Friday, April 3, 2009

The emergence of the Mean Mommy

I never thought I could do it, but I have.

Over the last few months I have morphed into what I'm sure Graham would describe as a Mean Mommy.

Notwithstanding my attempts to be sensitive to Graham's confusion and sadness over the loss of his beloved Oma, my approach to discipline these days sounds less like "He's-so-cute-and-I-love-him-so-much-that-I-can't-stand-to-see-him-upset!" and more like "I've-had-enough-of-your nonsense-and-it-will-stop-this-instant-or-there-will-be-consequences!"

But it hasn't been easy.

For many years before I started my current job, I worked in a managerial position with a unionized work force. I hired people. I disciplined people for all manner of infractions. And, with little hesitation, if people didn't tow the line, I fired them.

For the most part, I was perfectly okay doing what I felt needed to be done. In fact, I was proud to develop a bit of a reputation as a hard-ass (not literally, alas) because I felt, and continue to feel, that supervising people in a fair, but forthright and firm manner eliminates stress and uncertainty for everyone. For many years before Graham was born I assumed I would naturally conduct myself the same way when it came to parenting.

Was I ever deluded!

I didn't know then that Graham could simply bat his eyelashes (his gorgeous, long eyelashes!) and I would go all loopy and goopy inside. I didn't realize that the mere thought of his discomfort would cause my own breathing to become shallow and my chest to tighten. I never imagined that hearing Graham cry would hurt me - physically hurt me - so much.

I even wrote an ode to the beautiful inevitability of my powerlessness.

But, truthfully, there was nothing beautiful or inevitable about it.

It took a massive blowup serious discussion with my husband a few months ago to make me realize not everyone in the world is forever going to find Graham's incorrigible antics as adorable as I do.

"I do NOT want to be those people that no one wants to be around because their kid is a brat Kel!" he screamed said. "Graham is a great kid but I am NOT going to let him become THAT kid - it's not fair to him."

And just like that the light bulb went on.

I realized almost instantly that Rob was right. I realized that this parenting gig isn't just fun and games: it's about the business of molding and shaping and teaching a new person how to be kind and respectful. I had a flash of insight into just how easy it would be for me - how easy it would be for any of us - to suddenly wake up and realize my kid was THAT kid.

It scared the crap out of me.

No one plans to end up with a bratty, out of control kid. No one expects that they will. But the truth is, it doesn't take long for small decisions and daily acquiescence to produce one .

And so I have changed my ways.

We have rules now and I articulate them firmly and clearly. As much as possible, I ignore the tightness in my chest and my rising blood pressure and I DO NOT give in. I have stopped tolerating tantrums and I do a minimum of negotiating. If Graham wants to watch just one more video on Youtube in the evening, I say yes when he agrees that he will only get two bedtime stories instead of three. When he inevitably throws himself on the ground begging for the third story, he is swiftly dispatched to bed.

Bedtime used to be a 45-minute affair, but not since I articulated the rule. The rule is that Graham's door is left open only on the strict condition that he not repeatedly whine, call out or otherwise cajole me to come back into the room after tucking him in. If he persists, he gets a warning (okay, sometimes two) before the door is shut for the night, screaming be damned.

And you know what?

It works. Not only is Graham better behaved, he seems happier.

Every night for the last few weeks, just after I have given him his last kiss goodnight Graham has looked up at me with the same soft smile on his face and asked me the same thing.

"And mommy, before you go, what is the rule again?"

"The rule is that you need to go to sleep and not keep calling for mommy or else mommy will come back and shut the door. Do you understand?"

And every night he smiles and says.

"Yes mommy, I understand. Goodnight"

And he goes to sleep, secure in the knowledge, I like to believe, that mommy, however mean, knows best.

Apparently kids DO like rules.

If only someone had told me sooner. Or rather, if only I had listened.

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InTheFastLane said...

I have had to be mean mommy a lot lately, because JJ has suddenly developed a wicked tantrum, complete with hitting and kicking people. He will not sit for time outs and so, yesterday, I sat there and held him and held his flailing arms until he was ready to settle down. It really does hurt us more than it hurts them (but they will never believe it).

petite gourmand said...

We do the exact same thing with the bedroom door and three story rule.
It works like a charm.
Bedtime is a pleasure and no longer a challenge-as it should be.

I think being a bit of a hard ass comes with the territory-but in the end, I really feel it helps shape them into better little human beings.

Holly said...

I'm a hard-ass. I have to be because it is just my 2 children and I the majority of the time. Like you said kids need rules. They actually thrive with routine and sticking to that routine. I've seen too many "things" that other parents think is "so cute" when it comes to their children. It isn't and they'd better figure it out quick. Good for you for doing so!

Hard-asses can still love though - love big! :)

Chantal said...

My husband and I had the same talk about our oldest son (when he was 3). He was walking all over me and I was just taking it. I was hurt and angry, he was questioning my parenting skills. But then I sat back and had a good look at things and I had to agree. Funny enough I am going through the same thing now with my second child. I guess I got complacent. I need to get my act together and quick.

Laura said...

You are not the mean mommy - you are the setting rules and expectations mommy - and those mommies ROCK!

Kids do like structure and they thrive when they know what is expected of are doing great!


Katney said...

Kids need boundaries and you can always tell the ones who have them. He appreciates the structure--it is a comfort to him.

Mr Lady said...

It's a hard lesson to learn, and no matter how many people tell you, you still have to come to it on your own.

That boy sure is cute, man. "I understand" would about melt my heart!

Kat said...

Oh yeah. I'm a firm believer in the fact that kids needs (and like) rules. It works. :)

CC said...

You go girl! I've been weakening recently, but need to get strict again!

Bird's Eye View Photography said...

Sometimes I feel two faced, but I have gotten that way with Henry and I need to be more that way with Sam. Though Sam is still learning the no-whining and throwing fits bit, and Henry KNOWS that I don't put up with it. I know the difference between the whiny cry and the real tears and am sesitive to those... but I don't have the patience to put up with the whiny crying stuff for very long! Don't feel bad.. that is how kids learn!

Ellyn said...

I have found the hardest part of being Mean Mommy is sticking to it for the long haul. When the behavioral issues go away I have a tendency to go lax again. Then the problem start all over again.

Mary@Holy Mackerel said...

Parenting's gotta be the hardest job there is. I can barely stand it when I set down the rules and my child is sobbing. My heart rips. But you know, in the end, it's all for the good. I think...

OHmommy said...

Being a mommy is hard work. I am a big fan of rules. I read somewhere that kids with rules/schedules are generally much more pleasant since they understand that there is a pattern. It's comforting.

But then again, I am WAY more lax w/the 3rd.

Jess said...

Most of the kids I see that are heading towards spoilt-rotten are the ones where the parents try too hard to be their child's *friend* and not the parent.

I absolutely agree. Kids like structure, and structure doesn't mean there is no room for extra hugs and giggles and soft stuff. It just means they know what to expect.

(Good on you, K!)

Vered said...

I'm a mean mommy too, and I'm proud of that. I totally believe kids need boundaries. Some experts say kids become really scared when they sense they have too much power.

Jannie Funster said...

It's a wild ride. I like your line about being kind and respectful. Any kid that receives that will become that!

Damselfly said...

"My approach to discipline these days sounds less like 'He's-so-cute-and-I-love-him-so-much-that-I-can't-stand-to-see-him-upset!' and more like 'I've-had-enough-of-your nonsense-and-it-will-stop-this-instant-or-there-will-be-consequences!'" I am approaching this point for sure! This week, we had a rather bratty meltdown in Target. I felt like I had "that kid." You're right, though -- kids need rules and do so much better with them. Tonight when Fly refused to sit at the table and eat, he simply went without dinner. I'm sure he'll be hungry come breakfast!

Allmycke said...

Some lessons are more expensive than others and I can't even begin to tell you how utterly thankful I have been over what my Mom taught me when my son was a mere 2 months old.
Mary Alice at "From the Frontlines" posted this for me the first time in her tribute to Mothers last May - I think it's time to post it again. Maybe someone else can benefit from my Mom's advise.

Mandy said...

That can be a difficult spot in which to find yourself. Congratulations on making positive change.

For me, having a second kid cemented the rules even more.

the planet of janet said...

congratulations on figuring out the first and second rules of parenting:

1) you're the boss

2) kids crave limits and boundaries and when they don't have them, they will push and push until they find them. or don't.

go get em! graham will thank you for it.

Clarissa Alverson said...

I too have marveled at how much kids teach us about ourselves. My daughter is 9 years old now, and has recently developed the habit of complaining excessively, and I realized last week that I need to clamp down on that. We homeschool, and one of the things she has to do is write out all the spelling words she doesn’t know three times for practice. She only missed one word this week, but after writing it out, she complained about it, so I made her write it three more times. But then, she complained about it again, so I made her do it three more times. A minute later, she started laughing and said, “Mom, just in case I forget and complain again, I went ahead and wrote it three extra times.”

Melisa Wells said...


I'm proud of you! :) Stay strong: it will ALL be worth it when you have people telling you what a well-behaved and polite young man you've raised.

Mandy said...

I could kiss you right now!! LOL!

Kids need and want limits. They may not think they do, but it's true. You are doing a hell of a job. I'm currently in the same boat...but I don't want to be the mom of THAT kid, either. The whining and balking sucks, but eventually it stops or levels off to a tolerable level.

You go, Mama!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

This makes my mean-mommy for 20 years heart sing. It is the way and the light! Spread the word.

Kyla said...

Good for you!

My two sleep in the same room and every night before we close the door Josh or I say, "What are the rules?" And they say, "No talking or getting out of bed!" If we forget to ask, they call us on it. LOL.

I can't find my blog said...

Being the mean mom gets easier, I promise. You'll be great at it by the time it gets really fun. You know, when they are whining about homework, chores, and rolling their eyes at you and you can see it even when their back is turned. I love being the mean one! (Someone has to be, right?)

karengreeners said...

I was slow to learn this as well, mainly because (besides the rising bp when my child cries) she is so very good-natured most of the time. My vision of my child sometimes clouded my acceptance of her actual behaviour. Once I clued in, I realized that it was also not as difficult to discipline a toddler as I had thought. Who knew that on the odd occasion I actually put her in a time-out, that she would actually stay there?

I guess if my child is going to take me seriously as an authority figure, I should too.

Parent Club said...

Awesome-tastic post!

THAT kid never gets invited to birthday parties, never gets a good job bc no one wants to work w. a prima dona, and never gets married bc he's a pain in the ass,

THAT kid ends up w. a sucky life.

Leanne said...

I've always been the tough one. I think it's also because I have three, I don't have time to not be tough as we just have to get things done at times. Good for you for toughing up your act, I see a lot of only kids who think the world revolves around them...that's all they know. Poor babies, so it's better to learn young with a loving parent then in the playground... so, good for you.

dogwooddiarist said...

Many congratulations, mean mommy. I'm going to forward this post to my husband. We are both (more me I suppose) sick to death of the way our son has us wrapped around his little finger where bedtime and videos are concerned. Sometimes I worry because I realize that my fear of his reaction and a desire to avoid his tantrums has led me to be more lenient than I think is right or reasonable.

Last summer we traveled and our boy was a f'ing nightmare to put to bed. We will not be traveling again this summer and maybe not ever again until there is no such thing as bedtime. Because this was hell. And when we got back home, we put our foot down. We told him the rules. Well, how did he deal with them? He didn't. With threats of a closed door or a turned-off hall light, he simply screamed and screamed and woke up his sister for several nights in a row. We told him if he continued screaming, he'd get a spanking. He got the spanking and continued screaming. We threatened another spanking. He screamed more and didn't seem to even feel the second spanking. My husband got to a fourth spanking without our son's even blinking an eye. We were ourselves exhausted and crying and full of guilt. We swore we would never lay a hand on our son again, and I went to a counselor for help on how to get him to accept bedtime (and don't get me wrong, we are and always have been a household committed to a consistent bedtime routine). After months of work, the best we've been able to arrive at is an incredibly elaborate bedtime ritual which is the bane of my existence. No question, my son has the upper hand. I FEEL SO manipulated, angry and resentful. When we leave the room at night, it doesn't end. He's still coming out periodically (around four more times, down from over 20) before he falls asleep two hours after his bedtime (at 10 pm). And he has us so cowed, we don't even require that he stay in his bed after lights out. He plays and plays and plays until he's tired out.

It is wrong. To hear of your resolve fills me with resolution, but I am terrified. Our son is so completely insanely frighteningly stubborn, I simply don't know what to do. But it is time. TIME TO BE MEAN.

Run ANC said...

I'm all about rules and routines. I guess I've always been a Mean Mommy. But I do really think that kids like boundaries, no matter how hard it is to set them.

Jaina said...

Better late than never ;)

Loukia said...

Great post! I just blogged today about how I have an impossibly hard time saying no to my kids.