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Heidi Scrimgeour on parent pow-wows and how to survive them

Falling out with another parent is awkward. Here's what to do...

Of all the awkward moments that mark parenthood - and oh, there are many - my first proper fall-out with another parent was the most mortifying.

Overnight, I went from regarding the playgroup gates as a place of cosy camaraderie, to hiding in the car until the last possible second before pick-up in the hope of never having to lock eyes with another parent ever again. One day playground banter was a daily highlight; the next, I felt like a pariah. Falling out with other parents is the ultimate ‘Dear-Ground-please-swallow-me' moment.

The details don’t really matter - and I can’t disclose them for fear of starting another row - but it makes no difference what you disagree about. The cringe-factor comes not from the details - usually absurdly petty - but the fact that you’re meant to be showing the kids how to behave, yet you’re holding grudges and nursing resentments like wilful five-year-olds.

I’m sure that’s why parent fall-outs feel worse than our childhood feuds ever did - because we’re painfully aware that we should be beyond this, and all too mindful that our own relationship skills (or lack thereof) might impact negatively on our kids’ social lives.

'The very thing we have in common is the one thing we’d risk our lives for without hesitation.'

Yet it’s logical that there’s so much scope for upset and misunderstanding wherever parents congregate. Think about it; the very thing we have in common and which underpins our friendship is the one thing we’d risk our lives for without hesitation. Throw in clashes in parenting style and the divisiveness of many issues affecting parents, and it’s little wonder school-gate friendships are so volatile and parent pow-wows so common. I’m surprised I didn’t fall out with another mother on the labour ward.

Nonetheless, I learned some valuable lessons from my first clash. Primarily, that nothing shows you who your friends are like a bit of awkward social conflict. The pals who dusted me down afterwards have the equivalent of VIP seats and back-stage passes to my heart, now. (They didn’t know the gory details either, and they didn’t need to. A true mate asks not what’s unravelled you but how they can help piece you back together.)

I also discovered that the secret to navigating a fallout with your dignity intact and your kids’ relationships untainted is simple, really. Grow up. Be slow to take offence, quick to apologise, and always believe the best of others.

Other parents’ actions will periodically astound you, and even true friends will sometimes hurt, disappoint, or betray you. But the greatest thing you can show your kid is that those things don’t define us. Happy people are those who, like Princess Elsa, have mastered the art of letting go.

And in the end, most rows do blow over. If you’re lucky you’ll emerge wiser for it, more confident of who your friends are, and less likely to act like a five-year-old next time.


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