mean mama

At last: Why I’m a Mean Mama, by mean mama
February 17, 2008, 11:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am resting in bed today, not feeling well, so I figure this is a good time to write my title post. Some of the reasons I think I’m a mean mama have to do with my perception of myself, including guilty feelings. Some reasons have to do with others’ perceptions of me and how my parenting style might not fit in to currently popular styles. I think a better title for the blog would be mean mama/ bad mama because I am both. But that doesn’t have a good ring to it.

So here goes. Bitchily written, reasons why I am a mean mama/bad mama:

– I say “no” a lot. I put my kids in time-outs. Sometimes I raise my voice.

I am really trying to raise my voice less because I think it is mostly unnecessary and ineffective and ultimately impolite and a bad model. But let’s go back to the saying no part. I have read and heard that saying no regularly can be a bad thing for a kid because s/he will grow to expect that the answer to everything in life is “no” and will therefore not think the sky is the limit and not fulfill his or her dreams and become a 9-5 insurance agent who comes home at night, makes Hamber.ger Hel.per and plops down in front of the tube to watch a laugh-track sitcom. I say that “no” needs to be said when it needs to be said. I think there are many ways to say no, like “That’s a good idea for later” or “We don’t have time for that right now” or “Eating candy for dinner will make your tummy hurt,” but ultimately it’s still NO. That’s life. As long as there are plenty of “yes”s and opportunities to follow my kids’ leads, then I am convinced it will even out.

And time-outs are given because they work, at least for us. I have heard to putting your kid in time-out is punitive in the same way that spanking is: it isolates the child and makes him or her feel less than. Perhaps the first point is true, but feeling less than? When you give a time-out, for one thing, you don’t need to be confrontational or raise your voice. You just say matter of factly, after warnings, that “hey, you didn’t do what I asked, so you need to go into a time-out.” Sometimes the kids cries, sometimes he doesn’t, but after the two minutes is over, our kids are pretty much always fine and agreeing to cut it out, whatever “it” was. In our house, “it” is sometimes biting or hitting one’s brother. Unacceptable.

I once read on a local parenting message board that a certain daycare I was looking into was great, except that they did not teach the kids how to play nicely and instead said “No” and maybe did a time-out when there was hitting or similar actions. I say, fine, try to teach the kids how to interact nicely, as best you can teach toddlers, but absolutely tell them no and give them a minor consequence when they hurt another kid. Geez!

Oh, also I am not always as diplomatic as I could be. I say things like, “Cut it out!” and “Stop whining,” and “Come over here NOW” and “I pity the fool!” I just like the sound of that last one. There has been more than one time when I’ve been out with my boys, and they’ve had double tantrums, and I’ve yelled at them and carried them out of wherever kicking and screaming, all to the backdrop of disapproving looks. All I can say is, if you could do better in my place, then good for you.

– I like to leave my children to go on a date. I stay at work longer than I have to many days. I dream of spending a weekend away.

Okay, even at two months old when my son was having significant health problems, I eagerly left him with my sister and went out with my husband on a date. I subsequently left them with my parents and did the same. At three months, I was going out with friends an average of once every two weeks. Having sushi and wine. Yeah. At six months we got a babysitter and started going out on dates more frequently. At 15 months we started going out about twice per month. This only ended recently due to our babysitter going away to college and me getting pregnant and feeling too nauseous to venture out. Bottom line, I love getting out. Without my kids. When I was staying at home, this was especially true. Staying home with two babies without any hired help or daycare took its toll. Had I not had these escape opportunities, I know I would have been much worse off.

I work now 3 days per week and like it so much that I’m seriously considering increasing my days next year. Even though I’ll have another baby. Another thing: I could leave school right at 3PM and whisk home to get the boys from daycare, but I often stay till 4PM to do planning. I could do this planning after the boys go to bed, but I feel that I need a buffer between teaching and mothering, and I also feel I’d be too tired at night, especially now that I’m pregnant. The fact remains, however, that I choose to stay later, despite the fact that I know I’ll have less time with the boys.

– I let my boys watch TV when they get home.

Between the time we 3 get home at 4:45 and about 5:15PM, the boys are allowed to watch either PBS or a video. It gives me time to start dinner or just put things away, since the apartment is usually a mess from the chaos that was getting out of the house on time in the AM. They sit on the couch, eat a banana, and watch. Bad mama. I do feel bad about this one, but I don’t seem to be able to find a better and doable solution. The only saving grace is that they don’t watch any TV or videos at daycare.

– I feed the boys fish sticks and hot dogs and ravioli and other pre-made crap. Oh, and cookies.

Most of it is organic, but still. I wish I could prepare dinner on time for all of us to eat together, but it doesn’t often work that way. Sometimes I make a quick chicken piccatta, and we eat that together, but usually they need to eat too early for me and I too late for them. The other thing is that I like to eat a lot of fruits and veggies, and they can only handle a little of that. Let’s just put it this way: neither of them has ever been constipated from the time they were newborns. Never ever. Once I gave them prune baby food just because I had some, and the result was a disaster. I can still remember the splatters on the wall… .

I like to buy the boys a cookie from the bakery on a regular basis. It makes me happy. I know it’s not great to feed them too much sugar, but we love the bakery. And there’s a cat there. And they get to choose their own cookie. So. cute.

– At six or seven months of age, I let my boys cry it out. They cried for hours at a time every night for a week. Still, I am in love with CIO.

After J’s first sedated MRI at around 6 months, his sleep got completely messed up. He was really drowsy for like three days and then all of a sudden he became super-alert. For nights in a row, we could not get him to sleep until past midnight. So we tried CIO for the first time. A couple nights into it, he threw up in his crib, he was crying so hard. I stopped CIO, telling myself that it didn’t work for my child and horrified that I put him through such trauma.

Fast-forward to a week or two later. The boy still will. not. sleep. On top of that, his brother is still waking up to be fed a couple times a night. It didn’t take much for us to decide to try CIO again.

This time no one threw up, but they did cry as if they were being burned with blowtorches for literally hours on end for at least a week. It was truly horrific for me. The best thing I could liken it to would be the horror that a drug addict goes through in detox. I had temper tantrums on the bed, bit things, screamed and swore into pillows, kicked things, jumped up and down, pulled my hair out, and more. And yet, I couldn’t watch TV or do anything to distract myself. It was like I felt I needed their screams and pain to go through me, to experience it with them, if I was willing to put them through the agony. Truly, truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I should explain that we did not Ferberize them. We did not go into their room to sooth them. We went cold turkey. The reason for this: it was our experience that when we would go check on them, they would get much more upset upon us leaving, only irritating the problem. And with two, if one would get increasingly upset the other would follow. I guess I kind of felt like they had to work things out among themselves to some degree, and leaving them alone in there was the only way.

So anyway, after that week or more of horror, they did in fact start sleeping through the night, and I felt like it was the best thing I had ever done. I will not say there weren’t bumps in the road since then. When we travel and sleep somewhere else, or when we have guests over that interest them, or especially when they are sick, all bets are off. There have been a few times when we’ve had to go through a mini-version of retraining in order to get them back on track. It has never been as bad, however, as the first time was. They have generally been good nappers and sleepers for the past year plus, and that makes a huge, huge difference in our family’s quality of life.

I guess the mean mama part comes in in that I don’t have any regrets and totally think the world of CIO. People who liken it to abuse can bite me. I could turn that argument right around in a flash if I wanted (I don’t want to, really) and say that they are abusing their kids by not letting them get a good night’s sleep and therefore damaging their health, all in the name of the parents’ preferences and self-indulgent weakness. I don’t really believe this at all, but give me a break people. Talk about judgmental and righteous!

I also don’t buy that stuff about CIO kids growing up to feel insecure and alone, like s/he has no one to depend on. I haven’t seen any solid, scientifically objective, long-term studies on CIO vs. AP, for example. Most of what I’ve seen have been weak, biased studies, and anecdotal “proof.” If you want to go on anecdote evidence, here’s some: my boys adjusted to daycare very quickly, are quite social and loving, and seem pretty damn confident and caring!

– Ultimately, I guess I am not willing to sacrifice everything and anything for my kids.

I think this is what much of this is about. I think self-sacrifice in mothering is still the popular thing – who is doing more for her kids,trying harder, more dedicated? Not me, I don’t win that medal. No way. And I think that makes me feel like a mean mama at times. Look, I need my sleep, I need my time, I need my sanity, I need myself. I do not believe that my kids are meant to stand between me and these things. Don’t get me wrong. I do think my first obligation is as a mother, but I don’t think it’s my only one. Further, I think part of my obligation as a mother is staying sane and exposing my kids to other caretakers and out-of-home experiences.

I hope I am not painting a negligent picture here, because that is totally inaccurate. If you saw a video tape of the A Day in the Life of Mean Mama, you would clearly see a woman who works very hard to respond to her children’s needs and wants, to comfort them with cuddles and kisses, to make them laugh, and to help them do some of the things they want to do. However, I have very real limits, and I find that when I go beyond them, I am no longer a healthy person. Further, I do not want to set an example of total self-sacrifice for my kids. I just don’t think it’s right.

Here is an example of which I am in some ways ashamed and in some ways proud: It was the night before my first day at my new school where I currently teach. M woke up with breathing problems, and by 4AM I was in tears, panicked, rushing him to the ER. By 8AM, I called the school saying I didn’t know when I’d be in but I’d try. By 9AM, the DRs told me he’d need to stay for many more hours, maybe over night. By 9:30AM, my husband was able to be there.

Much of my panic in the wee hours had been about simply returning to a hospital where both my sons had already had to stay, J in the PICU during one of the most difficult, traumatic times of my life. And by 10AM that morning, I knew I had to get out of that hospital for a while. Upon my husband’s agreement and the doc’s reassurance, I went home, took a shower, and headed to work. Yes, I left my boy in the hospital with breathing problems to go to my first day of work. When I got there, people were like, “Oh my God, your son’s in the hospital and you’re here?” The only thing I could say to explain it away was, “I”ve been through much scarier health stuff with my boys than this, and my husband is with him.” Whatever that made me seem like to other people, it’s what I needed to do. It was self-preservation, in proportion to the level of risk involved.

That afternoon around 3, I returned to the hospital and found out that they were admitting M. I decided to be the one to stay with him overnight and skip work the next day. And it finally felt okay. I did what I needed to take care of myself and therefore my boy as well.

I have been put to many serious tests since my boys were born. Maybe that explains why I know I need to look out for myself: because I know that things can get very hard and you still have to cope. You have to cope. Maybe that’s what being a mean mama is all about for me. Coping, even when I know my parenting is not up to my ideals, or up to others’ for that matter. And I hope I can be okay with that (I am sometimes not), and that my boys can too. Everyone else will think what they want.


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Everyone else spends entirely too much time thinking about other people in our society. Myself included. It’s evident from what you write and what you’ve gone through how much you care about your boys — and you care about yourself, too. Plus, you’re honest about all of the above. More power to you!

Comment by Jen (yup, another one)

I like you. a lot. wish we could have playdates. p.s. you feel guilty about PBS and a banana for snack??

Comment by UtRus

Hi, delurking from Briar’s unwellness, while checking on Asia’s delivery! (I’m one of the crazy AZ relatives.) HAD to comment that I was THRILLED to read of a modern mom raising her kids the “old-fashioned” way! Saying no, time-outs, TV, fast foods, CIO, time for yourself–wow. You rock! That’s how I and my siblings were raised (and spoiled), and we are all happy, productive adults. Your comments are even more compelling with all you’ve gone through with your sons’ health issues. Keep up the good work! Hope to meet you sometime when I’m out for a visit. Love to meet all the recent BOY babies, too! What’s up with that??

Comment by Aunt Patti

You know what? I could have written this post myself.

I’m a big fan of “me time,” especially since I had essentially had nothing but me time for about 36 or so years. I can’t and won’t just give it up now that I’ve got kids. It keeps me sane, and happy, and come on, we’ve all heard the adage that “if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” So true.

I don’t think anything that you’ve written here makes you a mean or bad mama. In fact, I think it makes you a normal mama–or at least, normal in the sense that you’re not one of those moms who is crazy, cutthroat, uber-competitive, etc. Somewhere, somehow, people have stopped raising their kids and started coddling them. Coddling is good, in doses… but it doesn’t compare to parenting them. And parenting them includes taking care of yourself in the equation as well.

I wish we lived closer to one another–I’ve no doubt we and our kids would probably get along quite well IRL 🙂

Comment by Dee

I love this post and, I am telling the absolute truth when I say you are now one of my serious parenting role models. Expect some emails.

–I am going back to work in a week and I am not 100% unhappy about it. Sometimes I feel panicked, but sometimes I don’t.

–As a teacher, I feel strongly about the use of the types of discipline you talk about, like “no” in all its versions and time-out. Like Aunt Patti said; the old-fashioned way!

–I am a big believer in moderation.

When the various schedules allow I would love to get together.

Comment by Lo

Read this twice just to try to suss out the mean part. You seem like a well adjusted, thinking mom. I really admire you. Send this post to a publishing house and tell them you are writing a book. I think you have one in you.

Comment by Jennifer

I could have written this post myself! It is EVERYTHING I’ve felt and done myself! I’m a former SAHM who went back to teaching after being home with my children (ages 3 and 20 months) for the past 3 years. Finances were the reason I had to go back, but I am secretly loving working again. I feel I get the best of both worlds-time for me and time with my kids. I’ve felt waves of guilt over this (enjoying work and getting time away from the kids). I’m also counting down the days until my high school girls’ weekend in Chicago this summer which will be the first time EVER that I have been away from my children overnight (not counting the two days I was in the hospital having my second). Again, THANK YOU for helping me realize these things are not only ok-they are necessary.

Comment by k

I don’t call that mean.

I call it rational. Sensible. Loving, even.

I think you need to rename your blog.

Comment by artsweet

Wow. More power to you for admitting all this stuff. You obviously put a lot of thought into it.
But, to be honest, I really do think you are a shockingly bad mother.

Comment by Bec

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