Why we need to save mammies from the school run

Women’s talents are wasted when they spend their days shuttling children to and from school and exta-curricular activities. Children should walk or cycle r mothers should car-pool, writes Clodagh Finn

SAVOUR these final moments of blessed calm, while our roads are still gloriously free of school-run traffic.

Gridlock returns from Monday,
depending on where you live, but let’s hold onto the happy memory of what our towns and cities look like when school’s out.

There’s traffic, of course, and
congestion, too, yet drivers have been known to arrive smiling — and on time. Many of them even comment that their journey time was cut in half, or, at the very least, reduced by several minutes.

If only it could last.

The back-to-school dread is not just felt by pupils; it seeps into the marrow of anybody who uses the road and recalls, only too vividly, the tense-shouldered hours of chaos that strike early in the morning, and again in early to mid-afternoon.

Ironically, parents here, and in the UK, tell the survey-takers that they drive their children to school because they worry about traffic accidents. Yet, surely, they are the very ones increasing the risk of accidents, by filling the roads and pavements with cars — often big, outta-my-way 4x4s — when the school bell rings.

However, we’re not going to get
anywhere by pointing fingers at the parents who bring their children to school. They are under far too much pressure already.

Not only have they come to be seen as toxic air-polluters, responsible for traffic gnarl-ups and childhood obesity, parents also have to negotiate a school-gate social minefield.

At this time of year, you’ll find an unsettling number of articles advising mothers — fathers seem to have an easier time — on how to survive the school run. And they don’t mean the traffic.

One of those pieces, on the very practical parenting website, Mummypages.ie, even suggests that dealing with fellow mums at the school gate can be the hardest part of the day. “There are plenty of opportunities for arguments and even your confidence can be hit, if you encounter a ‘yummy mummy’ on the wrong morning,” it says, offering a list of tips on how to cope.

The site also publishes a very revealing letter, written by ‘A Mum Who’s Had One of Those Days to the Rude Mum at the School Gate’. It’s an eloquent, though sad rant, that calls on mothers to stick together. “If we don’t have each other’s back, no-one else will,” it concludes.

The same website found, in a 2015 survey, that many mothers dreaded being judged by fellow mothers, while dropping off their charges at school.

You can see how that kind of goldfish-bowl scrutiny starts to intensify, after a primary-school headteacher in the UK prompted fevered debate,
last year, by writing to parents and asking them not to wear pyjamas while dropping off their children.

The vitriol that followed was staggering, but the discussion missed the point spectacularly. The real issue is not what parents wear on the school run, but the amount of time they spend ferrying their children to and from school, sports events, and playdates/sleepovers.

One UK study of 2,000 mothers, by car-seat company, BoostApak, found that mothers spent up to two weeks a year driving their children around.

Add to that the cost (nearly €2,000 in fuels), the stress, and the time it takes to get children in and out of the car — an estimated seven minutes.

However, the real cost is the time it takes out of every mother’s day. That is not to say that bringing a child safely to and from school/play/sportsfield is a waste of time, but imagine what those mothers might be able to do if they did not have to act as mammy-taxis.

A friend of mine, a mother-of-four, still shudders when she thinks of that year of hellish Tuesdays. On that day, she had to drop off and pick up one child from junior school, do the same for three others at two different senior schools, then drop off two of her girls to dance class, separately, because they were at different levels. She then had just enough time to pick them up, before leaving again to drop the oldest one to the sportsfield. You might carve out snatched moments on a day like that, but never enough to do anything productive.

How many other women have nightmare taxi-runs like that one? How worthwhile it would be to conduct a comprehensive, nationwide survey to see how much time Irish parents — and, in particular, mothers — spend taxi-ing their children to and fro.

Then, we might be able to calculate how much potential continues to be untapped, because mothers (I suspect it is mostly mothers) are trapped behind the wheel.

Imagine what might happen if they had more time to put their talents to use. As it is, they have proved themselves to be exceptional multi-taskers, keeping myriad plates in the air. Consider what might happen if all those dead hours in the car were freed-up.

There are encouraging signs that things are changing. The 2016 Census reported a significant increase in those actively commuting to work, school, and college.

Most third-level students now walk or cycle to college. The number of primary and second-level students doing the same has risen to 35%, although the car still reigns supreme.

Perhaps it’s not possible for all children to walk or cycle to school, but, surely, we could do a lot more to organise car-pooling with the help of technology. WhatsApp, for instance, would be a perfect way of linking parents in a catchment area to share pick-ups and drop-offs. One woman in the States solved the problem by setting up her own business, a ‘mom-owned, mom-approved taxi service’, offering a transportation shuttle for children.

Food for thought. And we need more of that, because it’s time to save Irish mammies — yes, dads, too — from the talent-drain that is the school run.


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