DIARY

Mean Mommy

A couple of days ago, I read a post written by a woman whose children had asked her, in a completely ordinary moment, “Mom, why are you so mad?”

“I wasn’t even ‘mad.’ It was just another day. She was sitting on the potty and I had gone in to pick up the toy she dropped, for the third time. I must have let out a big sigh, which is what prompted her to ask me that question in her sweet little voice.

I immediately changed my attitude and put her little cheeks in my hands and said;

‘I’m not mad! Why do you think I’m mad, sweetheart?’

I wish I could be this woman; I wish I could say of my reaction to my children’s needs and demands and tantrums: I wasn’t even mad. 

The truth: I have been – am – so mad. Mad that they can’t be grateful, or patient, or respectful, even though I know that these are qualities that emerge with time. Mad that I can’t be gracious, or understanding, or calm.

Mad at myself for being mad.

I told my son that I was taking him on a special trip to the forest where the Ewoks from Star Wars live, and he yelled at me that he didn’t want to go, that forests were boring. I didn’t sit down with him in a quiet corner and try to parse out what about walking through an ancient forest filled with mile-high redwood trees made him feel so bored that he needed to scream about it; I just got mad.

Because I am. Mad. And sometimes, when you are mad, you are mean.

Me.

Kendrick has been traveling a lot for work lately. Which is fine, obviously, because I travel a ton myself, and also because I enjoy having full control over the remote every once in awhile.

But the other day, you know what happened? I spent five hours taking my children to mini golf courses and martial arts classes, feeding them, bathing them, walking the dogs, watering the plants, washing clothing, cleaning the kitchen, helping them practice piano, locating activity books/paper/different paper/crayons/different crayons, and (poorly) defusing several temper tantrums…and after all this they finally, finally got into bed (mine, obviously, with me laying there next to them because I am currently eating my words on the whole sleep-training situation).

And then my daughter needed her yellow cup and freaked the F out when I gave her a blue cup because that’s the only one that was clean (full floor collapse). Then she needed the Elsa and Anna cup with the straw. And then, once I finally located the Elsa and Anna cup with the straw (under the dining room bench, wayyyyyyy in the back with the tumbleweeds), she realized that ONLY THE BLUE CUP THAT SHE HAD REJECTED THIRTY SECONDS EARLIER WOULD DO. Meanwhile, my son made his way back into his bedroom and dumped his Legos (all of them) onto the floor. Then I lost it, and screamed at my children. (“SILENCE! GO TO SLEEP! RIGHT. NOW.” In my extremely low-pitched scary-parent voice.)

So then they told me me that I never play with them (only Daddy does) and that they don’t like it when I’m Mean Mommy. And then they fell asleep.

Perfect.

And also accurate: I am, from time to time (ok, daily) a mean mommy. One child will hit the other, and then a book will be thrown, and then screaming will ensue, and I’ll be all calm and taking deep breaths and using my level “explaining voice,” and then I’ll get pushed one millimeter too far, and I will lose my shit at my offspring.

Does this ever work? Of course not. It just makes them upset, and it makes me upset, and 100% of the time it ends with me apologizing and explaining that sometimes mommies get frustrated, too. Trust me, I know this even as it’s happening.

Him.

I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately.  Which is kind of awesome because when I’m traveling I feel at home, somehow, and also because I enjoy having full control over the remote.

But the other day when I was in my actual home, you know what happened? I woke up at 5AM to get to work early so I could duck out early and take my kids to a movie. I wanted to do this because I’ve been gone a lot lately, and I wanted to spend some uninterrupted time together. I’m also exhausted, so I was OK with the fact that this time together would involve exactly zero movement and minimal interaction.

After hours of meetings, rapid-fire emails, muting-myself-on-conference-calls-while-inhaling-leftover-tacos-from-someone-else’s-workshop, rushing home, pouring my kids into the car while they demanded some sort of snack I’d never heard of, refusing them every single thing they saw in the mall on the way to the movie, and then struggling (poorly) to keep my cool while they both demanded I pick them up at the exact same time while also simultaneously emitting the sort of high-pitched shriek designed to incapacitate canines…I lost it. And I screamed at them. (Jesus Christ CAN’T YOU JUST GET ALONG???) Like a teenager.

So they melted down in puddles, cried, and said they wanted their mom.

Awesome.

And also logical. I hadn’t fed them before the movie, and then I’d made them walk miles across the wasteland of suburban commerce. I hadn’t been the superhuman they needed me to be; I hadn’t been able to keep calm and carry on my shoulders both their little tushes. So my bedraggled children and I sat “criss cross apple sauce” in the corner of the food court, and they explained to me how mom thinks of things that I forget, and told me that we spend all our time together “looking at the options” instead of doing anything fun.

So much for special time with Dad.

Us.

What’s the moral of this story?  Today, it comes in list form.

  1. Definitely don’t scream at your kids. It doesn’t work.
  2. Know that you will definitely scream at your kids, because a tiny part of you will continue to believe with total certainty that IT WILL WORK.
  3. You will, at some point, realize that – when it comes to parenting – you’re doing it wrong. All of it. This is OK, because the percentage of parents who are doing it wrong is 100%.
  4. There will come a day when your children will tell you that you have always done it wrong, and are currently doing it wrong, right this very moment.  [If you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, see 5 (1).]
  5. Your children are probably right.
    1. Caveat: If you are Gwyneth Paltrow, first, hi Gwen! Second, your children are still probably right, and you are still probably doing it wrong. But you were fantastic in The Royal Tenenbaums.
  6. When you are angry, you almost never say what you mean. Be careful with your words, but don’t beat yourself up when they come out wrong. Do apologize, though.
  7. Being a parent is different from being a friend, and it’s different from being a boss.  You want to be both, but the truth is that you’re neither – you’re something in between, and something much more. Hearing your kids say they want the other parent; wincing at the mistakes you fantasized about avoiding your whole life; grimacing as you realize how similar your mistakes are to the ones your parents made; confronting the fact that the past is right here, right now, in the present – it can feel like you’ve lost something.
  8. You haven’t lost anything. You’ve gained an entire world – and yes, one that’s full of demands and tantrums, but also one that’s full of experiences like sprinkling glitter on the lawn so Santa can find your house. Making airplanes out of Legos. Feeling, once again, the joy that happens when all of a sudden you can ride a bicycle by yourself, and you take off flying.
  9. Kids are weirdos. They say all sorts of ridiculous stuff. So even if they say that they don’t love you, because they’re being little jerks…they love you, OK? They don’t love the other parent more. Or maybe just a tiny little bit more, right now, but they’re also insanely mercurial and disloyal and will flip on you like those HGTV stars when confronted with a midcentury ranch with “great bones.”

Last, but not least, there is this: Water is clearer when it’s calm. That said, you’re a human, not a lake – and humans lose their minds from time to time. We get exhausted, and we lash out at the people we love instead of being patient with them.

But you know what happens to rough water? It settles down; it always does. All it needs is a little time. And besides: Apologies, you know, they work wonders – and teaching your child that it’s OK to say “I’m wrong” even when you’re a grown-up? That’s something close to a miracle.

Even we Mean Mommies, as it turns out, are miracle-workers once in awhile.

  • Concerned Friend

    It sounds like your children are telling you exactly what they are experiencing: too many trips to generate blog content, too much parental focus on options instead of being present with the kids, and feeling a general lack of attention. I would be resentful if I was five or two years old and my mom spent a good chunk of her week taking pictures of herself and dragging me all over California for blog posts, rather than just playing with me. It can be hard to accept that kids mean what they say when they describe their experience of our parenting, but this is much more meaningful than “I hate you” (which is shorthand for “I don’t know how else to express how your parenting is making me feel”).

    • Elizabeth Murphy

      What Jordan is describing are every day family situations- going to the movies and for an (attempted) walk in the forest is hardly a way to generate blog content. If it was, this would be a very boring blog (which it isn’t). These are just 2 examples amongst what I am sure is a lot of play based interaction. At no point did she say her kids said “I hate you”, and for you to take the time to read and rudely respond to a post where someone is being honest and vulnerable during the hard, in the trenches times of parenting is really unfair. Don’t you know that this is a snap shot and not the whole picture?
      Jordan, I loved reading this. EVERY parent can relate.

      • Concerned Friend

        Elizabeth, at no point did I say Jordan’s children had said “I hate you” to her. Please re-read my comment. No rudeness, just a perspective based on what Jordan has written about the family’s frequent trips (which do end up as blog content) and — in this post — how her son reacted to being told there was yet another one planned for him. I’m sure Jordan comes from a loving place of wanting to show her kids amazing things, and the Ewok forest sounds super cool. I am suggesting that when a kindergartener who is obsessed with Star Wars tells you it sounds boring and they don’t want to go on another trip, his very clear articulation of his feelings should not be discounted or invalidated. Have a great day.

        • Natalie

          Wow, you are cruel. And it feels like you have no idea what kids are actually like – they are quite fickle and often have to be talked into doing stuff, even stuff they love. And sometimes as parents we do expose them to experiences they find boring – like the two weeks my kiddo spent at a nature camp he loved at the time, only to tell me today he thought it was boring. The point is, don’t be so quick to judge. And don’t call yourself “concerned friend.” That’s just creepy.

    • Libby

      Hmmm I am chuckling because you don’t SOUND very “Concerned” and definitely not like a “Friend” that I’d want! As a working mom of 4 that are now 15-19, this is just the kind of advice I’d have liked to have when mine were littles. Parenting is SO. HARD. The last thing we need is to criticize each other! Thanks for sharing, Jordan.

    • LP

      My Mom didn’t have a blog to generate content for and I remember as a kid having the EXACT same reaction to my mom planning a trip she thought I would be super excited about. I huffed and puffed and acted like a little jerk, and still to this day feel kinda guilty about it. I even told my mom I hated her once, and then when she started to cry, I cried too.

      I’m not a parent, but we are preparing to enter that phase, and these posts are the REAL side of parenting that I want to read about but can’t find anywhere else. Thank you as always Jordan for sharing your life so honestly. For every “Concerned Friend” comment I’m certain there are 100 people that are truly appreciative but don’t comment.

    • agoraphabulous

      This is ridiculous. Shove your “concern” where the sun don’t shine, Troll.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for being honest and writing this post…this is why I read this blog because it isn’t always about puppy dogs and butterflies. Parenting is tough and raw and real and I appreciate that you put yourself out there.

  • You know what I remember with quickest recall about my mom during my childhood? How unwavering she was with her rules, how unfair and rigid I thought her to be and how mad I would get about her never, ever tolerating my bad behavior.

    Know what my unwavering thought on my mom is now? That’s she’s amazing and completely nailed parenting. I am reliable, responsible, respectful. I consider the effect of my actions on others. I am productive and have high expectations for my family, friends and colleagues. I attribute an awful lot of this to Learning as a kid that life isn’t fair, there is always an authority figure above you, and that there is nothing more critical than owning your actions. You want to break the rules?

    As a parent myself, I have even more respect for how hard it is to be consistently tough. It’s not fun, it’s emotionally draining, and the reward is YEARS out.

    Stay the course. It’s easier to be mean mommy to the pre/primary school set than it is to apologize for the actions of your elementary aged kids who are brats or your teenagers who are total assholes.