The other day, as I calmly removed The Brat's platoon of WWE action figures and hid them in an undisclosed location, his words resounded in my ears. "You're a mean mother. You're the meanest mom in the whole, entire world."
I treasured those words. I pleaded guilty to the charge. I am a mean mother. I am so mean that at times I can make Cinderella's stepmother look like an overindulgent, permissive parenting advocate, much to the horror of the doting grandmoms, who are convinced that I'm setting the stage for a rebellion so severe circa the teen years that I will need to be led away by white-jacketed ones into a room with padded walls. I'll cross that bridge and burn it behind me when I reach it, but right now, I am content with the title of the 'Meanest Mom in the World'. It has a certain ring, a certain je ne sais quoi to it that I wouldn't exchange for being the 'Nicest Mom in the World'.
I am mean because I say 'no' and I stick to it, through hours of pleading, whining, intricate webs of emotional blackmailing, negotiation of the level that makes me do a double take and wonder if the boy is actually a pint-sized lawyer in disguise. Much of my meanness, so to speak, stems from the simple act of saying 'no', of insisting on tough love, of denying what the child assumes should be his god-given right, but in actuality is a privilege. TV viewing time, for instance; or toys, for another.
It isn't easy saying 'no'. Don't get me wrong. At times it wrenches every ounce of my will power and has me gritting my teeth to enamel-eroding levels in order to stick to what I've decreed. It just seems so very easy, with The Brat in the throes of a rolling-on-the-floor tantrum, doing his best impersonation of Caligula with an earache, to just give in, and say, "Okay, you can watch unlimited television and Doraemon on a loop for the rest of the day, for the rest of your life and then top it up with unrestricted WWE watching on the iPad." But we all know that is not what being a parent is about.
Being a Mean Mom is not a power game, or a determination to show them kids who is in charge, although it is part of the larger game plan. It is about setting boundaries. It is when you say, "You have to be home by 7 pm," and the child knows that 7 pm means 7 pm as it strikes on the clock, not 7.10 pm, and definitely not, as one little boy in our complex knows, 9 pm, which suddenly alerts his parents to the fact that he is not home yet, and have them make panic calls on the intercom to the homes of all his friends to track down where he is. For the boy, 7 pm is not extendable unless he calls home on the intercom to request a deadline extension, which too, is granted only if the next day is not a school day or a swimming practice morning.
I know this does not make me a 'fun' mom or a 'cool' mom, but that is a risk I must take. Not being 'fun' or 'cool' puts me unequivocally in charge and that is I think the job the god decreed I do when I signed up for this parenting gig. This does not mean that I am dictatorial, far from it. I am indulgent, but 'non-negotiables' stay just that. The child might get me to fry him some chicken nuggets for dinner, but the serving of veggies needs to go down the hatch. He gets to make a truckload of his own decisions, like which chapter in which subject he will revise for the day; but then once he's decided he has to see it through the bitter end even if his eyes are glazing over with boredom with the technical details of the very interesting reproductive life of monocots and dicots. Of course, I might alleviate the boredom a bit by googling some interesting videos on the topic at hand, even if the visuals are the kind of blurry that makes the video in Ringu 2 look like it was high-definition.
Being a Mean Mom has also given me a skill that I can transfer effectively to the rest of my life. The ability to say 'no' without reason; without being all squeamishly apologetic about it; and without needing to temper the 'no' with a gratuitous smile. I'm convinced some folks at the receiving end of this 'no' from me are also convinced that I eat bullets for breakfast and masticate them well. The wheedling, whining offspring has also trained me well and I am terribly unlikely to convert my 'no' to an "Ah well, okay, okay, just get off my back, will ya?"
Another vital aspect of being a Mean Mom is not exulting over every little thing the child manages to achieve, this includes managing to put the water-filled ice tray into the freezer without spilling half its contents on the kitchen floor, amongst others. I also let him experience disappointment-unvarnished. Did not get selected for special coaching by the swimming coach? The world does not hate him; he has to up his timings to make the grade. No amount of kicking and squealing in disappointment on the cold marble floor is going to make up for the fact that there are other children out there swimming faster than him. The disappointments will fuel the desire to better himself, the little everyday acknowledgements of the fact that he needs to pull up his socks sagging around the ankle, metaphorically speaking of course, will help him motivate himself, push himself and eventually, I hope, make him a strong, confident individual with a realistic picture of himself and his capabilities, not to mention the ability to fend for himself.