My son won't be the only one crying when his school friends move this summer

I’ve cried on them in the playground, they’ve stepped in to look after our son in an emergency and I’ve drunk too much wine with them on (many) a weekday night – and yet I’ve known some of them for less than two years.  

I’m talking about the parents at my son’s school.

Our oldest son started primary school in 2020 and since then it’s become clear that the bonds you create with parents at the school gates are different to others you make in life. 

You might have been thrown together due to circumstance and location but when you see each other up to 10 times a week, it’s no wonder friendships can form fast.  

Our son started reception when class bubbles could burst at any moment and then he missed most of the spring term in early 2021, when the country’s schools closed completely. 

Every family was going through struggles during these tricky times but the stress of home life was made easier by knowing my new parent friends were there to rant to on WhatsApp. 

Living so close to these other families meant the kids could walk to each other’s houses to deliver cakes and gifts, or simply wave hello.

Seeing familiar and friendly faces was a huge form of solace for us adults too and sadly not something we could do with the long-standing friends we went to school or university with who don’t live in our neighbourhood.  

Perhaps it’s inevitable that the feeling of all being in the same (crappy) boat made us all closer. And if you mix this with parents working from home for the majority of the time, it means we’ve all seen a lot more of each other than we may have in pre-pandemic times. 

More flexible working means we’ve been able to attend in-school events and not had to dash off to jump on the tube at 8.50am every day.

And when life started to look a bit brighter again, we were able to start socialising away from the school gates – whether at kids’ birthday parties, playdates or dinners out. 

Our local coffee shop has become the hub of social activity for some of the parents at my son’s school. It opens at 9am – straight after drop off – and is a great place to catch up after a busy weekend or to sit and offload if things are feeling a bit tough.

This has been such a pleasure when every other part of our social life feels like it needs meticulous planning due to our other friends being so spread out and so busy. 

These coffee shop moments have become especially important to me in the past year. My father was diagnosed with cancer in August 2021 and it came as a huge shock for our family.

The anxiety of scan results and his treatment has led to some very wobbly school drop offs. Being able to sit and have an impromptu coffee with friends for half an hour on a Monday morning helped me in ways I still don’t think I fully appreciate.

And, of course, it wasn’t just our family going through tough times. Others have also been dealing with sick parents or worrying issues related to their children, finances or jobs.

But when you see someone everyday it’s easy to check in on them, follow up on concerns they’ve mentioned or offer last minute practical support if they need it. The feeling of community a school brings really does extend way beyond the gates.  

But, in Tooting where we live an exodus of young families appears to be under way. I can think of at least 10 families with children the same age as ours who’ve upped sticks and moved out in the past year.

And this summer two of my son’s best school friends are doing the same. Friends who’ve been in and out of our house in the past two years. Friends who’ve been naked in our paddling pool, who I’ve babysat for and whose siblings are now friends with our son’s younger brothers.

People are leaving the area to be closer to family, to have more space or a change in the pace of life. Of course, moving is a part of life but it does feel like the pandemic has accelerated the decision-making for lots of people.  

While I still don’t think he fully understands the change that’s coming, our son has started telling me he wants to move house and schools too, which is a little bit heartbreaking.

I know he’ll be fine; he has a lovely set of friends who will still be there in September and, of course, we reassure him, and ourselves, that we’ll stay in touch with the families that are leaving.  

And we will. I hope. I’m realistic about the demands on life, work and school and how hard staying in touch can be sometimes.

But hopefully the bonds we’ve created around the school run, school events and playdates will last longer than our time together in our lovely London neighbourhood.  

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