"Mean" mom needs thicker skin

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 29, 2012 06:00 AM

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My 6 year old daughter has been calling me "mean" mommy lately when I say something she doesn't like (such as "no" to more television or sweets) or if I talk to her in a firm tone. I tell her that parents need to set rules (and limits) and she may not always like what I have to say but that's my job. I try not to make an issue out of every small thing but she still tests me, sometimes even saying I don't love her. How should I handle this?

From: Gabbie, Natick, MA


Hi Gabbie,

When your daughter says you're mean, she's testing you. And guess what? You're failing. She's testing you not because she wants you to fold, but because she doesn't want you to. So here's what you need to do:

1. Develop thicker skin. If you're going to take everything your child says personally, you'll be a basket case before she's 8.

2. Accept that being "mean" isn't necessarily a bad thing. She needs to know that you're tough; that you can take whatever she dishes out and still be there for more. Just because. Because you're her mom and you love her. Knowing that makes her feel safe and secure, so when she says these things, pretend she's saying: "I'm testing to see if you still love me."

When you react defensively, you're giving her power that she doesn't want. That's scary. A young child doesn't want to be more powerful than her parent (despite all the behavior to the contrary). What she wants is to know that even when she's a rotten, mean, naughty girl, you will still love her enough to take care of her, which means keeping her safe, which means continuing to do your job of setting limits and being consistent in your responses.

Next time she says you're mean, don't react, just move on. Repeat calmly and matter-of-factly the limit you have set. Tell her, "You're entitled to have your feelings but it's still bedtime." Offer to help her if that is appropriate. Don't back down and don't negotiate. You can say, "My job is to take care of you. Right now, that means getting a bath and getting ready for bed." If the language is offensive ("You're stupid!"), tell her she's entitled to her thoughts, but not to hurt other people's feelings.

There's a new book coming out, "Mean Moms Rule," that I'm hoping to see and it sounds like it might helpful.

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10 comments so far...
  1. If they think you are mean, you are doing your job. I always used to tell their kids that our family was not a democracy. Its a benevolent dictatorship and no one gets a vote but me. Plus you're not mean and they don't really hate you.

    I think Barbara forgot one important thing. Don't argue with a 6 year old. You don't have to explain everything (or anything for that matter). Remember when your parents used to say "Because I'm the mother/father?" Now do you understand why they did that? I said it way more than I care to admit and so far, my teenagers seemed to have turned out ok.


    Posted by ash March 29, 12 08:33 AM
  1. When I was pregnant with my son I was in the ice cream aisle at the grocery store (unsurprisingly) and as I approached the end of the aisle there was a Mom dealing with a kid's temper tantrum because she had the temerity to insist he pick ONE half-gallon of ice cream, not two. As the kid melted down he called her "mean" and she looked at him and said "Yes, Yes I am the meanest Mommy in the whole world."

    At that moment another Mom rounded the corner with boy/girl twins who were arguing because their mother said they had to agree on what kind of ice pops to buy because she was only going to get one box. She overheard the first mother and said "I'm sorry, you can't be the meanest Mommy in the whole world because I am the meanest Mommy in the world." Both mothers had a good laugh and their confused and thwarted children quickly chose their respective deserts in the face of unified Mommy meanness. That one moment was enlightening to me. Now I have a two year old and I am glad to be the "mean" Mommy who insists on good, age-appropriate behavior, feeds her kids healthy stuff and otherwise is teaching her child how to get along in the world.

    IMHO a good Mom is always a little bit "mean." I am mean because he has to take a bath when dirty even when he doesn't feel like it, and diaper changes are not elective events. In the future I will be mean when I pack him a healthy lunch at school, insist he does his homework and wears his bike helmet and a thousand other things he is going to resent.

    It is only going to get worse. When he is a teenager my son isn't going to get to go to parties where there are no parents present or see movies I know he can't handle and if his grades become lousy he is going to have to correct them with lots support and clear structure.

    Our job isn't to be the most fun Mommy. There isn't a popularity contest. When you have a child your job is to teach them to get along in this world, and if you as a Mom know that too much ice cream and TV isn't right you need to have the chutzpah to be a little unpopular in the name of teaching your child the right way to live. It is okay, because until they are teenagers the brooding usually doesn't last more than five minutes or so.

    Why don't you try this: Join us. Come join the mean Mommies in the grocery store who are only letting their kids select ONE type of ice cream, who insist on homework being done and who don't let their children be TV addicted zombies. Lets band together and form an actual club with secret meetings where we crack each other up with stories of our mean Mommy behavior (I made him eat three whole bites of carrots...oh the humanity!) Come be one of the mean Mommies who looks their child in the face and says "Yes, I am the meanest Mommy in the whole world and there isn't anything you can do about it. Now go turn off the TV and play outside in the fresh air." Your kid will be better for it, and so will you.

    Posted by Meri March 29, 12 09:08 AM
  1. Good Job Gabbie! My daughter says this to me all the time, by the way, she's 15. She started when she was about your daughter's age. The sting of her insult wore off quickly. Now, I respond with a quick "thank you." I guess, Ms. Meltz is correct with her advice. By being the "mean" mother, my daughter is well adjusted, has lots of friends and gets stellar grades. Go figure.

    Posted by Christina March 29, 12 11:17 AM
  1. My children are now 17 and 23. When they were small they would say this in stores at the top of their lungs after being told no. Trust me I am laughing at the memory. I would just smile and say "Yes I am a mean nasty mom and you are the poor unfortunate kid who got stuck with me, but I love you anyway." When they drove me crazy as teens they often said it back with the same smile switching the order. Gabbie, trust Ms. Meltz this too shall pass.

    Posted by Eileen March 29, 12 11:56 AM
  1. When my kids call me mean, I thank them and let them know that they just let ME know that's I'm doing my job. Sorry ladies, the "Meanest Mother in the World" and "Worst Mother...EVER! (insert door slam here)" are my titles. If you ask nicely, maybe I'll share them LOL.

    Posted by Jen March 29, 12 10:43 PM
  1. I think this is horrible advice! Oh, the poor dear must be so terrified of you. Parents, especially mothers and daughters, need to forge a close bond, like best friends. I would never do this to my best friend.

    Posted by RDG March 30, 12 01:17 AM
  1. My enternal question with my kids is "Who's the boss?" and the answer is always "You are Mom". You need to be the boss now so hopefully you raise kids who you want to be friends with when they are adults.

    Posted by Becca March 30, 12 03:59 AM
  1. RDG, moms and daughters may well become "best friends" later in life but a child should be a child and a parent, a parent. Being a parent means making hard, and often unpopular, decisions. Best friends don't share that dynamic. Forging a close bond is different than being best friends. Mothers and daughters can do the former without being the latter.

    Posted by Linney March 30, 12 09:36 AM
  1. RDG while I agree mothers and children need to have a close personal bond, sometimes it's necessary to be the bad guy. Too many people try to be their children's friends and not parents. I would much rather tel my child that she is doing wrong now and be the "mean" mommy than give in and be her friend and watch her grow up with no rules. I can be her friend AFTER I know I have done my job as a mom because I know in 15 years she will look back and be thankful and respect me for teaching her life lessons. That is when I will be okay with being her mom AND her friend.

    Posted by Joey September 21, 12 11:40 PM
  1. My 6 year old son splits his time between my home with him and his dad's...half the week at each. His dad parents diffierently than I. He wants to give him choices and explain why he needs him to do certain things etc. When my son is with me I often hear that his dad doesn't make him shower if he doesn't want to...his dad lets him stay up later if he wants to...his dad lets him sit in the front seat of the car....and on and on. He loves me dearly I know, but he is a man's man (boy) and wants to be just like dad. Lately he has told me that he wants to live just with his dad and see me once in awhile. He says he doesn't like being at my house...help.

    Posted by Georgia December 27, 12 11:23 PM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. If they think you are mean, you are doing your job. I always used to tell their kids that our family was not a democracy. Its a benevolent dictatorship and no one gets a vote but me. Plus you're not mean and they don't really hate you.

    I think Barbara forgot one important thing. Don't argue with a 6 year old. You don't have to explain everything (or anything for that matter). Remember when your parents used to say "Because I'm the mother/father?" Now do you understand why they did that? I said it way more than I care to admit and so far, my teenagers seemed to have turned out ok.


    Posted by ash March 29, 12 08:33 AM
  1. When I was pregnant with my son I was in the ice cream aisle at the grocery store (unsurprisingly) and as I approached the end of the aisle there was a Mom dealing with a kid's temper tantrum because she had the temerity to insist he pick ONE half-gallon of ice cream, not two. As the kid melted down he called her "mean" and she looked at him and said "Yes, Yes I am the meanest Mommy in the whole world."

    At that moment another Mom rounded the corner with boy/girl twins who were arguing because their mother said they had to agree on what kind of ice pops to buy because she was only going to get one box. She overheard the first mother and said "I'm sorry, you can't be the meanest Mommy in the whole world because I am the meanest Mommy in the world." Both mothers had a good laugh and their confused and thwarted children quickly chose their respective deserts in the face of unified Mommy meanness. That one moment was enlightening to me. Now I have a two year old and I am glad to be the "mean" Mommy who insists on good, age-appropriate behavior, feeds her kids healthy stuff and otherwise is teaching her child how to get along in the world.

    IMHO a good Mom is always a little bit "mean." I am mean because he has to take a bath when dirty even when he doesn't feel like it, and diaper changes are not elective events. In the future I will be mean when I pack him a healthy lunch at school, insist he does his homework and wears his bike helmet and a thousand other things he is going to resent.

    It is only going to get worse. When he is a teenager my son isn't going to get to go to parties where there are no parents present or see movies I know he can't handle and if his grades become lousy he is going to have to correct them with lots support and clear structure.

    Our job isn't to be the most fun Mommy. There isn't a popularity contest. When you have a child your job is to teach them to get along in this world, and if you as a Mom know that too much ice cream and TV isn't right you need to have the chutzpah to be a little unpopular in the name of teaching your child the right way to live. It is okay, because until they are teenagers the brooding usually doesn't last more than five minutes or so.

    Why don't you try this: Join us. Come join the mean Mommies in the grocery store who are only letting their kids select ONE type of ice cream, who insist on homework being done and who don't let their children be TV addicted zombies. Lets band together and form an actual club with secret meetings where we crack each other up with stories of our mean Mommy behavior (I made him eat three whole bites of carrots...oh the humanity!) Come be one of the mean Mommies who looks their child in the face and says "Yes, I am the meanest Mommy in the whole world and there isn't anything you can do about it. Now go turn off the TV and play outside in the fresh air." Your kid will be better for it, and so will you.

    Posted by Meri March 29, 12 09:08 AM
  1. Good Job Gabbie! My daughter says this to me all the time, by the way, she's 15. She started when she was about your daughter's age. The sting of her insult wore off quickly. Now, I respond with a quick "thank you." I guess, Ms. Meltz is correct with her advice. By being the "mean" mother, my daughter is well adjusted, has lots of friends and gets stellar grades. Go figure.

    Posted by Christina March 29, 12 11:17 AM
  1. My children are now 17 and 23. When they were small they would say this in stores at the top of their lungs after being told no. Trust me I am laughing at the memory. I would just smile and say "Yes I am a mean nasty mom and you are the poor unfortunate kid who got stuck with me, but I love you anyway." When they drove me crazy as teens they often said it back with the same smile switching the order. Gabbie, trust Ms. Meltz this too shall pass.

    Posted by Eileen March 29, 12 11:56 AM
  1. When my kids call me mean, I thank them and let them know that they just let ME know that's I'm doing my job. Sorry ladies, the "Meanest Mother in the World" and "Worst Mother...EVER! (insert door slam here)" are my titles. If you ask nicely, maybe I'll share them LOL.

    Posted by Jen March 29, 12 10:43 PM
  1. I think this is horrible advice! Oh, the poor dear must be so terrified of you. Parents, especially mothers and daughters, need to forge a close bond, like best friends. I would never do this to my best friend.

    Posted by RDG March 30, 12 01:17 AM
  1. My enternal question with my kids is "Who's the boss?" and the answer is always "You are Mom". You need to be the boss now so hopefully you raise kids who you want to be friends with when they are adults.

    Posted by Becca March 30, 12 03:59 AM
  1. RDG, moms and daughters may well become "best friends" later in life but a child should be a child and a parent, a parent. Being a parent means making hard, and often unpopular, decisions. Best friends don't share that dynamic. Forging a close bond is different than being best friends. Mothers and daughters can do the former without being the latter.

    Posted by Linney March 30, 12 09:36 AM
  1. RDG while I agree mothers and children need to have a close personal bond, sometimes it's necessary to be the bad guy. Too many people try to be their children's friends and not parents. I would much rather tel my child that she is doing wrong now and be the "mean" mommy than give in and be her friend and watch her grow up with no rules. I can be her friend AFTER I know I have done my job as a mom because I know in 15 years she will look back and be thankful and respect me for teaching her life lessons. That is when I will be okay with being her mom AND her friend.

    Posted by Joey September 21, 12 11:40 PM
  1. My 6 year old son splits his time between my home with him and his dad's...half the week at each. His dad parents diffierently than I. He wants to give him choices and explain why he needs him to do certain things etc. When my son is with me I often hear that his dad doesn't make him shower if he doesn't want to...his dad lets him stay up later if he wants to...his dad lets him sit in the front seat of the car....and on and on. He loves me dearly I know, but he is a man's man (boy) and wants to be just like dad. Lately he has told me that he wants to live just with his dad and see me once in awhile. He says he doesn't like being at my house...help.

    Posted by Georgia December 27, 12 11:23 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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