“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
Bullying. Mean girls. Aggressive behavior.
It’s the terms du jour right now, and everyone has an opinion on it. Some parents think it is just part of life, and others believe it is crushing our kids.
I think it just sucks.
Unfortunately, I do think bullying and mean behavior will never go away; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying.
Recently in response to an article I wrote about BS Excuses Parents Give for Mean Girls, someone commented that the incident between a seventh grade girl and a group that ostracized her could have been diffused if one brave student had stepped in to intervene on her behalf. One brave student acknowledging the behavior or getting up to sit with the girl left alone could have sent a powerful message to the “group.”
This got me thinking. While I put the onus on being a brave parent, I didn’t continue to connect the dots…one brave parent can create brave kids. Brave kids make good things happen.
A few years back all three of my girls were having sleep overs at our house with good friends. While they were eating their pizza, some of the older kids started discussing how they knew a girl who lied a lot. The conversation started getting really mean-spirited, so just as I was about to intervene, a little voice piped up and said, “That girl is my neighbor. I know her, and she isn’t lying about those things and I think it’s mean for you to say that.”
BAM! That little six-year-old pip squeak shut it down. It was very brave of her and I admired her courage to stand up for her friend despite being the youngest in the group.
Recent efforts to combat bullying have been focused on the role of bystanders. Some research even estimates that fifty percent of all bullying events stop when a bystander decides to intervene. Unfortunately, 88 percent of the time bullying happens in front of other kids, but only one in five kids will intervene.
It’s a tough call as a parent. I worry about my child’s safety, but I also want them to stand up for what’s right, and especially for those that can’t stand up for themselves. But standing up to someone who is seen as either more popular or more powerful is a pretty big ask of a kid.
And it’s not just kids that face this problem. In 1964, Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered despite the fact that dozens of witnesses heard the attack. Psychologists called this the Genovese Syndrome or Bystander Effect. Simply put, as the number of witnesses to a crime increases, the chance that anyone will intervene goes down. Most people assume that someone else will help, and it ends up that no one does.
Famed novelist and juvenile protection advocate Andrew Vachss said this: “Life is a ﬁght, but not everyone’s a ﬁghter. Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species.”
Someone has got to fight back.
Most kids want to do the right thing, but aren’t sure how to do it. “Parents should not tell their children what to do as a bystander. Instead, they should listen to their children and ask them what they would do in certain situations — sort of wondering out loud, to spark a conversation.”
So how do we encourage our kids not to be bystanders yet remain safe? Here are a few tips:
+ Don’t join in. Yeah, this is easier than it sounds otherwise the term “mob mentality” wouldn’t be used so regularly. Make sure your child knows that laughing at or encouraging mean behavior is as bad as doing it. And simply by watching it happen is subliminally telling the bully that it is okay.
+ Take away the attention. Some kids are bullies merely to get attention or make their friends laugh. Encourage your child to walk away (and bring her friends) from a situation where one kid is picking on another. Merely taking away the audience can often stop an incident. If they say something sarcastic like “There’s nothing to see here” even better.
+ Reporting is not tattling. Encourage your child to report bullying incidents to a trusted adult. If they are worried about being viewed as a tattle-tale or ratting out their friends, encourage them to do it anonymously. Another option is to give teachers, coaches, etc. a heads up that bad things are happening without giving specifics. For example: “You should watch the girls locker room after fifth period, but please don’t mention that I told you.”
Some studies have shown that kids do not believe their teachers or other adults will do anything about the bullying incidents. Encourage your child to continue to report to other adults and build a case documenting the situation because at the end of the day, they could eventually be a witness to a crime and not just poor behavior.
+ Bullying is not private. Some research states that kids do not get involved with bullying incidents between other children because they believe it is none of their business. Stress that if another child is being threatened physically or verbally, it is not private and someone should step in. Also, encourage empathy by talking to your child about how he or she would feel if they were the target of bullying and no one intervened.
+ Stick up for victims, but not directly. Sometimes sticking up for the bullying victim can make the situation worse. For example, a girl defending a boy or a younger kid stopping an incident for an older kid can further increase the teasing a victim receives. Encourage your child to step in but they don’t have to defend the person. A simple, “Hey, the teacher wants to see you” then leading the victim away can change the course of an event.
+ Physical altercations should never be ignored. Kids should assess the situation and determine whether he or she should get an adult or try to distract the bully. Sometimes a loud, “Hey, what are you doing” can be enough to diffuse a situation; however discourage your child from intervening physically.
+ Safety in numbers. Bullies often target those they think are weaker or a kid they feel is a loner. Sometimes the best way to prevent bullying is to be a friend to a potential target. This could be as simple as walking to class together, sitting with them at lunch or hanging out before school.
Not sure how to talk to your son or daughter about bystander behavior? Visit Reachout.org for more information. ReachOut is an information and support service that uses evidence based principles and technology to help teens and young adults who are facing tough times and struggling with mental health issues. All content is written by teens and young adults, for teens and young adults, to meet them where they are, and help them recognize their own strengths in order to overcome their difficulties and/or seek help if necessary. The Inspire USA Foundation oversees ReachOut.
The other day I hit the button to open the van door at school drop off, just as I have a million other times. I looked over my shoulder and called out, “Bye sweetheart! I love you!”
My kind, loving daughter — the one who looks just like I did at age ten — jumped out of the van without glancing over her shoulder and endearingly responded, “Okay!”
Um, “okay”? O.K.?
How about okay, I’ll rip this dagger from my heart you little punk.
As I told this story to my friend, the only advice she had was this: “Welcome to the tweens, where they’ll break your heart, put it back together and then stomp on it. Over and over.”
Tweens, formerly known as pre-teens, are that gnarly group of children that mess with parent’s heads. They are still young enough to be cuddled, snuggled and loved on until they slap you in the face by striving for their independence, talking back and thinking their friends are smarter than you are. Good times.
We’ve got a case of the tweens in my house times two. Sometimes my girls are silly and naive and lovey and the next, well, they’re not.
Here are some signs you’ve got the tweens:
5. Llama llama so much drama. Can someone not find their iPod? Did you say no to FroYo? Did a sibling accidentally break the invisible line of their personal space? If any of these things caused an emotional outburst in your house, then you’re probably dealing with a tween.
4. Grunts, eyerolls and whatevers, oh my! I asked my daughter to put her backpack away the other day and I received the sigh heard around the world with a major eye roll thrown in for good measure. I took a few minutes to explain why I thought it was important to develop the habit of putting one’s belongings away in the appropriate place, and I received a series of “mmmhmm”, “yep”, and blank stares just to the right of my face. I may need to take a Rosetta Stone class in Tween to break the language barrier.
3. Introducing Huffaleupagus. If getting into a huff about stupid stuff was a sport, my kids would be world record holders. My girls can go from zero to huff in about three seconds. Less if I ask them to clean their room.
2. Stylin’ and profilin’. My daughter put on a hat the other day, looked at herself in the mirror and said, “This looks sick!” Because I am a cool mom, I knew “sick” meant “like, totally awesome” but apparently when I put the hat on ridiculous still means ridiculous. Although I am incredibly thankful I have not heard my daughters criticize their bodies (yet), I have noticed lately that they are more interested in how they look, mastering different hair styles, and putting together an outfit. Good for the mall, not so good for our savings account.
1. Door slams! You certainly can tell the mood of a kid in our house by how they shut a door, and lately the whole house is shaking when one of them storms off to their room. We already decided if one of our sweet girls breaks one, it’s coming out of their college funds.
Tweens. God Help Us All.
And I’m really hoping that rumor about the wine shortage isn’t true!