Are You a Mean Mom?

Are You a Mean Mom?

I got an email recently from a mom who is struggling with her pre-teen (let’s call the daughter Susie).  Susie gets really upset when she doesn’t get her way and it always ends with her shouting, “You are a MEAN mom!”

Susie knows that those words cut into mother’s heart.  Of course, that’s why she says it.

I tell you friends, the whole idea that a child would call their mother mean is so unimaginable to me.  And that moms are allowing themselves to be manipulated by it just feeds the craziness.

Moms, this is what you need to remember…..

Your job is to teach your children, prepare them for adulthood and life on their own.  You do this through talking/teaching, being an example and through discipline.

Discipline is a necessary part of life.  We, as adults, are disciplined every day.  If we act nasty to our neighbor it will cause trouble for us.  If we spend money we don’t have we suffer the consequences of debt.  When I eat too much chocolate cake my clothes don’t fit.  Discipline.  As adults we have the maturity to make those connections.

Our children need us to discipline them.  They don’t know enough about how their body works or finances or responsibilities to make good decisions on their own.  So we teach them.  We create consequences.  That’s all discipline is.  You create consequences and gradually they learn and begin making wise choices for themselves.

We say, “You must eat your peas before you can have dessert.”  That’s not being mean, it’s being healthy.  Children won’t make healthy choices on their own, so we teach them.  They still have a choice….they can choose not to eat the peas and have no dessert.  If you let them eat dessert anyway, you are teaching them that there are no consequences.  Don’t do that!

And don’t feel badly about it.  Sure, it’s hard to see our children suffering (although most of their suffering is just over-dramatizing).  But it is good for them.  If you rescue them from the pain you are doing them a disservice.

I suspect Susie’s mom has done this over the years.  She let her tender mother’s heart keep Susie from feeling any real pain so now Susie thinks she should never hurt.  Then when Mom actually expects Susie to suffer a consequence it turns into a battle.  Susie knows her mother is tender hearted, so she pulls out the big manipulation….calling her mom mean.

Is the stove mean when it burns you?  Is the thorn mean when it sticks you?  Of course not!  That’s just the way life works.  And you are not being mean by disciplining your children.  You love them and you want them to have the best life possible.  So you teach them how to endure hardship and make wise choices.  You also teach them that calling you mean is never the solution to their problem.

My best advice is to be unaffected by their words.  Don’t show a response, don’t give it any weight.  If it doesn’t change anything they will learn to stop doing it.  Just continue to be caring, but follow through with your discipline.

Mom tells Susie, “You can’t go to your friend’s birthday party because you didn’t do all of your homework.  I told you last night that if it wasn’t finished you couldn’t go and you chose to watch TV instead.  So now you will stay home and finish the work.”

Susie goes into hysterics.  That’s not fair, everyone she knows is going, Mom is mean, blah-blah-blah.  Mom’s response is, “I wish you could go, but it was your choice.  Now get the homework done or you will also miss the football game tomorrow.”  Moms stays cool and is unaffected by Susie’s drama.  So Susie changes her game plan.  Maybe she starts begging, maybe she starts crying, maybe she sulks….doesn’t matter.  You can show care for her pain, but nothing she does will change the consequence.

Remember, she is making the choice to act that way.  She is deciding to choose the consequence over doing the right thing.  You aren’t making the choices at that point.  Your choice was back when you laid out the consequences in the first place.  If it seems too harsh when it’s happening, then next time lay out a lesser consequence, but follow through with this one.

To Susie’s mom: It’s not going to be easy, but you can do this.  Keep your eyes on the prize….a wise, healthy, responsible daughter.  When she calls you mean, let it roll off your back.  When it hurts your feelings, don’t let it show.  Think before you hand out consequences then let her make her choice.  Pray for strength and remember how God loves you both.

(Ed note: I sometimes hear a mom say, “Yes, I’m glad to be a mean mom.”  The word mean in this case is defined as cruel, malicious & spiteful.  To proudly call yourself mean as proof that you discipline your children tears down the idea that you are doing a good thing.  Being strong, confident and consistent is not mean; it is loving.)


  1. I had the same reaction as you did when I read the post. Why is the mother allowing the behavior and how did it get to the point? I have 2 teenagers – 15 and 18. They have NEVER screamed at me. I have been firm, but fair with them since they were little. I mean REALLY little – infancy. I had friends who didn’t believe in discliplining until a certain age – usually 3 years old – which is too late in my opinion. They now have screaming teenagers. I have teenagers who I get compliments on from friends, teachers, etc. They are respectful, polite, well mannered… My kids have friends they do things with but also enjoy doing things as a family with my husband and me. I can’t help but believe that some of these parents of these difficult teens didn’t discipline their toddlers and the toddlers never learned consequences for their behavior or how to handle being told no.

  2. Two things that really stood out to me:

    If you let them eat dessert anyway, you are teaching them that there are no consequences. Don’t do that!

    If it seems too harsh when it’s happening, then next time lay out a lesser consequence, but follow through with this one.

    I’M reaping the consequences of not getting this right when my kids were younger and I’m having to deal with the “you’re so mean – you just want to be angry with me” comments now.

    It’s that darned mom’s tender heart…that I gave in to instead of being disciplined enough myself to watch my kids suffer natural consequences instead of finding a way to still give them what I wanted to give them. Sometimes just for my own benefit — I didn’t want to suffer the consequence along with them of not going out to dinner or to a movie or to a friend’s house so I went the route of “do you promise not to do that again??” WHAT A MISTAKE!!

    Thank you for sharing this stuff that should be obvious, but that our society in general has fled from in the name of our “children’s rights”. I’m afraid we’ve ruined a generation with our faulty psychology. By the grace of God we’ll win them back.

  3. When my kids (who didn’t scream it) complained that I was a mean mom I replied “That means I must be doing my job.” I didn’t give in to their demands. I didn’t hear it very often.

  4. Thank you for this wonderful reminder! My 6 year old has started this recently. I know I have not been consistent in my discipline with him and I am reaping the consequences now. But praise the Lord that I can put an end to it while he is still little, before it gets worse!

    Thank you for your always encouraging words!

  5. Amen….when my son was little, I had ‘friends’ tell me that he would grow up to hate me, would be a delinquent, etc because I disciplined. They told me he was too young, and that I was a horrible mother for making him have age appropriate responsibilities, etc. Fast forward a few years, and I have seen their lives with a child that wasn’t disciplined, or was coddled too much and I am glad that I stuck to my guns, even when it hurt my tender mother’s heart. You worded it so well Lisa, thanks!

    • This reply hit so close to home. I am the youngest parent in my family and all the other mothers say I am too strict on my child, while the others are allowed to get away with whatever behavior they want. I have seen the teenagers talk to their parents as if they were the parent and every one of them yell and scream at their mothers at some point, even in a public setting. My child is only 6, so I cannot wait to see how much of a difference it makes to be firm and consistent, yet supportive with his discipline, even though according to my FAMILY, I am the MEAN MOM. (my son has never called me names or yelled at me, just my family.)

  6. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom! My oldest is almost nine years old, so I realize I still have a LONG way to go in this parenting journey (with three more siblings coming up behind her), but I am so thankful that we got off on the right foot with discipline. People often comment that I am just ‘lucky’ my children are so easy! Ha! I say there is no such thing as an easy child. Different personalities, but each one comes with its own set of obstacles. We were all born with a tendency towards selfishness and sin. For me, much prayer and being consistent were key! And now I truly can say that my children are delightful to be around.

  7. Being strong, confident and consistent is not mean-its loving. Once again, thanks for another wise post. I love how you lay out the action, consequence, and choice. Very practical.

  8. Yes! We can be confident as parents because God gave us the responsibility to train and disciple our children.

    We have trained our children and therefore have peace and enjoy our children. Are they without wrong doing? No, and neither am I. However we don’t have outright rebellion and anger.

    Great post Lisa!

  9. Wisdom is a gift from God. He has blessed you with it. Oh how we should all pray for wisdom.

  10. hubby and i are slowly getting there. he does it less and less. i too didnt want to ‘be the bad guy’ and didnt want him to suffer ‘needlessly’. dont get me wrong majority of the time he would make the right decisions (i think that also played into my shielding him of consequences – it’s only his first time – umm yes but that 1st time unchecked WILL lead to a 50th time), but boy when we started letting him suffer the bad consequences of his choices/behavior – katy bar the door! it’s been a while since we started doing the right thing and we dont get that behavior hardly ever anymore. we know thatwe must stick with it. thank you lisa for such a great post and truely not making me feel like a parental failure for allowing the behavior to begin with.

  11. Thanks for this! As the mother of a pre-teen daughter I agree with you 100%. 🙂

  12. I’m a teenager, and I found this on Pinterest and feel like this hits home. I’m an oldest daughter, and my mom disciplines me and I’m no trouble. But as a mom, I feel like I can’t tell her things or she’ll punish me for my mistakes. I cry sometimes, but never show her. I just don’t want anyone to think that they’re firm but nice perfectly, because that is exactly my mom, but our relationship is still damaged. Just a warning.

  13. Hi Lisa,
    I’m going to add a little to what you said if you don’t mind. While what you said is completely true, there are sometimes other reasons why teens act out like this. Sometimes they have deep hurts that they don’t know how to deal with and are afraid/ashamed to talk to parents about and it eventually comes out in this way. As moms we have to look at the hearts of our children and have some discernment about what really might be going on. We also have to have the hearts of our children so that in a time like this we can (after they calm down and we pray for God’s guidance) we can go to them in love and help them to sort through what is going on in their hearts to help them resolve the issue. Our children need to know that, while we are their parent and will discipline them if needed, they have a safe place with us to share their hearts and that we will love them and give them Biblical counsel/pray with them through their struggles. Sometimes with all the hormones raging and with the confusion and fear that comes with growing up they don’t know how to sort this all out or how to handle it.

    I have also found that by allowing my children to see my hurt if they say something hurtful (even if they don’t realize it was something that would be hurtful) they learn to have compassion for others feelings and to guard their comments by thinking of how it might make someone else feel. So, while I understand the point you are making, I disagree with your statement that Susie’s mom should: “When she calls you mean, let it roll off your back. When it hurts your feelings, don’t let it show.” Perhaps Susie needs to see the pain that is caused from her careless/hurtful remarks and understand that her words have the power to affect people negatively and damage relationships. She needs to think about how she would feel if someone were to speak to her in that manner and realize that her words hurt others just like she would feel hurt if she were spoken to that way.

    Let me say again, friend, that I agree with your point. If Susie is just trying to get her way she needs to be disciplined and learn to act appropriately. I just felt that there may be someone out there who would read this and not consider that their young person might need some “heart work” and one on one time sharing their hearts with mom or dad. 🙂
    Blessings to you!

  14. I’m not a mom, but I do some child care. I started watching a friend’s kid about a year ago, while mom worked full time. He had never been deprived of anything he wanted. The dad is no longer in the picture, because he was verbally and physically abusive to the mom. But before she left dad, if son wanted something, and mom didn’t drop everything to satisfy son’s every want, dad would slap/hit/punch/kick and verbally assault mom. He was 3 when I started watching him. The first time I went to correct his behavior, I told him to sit in time out. He pitched a royal fit. I had to hold him down in the chair, for 2 1/2 hours, before he stopped screaming bloody murder. The next fit lasted 1 1/2 hours (same day). Within three weeks, he would quietly go stand in a corner with his nose touching a piece of masking tape until I let him come out. I stopped watching him in mid January, and he’s back to pitching fits. Kids will always push the boundaries, trying to find out if you love them enough to stick to the rules. I don’t put up with junk.

  15. Great post, Lisa! I’d like to add a few thoughts, too.

    As a parent of 3 teenagers and 1 in his early 20’s, I’ve discovered that I’m still continually learning how to parent. Each child and situation is so different. Being consistant with consequences (good or bad) is important. I agree with thinking the consequence through ahead of time when you’re calm. If the consequence to an action is given in a moment of frustration or anger, it’s more likely that it may be something a little extreme that the parent will have a hard time following through with.

    Any time you’re trying to change a child’s behavior you’ll be met with some opposition at first, whether the child is 2 or a teen. Just be patient and stick with it. I think it’s very important to balance the discipline with love. Meaning, to spend time with and develop a relationship with your teen so they don’t see you as purely the disciplinarian.

  16. I’m a mean mom 🙂 You’ll like this and I think of this every time I think of the term “mean mom” (my kids have never said I was mean and only one has ever said I hate you…once):

    Mean Mom

    While other kids ate candy for breakfast, we had to have cereal, eggs, and toast. When others had Pepsi and a Twinkie for lunch, we had to eat sandwiches. And you can guess our mother fixed us a dinner that was different from what other kids had too (and we had to eat at the table as a family).

    Mother insisted on knowing where we were at all times. You’d think we were convicts in a prison. She had to know who our friends were and what we were doing with them. She insisted that if we said we would be gone for an hour, we would be gone for an hour or less.

    We were ashamed to admit it, but she had the nerve to break the Child Labor Laws by making us work. We had to wash the dishes, make the beds, learn to cook, vacuum the floor, do laundry, and all sorts of cruel jobs. I think she would lie awake at night thinking of more things for us to do.

    She always insisted on us telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. By the time we were teenagers, she could read our minds.

    Then, life was really tough! Mother wouldn’t let our friends just honk the horn when they drove up. They had to come up to the door so she could meet them. While everyone else could date when they were 12 or 13, we had to wait until we were 16.

    Because of our mother we missed out on lots of things other kids experienced. None of us have ever been caught shoplifting, vandalizing another’s property, or ever arrested for any crime. It was all her fault.

    Now that we have left home, we are all God-fearing, educated, honest adults. We are doing our best to be mean parents just like mom was. I think that’s what’s wrong with the world today. It just doesn’t have enough mean moms anymore.

  17. I have a 5,6 and 7 year old I have already been doing this with them. My six year has told a few times that I am mean when he has not been able to do something he really wanted to. All 3 of my kids have either ADD or ADHD and We work a lot on impulse control and consequences. Needless to say we have a lot of bad decisions due to something else sounding like a better idea than what we are suppose to be doing. I am hoping that all the work we do today will pay off for them later in life. I have told them that it is my job to make sure they grew up to be adults who do the right thing and not their friend.

  18. My 4 year old is constantly telling me I’m mean. I know it means i’m doing the right thing but sometimes it can be hard not to be hurt bu his words.