I can’t stop disciplining my mates’ kids

·3-min read
I can’t stop disciplining my mates’ kids - Lorna Milligan for The Telegraph
I can’t stop disciplining my mates’ kids - Lorna Milligan for The Telegraph

I got told off a lot as a child by both my parents and my teachers. In fact, and rather annoyingly, my parents were my teachers as I attended the small village school which they ran.

My dad (the headmaster) would take the psychologically impactful approach. He never raised his voice and his words were always the same: “You’ve let us down, you’ve let the school down, but most of all… you’ve let yourself down.” It still makes me shudder.

My mum (the headmistress) ruled with an iron fist. One raised eyebrow was the signal to take cover, an almighty vocal lashing was on its way.

Now in my 40s with three children (girl and boy twins of nine and a little boy of four) there are many ways I would love to emulate my late mum, but not when it comes to disciplining my own brood. I like to think that in my household we consult and discuss first with limited shouting.

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Lately I have realised that while I am mindful of how I govern at home, I seem to take secret pleasure in doling out discipline to my friends’ kids.

I don’t just gently guide them on manners when it’s my turn to have everyone over for tea, nor do I calmly encourage them to be kind to each other when they fall out. I have become this supercilious behavioural judge prone to parenting other people’s offspring.

The first time I actively remember doing it was at my little girl’s seventh birthday party. Her street dance coach came to teach all 14 of them a routine before they went outside to play.

Everyone joined in bar two girls who were messing about at the back. “Shall I ring your mummies and tell them you don’t like dancing,” I said menacingly. By the end of the two hours (which felt much longer) I was dishing out cake with an extra helping of chastisement.

I wasn’t really of it aware but I was getting a reputation as one of those strict mums and last summer it finally came to a head on a post-lockdown weekend away.

We were a group of four families and, not including my kids, that’s a total of eight children – or eight unsuspecting victims of my bubbling wrath.

Most of the parents were sitting outside having an afternoon drink at a holiday home while the children were playing in the house and one of the mums was in the bathroom.

I went upstairs to do a routine behaviour check and found two of the little boys spying on her in the shower. I asked what they were doing in an icy tone, which was (in hindsight) the eyebrow raise moment, but it went undetected and the pair of peeping toms slunk away.

A little while later, doing the rounds again like a prison warden, I picked up chat about kissing from a couple of the six-year-olds, and who they were going to try to get to kiss who.

It may have been harmless silliness but I bellowed my favourite phrase, “Who wants me to go downstairs and tell their parents they were talking about kissing?”, before launching into a moral diatribe.

Drama ensued. The raised voices alerted the other adults, they flew inside, children cried, they all blamed each other, and even the parents couldn’t agree on who the ringleaders were.

We haven’t been away together again and I’m left with this creeping feeling that I let the kids down, let the parents down, but most of all let myself down.

Maybe it’s time to show a little self-discipline and remember how to be a fun mum to my friends’ kids and less like their unofficial headmistress!

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