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.”)

My daughter’s ideal family

Last night, my thirteen-year old daughter showed me a project she’d finished for her Spanish Class.  The teacher asked the students to create an “ideal family tree” that included anyone they wanted as relatives.  They could choose their real family members, or come up with fantasy members of their own choosing, as long as their tree displayed what they considered their “ideal family.”

What a nice assignment, I thought, as my daughter explained it to me before showing her work.  Surely this would offer a moment of reflection for the kids; a chance to pause and recognize that the family they had been blessed with was, in fact, ideal.  I was about to share this very thought with her when she unveiled a large piece of yellow tagboard.  I stopped mid-sentence as my illusions blew like leaves off the branches of her “ideal family tree.”


And there it is.

Grandparents:  Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

We watched Sound of Music last week.  Great show; I’ll give that one to her.

Parents:  Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise.

This is an improvement?  Really?


Aunt and Uncle:  Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock

Okay, that’s solid.  No offense to my siblings and in-laws, but these two are hard to beat (even though they made us suffer through The Proposal.)

Siblings:  Logan Lerman, Julianne Hough, Kenny Wormaid.

I have no idea who any of these brats are.

Cousins:  Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Cloe Moretz, Brooklyn Beckham.

I’ll admit I adore the first two.  The last two?  More unidentifiable brats.

Obviously, this entire episode was a bitter pill for my mother-heart (throat) to swallow.  But I think what hurt most was that after grilling my daughter, I learned that this Logan Lerman kid played the lead in the the cataclysmic remake of Footloose.  MY Footloose!  You know how I feel about that movie.  No one touches Kevin Bacon; he was a very, very important factor in my developmental years.  It’s bad enough that my little girl spat on my heart, did she have to spit on Ren McCormack too?

Look, I get it.  This is a much more attractive hand than the one my daughter was dealt.  But I told her:  don’t be fooled.  These people are surely a bunch of greedy, shallow, narcissistic heathens with nothing to offer but their botox-ed eyes and boob-jobbed bods.  I said as much to my daughter, beseeching her to reconsider the values upon which her “ideal family” was built.  Where was the commitment, the gratitude, the truth?  Where was the love, for the love?  I asked her these things pointblank, but she merely replied with a shrug.

“Whatev, Mom.”  And with that she scooped up her poster, turned her sassy self around, and bounced out of the room.

I hope she gets an F.

How to train your dragon—er, dog—while keeping your cool.

Last Saturday I took my dog, Maude, to her first obedience class at Petco

Wait.  Did I really just say that out loud?  Because if so, I can now add it to the growing list of things I Swore I’d Never Say, such as:

  • I live in Kennewick.  Still.
  • I eat soy sausages for breakfast.
  • I want to get my hair cut like my mom’s.

But life plays funny tricks on us, and no trick is funnier than that of a canine-loathing young woman who, with the onset of age and children, morphs into a Devoted Dog Mom.

And so it was that last Saturday–a brilliant August morning ripe with sunshine and possibility–I did not enjoy a late summer jog followed by a late summer swim, nor did I water my flowers and pretty up my porch.  Rather, I used that bright morning to enter a dark world from which, I suspect, there may be no returning.  Because, see, you don’t step through those sliding doors at Petco with your dog on a leash and pretend to be a casual pet owner.  The minute you’ve buckled Lassie into the car and driven her to the store as if that’s a normal thing to do, your days as a casual pet owner are over—and with it, any semblance of coolness in which you’ve ever staked a claim.  (Although, let’s face it, I think that ship sailed with your first soy sausage.)

Casual pet owners pick up a bag of Kirtland dog food from Costco once a month; Devoted Dog Moms bring their darlings shopping with them–to a specialty pet store, natch–and would just as soon own a cat (!) than buy a supersized bag of no-name food from a warehouse club indifferent to the needs of their precious pup.  (I mean, like Costco knows anything about dogs.  Buying dog food there is like getting a manipedi from Walmart.)  (Which I have done.)  (But am not proud of.)

Casual pet owners do not sign up for twelve-week obedience training courses that require them to spend three months of Saturdays contending with Rocky the Evil Boxer and Opie the Whining Daschound, along with their respective owners.  It’s enlightening (read: disturbing) to find truth in the old saying about owners looking like their dogs, but true it seems to be.  Rocky and Opie are the canine clones of their masters (mistresses in this case): one dark and brooding, the other fair and flustered.  It’s uncanny, and I can’t pretend that I am the single exception to this rule. So the fact that Maude is a large furry dog with curly black hair confuses me somewhat.  We must look alike, but how?  Is our dog/owner similarity in the eyes, the nose?  The breath?  Wait…Maude has terrifically skinny legs and buttocks.  Could it be?  Oh please let our similarity lie in the skinny legs and buttocks!  Imagine what that would mean for me.

Back to last Saturday:  after Rocky, Opie, Maude, RockytheHuman, OpietheHuman, and I waited fifteen minutes for the dog trainer to show up (dog trainers have lives too, you know!) we were greeted by a boisterous woman who put us all in “the ring” with our pets.  The Ring was a corner of the store partitioned off with corrugated cardboard bearing the Petco logo and was, we soon learned, a place of privilege.  One did not reside in The Ring unless one was worthy—which is why Rocky and Opie had to be taken out of the ring, repeatedly, for their gross misbehavior.  Every twenty seconds or so, Rocky growled and lunged at Maude, with the apparent intent of tearing Maude’s head off.  Opie whinnied and cried every time Rocky tried to eat Maude, obviously scared even though she was not the one under attack.  (Opie must be very empathetic in nature.)  So out went Rocky for attacking and out went Opie for whining—along with their owners, who were also required to leave The Ring until order was established.  This scene played over and over, like an endless 8-track loop, for the duration of the class.  But despite the dire and repeated consequences, Evil and Whiny refused to behave.

But.  Guess whose dog never had to leave The Ring once?

Guess whose dog sat at her master’s (mistress’) side, looking cute and contented, throughout the entire class?

Guess whose dog received multiple bacon treats for being such a good, good girl and even earned the coveted title of sweetheart from the Boisterous Trainer?

My dog, that’s who.

And I don’t mean to brag and make you all jealous—really, people, that is not my intent here—but:

  • watching my dog just work The Ring at Petco was a fine way to spend a beautiful summer morning.

A sentiment which will now be added, in bulleted format, to the growing list of Things I Swore I’d Never Say.