Raising kids is a tough gig. Any parent will tell you this. Where once I dozed off each night pondering the next plot twist in my latest Netflix binge, I now lay awake entertaining thoughts of all the things I did that day that make me a shitty mom. Did I yell too much? Was I too harsh on my son when he put his sister into a Wrestlemania-style chokehold? Should I have exercised more patience with my kids on our outing with friends to at least put on the facade of having it all together? Did I give the kids enough vegetables? I try to console myself with reassurances that tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start, and a chance to try again. And sometimes tomorrow, I nail it. And sometimes, tomorrow nails me.
One thing that I’m starting to realize is I’m a mean mom. Yep, I said it. Just don’t tell my kids I admitted it.
More than once, my four-year-old has screamed as he heads to time out that I have ruined his fun or his day or his life. I’ve gotta admit, it stings just a little. But when I started to reflect, I realized he’s at least partially right. Sometimes I do ruin his fun. And that probably does ruin his day. But I feel pretty confident that none of the mean things I’m doing are gonna ruin his life. So I’m coming to terms with my meanness and telling myself it’s okay.
In case you’re curious, I’ve decided to break down seven of the things that make me a mean mom — but dammit, they don’t make me a bad one.
1. I’m Not Always Gonna Play With Them
Hear me out, okay? I do lots of fun shit with my kids. I take them on outings to the playground, the active learning park, the mountains and everywhere in between. We pack picnic lunches and grab doughnuts on the way. I let them splash in the river and chase them as they ride their bikes through the neighborhood. But sometimes I don’t want to jump on the trampoline or give pushes on the swing or roll down a hill or have a water fight. So sometimes, I say no. And that’s okay. Because kids need to understand that (spoiler alert!) the whole world only 90% revolves around them and I’m going to cling to that other 10% until the day they become parents themselves and the light bulb comes on. Everyone is allowed to have boundaries, and everyone is allowed to say no when they need a break. I want my kids to learn to respect that in others and to understand that they are allowed to ask for the same.
2. I’m Not Always Gonna Share With Them
Okay, this one does make me kind of an asshole, but I want to be honest with you. I am a big champion of the “sharing is caring” mantra, but I actually really suck at sharing myself. At least when it comes to food. While I will shamelessly take a bite of my kid’s treats, when they start begging to have some of my meal, all bets are off. My reasoning here is, hey, I’m being pretty nice by getting you a treat, so the compromise is, you gotta let mama have a bite. The reason I don’t share my food is because they have their own plate with the exact same food on it, just in a different configuration. Apparently, the food I serve my kids has been scooped out of the compost bin while mine has descended from the heavens, so they want to sample it like they’re making a damn trip to Costco. Sorry, but no.
3. When They’re Done Playing, They’ve Gotta Clean Up Their Shit
I know I’m supposed to be too busy making memories to worry about the messes or something like that, but I have a confession to make: I can’t handle it. Looking around my house to see toys and food remnants scattered across every inch as if an angry raccoon had just scampered through is enough to send me over the edge. Especially now that my kids have been home with me for roughly 2000 days straight, we have decided to work as a team to keep things relatively tidy. They’ve gotten pretty good at throwing their clothes into drawers and shoving their toys into bins out of sight and honestly, that feels like a huge win for me.
4. I’m Not Making Made To Order Meals
I enjoy cooking, I really do. But I don’t enjoy it enough to provide each of my kids with a menu to order off of three times a day. I always try to make things I think will mostly appeal to everyone in the family. The deal is, you’ve gotta try what’s in front of you. If you don’t like carrots, pick ’em out. You don’t have to clean your plate, but you have to have a real go at what I made ya. And if you really, truly hate it, I’ll make you a PB&J ’til you’re old enough to make one yourself. Then you’re on your own.
5. If I Say They’ve Got One More Chance, They’ve Got One More Chance
I haven’t always been the best at this, but I think it’s important. I’ll throw second chances around like confetti, but on strike three, you’re out. I’ve started telling my kids that they get two chances to do what I’ve asked, and I’ll let them know, “This is the second time I’m asking you to…” If I have to ask a third time, there’s a consequence. There are no thirdsies and though there will surely be many a promise to never do it again, I’m trying to set some clear boundaries so there’s little room for error. Honestly, I think it helps them, too.
6. They Do The Crime, They Do The Time
This kind of rolls into point number 5, but I wanted to give it its own bullet just to make myself look even meaner than I already do. I like to try to make the consequence (or reward for doing the opposite behavior) known to my kids if I can think of it far enough in advance. Then everyone knows what prize they’re playing for in the game of “Don’t Push The Button.” My “World’s Meanest Mommy” trophies have begun stacking up as I try to build consistency in my follow-through. I’ve found that the key in doing this is not to make promises I don’t wanna keep — AKA don’t take away iPads for a week unless I am really down to punish myself, too.
7. Sometimes I Yell
This one I’m not proud of, and I’m not here to defend. Yelling at my kids sucks. It makes them feel shitty and it makes me feel shitty. But it doesn’t make me a bad mom. It makes me a human. On this point I really am trying to get better every day. Kids will test our patience to the max, and spending months and months together every second of every day has built a level of familiarity and comfort to behave a little douchey that anyone who’s ever had a roommate knows all too well. What’s a few extra dishes in the sink? Some dirty laundry on the floor? A temper tantrum or two? We’re family, right? Yeah, yeah, kid. We’re family. And because I’m comfortable with you, sometimes I think it’s okay to yell. Seconds later, I’ll regret it. So I promise to apologize and make a commitment to keep my voice down no matter how mad I get. If I learn how to do it, maybe you can, too.
So, there you have it. All my mean mom sins have been laid out before you. Maybe one day when my kids are grown with kids of their own, they’ll read this and have an “Oh my God. I understand, now” moment. Or maybe they won’t. I just really hope that while as children I may have ruined their day, their week, their month, or even their year, that I haven’t ruined their life.