5 Ways Mean Moms Rule

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.



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15 Responses to 5 Ways Mean Moms Rule

  1. maria (farm country kitchen) April 26, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    From one mean mom to another, THANKS! People often think I’m lucky since I have such great kids. Luck has nothing to do with it! It’s lots and lots of love and a willingness to be mean when it matters most (which is at least once a day, probably twice).

  2. Vanessa April 26, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    Yes! Mean mums make kids that can handle the real world, with all its joys & disappointments. Totall agree with Maria: “Luck has nothing to do with it! It’s lots and lots of love and a willingness to be mean when it matters most (which is at least once a day, probably twice).”

  3. Christine C. April 26, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Being a good parent is not always popular. Big thumbs up to all you parents out there who parent well and not by popular vote!

  4. Maya April 26, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    Happy mother’s day, Mean Old Mom’s! Thank you! 🙂

  5. Michelle April 26, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Growing up I thought my Mom was mean but after raising 2 girls that are complete opposites I can see that she wasn’t really mean, she was in charge and we knew it, and yes, we had to clean our plates too.

  6. Leslie April 26, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    I smiled at the “cleaning your plate” comments. I always had to eat what was on my plate growing up (& make my kids do the same!) but ask my husband- it never fails that I leave a bite or 2 on my plate at dinner! I’m not sure if it’s an unconscious adult “dig” at my mean mom, or a “portion control” technique I picked up along the way 🙂

  7. Denise Schipani April 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Thanks for these comments! The more I talk about and write about my “mean mom” approach, the more folks come out and say they want to be, or are, mean moms too! One Million Mean Moms — let’s start a movement!

    Thanks again,

  8. DJinPA April 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    I like the approach of my mom. She was a no-nonsense, Midwestern, Sunday school teaching, 4-H and Girl Scout leader who didn’t like the concept of loading a kid’s plate or force-feeding kids with the “clean your plate” ethos. Rather, her rule (borrowed from old school Girl Scouts etiquette) was that one must take a “no-thank-you” helping of each item being offered at dinner. We were not allowed to state that we did not care for some food item until we had successfully sampled the small, polite portion. If, after trying it, we truly did not care for that item, we were not required to eat it again. But, we were not allowed post-dinner snacks or alternatives should our picky little bellies start growling. I am very thankful that my mom did not force us to gag down adult portions of food. Thanks, Mom!

  9. Sandra Burch May 4, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    Thank you so much for this article. We were often told we were too strict on our four children when they were young. By the time my oldest boy was 3 yrs old I had just had baby number four so we had to keep a tight reign on it all including giving each child a chore to do as they got old enough. We are now reaping the benefits and everyone comments how “amazingly” well behaved our kids are when brought anywhere.

  10. Gina March 29, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    My kids got to the point of having to put up their own lunches for school because they were picky and didn’t eat what I gave them. They came home from school and were already putting stuff in their lunchboxes for the next day. One day a week they had to plan, fix and clean up a meal for our family of 4. Had to be thought out and no soup and sandwiches. Chores were a must. Raised 2 beautiful, caring and independent children even when not the most popular mom, but I always listened and never ridicule in public. Have known to bribe and threaten on occasion.

  11. hidaya May 18, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    I do not force my child to clean her plate. Never!

  12. 18650行動電源 June 23, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    I recently study Jackie Ethel Joan and in it there was a chapter about this tv program. It commented on? how Jackie’s voice was by no means this soft spoken prior to. She was nervous and hated giving interviews. She was self conscious about how she walked and sounded throughout the filming

  13. Sara July 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    I agree with all the ‘mean-mom’ approaches to parenting, except when it comes to food. We respect our children’s opinions about who they like to play with, what they like to wear, what toys they like the best, but we don’t respect what they like to eat. I buy all the groceries, therefore, I don’t buy food that I don’t like. My children don’t get that option. I serve them everything we are eating, and suggest that they try everything, but they don’t need to eat it if they don’t like it. They enjoy trying new things because they have the freedom to not like something. I believe, I have created 2 of the least picky eaters. Dinner has never been a battle of wills for them to eat what’s on their plate because I was intentional about not making it a battle. I will also say, they don’t get ‘special food’ if they don’t like what’s being served. You don’t have to eat what I’m serving, but you won’t eat again until the next meal. Also, I want them to listen to their own bodies, if you are full, stop eating. We live in a ‘clean-your-plate’ culture, and it shows. I respect that my kids know when they are full.

  14. mackenzie July 24, 2013 at 1:00 am #

    In my opinion u should be a little hard on you’re kids but not to hard or you don’t get a lot of respect from you’re kids. Its like the golden rule treat others how you want to be treated. And how does being mean to you’re children have good effects in the future all it does is give your children cold hearted mother who is mean to her kids

  15. Tamara July 25, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    I’m very proud of my children that are products of my mean parenting. I can’t stand being around the children that the “nice moms” raised. They are ill mannered and spoiled rotten!

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