The art of parenthood is best rewarded when my kids call me mean. When they say “mean,” what I hear is structured, disciplined, safe. I’m not mean. I’m a mom. At least I don’t think I’m mean.
My kids have been learning the difference between mommy mean and real mean. The world is full of mean people and bad things. And I’ve been struggling to explain the difference.
Bad things just happen. is outside of our control. Illness and death and disasters happen.
Mean people are deliberate. They directly or indirectly take pleasure in hurting people's feelings. Try explaining that to a seven year old.
A boy has been picking on my daughter. He pinches her when no one is looking. He calls her stupid and a baby. One day she came home upset about it. It wasn’t just the fact of his meanness, but why. She wanted to know why he was mean. After all, I’ve given her pretty good explanations for why the sky is blue and why bad things happen. Why can’t I explain mean people? I can't, but I do know how to spot them.
Different kinds of mean people
- Some mean people think they are being funny. Jokesters.
- Some mean people think they are being honest or constructive. Honest to a fault.
- Some mean people think they (and only they) are right. By the book.
- Some mean people take pleasure in feeling superior. Royalty.
- Some mean people have been hurt and only feel good when others hurt, too. Angry at the world.
- Some mean people use meanness as an excuse for why they don’t have friends. Loner.
How to react to mean people
For my daughter, I advised the following: “If he touches you, speaks to you, or looks at you again, tell him to stop. Use your own mean voice (“Angry at the world”) when you say stop. Then tell the teacher you told him to stop, and you don’t like it when you are pinched or teased.”
The only way to stand up to mean people is being calm and assertive back.
I had a boss who used to tell me my shoes were ugly on a regular basis. She was mean person. I’d tell her that I loved my shoes and that my feet were comfy and happy. But she repeatedly made fun of my shoes. I started saying to her every morning, “Don’t you love how happy my feet looked today?” Eventually, she stopped being a bully about it. By being assertive and happy, I took the power away from her.
There are few bullies around Decatur. One hates my column and loves to critique my juvenile writing. Hey, writing about motherhood should be Pulitzer Prize winning stuff. He attempted to send me a few mean tweets, but I always responded with thanks (he was after all my most faithful fan).
Another reader loves to point out the typos and grammatical errors in my columns. I’ve have four kids, a full-time job, and a life. Do you think I’m worried about dangling modifiers?
What do I do now? I correct my typos when I can, and I live with the ones I miss. Somehow I’m still able to sleep at night. If the kids let me.
Mean people are everywhere. Don’t let someone’s meanness ruin your day.
- Work meanies. We spend so much time at work. Don’t let someone else’s negativity ruin 60 hours of your week. It is okay to speak up for yourself.
- Driving meanies. They drive like they own the road. Let them have it. Let them pass. You don’t own the road either. Isn’t it better to get somewhere safely than on time? Giving someone the finger is just being a meanie back too.
- School meanies. Boys who have crushes on you do not tease you. Period. Teach your kids from an early age that kids who want to be their friend are nice. All the time.
- Family meanies. It is easier to be mean with our families because we can let our guard down. We don’t have to communicate the same way we do at work and with our friends. Your mom might think that you are fat, ugly, working a dead-end job, living the wrong life. If you agree, do something to change your life. If you disagree, be proud of who you are and tell your family members to stop being critical.
- People that hate the world. They hate politics, religion, relationships, and happiness. Here’s my rule: Either make your own happiness or stay away from me. Don’t be afraid to steer clear of mean people. Unfriend them. Unfollow them. Don’t fall into their cycle of cynicism and anger.
- Internet meanies. It’s very easy to be mean online. It is distant, and you would never be so bold in real life. People who are looking for legitimate conversations encourage debate, they don’t disparage or condemn. Ignore internet meanies.
The Devil Made Me Do It
In truth, I am mean. Sometimes. We are all mean without even knowing it, and recognizing our own meanness is difficult. Maybe we are tired or hurt or irritated. Maybe we lack the courage to step away. Sometimes we lash out instead.
A friend of mine recently saw a mother chastising her son for wanting to read "Amelia Bedelia" because it was a “girl book.” Wow. That’s mean. Parents can be the most devastatingly mean people on the planet. Have you ever seen it in yourself? Don't look for meanness in others. Look for it in yourself.
The best lesson for our kids is how to recognize when we are being mean. We can't change other people, but we can change ourselves. , but you do need to be good. You do need to be reasonable. That’s a tough one to swallow. Believe me. I’ve been trying to teach it to my kids.