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Children / Motherhood

My parenting strategy: sometimes you’ve gotta be cruel to be kind

My parenting strategy: sometimes you’ve gotta be cruel to be kind

If my son forgets to wear a coat on a chilly day, he experiences cold.

If my daughter forgets to bring the lunch I pack for her, she experiences hunger.

Neither experience will cause lasting damage (well, maybe a little for the teachers who have to deal with them). In fact, my hope is that such lessons will leave lasting impressions.

I want my children to pay consequences they can afford. Like the time Tessa left her brand new Thumbelina on a playground swing, and we weren’t able to find it when we went back the next day. Tuition for this lesson? About $20 and a bucket of tears.

Or when Reed didn’t have enough money to buy the Power Ranger costume he wanted (we kicked in the first $10) because he shot his piggy bank wad in a manic spree at Chuck E Cheese. Tuition for this lesson? About 20 minutes of tantrum.

Most times, it would be easy to bail them out. To bring the coat, the lunch, to school. To buy another doll or spring for the costume. Time and money are small prices to pay to avoid tears, right?

True, but wrong. I think we do our kids a disservice when we separate their actions from the natural consequence of those actions.

It takes love to allow them to feel a little pain.

If our kids learn with small consequences, they are more likely to be able to avoid the big consequences. By “big,” I mean getting a costly ticket (or worse) for speeding. I mean getting arrested for shoplifting or being involved in a drunk-driving accident or facing an unplanned pregnancy — any of these could be natural consequences of their actions. If my children grasp that there is a link between what they do (or don’t do) and the results, they will (I hope) make more logical decisions.

So I hide my heartache when Tessa wails over her lost doll. I stay strong when Reed pulls out all the stops to get me to buy him the object of his affection. My children may never know how hard it is for me to be mean* and how I struggle to keep my eyes on the prize.

Sometimes mean = love. And it’s not easy being mean.

* OK, so deeeeep down inside, I’m going, “Bwahahahahaha!” But in my defense, it’s very, very deep.)

What mean yet loving thing have you let happen to your child recently?

Lori Holden
Author: Lori Holden

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  1. Welp, I can’t comment on a personal parenting incident but I can stand up and cheer for you (and all the other parents) that are standing up and BEING parents. I have personally seen the demise of a family that had a mom that was her daughters’ “best friend”. One word: disaster.

  2. I have been “showing the love” at the dinner table these days. My kids have been driving me nuts and refuse to eat. And I would always give in at bedtime because I didn’ want them to go to bed hungry out of fear they’d wake up in the night. Guess what? The new rule at our house is if they don’t eat their dinner, no snacks before bedtime. Maybe one of these days, it will actually motivated them to eat. 🙂

  3. Melissa — my mom is MY best friend. NOW. But she sure wasn’t when I was growing up. She was my MOM.

    Amber — you are sooooooo mean! Hopefully hunger will trump pickiness.

  4. I’m going what Amber is – no food after dinner, esp. if you didn’t eat what I made for you!
    It’s starting to work with my 3 yr old, so hang in there, Amber!

  5. Lori ~ Amen!!! As it should be. :o)

  6. I’m so happy to hear that someone else is as mean as we are!

    The hubby and I are so mean that we enforce a budget for school clothes or homecoming dress shopping. When the teenager wanted to get a $100 pair of jeans we told her that she was welcome to get them but that didn’t change her budget. She whined a lot but eventually chose a more reasonably priced pair of jeans so she could get something else too.

  7. Go, Lori, Go!

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. Our youngest used to drag her blankie around with her everywhere and then, come bedtime, she’d remember that she’d left it on the couch in the basement (two flights of stairs away from her bed). We used to run and get it for her until one day we said, “What the HELL are we doing?!” Now, if she forgets it in the basement, she has to go to sleep without it. THE TORTURE.

  8. P.S. You have no idea how comforting it was to learn that I wasn’t the only one with a father hanging out at the Tarot Card books section.

  9. Way to go, Lori!! Those are all very valuable lessons, and you’re right: it’s best they learn the relatively easy ones now. It makes learning the harder ones that much easier in the future.


  10. Catherine — yet another thing we have in common. Tarot and torture!

  11. Great thread! how mean do we get to be nice (long term). They (the little people) can’t see past their few years, but we (the big people) can all remember some horrible experience where we learned stuff. Usually forgetting something important. so we don’t (usually) anymore.
    I have covered butts so many times, shuttling forgotten assignments, apologizing for stuff, and at some point we…..the moms have to say, “what am I, the secretary?!” but that usually comes later, a few digits into their years. Full disclosure, I am still kind of doing this for my 23 year old.
    Can’t wait until his wife takes over. 🙂

  12. Sounds like you have read Parenting With Love and Logic. I HIGHLY recommend this book to everyone. I am a mean mom, too, and proud of it!

  13. Love it! I fought constantly with my parents as a pre-teen and as a teenager. They were strict, and I pushed back hard. Really hard. Now that I’m an adult, I’m making friends with my parents. I still can’t figure out how to tell them how grateful I am to have this relationship with them now instead of when I was young. I needed boundaries, not friends, when I was a pushy teenager.

  14. In the second grade I caught him littering and the next afternoon he was at the local park for an hour with a trash bag that he had to fill. I am very often a mean mom. And I like to think my son is a well-adjusted and responisible young man because of it.

    I am also a bad mom. In our house the term “mean mom” is defined as enforcing rules and ruling with a rod of iron. The term “bad mom” howeveer, is kinda the opposite. When my son demonstrates responsibility and respectful obedience of his own volition, sometimes I am a bad mom and indulge him in something fun like desert before dinner or even on rare occasions, a spontaneous half day off of school for an adventure.

    Consequences can be positive too. It’s important to balance discipline with fun.

  15. I agree with you completely. My husband is leading the way with the actions=consequences. I would give in sometimes but he keeps me strong.
    My son forgot his school work once it was the umpteenth time and homework was due the next day. It would have been easy for me to jump in the car to go pick it up for him but hubby insisted he get back on his bike (a 30 minute ride) and go get it himself. It was cold but he had suitable clothing on. My hubby his step dad was waiting for him when he got back with hot chocolate and a hot bath. Although our son whined a lot he understood why he was sent back and I really don’t remember him forgetting again.

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