Oh Mean Moms, do shut up.

If I read one more article, column, or blog post written by a “Mean Mom and Proud of It,” I may just get a little mean myself.  I’ve tried to ignore this ridiculous new badge of honor that’s been flashing itself all over the internet, but like a bug on my windshield it won’t go away til I pull over and wipe the little tyrant off with my own two hands.  So here goes.

As a mother, a reader, and an Advocate for the Common Good, I have a big problem with these Mean Mom diatribes because:

  • They are unoriginal.  (As of 2015, every mother on the planet is a Mean Mom.  Just ask her.)
  • They are boastful. (Though thinly disguised as self-deprecating, which is the worst kind of boastful.)
  • They are phony.  (A legitimately Mean Mom ends up under CPS watch or in jail—not on BuzzFeed.)

But the epidemic isn’t limited to the internet.  Over the last decade I’ve watched this “I’m a Mean Mom” mantra spread like a rash across playgrounds and playgroups and PTA meetings and everything in between.  I can’t bring my ten-year old boy to a church potluck without some lady informing me that she is “way too mean” to ever let her son hop across the picnic table benches the way my son is.  (Never mind that the picnic is over and he’s not bothering a soul.  Mean Moms don’t tolerate that crap on any level.)

And if you want to bring the self-righteous set to blows, just say “Tiger Mother” at your next book group and watch the blood spill.  Even the laziest mother will claim to be the next Amy Chua if she thinks that’ll mean that she’s mean.  But Mean Moms are more interested in Chua’s temper than her tactics, because this strange new status symbol isn’t about high expectations for our children so much as it is about telling them Where To Go.  (Which is, of course, the easy part.  Keeping them from Going There is the hard part.  It can be done nicely, but takes a lot longer and is not nearly as fun to brag about.)

Funny, these women call themselves mean—a behavior long deemed repulsive, especially to us nurturer-types—and yet they do so with the grandest of smiles.  For someone who’s apologizing for a character deficiency, the Mean Mom seems shockingly proud of it.

Moms used to gloat about the triumphs of their children, but now they gloat about triumphing over their children.  Instead of a “Johnny got straight As!” we hear “I kicked Johnny off the X-box—again!  He hates me, but I don’t care.”  This bald-faced lie (we care very much if our children hate us) is usually said with a giddy lilt, fingers snapping in a zee-for-ma-shun.  Johnny may have a problem with the X-box, but ain’t nobody gonna tell his mom that she has a problem being mean.

I hate to rain on the tough chick parade, but it seems to me that this whole Mean Mom business is simply a route whereby mothers can forego bragging about their children to brag about themselves instead.  Children show up in the narrative only when they can make their mom look awesome.  And oh-so-mean.


Every Sunday after church I make Ethan a peanut butter sandwich, served alongside a pile of Cheetos, and let him scoot the coffee table next to him while he sits on the couch and reads for hours.  He says it’s his favorite time of the week, but I’ve been told that he shouldn’t be eating on the couch and is certainly old enough to make his own freaking sandwich.  Clearly I’m not preparing him for adulthood.


We could blame our nation’s recent fascination with The Mean Mom on our fear of the new entitlement culture (which isn’t really new) or the success of the Tiger Mother book or our desperation to control something as uncontrollable as our children, but I think that all of those motives are too pure.

I think it’s really about—what else?—competition.

Who can be the bravest, the boldest, the brassiest mom on the block?  Who doesn’t take nothin’ from no one?  We will elbow each other out for that prize, the prize that shows the world that we may buy fake tans and fake eyelashes and fake boobs, but dangit, we’re tough!  (So tough that we use dangit as a curse word.)  Moms have competed with other moms since Sarah kicked out Hagar; our modern smackdown just comes in a different package.  If I can’t be a prettier or skinnier or richer mom than you then by golly, I’ll be a meaner one—and by some lame New Age-y logic, a better one.

The competition is, as always, driven by insecurity.  We talk about ourselves when we need to assure ourselves, and boy do Mean Moms like to talk about themselves.  More than anything, they like to label themselves:  I’m a Mean Mom!  I’m a Mean Mom!  Look at me, listen to me, I’m a Mean Mom!  This labeling is what fuels my Big Problem, because labeling oneself is so contrived and so embarrassingly self-aggrandising, kind of like referring to yourself in the third person.  (“Oh yum, Jen just loves tomato chutney!”  Try that at a dinner party and see if you’re invited back.)  People who have to tell you what they are, probably aren’t.

I have no beef with strict parenting; that’s good common sense that’s as old as parenting itself.  What I do take issue with is this newfound need to brag about it.  So go ahead, ladies—serve that broccoli, enforce that bedtime—but don’t imagine that you’re the one who invented these measures, and don’t imagine that others are interested in the fact that you’ve taken them.  Above all, please don’t imagine that any of it qualifies you to be a Mean Mom.  Strict mom, sure.  Invested mom?  You bet.  Deliberate, watchful, consistent, disciplined mom?  Noted.  But not mean.  Because if you have the time and the affluence and the freedom to sit down at a computer and write a blog post about how mean you are, then I’ll bet my whole box of junior mints that:

  • You are not mean.  (Sorry.)
  • You don’t even want to be mean.  (Admit it.)
  • And if you are mean, nobody else wants to hear about it.
  • Including me.  (see:  “Sorry.”)

Dear reader of my blog

To my dearest, darling, dazzling reader of strayjuniormint,

I’ve been meaning to write to you for some time.  Forgive the tardiness of this letter, but whenever I sit down to key it, I get distracted by musings over good books, bad movies, and the asinine inexplicability of my bedroom dimmer switch.  (That last one really does keep me up night–quite literally.)  But this letter has been forming in my heart and head for months, maybe years, and it’s time we talk about a few things.


The first, and most important, point of discussion is how deeply grateful I am to you for reading this blog.  Your time is valuable and limited, and that you would take even a few minutes each week to come visit me here is a compliment of the highest order.  I know you are a smart, engaging person with infinite voices clamoring for your attention, and that I’ve elbowed my way into your world for even a moment is all the validation I need to keep writing.  (If you can call what I do on this blog writing.  I’m not too sure, but writing” is a much nicer word than whining, or mocking, or flat-out spewing.)  But any way you slice it, my “writing” only accomplishes its purpose when you read it.  So thank you thank you thank you.  What a gift that is to me.

Second only to my gratitude for you is my curiosity about you.  Who are you?  Where do you live?  What do you do?  What do you like to do?  Are you blond or brunette, quiet or loud, a boy or a girl?  Do you like to go out or stay in?  Mexican or Thai, peanut or plain, Darcy or Rochester?  (And if you’re a boy: ESPN or A&E?  No wrong answers here.)  Do you have kids, no kids, done raising kids?  Or maybe you are a kid.  That would be fun.  That would make my day.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, will you drop me a line and tell me about yourself?  Do you have a story?  Do you have an idea?   Do you have a life motto?

Do you have a dog?  

I’ve been thinking about who my readers are and, more specifically, who you are.  And here is how I imagine–no, believe–you to be:

  • intelligent
  • funny
  • fun
  • unassuming
  • curious
  • sentimental, but a little bit
  • skeptical
  • responsible, but a little bit
  • frazzled, though this is certainly
  • not your fault
  • compassionate
  • interested
  • responsible (for many others besides yourself)
  • committed (to many others besides yourself)
  • exhausted
  • exhilirated
  • exasperated, but mostly
  • thankful.

Does this sound like you?  If so, please keep reading.  If not, please keep reading–and tell me who you really are.  You can post below or send me an email at jensmith00@gmail.com if you want to keep it between us.  (btw:  Can you believe “jensmith” wasn’t already taken when I signed up for gmail?  First time ever that my name was available to me.  Ah, google.)

Thank you, dear friend, for taking the time to read my letter and hopefully respond in kind.  I am so anxious to get to know you, I might put lipliner on before opening my inbox tomorrow.  Just ’cause.

In the meantime, have a wonderful, whimsical Wednesday knowing that you being here has made mine so, already.



p.s.  Please forgive the weak joke and use of literally in the opening paragraph.  I was indulging.  Literally needs to go away for a long, long time until it’s learned how to behave itself in modern conversation. Then maybe we’ll invite it back, on a severely limited basis.  Agreed?

Hungry for your art.

I’ve been thinking lately about art and the power that it wields.  Now, when I say “art,” I don’t mean just the highbrow stuff that few people (least of all me) have access to.  I’m talking about the art we see everywhere–in our books, our movies, our fashion, even (dare we admit it?) our tv shows.  We call it pop art and, though naysayers claim its commercial and diluted (they’re probably right) it seeps into and shapes our reality, and therefore deserves our consideration.  And the thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how easily we give ourselves over to the Artist, so hungry are we for the Art.

You may not consider yourself a connosseur of art, but you are; you probably just take it in a different form than someone else does.  Some forms, no doubt, are more substantial than others–I’m not gonna say Duck Dynasty requires the same investment from us as does, say, Great Expectations–but Duck Dynasty is still meeting people’s needs for Story, for Metaphor, for Moral, for a fictional, and therefore controllable, reality.  (At the risk of offending some viewers, I maintain that all “reality” shows are actually fictional.  You know what I mean.)

We enter this world starving for art.  We want to consume it, and we want to create it.  And it’s a good thing that art does take varied forms, because that makes room for all of us–the painter, the seamstress, the carpenter, the drummer, the baker, the writer, the party planner, the scrapbooker (not kidding), the cellist, the executive, the interior designer–to become artists.  And that becoming is what makes our lives interesting, and meaningful, and fun.  It’s what gets us through the drudge.  You may not see yourself as artistic, but can you imagine a life without your own creativity?  My brother-in-law is a master on the Traeger–you know, that fancy barbeque thingamajig that every red-blooded man lusts after these days?  My BIL makes a smoked tenderloin in that thing that, when tasted, flings us straight up to the gods.  That’s art.

So what I want to know is this:

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if we are born to be Artists, why do we surrender our creative space and time to the likes of, say, Chelsea Handler or Miley Cyrus?  Why do we make room in our fascinating, fantastic brains–that are just crackling with ideas and energy–for Fifty Shades of Gray?  Why do we–so armed with ingenuity and curiosity, with inventiveness and wonder–give our tremendous power of artistic consumption to the undeserving?

I’m not talking about snobbery here, I’m talking about virtue.  And when I say virtue, I’m not talking about religion, I’m talking about power.  Did you know that virtue also means power?  Few things are more (quietly) powerful than art and so, in its truest form, art is a manifestation of virtue.  Pure in its desire, sincere in its effort.  Principled.  Powerful.  Created, and given, with benevolence.  My brother-in-law’s tenderloin, my sister-in-law’s crosstitch, my daughter’s piano sonata, my husband’s marketing strategy?  Art.


What do you do that’s pure in intention, sincere in effort, given with benevolence?  That’s your art.  Don’t be afraid of it.  Create it, and then give it away.  Give it to others.  Give it to me.  Our need for art is like a vacuum, and if you don’t fill it, someone else–like Robin Thicke or Kim Kardashian or that horrible CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch–will.  I don’t believe these kind of artists are sincere in their efforts, and I don’t think they give with benevolence.  I believe they take–our money, mostly–and we allow them to, because it seems that no one else is offering anything better.  That’s where you come in.

The World of Art needs you and, more importantly, you need your Artistic Self.  Because the more time you spend creating the good stuff, the less time you’ll spend consuming the junk.  What are you good at–or even kindasorta good at?  What do you enjoy doing?  What, once you get started, makes you forget to eat?  (That’s how I gauge a real passion.)  What do you just have to “get right?”  What do you create sincerely and give away benevolently? Where do you find your power, your virtue?  That’s your art.  Stop apologizing for doing it badly and just do it.  Do it badly, then do it better, then do your best and then give it away.  Give it to others.  Give it to me.  Because we live in a world of fakers, and we are starving for the real thing.  We are starving for your imagination and ingenuity, for your vision and virtue.  We are starving–my original and authentic, my principled and passionate–friend, for you.