The other day during our afternoon run, my bestie regaled me with a story about a dispute she'd had with her daughter that morning—one that concluded with her daughter shouting, "You're the meanest mom in the world!"
"So I told her," my friend said as we puffed along the trail, "that I couldn't be the meanest mom in the world, because your kids say that you're the meanest mom in the world—and there can't possibly be two of us."
"Oh, thanks," I said, "thanks a lot."
The truth is, both her kids and mine are right. They do have the meanest moms in the world. In fact, so do the kids of many of my friends. We're all pleased to have earned this distinction.
In 2013, a Wyoming mom put the following ad in the paper after her son got caught driving while intoxicated. "VERY mad mother selling 16 yr. old son's 1993 Ford Ranger. Drove 3 mos. before son forgot to use his brain and got caught driving drunk. $3,500 OBO. Call meanest mother."
The ad, and subsequent social media blitz, generated tons of praise and very little criticism for Mean Mom's decision. Though her tactics likely angered her son, she did what was best for him in the long run.
Being mean in the eyes of our children is, in actuality, one of the greatest displays of love we can offer. This kind of mean doesn't equate to being unkind, authoritarian or unsympathetic. It doesn't imply not listening to or respecting our children's opinions, or stifling their creativity. This kind of mean is about guidance. It's about teaching meaningful life lessons and the value of accountability. It's about helping our kids reign in their impulses while still allowing them space to learn from their mistakes.
When I became a parent, I made it my mission to create the kind of environment for my girls that I once found comforting, with the goal of guiding rather than controlling.
I grew up with an extremely permissive mother. A mother who, for reasons I've come to understand in my adulthood, wanted to be a friend rather than a disciplinarian. My brother and I had no enforced bedtimes or curfews and tantrums in stores were often resolved by purchasing the desired item. Our mother's few rules had even fewer repercussions when they were broken. She wanted us to like her. Despite the freedom this gave me, I often felt lost at sea.
I found myself craving the order and routine that existed at our father's house. Our parents had divorced, and nights at our dad's meant dinner around the table followed by homework, some TV or a game of backgammon, and time to read before bed. Although I didn't always like the parameters he set, especially as I moved into my teen years, there was a comfort in those rules that was missing when we were at our mom's. Knowing that there was a grown-up around who knew better than I did—someone who was there to keep me from going off the rails—helped me to feel safe, even though there were plenty of times I fumed at the unfairness of it all and lamented the misfortune of having been born to someone so mean.
There's a book I love called "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee," in which author Wendy Mogel, a psychologist, says, "Our job is to raise our children to leave us. The children's job is to find their own path in life."
When I became a parent, I made it my mission to create the kind of environment for my girls that I once found comforting, with the goal of guiding rather than controlling. I'm not always successful, and my kids don't always like me when I limit their phone time or require them to put away their laundry—and then they fume at the unfairness of it all. But that's OK. It shows that we're all doing our jobs.
In that vein, here are five bits of wisdom mean moms like me are notorious for imparting and which up our global rankings as meanest moms:
1. Take care of your body
This is also known as, "No, you may not have a waffle before dinner."
I often tell my kids, "You get one body in this life. Treat it well." I'm a stickler for good food. Brown bread and rice replace their white counterparts. Lentil soup, grilled salmon and roasted kale are often on the dinner table, even though my girls claim that eating those things makes us "weird." Dinner together as a family is a nightly event. A reasonable bedtime is also on the docket on school nights. They can accuse me of being overprotective as much as they want, but it's my duty to keep them healthy.
2. Assume responsibility, practice humility
Also known as, "No, I won't write a note to your teacher telling her you forgot to do your reading."
Learning to navigate life's rules and norms is difficult. I should know—I'm still trying to find my way. I will always advocate on behalf of my kids when it's appropriate and necessary for me to get involved, but I'm not going to be the parent who demands a grade change, a different role in the play or a better position on the team. Nor am I going to let them quit when things don't go their way. Take responsibility for your choices. If you make a mistake, own up to it. I can have my kids' backs and help them make their way to the other side of tough situations without jumping in to bail them out every time they stumble.
3. Pull your weight
Also known as, "You need to do something about this room before you go to your friend's house."
When my girls were younger, I did pretty much everything around the house. As they grew, and I started working more, it was both developmentally appropriate and necessary time-wise for them to step up and take on more responsibility. A family is a team and needs to work together to keep the ship afloat. So, my dears, bring your laundry down and sort it if you want it washed. Clear your place. Unpack your lunchbox. Keep your room tidy. Feed the dog. Put away your things when you're done. Thank you.
We have plenty of debauchery in our house—raunchy jokes, late nights, tech overloads, chocolate cake.
4. Be true to your unique self.
Also known as, "I'm not buying you $80 jeans just because everyone else has them."
In David Shannon's book, "A Bad Case of Stripes," Camilla Cream twists and morphs and adjusts herself until she is beyond recognition, conforming to an image she thinks will help her fit in. Being included, liked and accepted is important to kids and adults alike, yet doing so without compromising your integrity can be challenging: Kids are often merciless in their judgments of those who are "different." This is a tough one, and I hope that being my own oddball, uninhibited self will help my girls learn to feel confident in their own stripe-free skin.
Also, known as, "You may not text your friends after 9 p.m., and I'm not interested in what other kids are allowed to do."
Moderating the use of electronics is a big soapbox issue for me. I know every generation has had its own afflictions—the radio, Elvis, television—but I don't care for the way "kids today," as well as their parents, are so attached to their devices. Turn it off. Have a real conversation. Don't measure yourself by likes. Be present.
Though each of these may imply taking the hard line, beneath the lesson lies a foundation of support, encouragement, empathy, kindness and, perhaps most importantly, moderation. We have plenty of debauchery in our house—raunchy jokes, late nights, tech overloads, chocolate cake. Still, the balance is there.