I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the “meanest mom” a mom who’s account of a trip to Dairy Queen with her three kids (eight years and under) went viral. Here’s is her follow up where she explains her rationale.
The vast majority of people have rallied behind her. She’s a “parenting hero” and if more parents were “like her” the world would be a better place.
Unfortunately, literally all of the research on child development and parenting practices say the exact opposite. What she did isn’t open to interpretation like we try to pretend parenting choices are. All current research on human development, psychology, and brain plasticity studies show without any doubt that what she did was damaging to her children and will have the opposite effect on her kids. She demonstrated bullying perfectly. She embodied adultism in a way more clear than any article I could write. (This isn’t going to be *that* post with all the links to why this is wrong. I talk about that constantly and you can google scholar just as well as I.)
The minority of people pointing this out – that you absolutely can NOT teach kindness by being a bully – rightfully point out that this is, in fact, emotional abuse. Just imagine a husband doing this to a wife and it is easy to see how abusive it was.
Here’s the thing though: this mom, despite being wrong and woefully uneducated on child development, is not a bad person. She is a good person, with good intentions and not a single cultural belief system in sight to help her accomplish her goals.
The social messages about parenting are clear: control, power, obedience, adultism (adults matter more than children), and punishment (including shame and embarrassment) are what parenting is all about. She never learned about child development in school or through public education programs (like the ones so stringently trying to force crib-sleeping, funded by crib manufacturers). She never saw examples in her life or on TV that showed consensual, respect-based parenting. She sees cultural stories that say kids are “out of control” and “lazy parents” are making them that way.
Of course she didn’t want to be one of “those” parents. She sees bullying and disrespect for the working class (see any argument that fast food workers don’t deserve a living wage, for example) as a huge problem. Hooray! She wants to raise humans that are kind and respectful. Hooray! It isn’t her fault she’s been given exactly ZERO tools for doing so by her culture.
So, in her valid and worthy attempt to raise good humans, she ploughed head long into exactly the wrong methods. Of course she did! How could she do otherwise? She’s following the path laid out for her by her culture.
I wish I could spend an afternoon with her. I’m sure she’s a nice person and a conscientious mother. She’s been failed by her culture. Her kids have been failed by their culture. She is clearly intelligent and desiring to be a good parent.
But her culture exists to breed unkindness and violence, disrespect and marginalization of “less than” groups like children, obedience and deference to authority. This is reinforced by schools that work solely on the model of hierarchical control and obedience and profound, deeply rooted adultism.
The woman behind the counter was probably parented the same way. She was a teenager apparently which means, unless she’s unschooled, she is daily subjected to poor treatment and lack of autonomy at the local high school. If she continues to work at fast food places as an adult she’ll be well primed by her opinion not mattering for 18 years to have her livelihood denigrated by her culture through lack of respect and poor pay.
Mean mom herself was probably parented the same way. She associates parenting with being bullied and hurt. She sees her children’s emotional pain as proof she’s given them a “lesson” that will “last”.
And she’s right. Her children have learned that might makes right. That people bigger (or with more “authority”) can take from you without your consent. That the people who love you the most will hurt you when they can if you don’t conform to their expectations. That “natural consequences” means bigger people hurting you.
We all have to accept responsibility for parents creating bullies while ostensibly trying to teach them to be kind. We are this culture too and we have to be diligent in what type of culture we are creating. The culture set up specifically to support capitalism (which requires that some people matter more than others) and hierarchy of authority (like patriarchy and white supremacy taught in schools) NEEDS you to parent in this way so your kids will be habituated to it by the time they are adults. Then they will quietly accept their lives of marginalization, debt, poverty, and purposelessness.
She’s the meanest mom in the world. Which means her culture applauds her good job! While her children internalize this (mean to children = good) insuring they’ll perpetuate it when they’re adults too. A cycle of abuse with no end in sight that exists to support the hierarchy of society.
Hurt people hurt people. I feel for this mom who wants so much to be a good person raising good people but is stymied by her own hurt and harm done to her by our culture.
It always fills me with so much sorrow when I see people parent this way. Knowing that there is another way. That parenting can be joyful and your relationships with your kids don’t have to be ruled by power struggles and tears. That kids will grow to be compassionate, thankful humans because they see their primary relationships model compassion and thankfulness. That you don’t ever have to bully your kids. That hurt does not EVER need to be part of you parenting.
I‘m so sorry, Mean Mom, that you’ve had this very natural truth about humans obscured by cultural belief systems rooted in violence and control. I hope that one day you see behind the curtain of our culture and find another way.
I’ll be over here like Toto jumping up and down and pointing behind the curtain screaming, “Look! Look!”