Now my boy is five years old, we’ve more or less settled into a group of friends. He sees them at school, out in the park, at parties or at after school clubs. He, like any five year old has a better social life than me, and that’s saying something. It wasn’t always this way.
When he was a baby I felt some pressure to attend baby groups and classes with him, something I thought would be good for his development. I didn’t really want to do it but I did it for him, the thought of making awkward parenting-competitive small talk with people I had nothing more in common with, other than our bodies had expelled a child at roughly the same time filled me with anxiety. But still I persisted, taking him to a music class where we banged tambourines, rang bells and shook maracas to encourage his development; to the local library for baby story time where we sang and jiggled; and to the “Friday playgroup” which filled me with weekly horror.
If the thought of sitting on the floor of a church hall making music, with a baby who was at best ambivalent to my finest Bez impressions was bad, then “Friday playgroup” still gives me hideous palpitations of anxiety. They were a bunch of stuck up, cliquey yummy mummies, who even after six months of me attending and smiling weakly at them, still failed to find out my name. They would literally turn their backs on me and my attempts at small talk over coffee and biscuits.
Each week I spent an hour each Friday crying in front of my wardrobe, desperately searching for something to wear which would make me one of them. Hysterical, I would push my baby to the church hall and pull myself together just in time. I’d sit, huddled on the play mat with my baby and my one friend who also felt like an outcast.
Little did I know that the “Friday playgroup” had form for being an unwelcoming hotbed of bitchy cliques. Subsequently I’ve met and made friends with many people who attended for a week or two, discovered how dreadful it was and moved on elsewhere. I knew no better, I had no yardstick, I thought this was what groups of mums were like, horrible, bitchy, judgemental and just mean. My heart fills with anxiety at the memory of it all.
I’ve no doubt they didn’t realise what a bunch of complete bitches they were, they probably looked at dumpy old me in my less than designer post-maternity wear and decided I wasn’t from their set. I wasn’t a chartered accountant, I wasn’t the wife of a partner of a firm of solicitors, I was just some dowdy mess who didn’t belong in the same room as them.
I credit this awful group of mean girls (because that’s exactly what they were) with denting my fragile confidence, it’s coloured my every interaction at baby groups, all the way up to school. My natural response to another parent isn’t one of friendly welcome, but a cautious backing off and shying away so they can’t hurt me, and so I don’t care enough for them to hurt me.
I let very few people in (if you’ve made in into the circle of trust, then welcome, here’s your special badge, wear it with pride) and I know that means both me and the boy are missing out on a whole load of good stuff. So this coming year I will try harder, trust more, open myself up for more disappointment and rejection and hope that I’ll never encounter those mean girls again.
FYI, I found a better, more welcoming, more lovely playgroup, made some nice friends there, so there was a happy ending after all.