“Mean girls come from mean moms.” That is the comment I heard the most after my post about mean girls went viral. And I mostly agree with that assessment, although I also believe that sometimes kind-hearted, well-meaning parents — parents that have a hard time saying no or turn a blind eye to certain behaviors — can also create mean kids.
But because we can’t really change anyone else’s behavior despite how much we try, we have to keep working on our own. That’s why when I read this post on how to avoid being the mean mom by Dr. Angelica Shiels, a mom and psychologist providing therapeutic services for children, adolescents, and adults, I asked her if I could share it on Playdates on Fridays. She’s funny, smart, and actually has a degree to back up her advice. Check her out on Facebook or at www.ontheyellowcouch.com.
Are you the Mean Mom?
So I bet you think this article is going to be about those times when your kids openly let you know when you’re not being nice. You know the times: Like last week when you told them they were not allowed to take the can of tuna-fish into the bath, and one of them stomped off, proclaiming “You are SUCH a MEAN MOM!” while dragging his wet towel behind him. (Oh. Right. That was me. But I digress.)
Sorry, but if you thought you were going to get silly article about all of the ridiculous reactions kids have to perfectly appropriate limits, you’re not in luck. Despite our kids’ announcements to the contrary, prohibiting flip-flops in the snow and denying them marshmallow pie for dinner does not a “mean mom” make.
But, as I’ve recently observed, we moms can definitely be “mean” in every sense of the word. Really mean.
I have witnessed the following phenomenon no less than five times in the past two months: Two (or more) grown women with small children, usually with drink-in-hand, totally trash another grown woman with small children behind her back. Any number of indiscretions are fair-game fodder for the “mean moms.” Maybe it’s because the other mom doesn’t handle her kids in the mean-mom-approved way, maybe it’s the way she talks, or maybe it’s because the targeted mom was impolite or forgetful or gained weight or clumsy or poor or rich. But the rules of the mean-mom game are always the same: 1) the talk is always negative 2) it’s always unconstructive 3) it’s always behind-her-back.
Of course, I have found myself pulled into these momversations, and even jumping on the bandwagon at times. Hey, I’m only human and sometimes it just feels so damn good to be “accepted” by the mean-girls and so damn scary to do the right thing. But if I don’t do the right thing, afterward I always feel a little…uhhh……
And after-the-fact, whether I am brave, complicit, or a fellow mean-mom, I always find myself overthinking. What should I have done? What could I have said? (And the ever-important question: what in the world are they saying about me behind my back if they are saying that about her?)
So let’s assume we all already buy into the” golden rule,” we all are totally on-board with “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all,” and we all already truly believe “we lead our kids by example.” Let’s assume that we all want to do “the right thing.” How exactly does one accomplish such a feat when dealing with such an ornery animal as a “mean mom”? I mean, certainly we must be prepared to experience a certain amount of disapproval for not joining-in, but the real trick is to strike a balance between being in on the meanness ourselves and being completely annihilated by the mean-girls for taking a stance….
So here are 5 ways to avoid being a “mean mom” when you find yourself in a mean momversation:
1) Offer something positive: This one is both simple and socially graceful. A good way to shut down a gossipy conversation is to mention something positive about the target of the gossip. (“Sure Susan feeds her kids donuts for breakfast, but she is really an awesome mom. Did you know that she is the room mom in Danny’s class and she makes it a point to go on every field trip?”)
2) Offer understanding: Even if it is hard to think of something positive to say about the targeted mom, try to offer some understanding. (“I can totally see why she gives her kids donuts for breakfast. Sometimes it is just not worth the battle in the morning.”)
3) Steer the conversation into something constructive: Step one: Become serious and erase any trace of sarcasm from your voice. Step two: Ask the “mean moms” whether they truly have a real concern and whether there is anything they think can be done about it. If there is no constructive reason for discussing the topic, it will quickly become evident, and the trash-talkers might even feel a little awkward continuing the conversation. (“So are you guys really concerned about the kids’ health because of the donuts? Do you think someone needs to talk to Susan about it?)
4) Use humor to get your point across: This tactic is my personal favorite, but the hardest to pull off. Step one: Smile and look like your charming self. Step two: Say something over-the-top or clever to get the heat off the current “victim.” (“You’re busting Susan for feeding her kids donuts every morning for breakfast? I’m just cringing because last week I came downstairs at six in the morning and caught my son hiding under the table, shoving his little cheeks full of skittles….” By the way, personal blunders described with confidence and humor are rarely picked up as mean-mom fodder. Confidence disarms mean moms of their superiority.)
5) Be honest, and then change the subject: Although this tactic is not always the most socially-graceful, this one always works to shut down the gossip. (“All this talking about Susan is making me feel a little mean. Oh! I forgot to ask you guys if you signed Johnny and Chris up for basketball again!”)
Next time I get the opportunity, I am definitely going to try one of these tactics out instead of being passive or joining in. Why? Because I don’t want to be a “mean mom”…. And, incidentally, my kids are looking to me for an example, and I don’t want them to be “mean kids.”
As always, just something to think about.
This overthinking mommy