I tried to slip out the door, but Mum intercepted my exit. “Sweetheart, what are you wearing?”
“Just black pants,” I said.
“Did you paint those on?” She called for backup. “George!”
Dad appeared. “What are those?” His face scrunched up, as if looking at something extraterrestrial.
My confidence fled. “Black pants?”
With Dad as wingman, Mum began her “No daughter of mine . . .” speech.
Great. The “no daughter of mine” rant, I thought.
But she’d made her point. As I stomped off to my room to change, I muttered, “Mum, you are so mean.”
Where are the mean mums?
Call me crazy, but mums today are just too nice. They need a bit more meanness. No, I don’t mean “mean” in the technical definition of being unkind or malicious.
I don’t think mums should be overly strict and hurtful, discouraging their children’s hearts, stifling their creativity and controlling their God-given gifts. (A friend of mine had a mum like that, and it affects her parenting every day. “It’s the reason I’m such a pushover with my girls,” she told me. “I don’t want my kids to hate me like I hated my mum.”)
The “meanness” I’m talking about is found in those situations where we take the tough, loving road, not the comfortable one where life proceeds without confrontation. Mean is what your children may feel about you when you make them write a thank you card, enforce daily chores or thwart their Friday night plans. Mean is when you push to know their friends and the parents of those friends, when you instill dinnertimes, bedtimes and curfews.
Mean mums make no excuses if discomfort is caused by loving boundaries. Children often can’t understand boundaries as being good for them. A mean mum sees the big picture. She sees the person her child can be and inspires the child until he or she catches the vision. Her slogan is: I’m not raising a child. I’m raising an adult.
Do you need a bit more meanness? Here are four ways to start:
Make ’em work
We all want to raise our children to become responsible adults. But how often do we deny them opportunities to learn responsibility?
“It’s easier if I vacuum. They don’t do it right.”
“They’re too young to put away toys.”
“They should have fun. They can work the rest of their lives.”
When we make excuses and do chores for our children, we rob them of valuable lessons in responsibility. Mean mums recognise that children who are old enough to go to the toilet by themselves are old enough to help around the house. Your children may not be able to clean exactly like you, but if they can navigate the iPad better than you, they’re capable of manoeuvring a mop.
Kids rise to our expectations. Expect them to be lazy or apathetic in their duties, and that’s what you’ll get. But expect great things, and they’re more likely to meet the challenge.
I love how mean mum Ashley puts it: “If my kids complain something is too hard — like putting shoes away — I tell them, ‘You were made to do hard things.’ ”
In my family, every child has assigned chores that we stick to for a time. We don’t turn on the TV until everyone’s daily chores are done. We give grace for a job forgotten, but if the forgetfulness becomes a habit, it’s time to pull the plug on something the child enjoys.
Completed chores mean free time. Incomplete chores mean consequences, possibly more chores. We must be consistent, sticking to the plan.
But housework doesn’t have to be drudgery. Put on some music. Create a joyful environment of teamwork. A mum — even the mean kind — sets the thermostat in her home when it comes to good or bad attitudes.
Let ’em fail
Where are the mean mums?
Have you noticed that there are fewer winners and losers these days? I’ve seen it in the schools my children attend. Choosing clear victors — in gym class, in academic contests — isn’t as common as it used to be. I guess the reasoning is that the non winners might get their feelings hurt. So children enjoy life surrounded by the mentality that every person is awesome, that no child need feel the sting of failure and defeat. They’re always reminded of how incredible and awesome they are.
Mean mums don’t let society’s everyone-is-a-winner messaging steal their children’s opportunities to learn from loss and failure. They show children how to overcome failure, not avoid it. Studies show that children are more likely to succeed when parents and teachers reassure them that working hard — and failing — is a necessary part of how they learn something.
When was the last time you let your child fail — and suffer the consequences?
Your daughter forgot her lunch — again. Do you drive to the school to drop it off?
Your son said he was sick when a friend called, although he really just didn’t want to play outside. The friend stops by to check how he’s feeling. Do you go along with his lie?
It’s Sunday evening. Your daughter tells you that she needs some supplies for a school project due tomorrow. Do you rush to the store?
Mean mums don’t rush in to make everything better, softening the blow of life’s lessons. They understand that failure does not mean disaster. Failure is a necessary part of the process to success and maturity. It’s a pinch, a taste of pain that grows our kids into adults who can fall and then get back up again.
When we smother a fiery trial, we deny our kids the chance to see how failure can often lead to success — and how God’s amazing grace keeps any failure from being final.
Rule their technology
How do you know if children are addicted to something? Well, how do they respond when you tell them to put it away?
Our daughter, Grace, was using her iPad to text her friends. When I realised her newest appendage slept with her at night, I told her that the device would now spend its evenings in my room. She responded in anger and tears. I really did feel like a mean mum, but it was a clear confirmation that she needed that boundary. And as she spent time away from the device, she recognised the problem she’d had.
Many mums tell me that balancing technology and media is the biggest issue in their parenting. Yes, modern tech gives benefits in communication, safety, education and entertainment, but all those benefits are muddied by easy access to pornography, violence and mature content. And then there’s the sheer amount of screen time. A Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed that children over age 8 average about seven hours a day with media and technology. Sadly, many parents are no better at handling this addiction.
Mean mums must become media and technology experts. Many parents start with some decent boundaries in place, perhaps not allowing TVs or computers in bedrooms. Yet they’ll still hand kids a smartphone, the Swiss army knife of technology. They’ll say it’s for emergencies or to protect them from potential dangers. But we must consider the very real dangers available through the device itself.
We must ask ourselves if a phone is a real need for our children or just something they really want. Mean mums don’t flinch when their children say, “But all the other kids have one.” And if this technology is a real need, we must set age appropriate boundaries for it.
Stick to your word
Jane Hambleton gave her son two rules when he got his first car: No alcohol, and keep it locked. After finding alcohol in her son’s car, Jane decided to sell the car. Her ad read:
Totally uncool parents who obviously don’t love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mum who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mum on the planet.
Jane received over 70 phone calls from emergency room technicians, school counsellors and parents thanking her for her responsibility. Not one caller said she was too strict.
What sets a mean mum apart from the pack? She lives up to her word. Her kids think, Mum really is crazy enough to take away my phone, turn off the TV or say no to a birthday party.
As mums, our job is to work ourselves out of a job. It’s not mean to give children chores or let them fail. It’s not mean to follow through with serious consequences if they’re disrespectful or misbehave. And if your daughter happens to wear pants that look to be painted on, it’s not mean to make her change. Not mean at all.