Mean moms rule: 7 reasons it’s better to be strict Forget the niceties and don't be afraid to employ the big bad "No!"

I’m a Mean Mom. No, I don’t make my kids work in a coal mine after the third grade (that’s illegal — plus there aren’t any coal mines in my area). And I do smother them with physical affection — more than they seem to want (particularly my 7-year-old, who has become accustomed to diving out of the way of direct kisses).

I’m mean because I stick to rules; because I believe in order and schedules; because I buck the “my kids are my best friends” trend; because I honestly don’t care if every other second-grader has a phone (kiddo, you’re not getting one).

My kids are not perfect (and neither am I), but I believe we’re on the best path for us. I believe my sons will grow up to be good men and good citizens of the world. I believe in their strength, rather than assume their fragility.

So yes, I’m one of those Mean Moms. I’ve even written a book about it — Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later. And here are 7 reasons why we rule:

Mean Moms retain their sense of self

You may have seen something like this making its viral way around Facebook: I traded eyeliner for dark circles, salon haircuts for ponytails, designer jeans for sweatpants, long hot baths for lucky if I get a shower — Repost this if you don’t care what you gave up and will continue to give up for your children!

If, like me, you felt your breakfast coming back up in your gullet, you may be a Mean Mom. Your children should add to your life, not subtract what’s most essential about you. Losing yourself completely in your kids is bad for you for obvious reasons but its bad for them, too. How can they learn to respect themselves if they don’t see you doing it?

Mean Moms aren’t afraid of the big, bad “No”

To me, no is a short, sweet dose of parenting magic. Don’t fear it it may have a bite now and then, but it doesn’t actually bite.

We live in a yes-happy time. Yes is like those towering, sickly-sweet cupcakes. They look so pretty, but they’re little more than a temporary sugar high. No is like a bowl of fiber-rich oatmeal that sticks to the ribs.

No develops character; it allows you to offer mini-lessons on your budget, your morals, and your choices. And if you say yes because no brings on tantrums? Here’s a hint: The kids get over it! Often, way faster than you think. Try it. Say no. Smile (enigmatic smiles fixed on the middle distance work best for me). Don’t apologize. Repeat as necessary.

Mean Moms don’t follow the parenting pack

Remember junior high? When if only you had the right jeans and hair that would behave, you’d be in with the Cool Girls? Remember how that didn’t work? It doesn’t work with parenting, either.

There’s a new set of Cool Girls in town, and they’re the moms who dictate the way you should do things. Like tote snacks in your purse, sign up for dance class, join the PTA. If you’re not a joiner, don’t join. And please, make your capital P parenting choices (nursing, sleeping, feeding, schooling) based on your own ideas and instincts, not theirs.

Mean Moms fail their kids, a little bit, every day

Wait, really? Yes, really. Listen, when my boys were newborns, I fed them the minute they mewled with hunger, held them when they cried, and changed them when they were messy. Being mean is not letting a child remain uncomfortable or feel unloved. Being mean is, as they get older, bit by bit, letting that time between Mom! and Coming, honey! get ever so slightly longer.

Tiny failures — not rushing to a toddler trying to figure out how to retrieve the toy behind the chair; not helping a 6-year-old work his way across the monkey bars; not calling the middle schooler friend’s mom to force a party invitation — are what allow a child’s competence and confidence to flex and grow. Little failures now = big successes later.

Mean Moms remain (benignly) in control at home

Remaining the buck-stops-here person in your household shouldn’t freak you out. Staying in control (of the food in the fridge, the fare on TV, and the schedule for everything from activities to bedtime) is not the same as being authoritarian. It’s not a dictatorship.

It is, instead, authoritative. Your kids need to see that there’s someone all grown up with her hands on the wheel (though its okay if you don’t feel that way all time just don’t let them see you sweat!). Authoritative, surefooted, in-control parents raise the most self-confident, self-assured kids.

When you are fully the parent, they get to just be the kids. You provide the envelope; they push it. Don’t believe the hype (or the kids themselves): They don’t want you to be their friend, and they don’t want to make all the decisions.

Mean Moms’ kids know how to do stuff

What has changed in our world where my friends, whose 9-year-old son mows the lawn, find themselves fielding astonished comments from neighbors who aren’t impressed, but appalled? Knowing what tool to use to fix a car or clean a toilet is good for kids (even if they grumble). My friend’s kid feels enormous pride that he knows how to handle a mower, as well he should. Mean Moms teach their kids to do stuff, from cooking and cleaning to yard work.

Yes, you can outsource the jobs for less, but teaching basic life skills not only helps you (I haven’t emptied my dishwasher in months; my son took it over and loves it), it serves them, too in reserves of knowledge, self-satisfaction, and competence. Its a win-win situation.

Mean Moms turn out kids who are prepared to take on the world (not kids who think that the world owes them something)

Raise your hand if you’ve heard a story lately about a college kid whose parents intervened with professors, or a new graduate whose parents called an employer to request better treatment? There’s a whole cohort of kids whose parents have always smoothed their path for them, who’ve been left unable to stand steadily on their own two feet.

Listen, if your first grader writes ns that look like hs, he’s going to miss the point on the spelling test. That’s his mistake, and he has to own it. If you fix it, or if you always make excuses or apologies for his behavior, you may end up being that parent calling the college dean. Don’t be that parent.

P.S. Protect yourself from the coming data-powered panopticon by getting a VPN.

Denise Schipani writes for national women's and parenting magazines and blogs at Confessions of a Mean Mommy.

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Morag
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Morag

I’m very much this kind of Mum, though now my two boys are teenagers, I cut them more slack. It’s not being mean. It’s being prepared to use to use common sense, like our own parents did. One of my siblings is a single Mum to a daughter, but spent many years trying to be her friend, instead of her mother. When I commented on that (after she phoned me in tears), she didn’t even understand what I was talking about.

Samantha
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Samantha

I that by calling these things “mean” the author is making the point that so many parents DON’T do these things today because they would rather be seen as the “cool mom,” and they avoid things that kids might call “mean” at the time. She’s not really saying you have to be mean to be a good parent. It’s about the connotation, and these are great reminders!

V
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V

As with everything, I think moms (and dads) need to find the right balance for their family. I don’t think that any of these things is inherently “mean”, it’s just having high expectations and firm boundaries, which is important. I also think it’s important to be “nice”. That is, being empathetic to children’s feelings and supporting their ideas and interests instead of only perpetuating your own agenda. Being really mean (like telling children to stuff their feelings and that their needs and wants don’t matter) can be very detrimental. Luckily the Mama who wrote this article doesn’t seem to be doing that.

betz
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betz

Love this!! I know this was what have been practised long time ago but im really happy to see modern mum sharing similar idea with me. Finally an article that is all about parenting the kids, not befriending the kids. (how not to make your tween upset, how to let your kids happy all the time, how not to say no to your kids – all the nonsense)

AK
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AK

A lot of this isn’t being mean, I agree its true kids need boundaries. Often this is learnt at school too- where the consequences for behaviour are consistent. Retaining a sense of self identity and looking after yourself as a mum is important, no its essential !!! but I have seen extremes of this and some people don’t like having kids and they never bond with them. My grandmother is totally ego centric to this day and still very harsh to my father where nothing he does is ever good enough. The other extreme is mothers who neglect themselves and focus too much on others and never look after themselves e.g with health or renewing their spirit, often the excuse is “never having time” but its a destructive cycle. surely there is a balance in there somewhere to make sure you look after yourself and also provide healthy boundaries for your kids? as a teacher I instinctively find it easy to say no or send my nephew to time out if he is breaking a rule he knows, I just do it easily and consistantly as well as praising him for when he does the right thing or encourage constructive play 🙂 they need this sense of boundaries and learn fast. in terms of learning house skills this is great but we need to be careful as to how young they start doing this as some tasks are a bit beyond them at certain ages, and I have seen parents who get their kids to do ALL the house work on the weekend – that family all of the kids left home as soon as possible with varying results ( one married at 18 to get out !!!)

Hallie
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Hallie

DENISE!! I love that this post! This is me! I feel like a fish swimming upstream in my community. I have been dinged as the mom that always says no and I’m okay with that. Sadly, other parents near me don’t see the value in the word.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for addressing this ever increasing problem with parents not being parents. I can’t wait to check out your book.

Kara
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Kara

I love this. I’m tired of all the articles I see about how to raise children and try all fail to mention you need to be “mean” sometimes. My kids have had chores since they could walk (ex: my 15 month old helps me put her dirty clothes in her hamper, my 4 and 6 year old are expected to make their beds, clear off their eating area, put toys away when they are done and take turns with extra chores like cleaning the bathroom or sweeping). I think that parents who don’t teach their kids to take responsibility set their children up to fail as young adults. I find the bend over backwards for me attitude among young adults appalling and I’m 27.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Love this! I realized recently that I am a “mean mom”. I will not only tell my kid “no” but I’ll intervene if he doesn’t cease and desist with whatever he is doing. Most of his classmate’s parents say no and then watch while the kid continues to do whatever it is they were asked to stop. The other thing I wish more parents would do is not be afraid to use a firm voice (not yelling) to tell their kids to stop stuff that is obnoxious. I think it is confusing to kids to be all sweet and happy sounding when you are asking your kid not to do something that is unacceptable. You are the parent, you should be respectful to your kid but clear and firm when something they are doing is not ok.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Yeah, my mom was a “mean mom” too who thought she was “building character” by making her kids mow the grass, trim the hedges, clean the gutters, scrub the floors, do the laundry, etc. while other kids enjoying their childhoods on the weekends and after school. It sucked. I’m teaching my kids to pick up after themselves and earn allowance by doing some simple chores without sacrificing their childhoods like my own “mean mother” neglected to do. My sisters and I have talked about thiswe do not consider ourselves better people because we know how to tune a lawnmower and change our own oil. Let kids be kids! Oh, and BTW, agree with RS, no need to be snarky on the ponytails and sweatpants post on FB, which is much better writing than this self-indulgent slideshow!

Laura
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Laura

Anonymous, there’s a difference between the Mean Mom who makes her kids work and doesn’t let them play, and the “Mean Mom” who balances work and play for her kids. When we raise kids, we should be looking ahead to the adults we want them to be. I want my adult sons to put away their own clothes, wipe crumbs off the counter when he’s done in the kitchen, and be able to keep his living area actually clean. Valuable life skills whether he’s married, or a bachelor. And you may not think you’re a better person for knowing how to change the oil — fine. For every one of you, though, there’s someone like me, who wishes that her dad would’ve forced her to handle tools a bit more, or whose mom would’ve made her take another couple years of piano lessons and made her learn how to sew.

Sara
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Sara

Liked this article. Dressing like a slob does not actually make you a better mom. Was at a retreat last weekend with a number of families and one of the ladies wore sweatpants and SLIPPERS the entire time. The other participants (a lot of them moms too) wore street clothes and regular shoes. And no, she didn’t have a newborn. Just taking cozy to the next level I guess!

rs
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rs

No need to get snarky on the mom who lovingly posted about giving in to ponytails and sweatpants… just because you are awesome enough to take care of yourself while taking care of your kids doesnt mean a mom less bothered about appearances is a slacker and a poor parent. Why must we always denounce other moms’ choices to validate our views?

anon
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anon

oooohhh i love this 🙂 It used to be called “being a parent” now it’s “being a mean parent”. I was raised like that now I’m 22 happily married, house payment, 2 car payments, paying bills, and work a full time job.. No govt assistance here. I believe it’s because I was raised with “mean parents” lol (who I call daily to tell them i love them, and see how they’re doing)..