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2015 – Chief Magistrate Mum

Kate Moriarty  |  18 September 2018

Order! Order! The Court of Mum is now in session. 

There’s an Office of Petty Complaints in our household and I’m chief magistrate. As though I’m some Dickensian village beadle, my children bring me their grievances and expect me to dispense justice. 

‘She always goes first!’

‘He keeps saying “cabbage soup” at me!’

‘She’s using my favourite spoon!’

‘I wasn’t biting! I was hugging with my teeth!’

Some things I’m good at. I know, for example, that putting one child in charge of dividing a treat equally among siblings – and having them choose last – guarantees absolute precision in portion sizes. 

Also, I can give a maths lesson and share a milkshake three ways by using the ‘third/half/whole’ principle. It works like this:

1. Child 1, the most mathematically adept, drinks a third of the milkshake and passes to Child 2. 

2. Child 2 drinks half of what’s left before passing to Child 3.

3. Child 3 doesn’t properly understand fractions and is least likely to complain if he has been swindled. 

4. Child 3 drinks the remainder of the shake and everybody’s happy. 

The benefit of this method is that my children get so involved in monitoring consumption and discussing why a ‘third’ equals a ‘half’ that they don’t notice that other children in the cafe are enjoying whole milkshakes all to themselves. (What? Do you think I’m made of money?)

So, as Family Ombudsman (‘Mombudsman’? No. Sorry. That’s terrible.), I can manage fair distribution of resources. What I really struggle with, however, is conflict resolution. I can’t stand it when my children squabble, and it’s worse when I have to step in as mediator.

I try to listen patiently to their conflicting reports (not submitted in writing, but shouted over the top of each other), attempt to imagine a situation in which both children are blameless saints, strain a muscle in my brain, and deliver an arbitrary verdict that nobody likes.

I know I’m supposed to let them solve their own disputes. I’ve tried saying, ‘Don’t bother me unless there’s blood!’ The problem is, my children see this as a challenge and start whacking each other with saucepans until they meet said requirements.

I’m thinking of constructing a Wheel of Misfortune. I could paint the children’s names on it and set it up in the living room. When my children come howling to me over some bitter dispute, I would merely give the wheel a hefty spin. 

Whomsoever’s name the wheel stops on will shoulder the blame for the entire incident. It would turn an otherwise stress-filled situation into a fun game show. A sort of ‘Whose Fault is it Anyway?’. Of course, there may be some cases when Child Four gets in trouble for a dispute involving Child One and Child Two, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

I know the time will come when I won’t be called on to solve ‘Who Left the Lid off my Favourite Texta’. The time will come when other things seem unfair. I’m not ready to answer why terrible things happen to innocent people, why people abuse and murder, why small children are allowed to die of basic diseases. There are too many unfair things I have no power to fix.

But, for now, two children are shouting at me:

‘Christopher keeps breathing on me!’

‘Well Matilda won’t stop singing “Doors Plus, No Fuss”!’

Time to take action: ‘You’re both in trouble for “Wasting Mummy’s Valuable Time”. As punishment, you must vacuum whilst I read magazines and eat chocolate.’

Seems only fair to me.

View the reflection questions and activities for ‘Chief Magistrate Mum’ here


Topic tags: familylife, sportandfairplay

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