by guest blogger Denise Schipani, author and mean mom
It’s getting close to Mother’s Day, which naturally has me thinking about my own mother. I may be musing slightly more than the average woman, and more than I do in an average year because this year, my book, Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later, was just published, and it’s time for me to admit that I’m not the first mean mom in my family. My mother, in fact, is the Original Mean Mom.
My mother was exacting, strict, and in firm control of the rules and the reins in our house. She was deeply emotional and fiercely loving, but not ever squishy or mushy.
Here are just a few principles liberally borrowed from the Original Mean Mom:
- Don’t apologize to your children. If you can’t do something, buy something, or go somewhere, you may think “sorry” is the right response. It is—unless it veers too far into the abject (“I’m so sorry I can’t buy you those boots, honey, you poor, poor dear“). Do that too much, and you’re on the road to raising a professional victim. Try: “I get that you’re disappointed, but we can’t afford the boots right now.” Then go about your day.
- Don’t fight your kids’ battles. Tempting, I know. My mother never intervened in problems with friends or even minor issues with teachers, dance instructors, or Girl Scout leaders. Notice I said minor issues. Honestly, I doubt it occurred to her to step in and, say, call a friend’s mom if I came home upset that Patti didn’t share her Barbie van with me. However, when the issues were major? She came out like a lioness. That’s the difference: I remember the times she (and my dad) went to bat for me. It made me realize that I could do a lot on my own, but that she had my back, big time.
- Make your kids do chores. Do your kids clean up after dinner? And I don’t mean, help you clean up, but do the whole job, including making you a post-dinner pot of coffee? That’s what my sister and I, and later my brother, did routinely. Isn’t it amazing how hard that is to fathom these days, the idea of kids doing a whole job, not getting a gold star for, say, putting his one dish in the sink? Now, much of what a child can accomplish is tied to his or her age, but still: the idea of kids doing chores has traveled far from the days when it was normal for everyone who lived in a household to pull his or her weight to now, when friends of mine get sideways glares because their 9-year-old mows the lawn. Chores give kids a sense of belonging, pride, and lifelong skills.
- Make dinner. Just one per evening. Left to my devices, I’d have eaten cheese-and-butter sandwiches or spaghetti every day. I did not get these foods every day. We had beef and spinach and stew and lentil soup and—gag—liver and onions. I had to eat salad. I had to clean my plate. I still have no answers to whether this is always the right approach, but in my experience, at least, it was. My brother was an even pickier eater than I (amazingly, because I set the bar pretty high), and these days he’s an adventurous eater and cook. I err on the side of making foods my kids mostly like, and they do actually eat vegetables (if a frustratingly narrow selection of them). But I’m thinking my mother’s approach was right because it never occurred to her to tiptoe around a kid’s mercurial tastes. (It was slightly easier for her, I guess; the whole “kid food” industry was in its infancy back then.)
- Be a “buck stops here” parent. Kids act for all the world as though they want to make the decisions (eat macaroni and cheese every night, not go to school—ever, and play Wii games late into the night, if you ask my 7-year-old). But they actually don’t, not really. They want to know when bedtime is, or that homework comes before computer, or that there are parts of school that are a drag but are necessary. They want to know you’re in charge. Don’t be afraid of taking the wheel.
Denise Schipani is a writer, mother of two, and the author of Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later (Sourcebooks, 2012). She blogs at deniseschipani.com.