Thursday Thoughts: Why I'm Proud To Be A Jerk Mom
Recently I read a great post on AiringMyLaundry.com, which was titled "Why I Won't Co-Sleep," and which was so relatable I couldn't help laughing. It was similar to another (more recent) post on the same site, titled, "I'm A Butthole Wife (Sometimes)," which also had me giggling to myself as I read.
I loved the honesty in both posts, and the way each one said, "I am who I am, this is what works for me, and I go with what works for me." It was just so self-accepting, and such a secure way of saying, "I have boundaries, and I expect other people to respect them."
As a woman who has struggled with setting solid boundaries in the past, and who has struggled greatly with defending my boundaries even when I have managed to set them, these two posts RESONATED in me in such a deep way. I loved the way Amber wrote about her willingness to be "a butthole wife" - especially if it meant letting her husband know that being his houseWIFE didn't mean she was okay with being his houseMAID:
"... that I should be grateful that he'd rather spend time with me than pick up his socks. He picked people over dirty socks. Yay me! No. I'm sorry, but no. He's a grown man with hands. Socks belong in the hamper. It's not rocket science. So I would complain ..."
I also loved the way she stands up for her own personal time and her own personal space with her kids, letting them know that she's a person too, and that being a person comes part and parcel with certain needs for time and space - and uninterrupted sleep:
"I wanna sleep with you, Mommy."
"Well, I want to weight 20 pounds less but I like food too much and it's not going to happen. We don't always get what we want."
This is something I wish hadn't been so hard for me throughout the course of my life. I wish I hadn't gone back after leaving my ex-husband the first time, because it was so painful when someone I loved and respected was disappointed in me for "quitting" my marriage to an addict who had endangered our family. I wish it hadn't hurt so much to have that same person tell me how disappointed they were that I went back to my husband - because I "didn't stick up for myself."
I wish I hadn't had to cut ties with that person, because I still miss them everyday even though I have accepted that I can NEVER please them.
But there were good things that came out of that, too - I learned that you truly "can't please all the people all the time" - and that lesson thickened my skin, preparing me for:
- life as an author, where even though the majority of reviews on my novels are good, there is an occasional one that hits me hard in the emotions. I might have quit a long time ago if I hadn't learned to be okay with not being able to please everyone I encounter.
- the end of an abusive relationship that stole my self-confidence and my sense of independence, little by little, in the sneakiest of ways, until I realized with sudden shame that I had become hardly more than a helpless toddler living in a grown woman's body. Who knows who I might have become if I hadn't had that thick skin, that bit of fire, that strength of will that helped me fight back until he realized I was no longer a suitable target? (That relationship, its duration, and its end, helped to finally spark the complex-PTSD that I live with today. I asked my therapist once how I lived through so much in my life and this one thing sent me spiraling, and she said sometimes it just takes that last straw to set it off.)
- the scaling back of a friendship that was hurting me, with a person who didn't and couldn't believe in me. I feel the loss of that person every day too - but I also hear the echo of their voice, scoffing, speaking their doubts into my future.
- motherhood. This job is 100% worth doing about 95% of the time, but it's the hardest thing I've ever done in all my life. I have often been known to say things like, "Man, if I needed to get my self-confidence from the feedback in this family, I wouldn't have any at all!" Because kids, by their youthful and animalistic nature, are self-centered little buggers to the very last atom of their being. Which is why I'm so proud to be a jerk mom.
It's not that I'm impossible to please, or that I set an impossible standard to achieve. I'm just as likely to praise a low C as a high A on a report card, depending on what I really think my kid is capable of - although I'm happy my kids are naturally pretty smart (which is a total fluke, since they obviously did NOT get it from either of their parents). I'm also just as likely to tell my daughter that she can be a model, or an astronaut, or a teacher (or an author?) - if she's willing to put in the work and accept that EVERY career option has it's drawbacks.
But ... I did tell my teen that modeling probably wasn't for her, because having to starve herself into a size zero would shatter her quality of life. She's naturally pretty svelte but she loves food, and if she had to live on the kind of diet models are rumored to be expected to eat ... well, let's just say I recommended other career options that allow food.
I know right? What a jerk mom! I'm supposed to be telling her she can be anything she wants to be, right? And that the rest of the world has to sit back and hush up and let it happen, because she's special?
But the thing is ... she's not special. Not to the fast food manager who is probably going to be her first employer. He (or she) will know that teenagers are a dime a dozen, and that there's any number of them out there looking for a job so they can get the newest phone/shoes/clothes/car that everyone else has and BE COOL. That person will not think my daughter is special just because I do. And I'm not going to teach her otherwise, because her second boss won't think she's special either. Niether will her third boss, or any of her college professors. To them, she'll just be another person making their way in the world - and the world doesn't coddle sissies.
I'm also a jerk mom in other despicable ways, too:
- I make my kids (yep, both of them) earn time with their electronics. If they go to bed on time on Monday night, they get their electronics for one hour on Tuesday afternoon. If they ALSO get up Tuesday morning and get ready for school on time and without arguing, they get their electronics the whole afternoon. On weekends, the adjustment is that if they go to bed without a fuss (because bedtime is a bit lax on the weekends, but the bedtime stall tactics are not), then they get electronics for two hours the following day, and if they ALSO read quietly in bed until I wake up on my own (just because they don't sleep in doesn't mean I shouldn't, right?), then they get electronics for the whole day.
- How many of you caught that part about going to bed on time? Yes, my kids have a bedtime - even the teen. Bedtime for both kids is 7 PM on school nights, with one hour for quiet reading and/or music before lights-out at 8 PM. This usually has Eden asleep by 8:15 and Joey asleep by 8:30, which allows them to soak up the beauty rest until I wake them at 6 AM, at which time they both get up RESTED because I, as a jerk mom, made them go to bed at a decent hour. This also works out for me, as a selfish mom, because I'm also a single mom, and those quiet evening hours between 8 and 10 belong to me. Alone. Period. And before anyone starts going nuts in the comments about how that's SO MUCH SLEEP ... rest assured, I have adjusted bedtime often over the years, accounting for my observation of when my children wake up on their own in relation to what time they went to bed. Bedtime is set according to their own personal sleep hours - just because I'm the adult who enforces it doesn't mean I just do it because I feel like it.
- I make them clean up, too. Every day, each child is expected to make her bed. Not in the mornings, because apparently, making your bed is bad for you because it traps allergens and skin cells under the sheets or something, but because chores are good and because it's nice slipping into a well-made bed. Also, I wanted my kids to know how to make a bed, and you learn skills by practicing them. So part of our nightly routine is to make beds before getting in them.
- They also have laundry chores. Josephine is responsible for folding and putting her own laundry away. All of it. And I do not step in to do it for her. Eden's job is to sort the clean laundry into baskets according to who the clothes belong to, so that I can fold and put mine and hers away. She also pulls her own socks and panties out of her basket, folds her panties and puts them away, and puts her socks in the sock-box in her drawer. Occasionally, without being asked, she will also fold all of her pants - but she leaves the shirts for me because I'm such a weirdo on how they get folded (to prevent wrinkles).
After many years of being raised by a jerk mom, my children are familiar with "the mom look," which usually stops them misbehaving within seconds (unless we're at home, where their sense of safety overrides their fear of being embarrassed by public discipline).
For instance, they would never do anything like this:
because it would make me do this:
and then this would happen:
and since I'm such a jerk, we'd probably come directly to this:
after which my kids would:
Because sometimes, you just gotta be a jerk mom to get the job done.
I'm okay with being a jerk mom because it means I care about how my kids turn out - and my kids know and acknowledge what that will mean for their potential in the future. Josephine has already come home from school many times, telling me stories about kids she knows who are allowed to drink and smoke, who spend time alone unsupervised with boys, who are already dating, who are allowed to dress immodestly. She tells me these stories with a mixture of shock and awe - and she always ends the story by thanking me for caring enough to protect her from herself. This almost always trickles down to Eden too, who tends to observe these stories with sadness and empathy for the kids Joey talks about at home - after which, she comes to hug me and thank me for being "the kind of mom who makes us listen and be good little kids."
Maybe it's because Joey's pretty mature for a kid of just thirteen, and maybe she would have ended up this way anyhow. Maybe Eden doesn't need my influence to be a rule-follower or a respectful person, and maybe she doesn't need Joey's influence to see the good side of having a jerk mom. But maybe, just maybe, it's because for all their lives, they've been taught with a generally loving hand, guided by a generally thoughtful teacher, and now and then, set in place by a generally jerk mom.
In other news: My grandma came through her surgery and is now recovering. Broken hips are a challenge though, and healing from surgery is rough even for the young and healthy. We're still watchful.
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Related posts - lest you should leave here today thinking anything other than that I adore my children:
- Here are a couple of poems I wrote for Josephine and Eden a few years ago.
- And here's one I wrote about motherhood and the way it changes the women who undertake it.
Questions for the Comments Section:
- Did you have a jerk mom? What was the most jerk-like thing she did that you're now grateful for?
- Are you (or were you) a jerk mom to your kids? How do they feel about it today?