Nov 22

How (and why) I opted out of being the meanest mom in the world



People often send me parenting articles that they come across on the internet, wanting to know my take on them.  This one (titled How (and why) to be the meanest mom in the world) landed in my inbox just last night, and I knew immediately I’d have to write about it. First, it’s a list.  I’m a sucker for lists, and a list I can refute point by point?  That makes me all kinds of giddy.  More than that though, is the nerve that this idea strikes in my heart…. this pernicious and widespread belief that what kids need more of is meanness, and control, and “tough love.”   I think they need very much the opposite.  What kids need is connection with their parents.

It also bothers me to see, again and again, parents being told that kids need to be MADE to do the right thing, FORCED to make good decisions, and TOLD to behave in a certain way.  Is this how little we think of our kids?That they wouldn’t possibly do those things on their own unless there was coercion of some sort?

And I get it.  I do.  The post was written slightly tongue-in-cheek, and I’m sure that the mom who wrote it is not actually “mean” to her kids.  I’m also sure that, like me, she loves her kids, and only wants the best for them.

But that’s where the similarity ends.   Because just as I never uses phrases like “pick my battles” with my kids (my children and I are partners, not adversaries) I also never want to gauge my parenting skill set on how “mean” I’m being.   Words matter.  Intentions matter.

And so ….  kindness.  When in doubt, I always try to choose kindness.

What follows is her “how to be mean” list, and how I would re-write it with kindness in mind.

One last note before I get to the list though.  The intro to her article says this:


When your kids tell you you’re mean, take it as a compliment. The rising generation have been called the laziest, rudest, most entitled kids in history. Don’t give up. They may think you’re mean now, but they’ll thank you later.


This is not something new.  Every generation has called the one rising up behind them the laziest, rudest, most entitled kids in history.  Every generation has shaken their collective heads and lamented “the problem with kids these days.” This has been going on forever.  So I don’t believe for a second this idea that this particular generation is worse in some way than the ones that came before it.  But even if it was?  The answer is kindness and compassion…. not a renewed effort to be more “mean.”


1. Make your kids go to bed at a reasonable time.  Is there really anyone who hasn’t heard how important a good night’s rest is to a child’s success? Be the parent and put your kid to bed.


My version:  Help your kids learn to respect their bodies’ cues for tiredness (as well as hunger, thirst, etc) and make your home and their environment one that’s conducive to rest.   A good night’s rest IS important. This much is true.  But what that looks like is different for each child, just as it is for each adult.  Is “making” your child go to bed before he/she is ready, and possibly turning it into a point of contention, going to instill in them a healthy relationship with sleep in the future?  Sleep should be something pleasant, something that’s looked forward to at the end of the day… not something to be put into your “mean” arsenal. Work with your child on this, not against him.  As homeschoolers, we’re fortunate in that we can accommodate everyone’s sleep schedule’s, even if they’re not conventional.  But even in families where kids go to school, sleep can – and should! – be approached kindly, respectfully, and keeping each individual’s unique needs in mind.



2. Don’t give your kids dessert every day. Sweets should be saved for special occasions. That’s what makes them a “treat.” If you give in to your child’s demands for goodies all the time, he won’t appreciate the gesture when someone offers a sweet gift or reward.


My version:  Enjoy your desserts, whenever you may have them.  Food should not be an area of contention either.  It makes me nervous (both as a gentle parent and as a nutritional consultant) when I see people making rules about when/why/how often certain foods should be eaten.  It’s a good way to set up a lifelong unhealthy and unbalanced relationship with food.   A cookie’s just a cookie.  We don’t have dessert every day, but not because of any house rules against it.  We just don’t want it every day.  And when we do want it?  We have it, even if we just had it the night before.  If we’re craving brownies, we bake some.  If we want ice cream, we go out and get it.  If one of my kids asked to go to the dollar store for some Red Vines, I’d drive them.  Most of our daily diet consists of things like fish, fresh fruit, veggies, nuts and yogurt.  I’m certainly not going to stress out over some sweets.  As for “giving in to “demands”"?  There’s no “demanding” going on here.  Requests occasionally?  Sure.  And their requests are as respected as mine and my husband’s.  And yes, they still very much appreciate the gesture when someone offers a gift… a sweet one or otherwise.


3. Make them pay for their own stuff. If you want something, you have to pay for it. That’s the way adult life works.


My version:  Empower them and help them pay for their own stuff.   Again with the word, “make.”  This is the second of five times that she uses that phrase, “Make them…”  Kids don’t need to be made to spend or save their own money in order to learn about it.  All four of our kids get some money every other week, on payday.  It’s theirs, to save or spend as they see fit.  We buy them things that they’re wanting or needing as we are able, but they love knowing that they can buy their own things as well, whether it’s a $1.50 soda from the drug store, or a pair of $60 headphones for their computer.  All four of them have healthy relationships with money, enjoy both saving and spending, and take pride of ownership in the things that they’ve purchased on their own.


4. Don’t pull strings. Some kids get a rude awakening when they get a job and realize that the rules actually do apply to them.


My version:  When faced with a difficult or less than ideal situation, model for your children the best ways to handle it.    I have to admit, I found this one a little…. odd.  Adults pull strings and use contacts for themselves all the time, and the ones that I know are pretty darn proud of it too.  But if it’s not something you want for your child, don’t do it yourself.  As for whether or not it’s the right or wrong thing to do?  I guess it would depend on the person and the circumstance.   I do know this though:  If I’m ever put in a position of being able to help my kids, or purposely stay out of it for no other reason than to “teach them a lesson”, I will help them.  Every time. If they’re not doing something that’s damaging to themselves or others, I’m on their side.


5. Make them do hard things. Don’t automatically step-in and take over when things get hard. Nothing gives your kids a bigger self-confidence boost than sticking to it and accomplishing something difficult.


My version:  Encourage and support them when they’re faced with hard things.   Sticking with something and accomplishing a personal goal are powerful things indeed.  But again, kids don’t need to be “made” to do them. Confident and well-adjusted kids do hard things all on our their own… when it is important to them.  Our job as parents is to encourage them and cheer them on, and let them see us determinedly pursuing our own goals as well.


6. Give them a watch and an alarm clock. Your child will be better off if he learns the responsibility of managing his own time. You’re not always going to be there to remind her to turn off the TV and get ready to go.


My version:  Give them a watch and an alarm clock.  Sure, why not?  They’re useful tools when kids are wanting and able to learn to use them.  They are not, however, behavior modification tools.   Both my older boys have started using alarms for various reasons, all on their own… whether they want to adjust their sleep schedules, get up at a certain time because they need to be somewhere, or meet a friend for a Skype or Minecraft date.


7. Don’t always buy the latest and greatest. Teach your children gratitude for, and satisfaction with, the things they have. Always worrying about the next big thing and who already has it will lead to a lifetime of debt and unhappiness.


My version:  To this one, I would only add…. if you can’t afford it.  Living to simply “keep up with Joneses” is a sad (and futile) way to live for sure.  There’s always going to be someone with more.  And going into debt to get the next best thing is most definitely not a legacy you want to pass down to your children.  But your own attitude towards money and possessions and “stuff”, and your own gratitude and appreciation for what you have is going to make a far bigger impact on your kids than what you do or do not have in the way of belongings.


8. Let them feel loss. If your child breaks a toy, don’t replace it. He’ll learn a valuable lesson about taking care of his stuff.


My version:  When your child feels loss, commiserate with him.  My very first thought upon reading this one was, “As a parent, do you not replace your things when they break?”  Accidents happen.  I know first hand the sadness and frustration when a treasured item is broken or ruined, whether it was due to carelessness or just plain rotten luck.   It feels terrible!  When it’s happened to me as an adult, I’ve replaced the item when I was financially able, and took even greater care with the new one.  I give my kids the same consideration.  The lesson doesn’t lie in deliberately depriving him of replacing it…. the lesson happened as soon as it broke.


9. Control media. If all the other parents let their child jump off a bridge, would you? Don’t let your kids watch a show or play a video game that is inappropriate for children just because all their friends have done it.


My version:  Make informed and conscientious decisions for and with your children.   I would never do or not do something based on what other parents are doing.  The author and I agree on that point completely.  But all kids are different.  All families are different.  What might be “inappropriate” for one child could be totally benign to another.


10. Make them apologize. If your child does something wrong, make her fess up and face the consequences. Don’t brush rudeness, bullying or dishonesty under the rug.


My version:  Apologize.  You know how kids learn to sincerely apologize?  When someone they love and looks up to sincerely apologizes.  You know how kids learn not to be rude,  bullying, or dishonest? When they have parents who don’t display things such as rudeness, bullying, and dishonesty.


11. Mind their manners. Even small children can learn the basics of how to treat another human with respect and dignity.


My version:  Mind YOUR manners.   Say please and thank you.  Say excuse me.  Apologize when it’s warranted. Be kind and polite to strangers and family members alike.  Treat others with respect.   Children who live among people with good manners, LEARN good manners.


12. Make them work — for free. Whether it’s helping Grandma in the garden or volunteering to tutor younger kids, make service a part of your child’s life.


Oh, this makes me sad.  My version:  Show them what service to others looks like.  If you want your children to develop a spirit of giving (and I want that for my kids too!)  LIVE it.  Let them help you help others.  Do kind things for them and with them.  Look for ways to bless other people.  If you make it a way of life, they will learn it.  If you make them work for others, you deny them the opportunity to do it of their own volition.

And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my kids, it’s that they have huge, huge hearts.   Sometimes we get – and need! – to just stand back and watch them use them.

  • Sherri

    Great article! Loved your responses!

  • Kara

    Your version is exactly what my husband and I are trying to accomplish in our house hold of 5. In the past we have been teetering between “making” and “asking” so we want to work our way to always being kind, showing respect and asking them what they think the right choice would be. We don’t want to be demanding and all knowing. We can grow and learn from each other. Thank you for this article. It has given me hope!

  • dawnrosanne

    You have some wonderful insights here. I love “a cookie is just a cookie.” :) Thanks for making my night!

  • http://www.gracehopeandhealing.blogspot.com/ Shalom

    Thank-you! I am new to unschooling and gentle parenting, and sometimes
    it’s difficult for me to put my finger on why something doesn’t sit
    right with me. I had seen this list and it was one of those things I
    couldn’t quite articulate. Thank-you for helping me navigate through it!

  • Evi Pappa

    Your responses ROCK!!! I dont get people who write these kind of articles …Make them do this ..make them do that ….They lose the actual connection WITH their children !! I also write articles in Greek about positive parenting…I get a lot of people saying all the above I’ll certainly use your way of thinking thank you!!!

  • Jen

    I loved this! I have seen the ‘mean mom’ thing going around on facebook and I have always tried to be the parent who sets and example by ‘walking the walk’, not ‘talking the talk’..I’m so thankful that there are other ‘not so mean’ moms out there!

    • Jeanette

      Exactly! – “walking the walk” not “talking the talk.”

  • Leah

    Yes yes yes yes yes! I have 2 awesome teenagers, who are nearly fully grown adults now, and your approach is EXACTLY how I’ve raised them. They are kind, patient, polite, respectful, smart and skilled in the things that genuinely interest them. Their teachers have always adored them and often select them to “help” the rest of the class. Over the years, people have asked me what my secret is. While I had to enforce some very certain boundaries when they were little, usually pertaining to respect for others, I have always striven to model what I hope they will learn. In addition to raising some awesome kids, guess what, I grew too!

    • Leah

      I should add that I was raised with a “tough love” approach and can attest that this method can be quite damaging. Ie: I have absolutely no relationship with the living members of my biological family. This is per my choice. I do love them all; but from afar… from a very very far. Like any new mother, I was full of doubt when raising my kids. But they are so wonderful, it just fills my heart with love and amazement. Hang in there, mommas and poppas. <3

      • Jeanette

        I can also attest the “tough love” approach can be damaging, but we can take pride in knowing we broke that cycle and raised wonderful children.

  • http://courageousmama.com/ Courageous Jane

    Well written. I’ve got one child in particular who is what we call a “second shifter.” She’s always been my night owl, and even if she’s made to go her room early, she isn’t able to go to sleep any earlier. And if she’s forced to get up earlier than when her body says it’s done sleeping, she still doesn’t function well. However, sometimes she chooses to set her alarm and get up early (we also homeschool), and on those days, she bounds out of bed and is cheerful and efficient and a joy to be around. I have another daughter who put herself to bed every night at 9:00 (she went to public school) because that’s when she was ready to go to sleep. She did this right up to her college days. Also, I’ve been known to say often, “You’re going to have to make your own decision on that.” This might involve spending money, watching a certain show or movie, or managing their time. They have learned to respect my point of view without feeling limited in their choices.

  • Alyssa

    This was EXACTLY the post I needed tonight! It was another night of fighting to put the kids today, a day where I’ve felt I’ve been the mean mom. I found myself asking myself tonight, “Why? Is this necessary? Is there a better way?” Obviously yes. It’s not like that ALL the time. But reading this just cemented in my brain how hard I make things by creating an ‘us’ (parents) vs. ‘them’ (kids) mentality when we should be a great big loving happy team! That’s really what I want. To be kind. Thanks.

    • Alyssa

      *to bed* I meant to say. ;)

  • Kevin

    I really enjoyed this article. I actually ended up creating my own blog entry on this topic because I was inspired by what you wrote. I am including the link to my blog entry, and if you would be so kind, let me know what you think of my own experience.

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  • Jeanette

    Yes, yes, yes!!! I love how you close with you’ve learned from your kids “that they have huge, huge hearts”. I truly feel my daughter has taught me to be a better person, and I am often in awe of how gracious and forgiving she can be. She conducts herself with dignity, and I’ve been told she has a pure soul. Guess what? I was raised by a mean mom, and I wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I tried my hardest to break that type of parenting cycle. I’m also trying my best to incorporate kindness into my daily living because I want to be a positive role model. I want my daughter to be proud to call me her mom, just as I am proud (and blessed) to call her my daughter.

  • Michael Runge

    I read the first paragraph and thought, “You missed the point.” Then I continued reading and realized that you missed the point. The author of the article is referring to being “mean” in the eyes of children. It’s the same kind of “mean” that I look back on and am grateful for because it wasn’t mean; it was love and it was preparation for what’s to come. Being all “love and kindness” is a great idea, but that’s very vague and often mishandled by well-meaning parents, leaving behind entitled, self-centered children. This article actually pisses me off because you intentionally (Yes, intentionally) left out the parts that don’t make your point and made it seem as if every one of the 12 points was wrong. You attempted to sound wise by turning many of the points back on the parent to model for their children, hoping the children will follow suit. You merely softened the language of many of these 12 points, making them seem not so “harsh” or “controlling.” They aren’t wrong. In fact, they’re spot on and (I would argue) exactly what is needed in parenting today. Straightforward and to the point. Not soft and vague.

    • westcoastmama

      YOU missed the point. Language matters. How you frame your interactions with your children affects how you treat them. Treating children with loving kindness does NOT raise self centered children. Bullying our children and breaking down connection and trust does. It IS wisdom to lead by example – this doesn’t mean not having boundaries or following through. We can still have healthy boundaries with our children without shaming, isolating or hitting them. What is not straightforward about leading with empathy and building trust? How sad for you and your family that you do not understand this.

      • Michael Runge

        Yeah, I wish I didn’t even read this response. I’ll save us both time and let it alone. Thanks for the dose of shame and condescension when you don’t have a clue as to who I am or how I actually parent day-to-day. That’s really appreciated.(this is written sarcastically)

  • Julie

    I love they way you look at each point in a positive light and that your blog is full of opinions on the best way to do things. The world is full of people with different philosophies and I greatly admire yours. It’s too bad you have been discouraged by negative comments, but I’m sure you’re already thinking about those you have influenced in a positive way and are now much better parents for it.

  • Meli B.

    I tend to be the mean mommy. I read your article to see both sides and you know what? I agree with most of what you are saying. I think both views are working toward the same goals, you just have a more gentle way of putting it and looking at it. Bravo! Gave me something to chew on, mentally.

  • Helga Loncosky

    I came from a home with tough love. You know what? It was perfect for me. I was also home schooled. But I was a strong willed kid and frankly, I would have walked all over someone like you. I look back on how wise my folks were with me and we have a deep bond as a family, and with my brothers as well. We all learned to do everything, worked hard, earned our stuff and took care of it. You didn’t treat things badly or break it because there simply wasn’t any money for more. I grew up on a farm but my parents also had a newspaper business. Long hours but learned an awful lot by an early age that allowed me to succeed far beyond some of my peers. I think the tact you take depends much upon the child; there are very gentle souls that need your type. And even though tough, I never felt that I couldn’t go to them about things and discuss things. And I do not inherently believe in the goodness of children overall. I have seen some really rotten kids, and the problem is that it seems to spread like bad weeds in a beautiful garden. Leading by example is the most important of all and that is right. If you are respectful to others etc, that should show in your child. My parents and brothers are some of my best friends today besides being family.

  • http://www.hungrylittleanimal.blogspot.com LKD

    Alfie Kohn has a wonderful new book out on the topic of the “mean” parenting trend. He is really a warrior for children and social justice, I like him a lot. I heard him on the radio and bought his book, “The Myth of the Spoiled Child.” I think the book is terrific, although the title is misleading. It is not so much about “spoiling” (which I think of as excessive consumerism and something we all do need to be more mindful of, myself included) but “indulgence.” He talked on the radio about how conservative talking points have infiltrated otherwise progressive, liberal households and people are swallowing this myth about “grit” and what makes us “better people.” it’s fascinating, but also scary. I completely agree that empathy and indulgence are NOT the same thing. i do think there are times when children need to be told that certain types of behavior are not acceptable, especially in the early years, like hitting and that sort of thing. They are primal creatures, as are adults, and they will engage in behavior that is normal that we need to gently and compassionately steer them away from by giving them the tools they need emotionally to find an outlet for their feelings. But this idea that children are somehow different from adults is backward, in fact, what adults need desperately, at this point as much as children because our society is so broken in this way, is MORE compassion and empathy. Children are born social creatures who very much want to follow example and engage in social behavior. Our culture strips them of their dignity in so many ways and then people do much hand-wringing over “how kids behave.” But they have gotten it backward. Kids behave in a certain way, for the most part, because we have told them they are separate and less than. My favorite analogy is the one of the tourist in a foreign country, how would you treat a person who is an adult, same as you or me, who happened to be from another country and didn’t know our customs? Would you yell at or punish or insult a foreigner who didn’t know how to use a bus pass in your city? No. Anyway, I recommend the Kohn book!

  • Momofperfection

    All you did was reword the same points and in the same exact ‘meaning’ but with different words. You knew this was tongue and cheek, and quite humorous, but yet you felt you just had to try and make it a big to do about it and rewriting garbage. It was meant for humor. Let it go! Let it go! Let it goooooo!!!!!