I’m a mean mom and I’m okay with that distinction. In fact, I’m quite proud of the title my kids often bestow upon me. It’s taken me years of soul searching, yelling, blood, sweat, and tears (mostly mine) to feel comfortable in my parenting skin. When I set out on this crazy journey called motherhood, I didn’t know much (read: anything whatsoever) but I knew two things: There were going to be some rules, and I was going to raise independent kids instead of assholes who couldn’t fend for themselves. Okay, three rules. There would also be sleep in this house. I didn’t like staying up all night in college and I certainly wasn’t going to do it with people under four feet tall.
I realized pretty early on that kids do not come with an innate sense of right and wrong, nor do they come with an ability to not make a complete wasteland of any space they inhabit. In the beginning, the expectations started out small: I expected my toddler to help pick up his toys at the end of the day.
Some days, he only managed to get one toy into the toy box while I cleaned the rest of the wreckage from the day’s play. Slowly but surely though, he learned how to clean up his epic Lego messes. The same went for my daughter when she came along a few years later. But, by consistently including them in the toy sweep at the end of the day and teaching by example, they eventually learned what was expected of them in our house.
Teaching my kids the house rules extended beyond the physical tasks of housekeeping and playing fairly. Our house is a sleep dictatorship — naps and bedtimes are not negotiable. But, as anyone with a toddler knows, explaining the fact that they must sleep so Mommy can binge on wine and Netflix falls on deaf ears.
Learning to sleep is a skill that kids need to master, and if I had any hope of catching up on my DVR queue in the evenings, I knew I had to give my kids the proper sleep tools to succeed. A regular bedtime, firm rules about getting out of bed, and stuffing my ears with cotton as they wailed in protest eventually lauded children who slept through the night nicely. My kids learned to be good sleepers because I fostered independence in them at an early age. They needed to learn that Mommy wasn’t going to save them from the boogeyman. (Told you. I’m tough.)
As my kids are entering their teens, the time for learning to live more independently has come. They are old enough to take on more responsibility around our home and I am taking full advantage of the opportunity to teach them life skills that will help them in college and beyond. Just as I had to teach them how to clean up their toy room, I have to teach them about life as a grown-up so that it doesn’t come as a complete surprise when they hit their dorm rooms. More and more, there are things that I have stopped doing for them in favor of teaching them how to do the tasks themselves.
Helping a kid learn to be independent means teaching them the steps to a project or task, creating a routine, and then stepping back to watch the magic (or disaster, as is sometimes the case) happen. A year ago, my son expressed a desire to have more control over what went into his lunchbox. Seeing a teachable moment unfolding, I gave him the job.
I stocked the fridge with healthy choices, gave him parameters as to what needed to be included and sipped my coffee at the kitchen island as he assembled his meal. Within a week or two, he was also making his sister’s lunch because he enjoyed the task so much. My kid learned a skill that actively contributes to the ease at which we can get out of the house, and mornings are a little more blissful because of it. Bonus: Now I can actually drink a cup of coffee in the morning before the bus comes.
My friends are often surprised when they find out that I don’t check my kids’ homework or keep track of their school project due dates. Of course, I help them with difficult homework problems and make sure they have the supplies they need for an upcoming project, but the due dates and mistakes are on them. Helicopter parenting around schoolwork contributes to a kid’s inability to learn time management and consequences for late assignments.
Recently, my son turned an assignment in a few hours late and it not only affected his grade but also his eligibility for the honor society. His poor time management taught him a valuable lesson, one that was hard for both of us to swallow. But, I didn’t swoop in and save him from his mistake. He accepted his consequence and we both know he’ll work harder next time.
Learning the hard way indelibly marked a lesson that will last a lifetime for him.
I am tough on my kids and I expect a lot from them on a daily basis. They are expected to contribute to our household activities, but I make sure they have the knowledge and tools to succeed. I only have a few more years before I have to turn them loose on society, and while it’s nice to not have to deal with emptying the dishwasher anymore, it’s even nicer to see my kids take initiative around the house. And believe me, their toilet cleaning skills will make their roommates love them in college.