Rachel Allcock reflects on her years as a primary school mum and the relationships she's built at the school gate.
I was determined not to cry on my son’s last day of primary school, but I did. What broke me were my final conversations with the other parents. After many highs and lows, my time with them has come to an end.
Maybe you’re preparing to start a new college, gym, church, or crochet class. You want to be popular and trustworthy (but not so trustworthy that you end up running the PTFA or equivalent volunteer team!). Wherever you’re about to take on newbie status, here are a few things I’ve learnt from my interactions at the school gate...
Don’t judge a book by its cover
"Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades." - Hebrews 12:14 (MSG)
At the start, I was the smudged glasses, stained t-shirt, still in maternity jeans, Skoda-driving mum. It took a lot to approach the mirrored Ray-bans, crisp white shirt, perfect jeans, Range Rover-driving mum. However, after half an hour of playing it safe with those I knew from playgroup, I went over to said "Hi". Seven years later, she told me she was grateful I did that. She had been young and nervous, with no idea about school routines or what to expect. What I’d found out from having older children helped to reassure her. Don’t fear that you have nothing to offer, and don’t be intimidated by glamour and wealth. Impartiality and kindness come out best.
Don’t forget to listen and follow up
"When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly." - Proverbs 31:26 (MSG)
Over the years, families will change, and best friends will become enemies. I put my foot in it two years ago when asking an innocent question. Instead of following up and checking the person was OK, I never mentioned it again. On the last day of school, she felt burdened to explain why her reaction had been so frosty all that time ago. We ended up have a long chat about marriage. I was able to share the wisdom I’d gained from the Bible, marriage books and courses, and Christian friends. She kept saying "I wish I’d known this years ago". It was as if I was letting her in on the secrets of the universe.
I tend to take for granted the practical guidance given in Scripture and the investment church friends make into our relationships. I shouldn’t have kept this wisdom to myself.
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Don’t be ensnared by gossip
"In the heat of an argument, don’t betray confidences; word is sure to get around, and no one will trust you." - Proverbs 25:9-10 (MSG)
When you wait for the bell to ring and the kids to tumble out of their classrooms finally, it’s so tempting to share the latest rumour. I should have made a concerted effort to avoid gossip every day. Even better, I could have prayed about it more. When I fell into gossip, I missed the opportunity to stand out, be different, and reflect Jesus.
Don’t forget names or the things you offer to pray for
"Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down." - Romans 12:15 (MSG)
I have a friend who is amazing at this. Within a few weeks of each of her children starting school, she knows all the parents’ names. Sometimes, she’ll offer to pray for someone when things are going wrong. When she follows up on this (by texting, making a meal, or sending flowers), people remember it forever.
Simple things we take for granted in our church communities can be revolutionary in a different context.