Expat Life

The School Gate Gang

My school gate gang – what would I do without you? You have been there when my daughter has come out of school in tears. When I’m in tears. When my 2-year-old has run in one direction while my 5-year-old has gone in another. We’ve shared giggles as we’ve pretended to like the bizarre biscuits our children have proudly produced. Shared those magic moments when our children’s faces light up as they see us waiting for them.

We’ve supported each other through those difficult moments. When the teacher wants to speak to us about our child’s behaviour, or when there’s a comment in the communication book in French that we don’t understand. We’ve pored over the strange lists of items we are required to produce, and together acquired a whole new set of French vocabulary. We squeeze in coffees when we can. Sometimes even a cheeky glass of wine (not after morning drop off rest assured). We’ve stood together in that playground in the blazing heat and the freezing cold. On beautiful sunny days that lift our spirits, and damp gloomy days when it’s hard to raise a smile. 

In my daughter’s playground, we chat away before the bell and often linger afterwards while the kids play. It’s what we do. It helps us feel better, make sense of an unfamiliar school system, we support each other, our friendship connects us on lonely days when we need adult interaction. But I can’t help but notice that we seem to be the only ones. The other parents will exchange a friendly word, a smile and a quick chat, but they don’t seem to have their school gate gang as I do. 

I noticed it much more keenly when we lived in a very small Swiss village and my daughter attended the local nursery. I was the only non-Swiss parent but I was in a phase of going full on integration and that didn’t bother me one bit. Although I was excited to meet my ‘nursery gate gang’, 2 years later I still hadn’t got beyond a polite smile and a ‘bonjour.’ 

We then moved to a much more international area. It was never my intention to hang out only with the other anglophone mums. However, in the end, that’s what seems to have happened. What I’ve realised is that as expats, we need our school gate gang. We don’t have extended family around to help with pick ups and drops offs, it’s just us. Day in and day out.  

Of course, some parents have working schedules that don’t afford the luxury of leisurely chats after drop off or before pick up. A good friend of mine and working mum comments ‘I miss doing drop off and pick up as that was when I got to see my friends, catch up and share problems and news.’And of course, a school gate gang is not everyone’s cup of tea. ‘I actively avoid the school gate mums’ a friend of mine based near Zurich tells me. ‘I’m just not a morning person and need headspace after dropping off, not chatting.’

Fair enough. And a quick bit of research brings up quite frankly terrifying stories. Headlines such as ‘Middle-class mums are judgmental, competitive and cliquey ’and even ‘school gate chic’ which is a thing according to the Telegraph (not in my world it isn’t and thank goodness). There is even a help page on the website of British charity Family Lives on what to do if you are a parent experiencing school gate bullying. Gulp. 

For me, it is nothing but a positive in my life. My bracing walks to school on these cold November mornings where I know I will see a friendly face, exchange a few words of support, sympathy, or motivation are precious to me. 

So here’s to us, my school gate gang. And talking of which… it’s nearly 4pm again. Time to go…

Author Bio

Liz McEwan

Liz is based in Geneva. She enjoys combining her work as a Client Manager with TutorsPlus and writing on expat life and parenting.

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