I have become the incarnation of the parents I railed against: utterly clueless when it comes to showing children who's boss

9th December 2005 at 00:00
Gemma There are occasions, at the end of a long teaching day, when the photocopier has broken, when Year 7 are strangely uninterested in the many forms and features of the apostrophe, and the marking is stacked up high, that teachers have have one of those Daily Mail moments. A Daily Mail moment consists of an overwhelming feeling that teacher stress would be dramatically reduced if only parents would do their job properly. If parents would discipline their children, impose with an iron fist an innate respect for teaching professionals and a willingness to learn, the world would be a better place. The failure of parents to instil good manners and fear of authority figures is the major problem facing our education system, and it is about time that someone, somewhere, woke up and realised it.

They say be careful what you wish for, and my Daily Mail moments have rebounded on me big time as I struggle with my two sons, aged 16 months and four months. I have become the incarnation of the very parents I railed against: utterly clueless and ineffectual when it comes to the vital issue of persuading them who's boss. Of course, my baby is a little too young to feel the full force of parental control, but judging by the pig's ear I am making of bringing up my 16-month-old, perhaps I should be concerned for him as well.

I am writing this after another disastrous trip to the park which involved taking my little boy to run around the furthest, most isolated patch of grass I could find. Inclusion in the children's playground involves a manic fixation on other children's toys, buggies and body parts that inevitably ends in Asbo-worthy behaviour, so I've learnt not to encourage mixed-ability playing. At least in the outer reaches of the grassy area he can only find innocent small furry animals to terrorise. And I don't have to look the other disapproving mothers in the eye as I stammer apologies and yell vague threats about the "naughty step" to a child who can't speak, but seems to have clicked that "no" is all too often mummy code for "yes".

I asked my health visitor for advice the other day, and after observing my elder son trying systematically to pull out his younger brother's eyelashes with the cold determination of a potential serial killer, she handed me a reference for a book called Surviving the Terror of Toddlers before hastily backing out of the door.

When I was a student teacher I hit upon the uncomfortable revelation that I would earn my teaching stripes in the eyes of my students only when I had succeeded in making one of them cry, thus showing that I was not to be messed with. I'm beginning to reach the same conclusion with my son. His tears are the only sign that I'm getting my point across, but of course I would rather cut off my right arm than hurt him, so I end up overcompensating, usually with chocolate. This is the ultimate in parenting sins, worse even than half an hour in front of The Tweenies so you can drink your coffee in peace. With the words "you're rewarding him for being naughty" ringing in my ears, we're back to square one.

Teachers of the future: I apologise for what will land in your classroom in three years' time. It's not as if I haven't tried. Feel free to curse me all you want; no one told me that children don't emerge from the womb programmed to do what you want. And I don't even have teenagers. If discipline begins at home, could someone please track it down and hand it my address?

Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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