How to be a Mean Mother


Are you a mean mother? Most moms would shudder at the thought of being labeled a “mean” mother. But that’s because we don’t understand what being a mean mother really entails.

I’m a mean mother. My five kids (two teenage daughters, one teenage son, one tween son and a preschool foster daughter) will tell you that I’m a mean mother. It’s a designation I embrace. If my kids don’t think I’m a mean mother, then I’m not doing my job right.

What do I mean by that? I’m glad you asked! A Mean Mother is known by these eight characteristics.

  1. A mean mother says what she means and means what she says. I don’t have to repeat myself or beg my kids to do something. Here’s a real life example of what this looks like:

When my oldest, Naomi, was in fifth grade, some of her friends started getting their own smartphones. At that time, her father and I still had dumb phones, and Naomi knew there was no way she would be getting a smartphone of her own. One of her friends responded that all Naomi had to do was keep bugging me about the phone because that’s what she did to her mom and got what she wanted, Naomi simply shook her head and replied, “If I did that, my mom would send me to my room.”

Naomi had learned early on that I mean what I say and say what I mean—and it has saved her (and her siblings) a load of anxiety and stress. When a child knows she can badger her mom into changing her mind all the time, the child never has a true feeling of safety and security.

  1. A mean mother doesn’t try to be friends with her children, knowing friendship comes after a child’s successful emancipation. Do you have friends? I sure do, and they are not under the age of 18!

When we try to be friends with our kids, even our teenagers, before they are capable of supporting themselves, we give up the opportunity to truly mentor our children. With a rising senior and junior in high school, I have enjoyed coming alongside my girls as they wrestle with decisions about college and classes and jobs and friends. But I also am careful not to overshare with them like I would my peer—they are still kids, they still need to feel the freedom to be a child even as they are on the cusp of adulthood. Trying to be their friend causes them to grow up too quickly and burdens them with adult responsibilities they shouldn’t be expected to shoulder.

  1. A mean mother doesn’t mind when her children use her as an excuse to do the right thing. I’ve often told my kids they can throw me under the bus as the “meanest mom in town” anytime they want to if it helps them to do the right thing.

My kids are more than welcome to use me as an excuse, as in, “Sorry, my mom doesn’t let me do X. Yeah, she has a way of finding these things out, and, frankly, I don’t want to find out what would happen if she did.”

It doesn’t bother me if my children’s friends think I’m mean—I’m not in a popularity contest with kids or teens, after all. I don’t need my kids or their friends to think well of me, but I do need my kids to know that how serious I am about them doing the right thing.

  1. A mean mother insists on knowing her children’s friends—and inviting them warmly into her house. When I was growing up, my mother had an open-door policy for all the neighborhood kids. My friends were constantly in and out of our house, playing mostly outside in our front or back yard.

I’ve adopted the same attitude toward my children’s friends, not minding the noise or the snacks that are eaten or the dirt that is dragged through the house. Because if I want to know my teenagers’ friends, I need to have started welcoming their friends in elementary school, so it becomes a habit for my kids to bring their kids to dinner, to do homework together, to play games outside.

When the children do come over, I make a point of saying hello, asking their names, where they live, what they’re doing in school, etc. One of my daughters told me that her friend liked coming over because “You talk to her like she’s a person, not asking her all about her grades or classes or college plans.” Being welcoming to your children’s friends—even if you don’t think you’ll like them—is the grownup thing to do. And you might be surprised by what genuine kindness and interest can do in the life of a kid or teen.

  1. A mean mother never allows candy or sweets to take the place of a well-balanced meal. It’s important that our children learn, from an early age, what it means to eat a well-balanced meal. Allow candy, cookies, ice cream or cake before dinner on a regular basis is setting our kids up for potential health problems later in life. It also spoils their appetite, which means training them to try new foods will be that much more difficult.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have dessert first on special occasions—we certainly have gone out for ice cream at 5 p.m. before we ate dinner! But on a daily basis, the kids know they are not to eat a snack close to dinnertime and that I expect them to eat a decent dinner.

  1. A mean mother makes her children work—washing dishes, making beds, learning to cook and doing other cruel and unpleasant chores. When I ramped up my children’s chores a couple of years ago, one of my sons wailed, “But what are you doing now that we’re doing all this work?”

Of course, when I started listing all the things I do, like menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking dinner most nights, etc., he stopped whining. Yes, kids complain about doing chores. They are never going to be happy about it, and that’s okay. They don’t have to enjoy scrubbing toilets.

But a mean mother knows that children are consumers—they dirty dishes, clothes, bathrooms, etc. If they are not also made to clean up after themselves and others in the family, they will begin to feel entitled. When a child feels entitled, they begin to treat mom and dad like servants rather than authority figures. Things quickly go downhill from there.

So stave off the entitlement attitude with a healthy dose of chores! If you need suggestions on what chores are appropriate for what ages—and how to teach your children to actually do chores—check out my ebook Chores for Kids.

  1. A mean mother makes life miserable for her offspring by insisting that they always tell the truth. My kids know I will stare them down until the truth tumbles from their lips. They also know that it’s always better to tell the truth than to lie because I usually find out about the lie anyway.

All kids lie sometimes, and a mean mother knows that by asking no questions, she’ll be told no lies. In other words, a mean mother never asks a question when she’s pretty sure she knows the answer.

For example, one of my daughters drew on the wall of our office when she was younger. Because she signed her work of art, I knew exactly who had drawn the picture. So I didn’t ask her if she drew on the wall—I simply told her, “You drew on the office wall.” That didn’t stop her from exclaiming, “No, I didn’t.” But rather than get drawn into an argument, I ignored the protestation and simply levied the consequence.

Sure, sometimes, I’m wrong and the child didn’t do what I said he or she did, but that will happen so infrequently, that it’s better to not ask questions than to constantly give your children the opportunity to lie.

  1. A mean mother knows that love under girds all of her decisions. I know I’m not a perfect mom, and that I’ve made mistakes…and will continue to make mistakes as I raise my kids. Sometimes, I have to apologize to my kids for what I’ve done or said. I’m sure too that I’ve done things they will one day vow to never do to their children.

But I know they know that I love them. I tell them verbally all the time. I show them I love them as much as possible. I stay connected to them by paying attention to their needs and wants when I can, by listening to them, by spending time with them.

I might be a mean mother, but my kids love this mean mother as much as this mean mother loves them.


One thought on “How to be a Mean Mother”

  1. Laura Ramsey says:

    Nice, Sarah!

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