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Why you need to buck up and start being the “mean mom”

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It's really doing my kids a disservice to try to give them the most awesome childhood ever.

I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to tell my kids “no.” Sometimes it’s because I hate disappointing them, particularly when they’ve been having a rough time at school or with friends. Sometimes it’s because I wish I could say “yes” and feel guilty that I can’t. But most of the time, it’s because I just don’t want to deal with it.

You know what I mean … the whining, the pleading, the begging, the crying. The endless, endless negotiations. And worst of all, the question: “Why are you so mean, Mommy?”

That’s why I winced a little (okay, a lot) when I read this post at Scary Mommy, helpfully reminding me that my kid is a brat — and it’s all my fault.

“You’re doing your best because you want them to be happy. You’re overly involved because you want to know what’s going on in their life. You want them to feel special and important. You’re never late to pick them up. You schedule and you organize and you suggest activities. You hover like a helicopter. You ask a million questions. You want their lives to awesome and enriched. You don’t want them to be disappointed. Ever.  

“But, you are making mistakes, and so am I. And now our kids are brats.”

Ouch, sister. Truth hurts.

The truth is, I do all those things to some extent (although I’m always late to pick them up because I’m always late, period). But I do try and make sure they have activities to do and friends to play with and projects to fill their time, even when those activities and friends and projects throw my schedule completely out of whack. Sometimes I say “no, it’s impossible today because I have too much going on,” but then I usually feel guilty and find some way to make it up to them.

As a result, my kids whine. A lot. They get disappointed over the littlest things because they know I hate to disappoint them.

But here’s the thing — life is disappointing. It just is. It’s not always awesome and enriching — in fact, it’s not often those things. That’s what makes the awesome and enriching parts so special. By not preparing them to deal with the reality of disappointment, I’m not preparing them to deal with the reality of life.

It’s really doing my kids a disservice to try and give them the most awesome childhood ever. That’s not my job. My job as their mother is to help form them into capable, functional, good adults who will face what life throws at them with courage and grace.

That means teaching them that life takes work. It means giving them chores and responsibilities and standing behind them, so they learn how to work hard and take pride in a job well-done.

It means teaching them that life does not bend around their desires by refusing to bend my own life around their desires. Occasional — even weekly! — extra trips or activities are one thing, but indulging in daily or hourly requests isn’t good for them or me. They have to learn that life is full of limits, and I have to teach them by setting those limits.

And all of these lessons require becoming what I hate the most — the “mean mom.” The mom who says no and sticks to it. The mom who sets limits so firm they’re basically carved out of iron. The mom who does not get sick of whining or worn down by pleading. The mom who walks away. Whose kids eventually realize that whining is a waste of energy, stop doing it, and start learning how to take life as it comes.

They might think I’m the mean mom now, and they might even think it for years. But when they’re grown up they’ll realize what I did, that my mom wasn’t being mean; she was actually doing the hard but necessary work of being good, so she could raise children who would be good, too.

So the next time your kids ask why you’re being so mean, don’t worry. You’re not being the mean mom — you’re being the good mom, and one day they’ll thank you for it.

(PS: Thanks, Mom!)

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