very first day at school. My son has just finished reception. It’s been an amazing year but so different to how I imagined it. This is a letter I’ve written to the September 2016 me, containing 5 things I wish I’d known 12 months ago.
1. You Are Not Going Back To School!
Becoming a “school mum” in a unique social experience. You are suddenly thrown into a “relationship” of sorts with around 30 other women many of whom you won’t know. There can be age gaps of up to 20 years between you and you’ll likely come from different backgrounds, religions, cultures and have different values and opinions. Of the mums in our class I’d say they fall into three categories. I’ve made a couple of good friends. I’m talking Jagers-down-the pub-on-a-Saturday-night-holding-your-hair-back-while-you-throw-up type friends. The vast majority have become acquaintances who I’m more than happy to chat to in the park and on play dates, then there are one or two I don’t really care for. My point is that you don’t have to be everyone’s friend. There are various groups of mums, the gym mums, the SAHMs, the working mums but try not to get too hung up on this and where you fit in. You’re a grown up now and there’s no need to try and impress the cool girls! Even if you don’t get along with any school mums, it’s likely you have your own friends of the hair holding variety anyway.
2. The PTA, PFTA, TPFA etc etc
Whatever the acronym it’s almost guaranteed that you will have one of these parent teacher groups at your school. In my experience opinions on the PTA are so divided they make the breast v bottle debate look like a walk in the park. The PTA mums will tell you that it is always a handful of the same mums who organise every event and that everyone should pull their weight, and they’d be right. The non PTA mums will tell you that they simply do not have time in their already overstretched schedules to volunteer, and they’d be right too. One thing is for sure, with government funding cuts the PTA is necessary. I had fully intended to become a member, but at the welcome meeting they seemed well served with volunteers so I decided to defer that decision. And I’m glad I did. I don’t think I would have been able to commit the necessary time to the role and also I am not always on board with their fundraising methods. The frequent requests for money are thankfully not an issue for us but that might not be the case for all. Donating is optional, but it singles out children who are financially less well off than their peers. Here is another top tip on this point, if you are struggling to donate money do offer your time instead as this is often the thing in shortest supply, I have found a happy medium where I donate time and money when I can and don’t feel bad if I am not able to. The last point is vital. Don’t award yourself extra mum guilt. There’s enough of that stuff going around already.
3. Grown up Conversations
For me, one of the hardest things about school has been the lack of control over the people your children are exposed to. If I’m honest, in the pre school years Ive probably steered my child towards children I like and whose parents have similar ideas and values to us. Suddenly all that changes, and the children at school often have older siblings which leads to conversations you might not have been expecting to deal with just yet! So far we have had to address, death, homosexuality and gay marriage, gender bias, disability, mental health and racism. Some of the opinions of other children (ergo their parents) differed vastly from my own and I hated the thought of my son being influenced by this. We have read some books on various different sibjects which is a great age appropriate way of tackling difficult issues. I can highly recommend the book “same, same but different” for this purpose. Ultimately you can only educate your children to form their own views but you might want to consider how you want to do that to avoid being ambushed with a difficult question in front of the staff at Costa (totally not what happened to me obvs)
4. Parties, parties, parties 🎉
Good god, out of the 40 weeks my son has been at school I estimate I’ve spent 42 of them at kids parties. It’s relentless in reception where lots of children invite the whole class. We missed a few just to have some family time or because we already had plans. If they were not people my son was good friends with I felt less pressure to go. And on the subject of pressure, however tempting it may be do not get involved in competitive partying! If so and sos mum wants to hand carve each child’s name into a plaque with her feet and use it as a name place at the table then good for her, but ask yourself whether you have the time or inclination to do so, and if your kid wouldn’t actually be happier knowing there is a bag of haribo and a cheese sandwich. Same goes for presents £5 is sufficient to spend unless it’s s close friend and you want to buy something particular.
4. Settling in periods
Depending on your school, this can be anything from a few days up to six weeks! Our school was three weeks of very awkward hours which if you’re a working parent basically means three weeks of annual leave. A few days in, my son told me that several children were having their lunch at school which we had specifically been told was not possible. I approached the teacher who reluctantly told me that several parents had refused to do more than a couple of days settling in and the school had to accept that. It would never have occurred to me prior to that to do this but I’ve since learned it’s quite common! The settling period is really more for the teachers benefit as most children these days have been to nursery and/or pre school so a 9-3 day is not a new concept. Whilst we’re on this point, don’t be afraid to challenge (in a polite and respectful way of course) the school on these issues, it can feel a bit daunting but see point 1) above. You are a grown up now!
5. Watch bad moms now (even if youve already seen it) and laugh a lot.
Things are about to change, but it’s another step in the wonderful parenting journey so enjoy every second, or at least try not to cock it up too much. 😉