"I was bullied at the school gates - by the other parents" Mum shares how catty comments and being ignored become too much

40-something mum of two Josie had grown used to other parents' negativity at school

A woman in the pack with back facing the camera
(Image credit: Future)

40-something mum of two Josie had grown used to other parents' negativity at school - but eventually, their unkind behaviour became overwhelming. Here, she shares her story...

"Browsing the cereal shelf in Sainsburys, I noticed a woman hovering by my side. ‘Hi Josie,’ she smiled. ‘I’m one of the other mums from school, I was at the PTA meeting this week.’

"As I gave a smile of recognition, she paused before speaking again. ‘Are all of the meetings like that?’ she asked cautiously. I gave a shrug. ‘Most of the time,’ I replied, thinking of how heated the meetings could get. I’d been on the PTA for nearly two years, and was used to it.  ‘It’s just, me and my friend were talking about it afterwards,’ she said. ‘We think you’re being bullied.’

"Her words left me stunned. I was a 43-year-old woman, a single mum, with two children at primary school. Surely I was far too old to be a victim of bullying? But as I went back home, her words kept circling around my head. Gradually, it dawned on me. She was right. I was being bullied – by the other mums at my children’s school.

"When my son Oliver had started primary school back in 2010, I rarely had much to do with the other parents. Yes, I exchanged small talk at the school gates, but it didn’t go any further than that. I was often rushing back to work at my virtual PA business, or to look after Oliver’s little sister Abigail, who was three years younger. Plus, I was suffering from depression, so it was difficult to be social.

Surely I was far too old to be a victim of bullying? But as I went back home, her words kept circling around my head.

"It didn’t, however, take long for me to become aware that the school struggled to survive on the council-allotted funds and that the Parent-Teacher Association, or PTA, would host a variety of events to raise the much-needed extra cash.

"So when a church held a sponsored abseil down their tower, I signed up. Half of my fundraising went to the church and I donated the rest to the school. At the time, I barely noticed that none of the PTA members thanked me for my efforts.

"Then, in September 2013, when Oliver was joining year three and my daughter Abigail started reception, one of my son’s friend’s mums, the treasurer at the PTA, mentioned that two of the committee members were leaving and they needed a new secretary.

"‘I could help out,’ I offered. After all, admin was my thing and I had more time now that both of the kids were at school. But, at my first meeting, no-one seemed particularly welcoming. One school dad, seemed alright, but the other women were far from warm and friendly. ‘You’ll need to take notes at the meetings, then type them up and circulate them the next day,’ one of them, told me tersely.

"They also seemed to be a bit moany about the other parents. ‘No-one ever helps out or volunteers,’ one member informed me. I thought about my own fundraising, and how it had gone completely unacknowledged. ‘Maybe that’s just their way,’ I thought as I went home, shrugging it off. ‘I’m sure once we get to know each other, they’ll be friendlier.’ I couldn’t have been more wrong, though.

"One of the first events we started organising was the school disco. ‘We’ll print the tickets, then write each child’s name on individually,’ one parent said. ‘I could always set up a spreadsheet, and do it by computer,’ I offered. ‘It will save time.’ She shook her head sharply. ‘No, this is how we’ve always done it.’ That soon became her favourite phrase. Whenever I came up with new suggestions or ways to come up with funds, she’d shake her head, give the other mum a scornful look, then trot it out. This is how we’ve always done it.’

"Before long, they started ignoring me when I came into the room for our monthly meeting, didn’t acknowledge the notes I sent around and exchanged long looks and rolled their eyes whenever I suggested anything or had an idea. Like when Mother’s Day was approaching and I suggested making a ‘Don’t let Mum open this’ card when we asked for donations for the daffodils we offered, so mums wouldn’t end up paying for their own flowers. No-one offered to help, so I found myself doing it alone.

"And when the headteacher suggested a France-themed summer fete, I came up with the idea to do a Tour-de-France bike race. ‘We could make models of the Eiffel Tower and The Alps for the children to cycle around?’ I said. I heard a few tuts and scoffs, then with a sigh, one parent nodded without even looking at me. ‘Yes, you can arrange that.' Whenever I suggested anything the response was the same - rolled eyes, half-hearted shrugs. They’d mutter together and whenever they did look at me, it was disapprovingly. 

Being around such negativity was exhausting. I’d go home and burst into tears

Author Josie Dom

(Image credit: Josie Dom)

"Being around such negativity was exhausting. I’d go home and burst into tears, my depression convincing me it was my fault, that I was doing something wrong. I could sense the other mums didn’t like me - they made it very obvious, going out of their way to exclude me and make me feel uncomfortable. I knew women could be catty, but being on the receiving end of it was just awful. 

"And it wasn’t just the monthly meetings, it was every time I picked up my children, I’d become anxious if I saw one of them in the playground, my palms sweating, my heart racing. They’d completely blank me if I said hello, and I’d feel so left out whenever I saw them huddled together, chatting. 

"I did consider leaving the PTA, but I enjoyed the actual volunteering and the creativity of the different events. Plus, I don’t think I realised just how serious it was – until the school mum approached me in the supermarket. I carried on for a while but things came to a head when, after two years, the Chair phoned me. ‘It has been suggested we take a vote to ask you to leave at the next meeting,’ he said awkwardly. ‘I think you’re doing a great job, but there’s clearly a clash of personalities. I wanted to offer you the chance to step down beforehand.’

"‘I’m really disappointed to hear this but I won’t be stepping down,’ I told him, my voice shaking. How dare they! I was furious that they could treat another person this way. They clearly wanted to humiliate and patronise me, by ‘firing’ me. But soon, it became clear for the sake of my mental health, that I had to walk away.

"When I did, it was with a conflict of emotions. I’d spent so long teaching my children that you should stand up to bullies, that they shouldn’t get away with their actions, so quitting the PTA went against everything I believed in. But actually, it was soon a relief not to have to spend time with these women again, to be subject to such a toxic atmosphere.

"Even afterward though, they still darkened my children’s primary school days. Whenever I saw them in the schoolyard, it felt really uncomfortable – and it was all completely unnecessary. Now, my children are 17 and 14, so primary school was a long time ago for us all now. But I can still remember just how awful those two years were and how they set off my anxiety

"Bullying isn’t just children ganging up on an unfortunate classmate - it can occur to people at any age and in a huge variety of circumstances. And the impact can be devastating. I feel so strongly about it that I’ve even written a children’s book, Lum, about bullying. It’s time bullying stopped, once and for all." 

For more information visit: josiedom.co.uk. If you are struggling with bullying, harassment, cyberbullying or anti-social behaviour issues, contact The National Bullying Helpline on 0300 323 0169 or go to: nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk

Recent updates

This article was originally published in September 2023 in Woman's Own magazine - which is also owned by Future Publishing. We sought permission from the contributor before re-sharing their story.  

Sarah Whiteley
Real life and parenting writer

Sarah Whiteley is a freelance journalist who has been reporting on human interest and real-life matters for nearly 20 years. After studying an NCTJ-accredited post-graduate course, she went on to work as a features writer for the news agency SWNS. She became deputy features editor on Reveal magazine and then spent six years at Best magazine as their features editor. After going freelance in 2022, she now has a parenting column for Metro.co.uk and contributes regularly to Fabulous, Best, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Weekly, amongst other national titles. She has now returned to her hometown in the North East, with her husband and two children.