This week’s post is a special. Every day, for the next 11 days, Daddy Burns the Salad presents an in-depth, incredibly factual, handy cut-out-and-keep spotter’s guide to the behaviour, appearance, habits and calls of different species of Parents on the School Run.
Over the unfolding series, this guide aims to introduce you to the stereotypes of parents you might encounter at the School Gates, a environment which has important implications for the future of the planet and must be preserved and studied. Hopefully, by the end of this series, you will understand the various individuals that make up the bizarre world of Parents.
On the School Run, we meet many examples of humankind. Some good, and let’s face it, some terrible. The School Run is a surprisingly intense experience for parents, where emotions can run pretty hot (and not in a sexy way, unless you’re going to a weird school with questionable policies). These are people you meet for five minutes at either end of the school day for many years, and they can have a large impact on your life.
The School Run can also be where you form strong and lasting friendships, get support, swap tips, make playdates, organise social events, and most importantly, disseminate scurrilous gossip.
The people we meet on the School Run come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and are a microcosm of daily life. This means that while essentially people-watching, the School Run Spotter is making generalised assumptions based on stereotypes. What sort of person makes generalised and judgmental assumptions based on stereotypes? That’s right, a complete dick. Now, while I am going to be a dick about all of these different types of people, I’m not basing it on social class, race, or gender (basically read he/she as interchangeable, unless I’m talking about The Dad). Everything else, though, is fair game.
The Species this guide will look at over the next few days are:
The Belligerent One Who Always Argues With The School
The Fighty One
The One Who Doesn’t Give A Shit
The Alternative Parent
The Quiet One On Their Own
The One Nobody Seems To Like
DISCLAIMER: None of the examples in this series are people I know in real life. Or rather, they’re examples based on EVERY SINGLE PERSON I’ve ever met, ever.
(Please Note: This is a guide to the UK species. Similar guides to American, European, Asian, African, Australasian, and Antarctic species will be published in due course, once someone has thrown enough money at me to travel around the world at leisure, spying on Mums and Dads at school gates. Any takers?).
HOW TO OBSERVE PARENTS ON THE SCHOOL RUN
Normally, when observing wildlife in the proper outdoorsy wild where things get eaten, insects bite and sting, and there are no toilets, a naturalist would opt for minimal-impact study, preferably from the safety and security of a hide. The alternative would be to use natural cover and observe from the upper branches of a tree, or from the cover of a bush.
Unfortunately, humans are suspicious and skittish. It is not advised to climb trees near a school, otherwise a Police Constable will be sent to inform you to Get The Fuck Down From There, You Utter Clown. Even worse, spying on children and parents from a nearby bush may cause the parents to panic, scatter, and take matters into their own hands. Unless you want the actual crap to be beaten from you by dozens of suddenly vigilante parents and teachers, DO NOT observe children from the inside of a bush.
It is also advisable to undertake research in this field by actually being a parent yourself. Nothing arouses ire and suspicion quicker in a School Run of Parents than finding a lone goon amongst them without any obvious children. Only approach a School Run of Parents if you are actually a parent yourself. Non-parents do so at their own risk.
It is far better, therefore, to observe parents in their natural state by mingling with them. Hide in plain sight. Be silently judgmental about everyone. If you are a British parent, especially a middle-class one, this behaviour should come naturally to you.
Oh goody! Let’s get judgmental!
Formed pretty early on, when the kids were in reception class, The Gang are a formidable group. Tight-knit, loyal, and cheerful, they are nevertheless a potent force. The school knows this. In fact, the school staff inwardly wince whenever one of The Gang present a bloc opinion to the school. The Gang is usually made up of Mums, but Dads are often members. The Gang is also a hotbed of gossip and judgement. Through the collective Hive Mind of The Gang, they know all about you. Somebody within The Gang will know something about pretty much everyone in the playground. As a result, their collective knowledge makes them a good source of information.
How you feel about The School Run Parent Gang depends greatly on your feelings about social groups in general. If The Gang reminds you of the horrid, braying, bullying, gossiping, sneering, chatting, jeering, sniggering, class-and-fashion-conscious girls (and boys) you knew from your own school days, then your feelings about The Gang might be less than charitable, and you may be inclined to give them a wide berth. However, if you were part of a large group of amiable friends in school (because you were never one of the horrid lot, were you?), then The Gang is a welcome part of your day.
The Gang would run for the hills with their hands over their boobs (including the men who are beginning to get a bit paunchy and manbooby) if anyone were to accuse them of not being friendly or welcoming. However to an outsider, a close-knit mob of parents all chatting together and knowing everything that is going on can be an intimidating presence. Nevertheless, getting in with The Gang is recommended. It’s an instant support group, it’s a source of knowledge, it can be a helpful homework and events reminder service, it provides gossip, and it can provide good friendships.
In any playground, there might be two or three distinct Gangs, made up of all sorts of people, and The Gang is the microcosm of The School Run. Depending on the school itself – its location and demographic being a factor in these things – these Gangs may be based on social class boundaries, although this is not always the case. The Gang is the natural home for parents on the School Run, and all the other specimens that will be listed throughout this Spotter’s Guide are often (but not always) outside and distinct from the largest Gangs. However, within The Gang, there are examples of all of the different species of Parent.
Plus Side: The Gang often contribute a lot to school life – always present at assemblies and plays, often in force on committees and vocal in parent meetings, always helping out at a fete or a bake sale, always there to offer support to a group member who needs help inside or outside of school. The Gang is sometimes a sociable group, meeting up outside of the school run. Not overtly competitive, and can often organise inclusive and brilliant parties. If you’re in a good Gang, they can be as awesome and loyal to you as a Special Forces unit (albeit a Special Forces unit with toddler-tantrum-breakfast-sick down their jumpers).
Minus Side: The Gang can be a mob. A parent outside of The Gang can feel bullied and unwelcome in the school if The Gang turns their gossip and ire on them. If a particular teacher or staff member meets with Gang disapproval, that staff member’s life could be made a misery. It is not unheard of for teachers to meet the full fury of that school’s Gang Of Parents and be bullied either into submission, or out of a job. Even Headteachers can be cowed by a Parent Gang.
APPEARANCE: Skirts, casual trousers, flowery blouses, open shirts, amiable expressions, nodding, knees, hugs, often with pushchairs – and that’s just the men! LOL!
CALL: Loud cackling, the words “prosecco!” and “gin!”, occasional whispering
HABITAT: Near the gate, on the field after school, all sat together on Sports Day, at the play, in the Parent Forum meeting, at the 8th birthday party eating all the bourbon biscuits and having a natter, in the pub and being slightly ribald.