Someday, as a mom you're pretty much guaranteed to be the target of the hurled insult, "You're so mean!" Ouch. Then again, some of us wear it like a badge of honor. We're of the opinion that if your kids like you all the time, you're probably doing something wrong. Sure, sometimes you have to be the bad guy, but it comes with the job. In other words, there are certain things only the meanest moms in the world know.
I knew from the get go that I'd be a "mean mom." Playing "bad cop" is in my DNA. From the time I was a little girl, I've always been a stickler for the rules. Maybe that's why I became a teacher. If I learned anything from 13 years in the classroom, it's that "mean" is seriously underrated. High expectations and consistent limits can make a huge difference in behavior. My students jokingly called me "Mean Miss Read." They knew that I meant business, but they were also in on a little secret: I'm really fun.
I take a similar approach to parenting. I'm not authoritarian, in that I don't buy into "because I said so" reasoning. I do, however, set limits. I then provide choices for my child within those limits. I respond to whining with calm explanations ("You may not have a yogurt because dinner is in 30 minutes"). Tantrums are ignored until the anger has passed and while I comfort her, I never give her what she was throwing a fit for. Being a mean mom takes some gumption, but it's worth it in the long run.
It's OK To Say "No"
I know there's a parenting method out there where you never say "no" to your kid so they don't say it back to you. In my opinion, that's unrealistic. My daughter would really like to play with mommy's phone and dump all the water out of the dog dish, but those are off limits. She actually calls the iPad the "no-no." Incidentally, I want my kid to learn to say "no." While it's not an option for her not to buckle up, she does get to make decisions about her own body.
All that being said, if you want your "no" to be effective, you have to use it sparingly. There are certain things that are non-negotiable, but I try really hard to say "yes" whenever it's reasonable. I might not want to go outside because it's windy, but I resist my knee-jerk "no" so I can save it for when it really counts.
Kids Want Structure
Predictability is good for kids. It helps them feel safe in the world. As an elementary teacher, I put the schedule up every day. A mom asked her daughter if she got bored because it was always the same (it wasn't exactly), and she replied, "Noooo! I like it." I have a toddler, and I know it helps her to have a routine. When I stray from the pattern (like when we don't get home in time for nap and she sleeps in the car) is when I have the most trouble with her.
Kids also need to learn that rules are hard and fast. They will naturally test limits. My daughter has never been allowed to touch the TV screen, but she still tries every few months. She even smirks at me over her shoulder, and I have to remind her that it's still not OK (while on my feet and moving in her direction). If I fail to address something even one time, she'll learn that limits aren't fixed. I'll have to keep fighting that same battle, and she'll lose a sense of security.
Kids Will Eat If They're Hungry
I am not in the practice of literally catering to my child's every gastronomic whim. At breakfast, I'll usually give her a choice ("Do you want eggs or oatmeal?"), either of which is acceptable to me. If she asks for a snack during the day but rejects the fruit or cheese I offer (demanding crackers instead), I figure she's not really hungry.
I make one dinner for the family, but I make sure there's some variety for her to choose from. I don't coax her to clean her plate because I want her to listen to her body. At this age, I know she isn't going to starve and there will always be another opportunity to eat in a few hours.
Children Are Resilient
I've gotten some side-eye from strangers when I don't make a fuss over my toddler tripping and falling. If something's seriously wrong, like that time she got attacked by fire ants, I'm Johnny-on-the-spot. But I figure most of the time, she can throw some dirt on it and go on her merry way. As a toddler, my brother jumped from the top of the jungle gym using a plastic shopping bag as a parachute. When he landed flat on his back, he announced, "Well, that didn't work" and kept on playing.
It's not that I'm unsympathetic, I just know that if I make a big deal out of, so will my kid.
Kids Will Figure It Out
When your kid gets in a bind, it can be tempting to don the Supermom cape and come to the rescue. But, essentially, you're robbing your child of the chance to problem-solve. Am I mean for letting my child cry on her y-bike when she couldn't figure out how to dismount? Maybe. But now she runs that thing all over the house The Fast and The Furious-style. Seriously, baby can Tokyo drift.
In my opinion, you have to help kids understand who owns the problem. It might sound like this:
Kid: I can't find my shoes.
Mom: What do you think you're going to do about that?
Kid: I don't know. Look for another pair.
Mom: OK. Let me know how that works out for you.
Natural And Logical Consequences Are The Most Effective
I am not about protecting my child from the consequences of her choices, unless those choices put her in physical danger. I also don't use punitive punishments because then she will blame me instead of herself. I use natural consequences, experiences which naturally follow a behavior, like your child feeling cold because they refused their coat. I also employ logical consequences, where the punishment fits the crime. So if my daughter draws all over the wall, she has to clean it off.
No One Has To Get Them A Gift
"Mean moms" know that no one is obligated to get their child a gift, themselves included. I always put "your presence is present enough" on her birthday invitations, and I keep Christmas to "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read."
As a kid, my mom never got me a present on my siblings' birthdays like I've seen people do now. There was an understanding that it wasn't my day. Did I feel a little jealous? Sure, but I didn't feel entitled. When it came time for my birthday, I also knew I'd be writing thank you notes. It's definitely something I plan on instilling in my daughter.
Failure Is An Opportunity To Learn
My biggest issue with helicopter parenting is that moms try to protect their kids from failure. When I was teaching, I frequently had parents write excuse notes for their students, saying it was their fault the child didn't do their homework and to please not give them a consequence. I'm sorry (no I'm not), but that kind of thing is the kid's responsibility.
I'm in the business of helping my child develop a growth mindset. People with growth mindsets believe that success is within their control and is a result of hard work. They are resilient in the face of failure. If children are never allowed to flounder, they miss out on the opportunity to learn from setbacks, conflict, disappointment, and criticism.
Bedtime Isn't Optional
In my experience, children thrive on structure. In my family, a schedule holds the entire day together, and it all revolves around a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. I have a toddler, not an infant, so I don't wait for signs that she's sleepy. Bedtime is always between 7:00 and 7:30. Now, I can't make her sleep, but I can make her be in her crib. If she wants to talk to herself and practice yoga to wind down, that's fine, but she stays in her room for the night. This is good for her (toddlers need 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period) and good for me (mommy needs some alone time).
At the end of the day, parents have the final say. That's not to say that we don't provide kids with choices; it's important that kids learn to listen to their inner voices so they can make decisions in the future. However, toddler choices are in the category of "Do you want to wear blue socks or pink socks?" and not "What kind of data plan would you like?"
I'm not a controlling mom. My daughter has lots of freedom to choose what she'd like to play with, which books to read, and who her friends are. But when you know what? She does have to sit down at the dinner table to eat, go to preschool when I go to work, and leave the park when it's time to go home.
Honestly, I don't think any of this makes me a "mean" mom. Perhaps it looks callous or even lazy from the outside, but my parenting is my business. We "mean moms" know a few secrets, and the biggest one is that we're not really mean.