I’m Not The Meanest Mom


I realized something recently.  As adults, we like to hear stories of other adults performing some sort of kindness.  We like the feel-good stories of people helping their fellow man, standing up to injustice, or showing love to a total stranger.  It restores our faith in humanity.  It makes us feel good, and it motivates us to be kinder ourselves.  Kinder.  Gentler.  More compassionate. You know what we don’t see all that often?  People sharing about the times they weren’t all that kind, or respectful, or compassionate. And sure, we’re human. We’ve all done it:  We have a bad day, and we inadvertently and regrettably take it out on some poor nearby soul.  But we don’t rush to share those days, because we recognize – both on an intellectual level and on a heart level – that it’s not exactly something to brag about.

But when it’s a parent being unkind towards a child?  We* (as a society) not only tolerate this bad behavior, but we embrace it.  We actually cheer it on.

When it comes to kids, we glorify violence.  We celebrate cruelty.

So while we seem to have it right when it comes to adult on adult behavior, our collective treatment of our children is abhorrent, and getting more concerning by the day. Baby, we’ve got a long way to go.

I feel like it started with the laptop shooting dad, but it has multiplied at an alarming rate since then.  This trend of publicly parenting through bullying, shame, and intimidation is everywhere.  I feel like I can’t go a single day anymore without seeing another one.    Parenting has become a contest, but a sick one.  A contest not to find the sweetest mom, or the most competent mom, but the meanest mom. Everything is backwards.  Meanness is exalted, spitefulness is praised.   Parents boast about how mean they are to their kids, and instead of gently suggesting alternatives (or possibly better yet, denying them any attention at all), we put them on a pedestal.  We feed this very cycle of unkindness.  A quick perusal of the comment threads on any one of these public shamings tells us everything we need to know.  Hundreds, and yes, thousands of positive comments, singing the praises of meanness, shouting their rallying accolades, and devouring anyone who dare stand up for the children.

How can we do this to these little ones, the most vulnerable members of our society?  The people who need the most empathy and the most tender care, are being maligned, minimized and mistreated.

And we’re watching it happen.

I don’t know the answer.  I don’t.  I know we need to keep talking about it.  I know we can’t quietly sit back and accept it.

But it starts at home.  It starts with our own kids.

And listen, I’m the first one to admit I’m not a perfect mom.  None of us are.  I struggle sometimes with patience.  I sometimes let sleep deprivation get the better of me and am unnecessarily short with my kids.  I have to constantly remind myself to live in the moment.  I have to constantly remind myself not to sweat the small stuff.

Yes, I apologize to my children often.

But the big difference between me and the “meanest mom” supporters is that I’m saddened by mean behavior (by or towards anyone), not buoyed by it.  So no, I won’t pat you on the back for celebrating meanness.  No, I won’t be offering any “Atta girl!”s or “Way to go!”s or “Good job, mom!”s.  No, I won’t praise you for being unkind.

And I get it.  My opinion is the unpopular one.  The cool kids are all worshiping at the alter of childism.  Well, I opt out.  I don’t want to be a part of your club.  I don’t stand in solidarity with anyone who rallies around the idea of mistreating children.  I don’t care how loud your voices are.  I don’t care how many members you have.  I don’t care how good your cookies are.

I Opt Out.

In my life, in my world, I will celebrate kindness.  I will cheer for compassion.  I will stand up for grace, and forgiveness, and gentle communication.

Children learn from our actions.   Throwing away a child’s ice cream (because in his childlike excitement he forgot to say “thank you”) doesn’t teach him to say thank you, it doesn’t teach him what it means to be polite, and it doesn’t teach him gratitude.  It teaches him that if someone doesn’t behave in the way we want, that it’s okay to bully them, and that it’s okay to take someone else’s things.

Children learn from our actions.  Spanking a child for misbehaving doesn’t teach him right from wrong.  It teaches him that “might makes right”, that pain and fear are effective motivators, and that it’s okay to use physical force on someone who’s younger and more vulnerable than you.

Children learn from our actions.  Sending a child to time out when he’s having a hard time doesn’t teach him to think about his actions. It teaches him that mom is going to isolate him from her attention, her love, and her touch, at the very moment when he is needing them the most.

Children learn from our actions.  Publicly shaming a child a for making a mistake doesn’t teach him not to do it again.  It teaches him, again, to use bullying to solve his problems.  It teaches him that he can’t trust the one person he should be able to trust the most.  It teaches him to feel worthless, and ashamed, and humiliated… making him even MORE likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

Children learn from our actions.  Punishing a child (as opposed to kindly communicating, listening, and guiding) does not teach him respect.  Or responsibility.  Or accountability.  It teaches him to be bitter.  To be angry.  To be spiteful.  It teaches him to be extrinsically motivated by the fear of mom’s negative repercussions, rather than intrinsically and positively motivated by his own internal sense of right and wrong.

If you want to raise kids that are polite, respectful, and kind, start by being polite, respectful, and kind to your kids.

It starts with you.  It starts with us.

Let’s stop glorifying bullies, and start treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated ourselves.

Kids are people too.


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Filed under bullying, gentle discipline, gentle parenting, headlines, mindful parenting, parenting

31 Responses to I’m Not The Meanest Mom

  1. Melody

    Thank you! After driving our 3 year old son (for 2.5 hours, 2 nights in a row) with food allergies who has slept terrible since day one, I can feel frustrated. One night I slammed on the brakes. I was exhausted and I apologized. I also realized, that if I didn’t consciously change my behavior and how I chose to respond to him, my apologies will fall on deaf ears. Our children also need to know we are making a genuine effort to be more loving, kind, patient etc. They reflect our actions not our words. They have a deep sense of what feels loving and what does not. Thank you again for being a voice for respectful, gentle. loving parenting. Lets face it…It’s a lot easier to react and not exercise restraint and patience. Blaming the child is easier than looking at ourselves in the mirror and facing our dark sides. None of us are perfect but we can commit to being more loving, patient and conscious every day. Nothing gives me peace of mind more than knowing I was as loving and kind as I could be today. However, with each mistake is a chance to grow and learn.

    • I have two children with multiple food allergies as well, and I wanted to let you know that NAET therapy helped a LOT with both of them. Good luck!

  2. Trance

    You go, mom!

  3. E. Bushey

    I find that both approaches resonate with me, if I had reminded and prodded and cajoled my children to use their manners I can see this as an option….on the other hand I would like to think I would just remind them again and not take away their treat. How would you have handled the same situation? I watched the video of her describing the situation and she seemed reasonable and didn’t seem like she enjoyed doing it, but did it to teach a lesson.

    • jen

      I believe that kids use manners, and say please and thank you, and generally practice social niceties when it’s what they’ve been surrounded with, and what they’ve been exposed to. My kids (who are all quite a bit older than this woman’s) are all very polite at restaurants, etc. How would I have handled the situation? I honestly don’t think it was even a “situation” until the mom made it one. Her kids were little and excited about ice cream and forgot to say thank you. I would have smiled and thanked her myself. Depending on her body language, maybe add something like, “The kids thank you too.” The kids will learn by example. It seems… counterproductive, at best, to do something rude to my kids in an effort to teach them to be polite? What’s funny is that I was actually with my husband and kids getting ice cream just a few days ago. Dairy Queen in fact. I tried to remember if everyone said “thank you” or not. Probably at least half of us did, but there was a lot of confusion when she brought them out, because she was having trouble remembering who got which one (there are six of us). She was laughing, and making comments like, “Maybe I’ll get ONE of these right”, and ice cream was getting passed back and forth, and we were taking our ice creams, and thanking her, and telling her who belonged to which, and laughing, and it was just a quick, confused, friendly exchange. I honestly don’t know if every one of the six of us actually said the words, “thank you.” But we all expressed gratitude, and the interaction was a polite and pleasant one. <---- All of that to say, I think we sometimes get hung up on specific WORDS, when in reality there are a lot of ways to have a polite exchange, and a lot of ways to express gratitude.

      • Kristin Lake

        Yes! This!

      • E. Bushey

        thank you……I just wonder if for whatever reason she had grown tired of reminding her kids or saying it for them at that point. I don’t remember it ever being an issue for me with my kids. I’d just remind them to remember their manners, but I’ve also been in the position of being frustrated with their attitudes sometimes and I can actually imagine doing this, again depending on the ages of the kids…..not little ones but possibly older ones who should know to say thank you. But I will also go out of my way to say you’re welcome to people that I have held the door for and they don’t say anything or even smile…..so I guess I have a bit of a mean streak….lol although I do believe kindness works better in most situations.

      • Heather

        “Wow, kids, look at what a great job this lady did with your ice cream cones. They look delicious! Let’s thank her!”

        I don’t understand why saying that is so much harder. Or deemed weak parenting. My kids are 13 & 15 and they occasionally get caught up in the moment and forget to say thank you. Heck, I forgot to thank the barista last week for my cafe mocha – I was preoccupied with a work issue. It happens. We’re all human. No one snatched my coffee away from me to teach me a lesson.

    • I actually just read the article. My thoughts are that she is teaching them to mind her and to say please and thank you to obey her, however that may not apply in other situations when mom is not around. In fact punishments sometimes breed anger and rebellion, the opposite of what any of us want. We want our children to use manners because we have modeled them and they see it as nice and kind. We may have to tell them 100 or 1,000 times but they will get it through consistent nice and kind actions. Throwing away their ice cream did not model nice and kind actions. If that situation arose and actually made me angry I’d have to check my own emotions and say something like “I am frustrated that none of you had the courtesy to thank her.” That models how to deal with frustration, and then we would have a chat or decide to go back in and thank her.

    • Ashlea

      My problem with throwing away the ice cream is this: You are NOT changing their hearts. You are NOT changing their minds. You are changing a specific behavior.

      The next time these kids go to get an ice cream, they probably will remember to say thank you. But they won’t be filled with gratitude and gratefulness. They’ll be filled with irritation, anger, and sadness, because they’ll remember the one time they didn’t and their mom ruined their whole day and made them sad.

      • Shana

        Literally, my mom would so have done this. And then from then on when we went for ice cream, I would probably have told her I didn’t want any. And then got bitched at for that as well, because “ungratefulness”. When I literally just didn’t want to even chance that experience. I did other things similar.
        I also went through a weird phase where I didn’t like being thanked by anyone though.

  4. Theresa

    Thank you so much for this. It is wonderful to see and support kindness everywhere as it really uplifts ourselves as parents and supports us in this often lonely gentle path in parenting. I choose gentleness and am not perfect but decidedly choose to steer clear of the awfulness and meanness so many parents sadly choose. We are growing the next generation and how we parent matters!!! Hugs

  5. Thank you! I agree completely.

  6. Serenity

    Wonderfully said, Jen! I, too, opt out. Show me the kindness!

  7. This is my new favorite quote:
    “In my life, in my world, I will celebrate kindness. I will cheer for compassion. I will stand up for grace, and forgiveness, and gentle communication.”

    So, thank you for that! I have lived this way with my children for over 18 years now. It’s amazing! And I truly believe it changes the world. Thank you for writing such a beautiful post.

  8. Raewyn

    Jen’ I am a gratefully married for 33 years -mother of two( young? ) adult sons…(think I just need to say ‘adult’ sons now : ) since they are 24 and 29 respectively…and the premise of your words bring tears because I wish more people understood the importance of that trust in attachment and not as far as we can…. (keeping a big picture perspective on our parenting values…) ever using shame to parent….

    I remember getting laughed at around our family table – as a young mum – for saying I didn’t believe in hitting our children…reinforcing my position by saying…I would hate to be responsible for the look of fear in my childs eyes…and because I knew…if i was smacking them – it would be me that was out of control..not them…. I’d say almost 10 /10.If my kids were having a bad day …it was because I was…I learned that it was me that needed the rescue remedy at times ..and for my own stuff I was processing …not because of the boys behaviour….

    Respectful communication….absolutely communicating every day how deeply loved they are…Asking questions that encourage their intelligent thinking…saying “Wow…you are making a decision to try that…I will come up (that big slide ) behind you..rather than “be careful…or “No!!” in their explorations….continually looking for individual and unique ways of encouraging their strengths and interests….Eventually being ‘wrapped aka jealous’ that their overseas trips outnumbered ours during high school opportunity years : )

    Please don’t hear a perfect parent being extolled here…or condemnation of anyones’ experience so far…I had severe post natal anxiety / depression after our eldest son was born (living 6 hours from family support and thinking I had to be a perfect mum and wife…uh uh!!) .. …and needed to process alot of family of origin stuff in becoming a ‘Mum’ myself… but wow…I tearfully type…with two degree qualifications in my kite of experience…that Parenting – is absolutely and hands down – my most satisfying and awe inspiring career…And I am imaging ‘Nanahood’ when it comes will be the Masters or the Doctorate….

    Lots of love to all the parents reading this – and may Jen’s writing encourage all of us to look again with wonder…and with gratitude for the privilege..of having a key role in secure attachment…exploration and identity strength building for our little ones (and big ones!!) xxxRaewyn (NZ)

  9. Karen

    I wonder if that fact that she was using this treat to reward the “good behaviour” they had that day, had something to do with their less than stellar reaction. No one likes being manipulated after all.

  10. D

    Jaime craves attention like a child so she acts like one, herself. Her theatrics are attention seeking, like a child’s. That ice cream PR stunt deal was NOT the way most of us moms would teach our kids to say “thank you.”

  11. D

    Jaime demonstrated aggression and that’s what she taught her kids.

  12. Helen

    Everything I moderation as they say….I remember vividly having my dinner scrapped in the bin and going to bed with nothing else once for remarking that my mums dinner wasn’t nice. I didn’t think she was a bully, or unkind, or spiteful. I remember thinking I’m hungry. Next time I’ll eat it. Feel like social media allows these constant out pouring and over dramatic posts about mothering and parenthood. Just get on and do it!!

  13. Thank you Thank you Thank you Jen for writing this. I started writing a post for my blog all in response to the mom who threw out the ice cream cones but I just couldn’t gather my thoughts because I was so bothered. I’ve been thinking about it for days and feel so sad that we celebrate shaming and humiliating our children. I hope we can start a movement of moms who share the successful stories that love and respect bring to our children learning and growing. They may not be as viral or controversial but the more we share the more we can inspire others!

  14. Allie

    I have a question! I absolutely agree. I remember what being a kid felt like, and I’ve seen how the two times I spanked my kid, it was a comically bad failure. My question: “when they misbehave we send them to time out and separate them from mom’s love.” How do we correct bad choices? Especially those based in temper tantrums?

    • jen

      For something like what one would consider a temper tantrum, I think re-framing the situation is the first step. Instead of looking at it as “My child is acting out,” it is helpful to instead look at it as, “My child is really struggling and having a hard time right now.” It is so much easier to be empathetic when we shift the way we’re viewing the situation. Step two would be intervening to stop the immediate behaviors that are harmful or inappropriate in the current situation (for example, holding their hands to stop hitting; taking them out of the room if they are disrupting others in a quiet environment, etc) Once the immediate needs are taken care, then we can just concentrate on being there for them, and giving them a safe space to get out their feelings.

  15. Betty

    What a beautifully well written article. Such a wonderful share and such a great way to remind myself to keep it in check when I have to those moments to apologize for my misbehaviors. I love you for writing this.

  16. Bev

    Excellent blog. I am not a mother. I am an auntie to many children – both biological and those of my friends. I am a worker with children and youth. I was a step-mother (but left the child’s father, so became her friend, which has lasted for over 30 years). I cannot read these articles any longer about “meanest mom ever” and “meanest dad ever”, celebrating bullying and cruelty towards their children. The lack of modelling assertiveness and kindness is appalling in these types of blogs, youtube videos and rants. The latest one, throwing away the ice-cream of the children floored me. That was outright bullying and yet, people applauded going “way to teach your child” and “good show, too many soft parents, not enough with a backbone.” I teach parenting and if I had a parent come in with that as an example of good parenting, we’d be having a very deep discussion on the reasons that it is not good parenting. As you stated, the children learned “might makes right” rather than kindness and gratitude. When the children I’m with forget to use manners, I remind them – right there, in the moment – then we move on. I also model what I want them to do – take deep breaths in the moment when someone is rude, thanking people for helping me out in a store, staying calm when someone is really slow (etc). Thank-you for sharing all that in your blog, keep on doing what you are doing and hopefully others will learn from your wisdom.

  17. Stacey

    Your message could have been shared without the details to let everyone know exactly who’s parenting “mistake” you were judging. Where is the kindness and compassion for this mom? We all have different parenting styles and while your point is valid, you lost me. If you really wanted her to hear your opinion, a private message might have been a good idea. If you just wanted to discuss your feelings about this type of discipline, your point could have been made without specifically bringing a fellow mom’s choice into it, knowing many people would know of the situation. We are all doing our best with what we have. Sometimes we mess up. Well, some of us anyway…

    • jen

      She shared the experience very, very publicly. She was actively seeking a public response. Just because my response didn’t praise her, it doesn’t make me any more judgmental or less compassionate than all the others who lauded her as mom of the year. I shared my response publicly because I wanted to share an alternate perspective on the same situation. It wasn’t personal. If I’d wanted to speak to her personally, I would have messaged her. Just like if you’d actually wanted to speak to me privately, you could have messaged *me*. But you chose to share your opinion of me/my words publicly.

  18. I’m with you too. I opt out. Period.

    And I publicly share mine and my kids lives with others to share and spread loving-kindness.

    Thank you for doing the same. 🙂 🙂

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