What the parenting books never told you about school-mom life

Breezy, confident earth-mothers watch out. The school run is no place for complacency, writes Amanda Cassidy, about the pre-COVID world.

Before I had children I had high (unrealistic) expectations about the whole school-gate scene. I was going to reinvent myself as that well-groomed, casual yet stylish, friendly but mysterious mum I'd always wanted to be.

As part of my parenting Renaissance, my high-spirited children were going to transform into polite angels, jovially chatting about their school day, we’d all high five and go about our day. Just like in the movies.

But Disney tricked us all real good. They mislead us about the truth when it comes to children and families and school life and colourful kindergartens.


Disney and their ilk never showed us the exhausted families crying coming out of the circus with candy-floss glued to curls. They lied to us about things like picnics and trips to the zoo. We had to find out the hard way. We had to recalibrate our expectations of ‘family life’ in all its leaky, whingy glory.

We learnt that walking circa 40 miles around an animal park with children begging to be carried and wanting every ice-cream at every stand is not what you imagine a family day out will be before you have children.

You learn, eventually, that it is the sweet and unexpectated moments that catch you unawares that make you almost weep with love and pride. That's the feeling of family and unity they don't tell you about on the big-screen.

And the school run is no different — another stage that brings new challenges ready to give you that short, sharp jolt back to reality.

School gate FOMO

Expectation: Working parents feel like social pariahs, missing out on the chats at the school gate. You imagine it is where everyone exchanges stories of their children's progress, sipping coffee and getting tips on the best music teachers while you sit in your office planning a playdate for at least eight children on your next day off.

Reality: Zombie mums in yoga-pants uniforms avoid eye contact because, as much as caffeine is our sweet, sweet nectar, that dinner won’t make itself before you have to drive them to gymnastics, ballet, guitar, tap-dancing... all this before homework hell.


“Where’s this book, what’s that book, what-do-you-mean-you-have-a-project-on-cavemen-due-tomorrow?”

Murphy’s law

The day you do make an effort to brush your hair/stick on jeans instead of lycra, nobody will be around to experience your swishy hair. However, the days that you try to hide your pale, creature-from-under-the-sea face from the world, you’ll get every Tam, Decca and Harriet, stopping you for a chat and inviting you out for a skinny latte.

The silence of the lambs

Remember those visions of sweet mother-daughter chats as you skip home together after school? Well, burst them with a large compass because Omerta has nothing on the lack of chat, news or information you will glean from your all-of-a-sudden quiet child in the aftermath of the school day. A grunt, a murmur and a kiss when no one is looking is about all you can expect.

They are tired and you are their safe space: expect to be their mental punching bag until they settle down at about ten to Love Island in the evening. They decide to break their vow of silence mainly to stall bedtime, knowing we’ll lap up their nuggets of chat all night long if we could.

All of the stuff


Nobody tells you how physical this whole thing is;  the heavy bags, the scooters hitting off our ankles, the whole school-lunch-making-fiasco – ("triangles, no, squares, no... ham, I said cheese, no butter, NO PEANUT BUTTER, IT IS A NUT FREE ZONE, I liked tuna last week, this week I hate it")

If you like repetition, then you’ll love the school week — the joy of pulling lunchboxes out of the bags, throwing away uneaten sandwiches, putting away shoes, coats, hats, gloves (usually gloves), the enjoyable banter, “where’s this book, what’s that book, what-do-you-mean-you-have-a-project-on-cavemen-due-tomorrow?”

Then (every day) remove the smelliest part of their lunch that escaped into the bottom of their school bag, wonder why you even bother buying the ever-disappearing colouring pencils, and marvel at the weight of their bags.

Then, yippee, time for the notes.

No... thank YOU!

Schools of Ireland, can we move past the physical paper notes? Not only do we need a PhD in Administration Filing and memory studies, but a Degree in Head-lice detection and a Masters in Accountancy to follow all the €2 needed here and €5 needed there.

And by the time you’ve dragged out those dribbles of chats at 9pm, done all your school-life admin, updated your calendar and read the 107 WhatsApp notifications (100 thank yous for a party, and 7 potential book clubs/play dates/reminders about uniform day), it is 10pm and you find zero time to plan your outfit for the next morning.


You vow to be a better person and a better mother, and realise that if you squint a little, you do quite enjoy all of this.

Long days, short years, you tell yourself, as you lay out your best black yoga pants for yet another day.


Image via Unsplash.com

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