Lessons learned from 14 years on the school run
From WhatsApp groups to gate cliques, here’s what I learned as a parent on the frontline
Jen Hogan and her children
“I’m walking you to school on Friday,” I announced to my daughter earlier this week. “Why?” she replied with one eyebrow raised quizzically, as if the very idea was outlandish.
“Because I walked you to school on your first day and I’m going to walk you on your last,” I answered emphatically, lest she be in any doubt that the prospect was up for discussion.
I still can’t quite believe that my firstborn’s schooldays are over. It’s not just a milestone for her, it’s one for me too – and at the moment I seem to be the one who is far more affected. She’s focused on the number of days left to study for the Leaving Cert. My thoughts, meanwhile, meander back to times past and all that has been achieved, experienced and learned over her very happy schooldays.
But as we come out the other side I’ve realised she’s not the only one to have learned so much. My own schooldays may be well behind me but there are still many lessons to be learned on the frontline of parenting a schoolchild.
One I discovered the hard way. Every year the discussion comes up about the right age to send a child to school. And every year I hear or read somebody argue that it depends on the child and their maturity and capability.
The reality is it depends on so much more than that – and one of the biggest considerations should be the age of their peers. I sent my tall, clever, sociable little girl to school shortly after she turned four. She held her own, was happy and content, made lots of friends and never had any difficulties with her schoolwork. Being the youngest in the class seemed to be no obstacle – even the teachers agreed.
But of course children don’t stay little for ever, and for a child who is younger than their classmates, the teenage years can bring peer pressure and all the challenges associated with secondary school much sooner than you would like. And so you’re left with two options: allow things at a younger age than you feel is acceptable, or stand your ground and become the parent who seems to say no to everything because your child is “too young”.
I discovered it is actually possible to hate homework more as a parent than you did as a child. Frustrating as it may be, though, it seems there is a place for it in secondary school. Much research, however, suggests it’s of little or no benefit to primary school children.
So, when over the course of many years, you witness the joy it sucks out of family life and sunny afternoons, you may well find yourself progressing from mid-scale homework resenter to full-on homework anarchist.
You’ll love and loathe WhatsApp groups
Class WhatsApp groups are a modern-day phenomenon – and the source of much stress and much relief (particularly when you’re in as many as I am). Eighty-four missed notifications can be enough to set your heart racing in panic that you’ve missed something urgent, only to discover it’s 30 individual parents toing and froing about party invitations. But you’ll thank the heavens for the notifications that alert you to the fact your son is wearing the wrong uniform for an official school photo (or that you had the wrong time for another’s First Communion). And then there are the many, many occasions that your child forgets a book needed for homework.
School-gate cliques exist
And there’s nothing really you can do about it – it’s no different to any other aspect of life. What also exists, though, is the potential to make some wonderful new friends who, as parents, grow up through the rollercoaster school years with you and who may be just as emotional on that last day.
You’ll live by the school calendar
Your year will be measured by the number of weeks left to holidays, exams and shows as childcare becomes a new challenge. The weeks, meanwhile, are measured by the number of school lunches left to be made and homework nights left to be endured.
You’ll have no name
For the duration of the school years, you’ll be forever known as (insert name here)’s mum or dad. You’ll even be greeted on the street by your children’s classmates with “Hello (insert name here)’s mum”. Other parents won’t call you that in public – but it’s how you’ll be saved on their phone.
Just like a day in September 14 years ago, I’ll walk my daughter to school on Friday. She stands four inches taller than me now. I’ll still squeeze her hand before she goes in, but this time probably more for my reassurance than hers.