When your first child starts school it’s as much of a change for you as it is for them. Days are dictated by a fixed schedule and you have new challenges to face. One of these is Friends for Tea.
My son has just started asking to have friends over for tea after school. I’ve discovered that there is quite a network of children going to each other’s houses, something we’ve not been part of. This has started to make me panic about my child being left out. Why has he not been asked when he seems to be popular at school? Do the parents find me too unapproachable? Do the children not really like him at all?
Fortunately, my son doesn’t have any of these anxieties, he just wants to have some friends over for tea. But for his mother this involves a whole new area of emotional turmoil. Firstly, with three young children, “after school” is a time of utter chaos. Everyone is tired and grouchy and I barely manage to prepare tea while they sit in a trance in front of the TV, fight or whine while baby cries for attention. I feel quite anxious about exposing a relative stranger to us at our weakest time of day. What will they go home and report to their parents? I will have to be organised and in good spirits, which is not usual by that time!
Secondly, there are the logistics. What will I cook? What do other children have for tea? I will have to find space in the car for a fourth child. I will have to be prepared for the three year old to be distressed the whole time the friend is here because he will be the “little brother”, unwanted in the dynamics of big boys games.
And then there’s the anxiety of being completely responsible for a stranger’s child. Until now, friends have come to play with their mums. Pre school, the reality is that your children socialise with children whose mums you want to chat to. Inviting friends to play is as much for your enjoyment as theirs. Friends for Tea means extra work without the therapy of chat. As my son makes friends I will have to leave my clique and introduce myself to their mothers, and even in my thirties that makes me feel shy and vulnerable. Relationships in the school playground are as complicated for the parents as the children.
This morning in the playground I was supposed to have made lots of enthusiastic plans with the mothers of the children my son has selected. Instead I stood alone feeling reticent to start the process which will change the relaxed sloppiness of our after school hibernation for ever. Who should I invite first? Will I be upsetting other mums or unwittingly butting in on social groups already carefully formed – I discovered that three of my son’s friends are meeting for tea tonight, happily this doesn’t faze him! There is a hidden protocol to having a school child, a lifestyle change I’m still getting used to. Having spent the journey home worrying about it my husband has told me to just listen to our son and invite people as he requests because thankfully, five year old boys don’t seem to have the social anxieties their mothers have.