As promised, I am going to continue my theme of loneliness in parenting by talking about how the school years are for me. My children are in Years 2 and 3, so I have been part of the whole school system for over 3 years now. This has involved 3 new schools and a variety of pre-schools, due to house moves. With every move comes the new challenge of 'fitting in’, as well as fitting everything in.
This is about me and my experiences; there is no right or wrong to this, we can’t help how we feel. By now, hopefully, you will have read my blog about the dream job, which for me is being a mum, so you will know that I feel very positive about my parenting role. But I wonder if I have relied too much on mummy stuff to keep me active and socialized. I even created a job around the school environment, which I now believe was more about staying in touch with my children than having a job that worked for me. I did enjoy working in a school, but I am not completely sure I am the right fit for the role, as I have control issues. Life with children is not always controllable. I will talk more about my experiences in the school jobs another time, as I feel another blog coming on about that.
Pre-children, my social life came from work. I have held onto many friends that I met through work, but I no longer find it easy to make the time within work to make so many new friends. My friends are spread around the country and the ties of the school routine make it hard to keep in touch with long-distance friends. So where else did I make friends?
I would often work two jobs, as I loved the social side of working in a pub, whilst making money. I enjoy learning, so there were many evening classes and clubs which filled the hours outside of work. I exercised as much as I could be bothered; it was never a passion, more of a need. I did charity work alongside all of this and overall kept very busy. Within my coupled and my single years, I have always been the main housekeeper. I tend to be the cook, cleaner, shopper, and accountant in the household. I guess I must take over and they just let me do it - told you I had control issues!
So why do the extra-curricular activities not fit into the Mum lifestyle for me now?
With babies, came toddler groups, mum's socials, activities and general busyness. School should have meant free time to work, socialise, exercise; after all, there are so many hours they are in school, aren’t there? The reality is actually a lot of paid childcare, as they are not in school as many hours as I thought. So, for reasons that could be my own failings, or simply choices, depending on how you look at it, my life is currently quite solitary and could sometimes be described as lonely.
I no longer have mummy meetups and whatever activity they were doing that day to fill the hours. I have work, school runs, PTA activities, and sometimes, I have school volunteering, but these too can be quite solitary activities. School Reception (Junior Infants) year was sociable, as many of us still had toddlers and babies at home, we spent ages in the playground chatting, met up for coffee and toddler socials, went to the baby activities and worked around it when we could.
I chose my own business option for working, which was not the most sociable, but fitted in around school and pre-school. Eventually, I ended up spending more and more hours in school, volunteering and the occasional paid hour, where I met people and interacted for the time I was there, but then went back to solo-ville.
This led me to think a career in school was the perfect way of fitting it all in, plus maybe I could stand a chance of being 'down with the kids' if I stayed in touch with the youth. If I could have found the precious TA role in my own children’s schools, just think how close I could have been! That role did not come up, so I was left running between schools for drop off, work and pick up. With school comes a rigid routine that leaves me in a constant state of needing to be somewhere and clock watching; I hate to be late and stress beyond belief about not getting somewhere on time. I HATE ROUTINE.
So, what has changed now toddler group and Reception years are a thing of the distant past, and how can it be addressed? There is a mixture of passion and guilt that makes it hard for me to be apart from my children. I enjoy time with them, treasure every second, as I know that in a blink of an eye they will be grown up and have their own lives. Then, there is the guilt; it is not about leaving them, it is about finding people to do the childcare thing on my behalf, without feeling guilty about asking. Surely, I should be doing it all; being a Mum, working, exercising, keeping the house, doing charity work, and all without help, is that not what everyone else does?
A lot has been written and will continue to be written about the school playground etiquette and behaviour, so I won’t add to it in detail.
Personally, I find it hard to make friends when the time scale is around 5 or 10 minutes in a breezy playground, whilst keeping an eye on small people. I managed it in our first school, but since moving around, I find it hard. It is not the same as spending the day at work with someone; yes, there is something huge in common, but it can be hard to keep a conversation going when the topic of children has been exhausted. I rely hugely on the school Facebook groups, they are a great way to chat to people you would otherwise possibly hardly ever meet up with, or when you do, there is nothing but a smile exchanged.
The Facebook groups make me feel less detached; I can ask questions any time of day or night and there will always be an answer. We remind each other of homework, events and other things that it is so easy to forget about when we are busy. Dealing with school text messages and emails is time-consuming and often things get missed, so I rely on other mums to fill in the gaps. Even though I am not always brave enough to chat face to face, I feel less lonely knowing there is this social media connection. Some people would say that social media is killing face to face conversation, but I find it helps me, so I’m up for it. I would say from my experience that the pressure to spend time with other mums in the playground gets less and less the older the children get; children will choose their own friends and their parents usually come as part of the bargain. Never worry about making connections; true friends will just happen, but it might take time.
For a mixture of reasons, I don’t have much family support, it wouldn't be fair to say none at all, and if I asked more often, I am sure there would be more support. But regular childcare to cover school runs etc. is not an option for me without digging out the wallet. Let's take a moment to big up Dad now; Dad is brilliant, he loves time with the kids and gets involved. He freely admits being a stay at home Dad does not appeal, but makes every effort to be there as much as possible. His work is busy, stressful and requires a fair amount of commuting. It is completely my issue that makes me feel that I can’t hand over the childcare the minute he walks in the door, so that I can do a course or some exercise, or meet friends.
He would do that for me, but how can I justify enjoying myself when he has had a long day at work? His arrival at home after work coincides with homework, bath and bed routines and is reliant on the wonderful British train system, so can’t be relied upon to be a set time. By the time the children and dinner are sorted, it is too late for most classes, and friends are getting ready for bed themselves. None of this late-night partying for us on a school night! What about weekends? These are times when I should do more, but then it is back to not wanting to miss a moment with the kids, along with feeling like I can't hand over children to my working partner unless it is for me to do my share of working and earning money.
Work is a rush in and rush out thing for me; drop off the kids, get to work, fit in shopping etc, pick up kids, come home. Social events are usually skipped, this is partly down to insecurities and anxieties, so if you can make the effort to join in, then do it. Other ideas to help free up the time; internet shop, make the most of childcare and play dates, get help with the cleaning and house stuff (I treat myself to a window cleaner with some of my money…. Living the dream!) Playdates are tricky when there is more than one child, as coinciding them to fit in with a social life is a nightmare. 9 times out of 10, the play dates will not happen at the same time for both children. Get clever with timings and ask more, that should be a plan for 2018 for me. People want to help, as long as it is not a regular arrangement, (from experience, these can get awkward and be a tie), other parents will usually help and favours can then be returned another time.
I am not one to give out advice, I feel that everyone finds their own path in their own way, but if my experiences can be of any help then that is great. I felt overwhelmed by advice and information when my children came along; it took time and effort to filter out what was right for me. But one thing I will recommend is to take time to make it right for you. There will be lots of questions about what you will do with all that time when the children go to school, but don’t forget all that time they are not at school; inset days, holidays (about 13 weeks), sick days, and if you really lucky, there might be the occasional snow day. Try out breakfast, after school and other clubs, childminders, etc. as you might find they do not work with your routine, your price range, or your child. Make sure that the money you earn through work is not wiped out by childcare, I found it more expensive to get childcare around school than pre-school.
As much as I tried to fight it, being a parent has changed my life.
My confidence and self-esteem feel different, I feel guilty about just about everything I do; there is this obsession with keeping up appearances and being the best for my children. All I can do now is make the most of my new life and live it to the best of my abilities. There are lonely times and times when I am just too tired to be sociable and interesting, but during these times I try to do something creative to make me feel better, and sometimes, I just sit down with my children, take a break and have a massive group hug, which always makes me remember how lucky I am.