There are times when I tell my kids that they can’t have or do something that they tell me I’m “as mean as 200 moms!” That’s when I like to remind them I take their complaints as a compliment because I, of course, went to “Mean Mom School.”
I always review for them that I did incredibly well at Mean Mom School. In fact, there is only one mom who ever did better at Mean Mom School than I did, my friend (and theirs), Mrs. Carlson. She has five young kids, and they think she’s as mean as 300 moms.
Yes, my kids know I’m kidding. (Yes, they adore Mrs. Carlson.) Still, they will sometimes ask, “Mom, you didn’t really go to Mean Mom School — did you?” Frankly, I prefer to leave it just a little unclear.
Those are in my more lucid moments.
In my murkier moments, and there are many, I worry about whether my children (there are four of them, ages 13 down to 6) “like” me — right now.
It’s in those times when the words of another friend help: “So many things your kids don’t understand about how you parent them now, they will see more clearly when they are 30.” Her larger point is that what I’m doing now, for good or ill, will help to develop their 30-year-old selves. That’s why I have to care more about whether my children will like me when they are 30 than when they are 13.
If I end up reversing that equation — wow, have I failed them.
“Train up a child in the way he should go” the Bible says, “and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
“When he is old.” So, even if we parents do all the right things right now — there are still no guarantees (and probably very little likelihood!) that our kids will stop grumbling about taking out the garbage today. It’s all about perseverance over time.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “perseverance” as “persistence in a state, enterprise or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition or discouragement.”
I think that definition should be next to “parenting,” too.
Sometimes, in dealing with my kids when they are being belligerent, or angry or they are just disappointed about something, I will literally close my eyes for a moment and remind myself that parenting is about working to build the right things into my kids over the long term even when it’s hard. It isn’t all about “right now” — that would be to have a pretty shallow impact.
But too many of us moms and dads — myself, too, often included — live in a “now” society. Check out the covers of each month’s parenting magazines. “End tantrums.” “Stop sibling rivalry.” “Create a more grateful child.” Right now.
And when that doesn’t work — well, there’s always next month’s magazines.
Instead, my friend described it to me this way: Good parenting is like water continually washing over a rough rock. It may do it for years with seemingly no impact. But then one day you look closely, and see the rock is in fact smooth — right where those waves had been washing over it all those years.
Look, there are no guarantees that persevering in doing the right things over time will produce fruit in our kids. As parents, we can’t know the outcome. But we parents do have a “job description” for today that offers the best hope for our kids. And I need that encouragement to stick with doing the hard tasks of parenting today — to say “no,” for instance, no matter the “counterinfluences, opposition or discouragement” even when, especially when, I don’t see the fruit in the moment.
Yes, even when my kids are telling me that I’m “as mean as 200 moms.”
In fact, it’s in those moments it helps to remind myself that I’m probably doing something right.
(Betsy Hart hosts the “It Takes a Parent” radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through betsysblog.com.)