Tell Me About It: I’m being snubbed at the school gates by other mothers
Irish Times: Tuesday,14th October 2014
Q I work full time in a high-pressure job that demands long hours at times, and I am the breadwinner in our family. A situation has developed at my kids’ school that makes me so mad that I feel like screaming at the instigators about how sexist, spiteful and rude they are.
I schedule my holidays to coincide with the school holidays, so I’m not a regular figure at the school gates. When my eldest started going to school I was on maternity leave, so I was around a lot more and got to know quite a few of the other mothers. However, some years on and two promotions later, my life is a blur of work and getting home to the kids. But I always try to get to their plays or concerts.
It was at one of these concerts a few years ago that one of the mothers who I know well but hadn’t seen in a while snubbed me, while saying hello to my husband. It was so pointed that it couldn’t be mistaken as an oversight. Soon after that, another mother whose child is in the same class walked by me on the footpath outside the school and quite spectacularly snubbed me. What was so hurtful about that is that her child is quite frequently in our house, playing with our children. She did it again after that, so I texted her and asked her why. She said that I’d ignored her first but that’s just not true.
More recently it happened again. I texted her and asked her why she had snubbed me. This time she didn’t reply. I can only surmise that it’s something to do with my absence at the school and perhaps a bitchfest that has gone into overdrive. Quite unusually, none of them work full time themselves. If I were a man, the fact that I work full time and am not a regular figure at the school would not be a problem. I also think it’s outrageous that these women think they can write me out of the equation while continuing to say hello to my husband and sending their kids to my house.
A The outside-the-school- gate politics can be very intense and often very hurtful. We can assume that everyone is comfortable and confident, but often parents are putting on a front of confidence while hiding their insecurities. Little groups can form at the gate, which is great for the people in those groups but very isolating for those who are outside or who are not around often enough to be connected.
Parenting is hugely important to most people and we place enormous importance on our decisions in this area. For some, giving up work in order to look after children is a principled decision, but it may mean sacrificing a career, status and worldly participation. The effect can be that some struggle with confidence, and the last place a parent wants to be insecure is in full view of their children and their friends.
You sound very angry by the slights and exclusions, but what comes through is that the underlying sentiment is one of hurt. It matters to you and the other mothers that you are all acknowledged and accepted. The chances are very high that the other mothers felt abandoned by you (not consciously) or envious of your options, or perhaps because you have moved into a world that did not value their choices. This may have left them feeling vulnerable, and so they were sensitive to your perceived ignoring of them. You also may be feeling sensitive as you valued being a full-time mother while on maternity leave, and so you may be feeling excluded from all that closeness and connection that comes from meeting like-minded people every day.
All of you put your children first, which is why they still send their children to your house and yours go to theirs. This is a higher value that should offer you all the possibility of reconciliation. Your husband is clearly connected to you and the other mothers, so perhaps he could organise a casual meet-up that might offer some real talking. Texting (or email) is the worst possible way of dealing with conflict. If you all meet, it would be because all of you would benefit from understanding and being heard. If this is not attempted, the next generation may well carry the burden of your falling out.
Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist.