Well it happened, or should I say, it’s happening. The delightful charade of playground politics is afoot and having been no stranger to playground antics as a child, I was really keen to sidestep this landmine as an adult.
At school, back in the day; the kids would split up into subgroups at every available opportunity. The sporty ones, bookworms, popular girls, cool guys, tech heads, class clowns, nerds, average joes and arts students etc would all splinter off…they had found their people. They had found their group. They could check their individuality at the door and be just like everyone else.
That doesn’t happen in the workplace as much, which I found quite refreshing but whether you walk back into the playground grouping system as a parent or you’re dragged in as a non parent, you are assimilated back into this asinine program.
A friend of mine is currently foot loose and childfree. She is happy and dating and seeing where life takes her. However, as months and years pass, she has noticed that her friendship group is becoming more and more divided. The main cause? Children. Those who have children are wanting to hang out with others who have produced offspring, rather than with those who remain child free. She is feeling the pinch of this delightful part of life more and more; as the social engagements dwindle or worse yet, dry up completely.
I watched this happen in my own life to a degree but now firmly on the other side of childfree, I can’t reassure her it gets better either. I can’t speak for singletons or couples yet to expand their families but as a parent, the divides keep coming and they get quite detailed.
The group names of days gone by are different but the gist is the same. Parents seek out or naturally drift towards their similar counterparts. The older mothers hang together, the younger mothers flock to each other. Mothers of boys and mothers of girls are very often on different playing fields, parents with multiples or siblings seem to gravitate towards one another and mums with one child seek each other out. Then there is the undercurrent of money and influence running alongside all of that. After all, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and parents are no exception. Oh how some flutter when a school board member or affluent guardian makes an appearance on the playground.
What starts as a lovely come-one-come-all, becomes the cliques we have all come to recognize, love and loathe.
My friend and I are experiencing the seismic shift in our friendship circles but from different sides of the parenting fence. Should the blessing of a child be part of her future, I am unable to tell her that all will be well again and all categories and groups will be dissolved. Once you become a parent, you don’t receive a key to unlock the door, to some kind of all inclusive hippy brigadoon! If anything the categories, teams, boxes and pigeon holes get more tailored.
I didn’t want to be in a clique. I certainly didn’t want to end up in a frosty one or one that was just too much to deal with. I have enough on my plate without the simple act of the school run turning into Raiders of Lost Ark!
As it is with most stages of my life, I don’t really fit. As an older mother, I find it hard to relate to the trivial non issues that are derailing my twenty-something friends. Most mothers my age have gone on to have more children and have returned to the endless cycle of coffee mornings and toddler groups or have returned to the workplace.
Like wolves in packs or magnets if you will, they stick with their own. I’m no longer the working professional or the mum with the buggy. I watch as my mum friends have evolved and moved on to their next phase and my temporary reprieve from isolation has ended.
I now walk past my old friends who are engrossed in their baby chat and plans. I hardly see the working professionals anymore as they have been welcomed back into their full time fold. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all pleasant and civil, just not the same.
So I find myself in all too familiar territory. Feeling a little lost and trying to figure out my next move. Standing on the outskirts of the circles I used to feel a part of. On the edge of the friendship groups but not really part of one.
At a party this weekend, I noticed that when the parents fanned out to the available tables, I was sitting at a table by myself. Luckily my husband was there to keep me company before rugby grabbed his interest. I threw myself into the party, helping out and keeping the children happy. Redirecting lost or upset kids to their parents and running the clock down.
In low moments, I wonder if I will always be the kid picked last for PE. I have this constant conversation in my head which is basically my inner 5 year old shouting “but why? I’m nice!”. In my fierce and strong moments, I am able to acknowledge the status quo and ask myself “why do you care?”.
Chatting to a friend I used to go to school with, I asked her how she navigated the school playground as a parent?
“Easy, I used to put my headphones in”