I’ve Accepted That I Am The ‘Mean Parent’

mean momWhen bedtime rolls around, my whole family knows that I am the enforcer. I’m the one who makes sure the teeth are brushed and hair is untangled. I’m the one who sings the nighttime lullaby, and reads the last book. But I’m also the person who puts my foot down when my daughter starts asking for just one more drink of water and just one more nightlight. If she wanders into the living room, I direct her back into bed. If she’s playing with stuffed animals at 10 o’clock at night, I’m the one who comes in and demands that eyes be closed and lips be zipped.

My husband’s parenting motto seems to be, “You’ll learn.” If our 4-year-old wants to stay up until 11 o’clock, he believes that she’ll learn her lesson about staying up late when she has to wake up the following morning at seven a.m. If she wants to eat a whole fistful of candy, he believes that she’ll figure why that’s a problem when her stomach hurts a short time later.

For plenty of children, my husband’s style of stepping back and letting kids learn from their own mistakes works wonders. And in many ways, I think that his commitment to letting our daughter learn for herself will help her later in life. In her teen years, I’m hoping that I can follow in his footsteps a little more and allow my daughter the space to figure out things for herself.

For now, however, my stubborn and extremely opinionated little girl needs a little more involved discipline. She needs boundaries and a coherent and consistent system for handling misbehavior. My sweet, wonderful, adorable daughter needs a bit of an enforcer. I’ve come to fill that role. And I have to admit, I don’t mind it so much.

It’s not that I enjoy powertripping on my 4-year-old. It doesn’t make me feel big and strong to put a little girl in her place. But the battle of wills that can occur between my daughter and I feels productive. I feel like I’m helping her understand where control comes from, and how she can earn a little of her own.

I can still remember an argument my daughter and I were having a couple months ago. She didn’t want to take a bath. I said she had to. It was as simple as that. But the situation escalated into an all-out battle. My daughter was literally screaming at me. I sat calmly on her bed and told her, “Brenna, being the loudest doesn’t make you the strongest. Yelling the most is not what puts you in charge.” Throughout the entire exchange, I kept my voice quiet and reserved.

As the argument drew to a close, and my daughter started preparing for her bath, I gave her a big hug. I reminded her that someday, she would get to make these choices for herself. But at the moment, Mom was in charge and she was going to have to listen to me. No amount of yelling changed that.

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  • Samantha_Escobar

    I think that whole, “You’ll understand when you’re a parent” saying that parents often tell children who question them is pretty accurate. Granted, I’m not a parent, but I can already tell that things I swore as a kid that I would never do as an adult — like be overprotective or not let my kids date until a certain age — are absolutely going to be incorporated into how I parent. :)

  • Vivi’s Mom

    I can relate completely to this article. I grew up with a strong authoritative mother and in turn when my own daughter was born that seemed to be the roll that came naturally. My daughter is 2 now and I’m not going to lie it hurts sometimes to see her run to daddy and cry about “big bad mommy”, however I know that this will help shape her into a decent and respectable human being later on.

  • meteor_echo

    Just don’t overdo it. My mother tried to do the same with me, it ended up in her trying to power-trip on me and me telling her that she should have gotten an abortion. As you can imagine, we do not have a good relationship, because if you always say no, you shouldn’t expect your child to trust you with being helpful. Try to not say no every time – it might turn out not as good as you expect.

    • LindsayCross

      First of all, I’m so sorry that your relationship was so difficult. I cannot even imagine. And I understand what you’re saying about trying to stay positive sometimes. And I try to give my daughter chances for her to be in control, to let her have her way sometimes. Bean’s favorite reward for really, amazingly good behavior is a whole day when she gets to be in charge.

    • StephKay

      I don’t mean to highjack someone’s very heartfelt comment, but I can’t believe you just called her bean. My sister’s name is Brenna, and she’s had the nickname “bean” since birth. What a small world.

  • C.J.

    I’m the mean mommy too. Even my husband thought I was mean when the kids were smaller, he still backed me up though. We had discussed the need to never disagree about the children in front of the children when we had our first one. They don’t run to the other parent to complain because they won’t get very far even if we don’t agree. My husband has since told me he was wrong and thanked me for creating boundries because the kids are very well behaved. I never really yelled at them or spanked them. I made my expectations known, even when they were toddlers and followed through on dicipline. I tell them we have rules and dicipline because we love them. We care what happens to them. We rarely have to dicipline them anymore, usually just giving a correction works. I also give them some freedom too so they feel they have some control and to help them learn responsibility. They have always been able to choose what kind of clothes I buy them as long as they are appropriate. They choose their own hairstyles and what they want in their school lunches (they actually choose well balanced lunches, we talk about the effects of food on the body). We also encourage them to talk to us about anything, even if it is something we disagree about. We have mommy-daughter talk time every night before bed. Daddy tucks them in too and they can talk to him too but it is usually me they want to talk to. Especially the 10 year old. I always know I’m in trouble when she starts with “mom, I have a question”. It seems to be working for now. One will be a teenager in a few more years, we’ll see if it still works then. I hope so! It sounds like you are doing a great job with your daughter.

  • Susan

    As bad as it sounds, there are a lot of parallels between parenting small children and training dogs.

    Rule #1. Never tell them to do something when you aren’t prepared to back it up. Once they know that you’ll cave when they push back – you’re dead in the water. If you had backed down on that bath… Short term gain, long term consequences since she would have received the intermittent reward of tantrum = get what I want

    Rule #2. They crave boundaries and a strong leader. They’ll push the limits to see where they are and they’ll check them later to see if they can change them but really… it’s comforting. In some ways, being a kid is tough. You really have little influence on the world around you but if you have parents you can trust and predict life is really easier. Teenagers are better equipped to learn that if they stay up late, they still have to get up in the morning and no one cares if they’re cranky. With a four-year-old? Likely you’ll just have to deal with a terrible mood all the next day and she’s unlikely to fully connect feeling foul on Tuesday with going to bed late Monday.

    Rule #3. United front but no one parent ‘stepping in’ to enforce when one of you is telling a kid to do something and it’s not going over well. It’s a battle of wills between A and B and if C steps in, it shows the kid that they only really have to listen when C steps in.

    Good for you. Enforce away. Some of the most obnoxious, miserable children come from parents who are super nice people but can’t be tough enough to effectively parent. Honestly, you are doing them way more favors if you weather the “I hate yous!” and other tantrums when they are well-adjusted productive people that other people really like.

  • LiteBrite

    The “mean parent” label seems to shift between DH and I depending on the situation, but I think DH probably gets it more than me.because our parenting styles are different. For example, I tend to be more “choose your battles” in the way I parent. DH tends to be more of a hardass, a it’s-my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. Our son listens to us both but most of the major clashes in the house occur between him and DH.

    The one thing we both agree on though is not to undermine the other’s authority. If DH says “no” and the boy comes to me I back DH and up and vice versa. We also don’t air our parenting disagreements in front of our son. Even if I think DH is wrong, I wait until after the boy is safely out of earshot to ask, “Do you really think you handled that in the best way?”