The dark side of the whiteboard - Fall from grace. Big time

21st January 2011 at 00:00

It's official: I'm now a fully paid-up member of the Shit Mothers' Club. It didn't take much to put me here. One minute I was urging my son to ruck over, use his back line and activate his mouth guard's #163;5k dental warranty by actually taking it out of his sock; now I'm vying with Enid Blyton and Joan Crawford for the title of the World's Worst Mum.

The most terrifying thing about parenting is the realisation that you can't afford to make a mistake. A lifetime of Sesame Street, Ladybird Books and family camping holidays to the Brecon Beacons can be laid waste by one callous remark. Kids take no prisoners. When you fall from grace, you do it without a parachute, and when you fuck up, believe me, that's the only thing your kids will remember. How do I know? Because it happened to my mum.

I had a perfect childhood: I glowed with Ready Brek, had two living parents and no ignominious divorce. She did everything right: baked buns from the Be-Ro book, crocheted pom pom poodle toilet roll covers and financed my horse-riding lessons from her part-time job. I never owned a palomino, but whenever The Sun ran a "Win a Pony" competition, she would clip out the relevant coupons. Childhood didn't come much better than that. My mother was altruistic, caring and dependable: everything she did, she did for us. But one summer, when I returned home from uni full of Jean-Paul Sartre and my own importance, we fell out. Higher education had taught me two things: to recognise the difference between Horatian and Juvenalian satire, and to recoil in disgust from polyester easy-wash curtains.

I made no attempt to disguise my contempt for my mother's provincial life. I began to distance myself: firstly, re-branding her as "mum" not "mam"; then by correcting her lexical inaccuracies. The most jarring of these, to my upwardly mobile ear, was her cavalier use of the word "kitchenette" to describe any room containing a cooker, a fridge and a sink. Suffice to say, this final criticism was a step too far. She finally snapped back. She wiped the patronising smile from my face with a remark that haunts me to this day: "You used to be such a nice girl, our Anne; whatever happened to you?"

My world suffered a tectonic shift. Like Chicken Licken, my sky had fallen in. I always knew my mother loved me; I hadn't realised that liking me was an optional extra.

And now I have submitted my son to the same seismic eruption. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was behind with my weekend marking and I had wasted time trying to light the fire with damp kindling. Finally it spluttered into life. I left him in charge and returned to my books. I had forgotten the first rule of parenting: in a battle between the internet and a household chore, the smart money is never on the log-burner. The fire went out and I ripped through my son. In a matter of seconds, I destroyed the world of premier league parenting that I had spent 20 years creating. Now, because of this one verbal attack, home is where the hurt is.

Parents, like teachers, are expected to create safe environments for children. When we use words as weapons, we fail. Sticks and stones rarely break their bones, but name-calling irrevocably harms them.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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