Parenting Cliques and How I Learned To Find Friends Among Them
By Chantal Saville
Photo © crystalmariesing/Twenty20
Sep 12, 2018
When I started dropping off my daughter at her new school a few years back, I found that navigating the minefield of parent cliques — to find a tribe I felt I belonged to — took a little trial and error.
From day one at my daughter’s school, I could see that there were established groups, but I wasn’t sure about approaching any of them. As a single parent, I didn’t seem to fit the mould for any. There was the group of parent council parents: those who participate in every event and committee that existed at the school. There was the group of helicopter moms: parents who hovered behind their children constantly and didn’t have time for the rest of us. There were nanny groups, and a group of dads, and other groups that I couldn’t even figure out. I didn’t know where to be as I anxiously re-lived my grade school social awkwardness, so I wore sunglasses and timed my arrival for the second the bell rang. That way, I didn’t have to stand there one minute longer than necessary.
You'll Also Love: What I Want to Tell My Younger Self
Luckily, my daughter’s kindergarten class had a mom who got in my face. Literally. I’ll call her Josephine, for the sake of anonymity. I had spoken with Josephine at drop off once or twice — just flippant comments about the hot September weather, but I didn’t feel comfortable just walking up to her at pickup. That’s my bad. It’s just not in my nature. My style is more of the duck-and-cover variety. I guess she could see that because a week or two into the year, she stood in front of me and waved her arms like she was directing an airplane, making the point that I shouldn’t ignore her! I got the message. We’ve been fast friends ever since, with our girls going into grade 5 this year. To our group of two, we have added several other moms, and a dad too!
As a group, we’ve often discussed the minefield that the playground represents for parents. It’s not that some of the other parents are unpleasant or overtly mean: they just have their established groups of friends and are indifferent to the possibility that someone new would have trouble integrating.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, as you roam the playground, waiting for the bell to ring:
- Don’t dismiss the possibility that someone might be too shy to approach you. A year ago, a mom arrived with three kids from England. We saw her every day, standing by herself, and we talked about how we stand around chatting in a closed circle, and how that might not seem like approachable body language. So Josephine, ever the extrovert, went and brought her over to our group and started introductions. The woman looked so relieved to be chatting with other parents! Though she and her family have moved to a different school district, we still keep in touch on social media.
- Remember that not every parent on your kid’s playground is a legacy parent. A legacy parent is someone with an older child in the school, so they’ve been there for a while, making friends. A lot of parents will be new — new arrivals to the neighbourhood, people who were working and therefore never at pickup but now they aren’t working, and so on.
- Don’t take a snub too personally. Someone’s indifference toward you could be because they are busy, stressed, or just not interested in making more friends (see legacy parent above!).
- Don’t assume you’re being judged. Yes, the organic, crunchy mom will frown at your cookie treat, but that’s her issue and not yours. Ultimately, she may not like your snack choice, but that doesn’t mean she won’t like you.
- Think about joining the parent council or a committee for an event: there is no better way to get to know other parents than by just jumping in, feet first!
- Remember, as your kids age and start begging for play dates or get invited to parties, you’ll get to know more parents. It takes time, but you’ll get there.
Don’t worry too much about stepping on a playground mine. If you’re anxious and stressed on the playground, your kids will pick up on that. Making friends is a lifelong pursuit. Some stay, some go, but if you’re open-minded and not indifferent to the feelings of others, you’ll find a way to your own tribe.