'My child's school has a bullying problem. But the bullies are the other mums at the school gates.'

The anxiety starts the second our car enters the school gates.

Blood racing. Heart pounding. Palms sweating.

My child’s school has a bullying problem.

Behind the impressive façade of manicured hedges and wrought iron fences is a cohort of deeply entrenched and impenetrable cliques. The membership of which is judged solely on one’s ability to conform to a set of predetermined values (mainly of the monetary type). Stay with me here.

The target of this vicious bullying campaign is not my five-year-old son, it’s me — his 32-year-old mum.

For the uninitiated — the school gate is like fight club. But more blood is spilled. Facing a swarm of competitive and critical mothers twice a day is enough to cast a profound sense of paranoia and self-doubt on even the healthiest of egos.

The scene of the crime

There's no hiding either. These mothers will have you sized up and pigeon holed by week one.

And I was a marked woman.

You know the type. The leader of the playground pack. The cut-throat class mum. She chairs every school committee and is the first to volunteer at the charity cake store. She organises the holiday play dates and intentionally leaves certain children off the list, in a twisted mini-Hunger Games of which she is the puppeteer. She indulges in her own child’s success; nurturing her brilliant little humans with organic lunches and a raft of extra-curricular activities. The preferred mode of transport for her polished brood is a late model Range Rover Sport (most likely gun metal grey). After the two-minute commute, she arrives on home turf. It is now -- among her tribe -- that the “mum bully” (let's call her "mully" from now on) really comes alive. The school gate gang congregates outside the classroom. Sizing up those who dare to enter their lair. They turn to smile at passing prey … their voices hushed.

My 'mullies' are much like mean girls from the 2006 movie.

Look. I have thick skin. But while I can shrug off the slander of key-board warriors and Twitter trolls, I'll openly admit the comments by the mullies get to me. Take these recent gems (relayed by a neutral third party):


"Do you know she starts work at 3am, that's why she never does school drop off? I could never leave it to others to get my kids out the door."

"That must be why her children misbehave. The little kids need their mum. How sad."

“I hear she never sees her husband either. That marriage won’t last.”

But the real sting was delivered to my face by the spawn of the main mully herself -- the Queen Bee of the P&C: "my mummy says I can never play with **** [insert my child’s name here]."

That one cut deep.

Is it because my son doesn't fit the mould? Because our family live out of the area? Or that we don’t go to church every Sunday? Maybe the problem is with me -- perhaps I don't throw myself into the school community as much as I could or should. Or maybe it's because I work full-time.

I've spent too long pondering why and asking how best to deal with the mullies. I'm no shrinking violet -- in any other scenario I would take these women on. But making a scene outside my child's classroom would lead to his near certain social alienation for years to come. When retaliating risks having your child struck off the class list, it’s probably best to play it safe. A while ago, I resigned to kill them with kindness instead. Albeit through gritted teeth.

Wherever there are women, there will be competition. And of course when kids are involved, the debate is likely to be turbo charged. Truly, I get that. But in the quest for parenting perfection, let’s not forget how easy it is to make others feel inadequate. Modern mums are expected to have it all, and be everything to everyone. That I already knew. But I did make one profound discovery during my first year as a school mum. Bullies don't grow up, they just get older ... and, in many cases, richer. The school gate can be a lonely place. And surviving this suburban jungle is an art form.

Welcome to the slighty sticky world of This Glorious Mess, Mamamia's parenting podcast.