We all have an inner Train-Mum


I’ve always loved the first day of the school year.

It’s the kind of day where you can almost taste the buzzing anticipation in the air. The before-school haste of families from across the city is almost palpable as they hustle into the busyness of the new year. And a train platform is a microcosm of this first-day frenzy.

Teenage boys in pants that are now too short after growing too quickly over the holidays. Raucous hellos in deep voices shout across the platform, as they tuck into what looks like it was intended to be eaten at lunch.

Teenage girls with matching braids, who greet and hug and chat and laugh together (all while simultaneously typing away on their phones).

My favourite cohort in the morning mayhem are the wide-eyed Year 7s in blazers too big and bags too clean…a clear giveaway that today marks the advent of high school. They are to be newest addition to a kingdom of teenagers, where they are the smallest fish in what feels like a very big pond.

I take my seat three rows back in the upstairs carriage. Shortly after, a family sits down in front of me.
At the end of the carriage sits a Year 7 girl, clearly going to a new school. She wears a brand-new uniform, carries an enormously big bag, and a look of trepidation and restlessness to boot. Mum and dad sit either side of her as the train leaves the station.

Dad puts in earphones and chills out for the ride.

Mum oozes contagious anxiety so strong I could smell it three rows back. Bless this mum. I know her heart was in the right place.

Mum: “Fix your hat”… ”Pop your mask over both your nose and mouth”

Mum: Unpacks and repacks girls stationery – twice.

Girl: Huffs and sighs a bit.

Mum: Shows daughter recently posted photos of other friends also starting school on their first day.

Girl: Smiles and looks away

Mum: Reminds daughter which folders to use for what subject

Girl: Rolls her eyes and nods

Mum: Reminds daughter about drop off and pick up later that afternoon

Girl: Loses it!

Girl: “Can I go sit somewhere else…seriously?”

Me: Phew…you and me both, girl!

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of Train Mum’s mind. I could tell she was anxious. The repeated checking, reminding…all in the spirit of providing what she was assumed was necessary reassurance and support to her daughter. I’m not her kid, but from the look on her face it didn’t look like it was all that reassuring.

It was a between-the-eyes reminder that in anxious situations the very best parents can do is manage themselves.

We all have an inner Train Mum.

And she’s different in all of us. Sometimes she lurches forward in novel situations, or in contexts of separation from our kids. For some, she’s in full-flight when our children are struggling (and it’s hard to watch!), or they’re being excluded or other kids are being mean. For others, our inner train mum is most at work when our kids are excelling and we can’t help but project manage their successes.

Train mum emerges when our inclination to fix and problem-solve on behalf of our children outruns our ability to manage ourselves and our own emotions. Our kids are served best when we can tame that urge, and offer ourselves as a helpful resource to them as they find their way.

Note to self

Inner Train Mum: manage thine self.

P.S. The idea of managing yourself as a parent has been very helpfully thought through by the brilliant minds who work at the Family Systems Institute (https://www.thefsi.com.au/), and articulated in Jenny Brown’s book ‘Confident Parenting’ ((https://www.parentproject.com.au/)).

Take a look if you’re interested in finding out more



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Apr 29, 2022

We all have an inner Train-Mum

I’ve always loved the first day of the school year.

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