mean mama


putting the mean back in mean mama
June 20, 2008, 5:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In January, I ran into a mother of 9-year-old twin girls I taught a few years ago. We were exchanging laughs about life with twins. I always liked this mom. Her girls were pretty rambunctious, not easy to handle, and when I used to tell her about things that had gone wrong with them, she would call them over and confront them right there and then. She was no-nonsense with them but not at all humiliating. Anyway, during our January conversation, we were joking about how having twins made us resort to parenting styles we’d never imagined we’d take on. She confided, “You know, I’m a screamer. I never thought I would be, but I found out I am.” And she was so okay with it, this seemingly nice, calm woman, who is also a special ed teacher by the way.

That conversation made me like her even more. I had really never met anyone who admitted that they ever yelled at their kids before her, except in safety-first situations, like a “Stop at the crosswalk!” type of thing. My mom yelled at me a fair amount, and she more or less apologized for it a few years a go. Strangely, I don’t remember excessive yelling. The things that make me sad about my childhood are my mom not playing with me ever, my parents telling me that I was a negative person destined to be depressed thanks to genetics, my mom hating her body (and passing it on to me), and my dad’s explosive temper that greatly influenced our behaviors. The actual raising of the voices, not so much.

My sons J and M have two very different personalities. M is intense almost to the point of obsessing over things. He is a very sensitive child, and when you give him a time-out for misbehavior, even if you do so in the kindest, gentlest way possible, he breaks into screaming sobs. Curiously, he stops the second his time-out is over, but you get the point. J on the other hand? Not so sensitive. J is interesting. He is a total space cadet, and at the same time he is a very intricate manipulator. You tell him to stop doing something, he will find a different, slier bigger way to do it. He likes to be showy in his misbehavior, and then, once you call him on it, he tries very, very hard to make you laugh, and not in a bashful, apologetic way. …more in a way that makes it easy for you to imagine him as the pain-in-the-butt class clown who the teacher secretly loves, or maybe a future playuh. When we put J in a time-out, he sits there and laughs aloud, rolls around, scoots back and forth, and generally does not care. We keep putting him back ala Super Nan.ny, yet when the time-out is finally over, he often runs right back to repeat the forbidden action again. And again and again.

Do you know what works to get J to take his time-out and the reason behind it seriously? Getting down to his level and raising your voice. “You pushed M, and you are not allowed to push, so you are having a time out. Do not get up from here!” Say it loud, and he will stay there and even cry sometimes (though, like M, the waterworks seem to mysteriously cease the exact second he is released from captivity, in exchange for smiles…). And more importantly, he will not repeat the action. Well, not that day at least.

If I sensed that J was scared by the yelling or trusted us less, I would stop. But for now, it works when others things don’t to communicate the seriousness of a situation to him. To him. It works for J, not for M, so we have no reason to do it with M.

I am not sure why modern parents decided to trust books over their instincts about how to raise their individual children. Is it partly because we are really afraid of f-ing up in ways that our parents did, leaving us scarred, but do not know how to parent differently from them, never having had any other close role models? I never thought I would raise my voice, and I avoided it for a long time, thinking it was just plain wrong as is conveyed in most popular parenting books and sites. Also, I did not want to repeat my parents’ wrong-doings. But what I’ve come to realize of late is that it is the content of what they said, the “Why are you so…”s and the “You are…”s and the “Why can’t you just be…”s that are what echoes still, not the volume of my mom’s speech when I was testing my limits.

I hope my meanness will pay off someday, because I am really trying to do right by this boy. If not, I will humbly and apologetically say I was wrong when accused. And comply to his demand that I pay for his therapy.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I think you’re talking about firmness and consistency, not to be confused with meanness. Mean is the why can’t you and why are you so’s and the undercutting – not the limits.

Comment by artsweet

I yell at my children too …I love your honesty it makes me feel like I am not alone on the days when my sanity is hanging by a thread.

Comment by Trish




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