The Rules

This is what I actually think about mean moms. I excavated this post from my unpublished archives (of which I have several). Thank you for the birthday wishes. I was all set to be grouchy at my kids for treating me badly one day and marvellously the next, but unfortunately, I loved it. They’re awesome. And so was my birthday.

There were lots of rules for how to be a good kid, back when I was a kid:

Get permission first
Finish what’s on your plate
Play fair
Don’t tattle
Include all the other children
Don’t talk to strangers
Don’t talk with your mouth full
Don’t talk in church
In fact it’s better if you don’t speak at all, Peregrin Took
Pick up your clothes after you change them
Keep your elbows off the table
And never do not ever sass a grownup.

That’s only the beginning. I could go on.

There were not a lot of rules for how to be a good mom, as far as I can tell. I think it was basically

Feed them sometimes

as one online meme said, and maybe

Don’t let them get kidnapped.

I find it interesting that the world has flipped since those days, and while there are millions of rules for being a “good mom,” everything from the right fats to the best schools to 24/7 availability, positive affirmation, and unlimited patience, there aren’t any rules for kids. In truth, we have become uncomfortable with “good” as a stated standard for people under the age of eighteen. The alternative would be “bad,” right? And who would call their kid that?

Sometimes I think that in our postmodern laying off of All Those Rules, we’ve forgotten that there are some. Now we’re all grace-filled everything with a side of chocolate, and laying down our idols of perfectly-behaved kids – and I’m for it, I guess, with this caveat: it doesn’t mean we lay down all their behavior training.

Several years ago, I read a story by a Christian writer/mom in which she spoke of her son leaving home for college. She was emotional, understandably, on the edge of letting him fend for himself in the world, and looking back with fondness and regret. She wished she had done more for him, been more. She said, “He should never have seen me without a smile on my face.”

{Cough.} I know I’m old-school, but I can’t agree.

When my baby gets into the kitty litter for the fifteenth time or my son tells mean stories on the school bus or my little girl shoves her best friend (and no, I did not make these stories up), they do not need to see a smile on my face. They need to see a mom displeased.

Is it still okay to be displeased?

Maybe the writer only meant she should have smiled more, and goodness knows I need that. But what she said was every time he saw her – and I’m sorry, but that’s creating a false impression of motherhood. I think of this when the moms-who-are-done-with-the-busy-stage look back and sigh, and say, “I just wish I had held them more,” “I wish I had let the housekeeping go,” and “Just enjoy them while they’re little.” I want to say “Yes ma’am, I am doing a few of those things. But I’m also teaching them to clean up after themselves and sort laundry and be responsible citizens, like you did. Thanks for supporting me.”

Being a mother is hard work. Not only because of the keeping my temper part and the loving them when they’re unlovely part and the wiping up pee for the twenty-ninth time part, but because it is my job to set the moral compass of tomorrow’s adults, and to shape their response to authority – to keep that smile inside when they’re being bad* and teach them that I said no and help them learn to do right. Again and again. Even when it doesn’t feel like it’s working.

*Yes, I did say being bad. It’s not cute anymore when they’re teenagers.

As my children grow, they will encounter guidelines in other forms. It will not serve them to believe their obedience is only required when the authority pulls off the perfect tone, timing, and facial expression.

There are rules about these things, and they apply to kiddos too.


“Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” Prov 20:11

I understand there are two kinds of moms in the world: those who tend to slant their children’s behavior up (“Because they meant well, I’m sure!”) and those who tend to slant their children’s behavior down (“Because who knows what else they were into!”). Theoretically there is a third kind of mom, who doesn’t slant at all; but I’ve never been her. Which kind of mom are you? Do you know? Or does it depend on which child we’re discussing?

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5 years ago

I really try to believe the best about my children while knowing they are sinners and capable of anything bad. I love how you put real life into words. Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 KJV

5 years ago

I agree with your thoughts. Our last child just left home and I am introspective, thoughtful, pondering. We did our best but I’m the first to declare it wasn’t perfect. It was worth it, though.

5 years ago

Yes! Thank you!
And sadly, I’m afraid my slanting upward or downward DOES depend partly on which child we’re talking about.

5 years ago

I’ve thought long and hard on this subject n I’m grateful you’ve addressed it. Considering God is the perfect parent, I think we do well to consider His love, mercy and favor, while not abandoning the aspect of His correction, His utter hatred of sin and His commitment to our holiness.

You are a wise, wise woman and a forward-thinking mommy who is shaping children who are already more than just contributing citizens. I hope you know this.

5 years ago

I love the picture you chose as header for this post! Those toes and that little band-aid are super cute. I’m am not a weepy person, but looking at little hands and toes will almost do it for me. As for the slant, I think it depends on who I’m talking to…hypocritical, I know!

5 years ago

I’m not sure what kind of mom I am. My girls are all grown now. Maybe I was a bit of all three types of mom. I know most of the time I didn’t let them get away with bad behavior. My daughters reminded me that I banned most tv shows geared for kids because the shows were disgusting. This is a interesting discussion.

5 years ago

Thank you for these thoughts. I’d like to think I’m somewhere between the two types of mom you described. I will freely admit my children’s imperfections, but am definitely relationship and grace-oriented. I have to work at consistency and decisiveness.

Rachel Shenk
5 years ago

Wow, VERY good post. And thank you! I must say I have found it somewhat burdensome to keep hearing those who say, “I just wish I had held them more,” “I wish I had let the housekeeping go,” and “Just enjoy them while they’re little.” I know they mean well and they obviously have their regrets, but how do they know how much I am ALREADY doing all that? Its setting a bar, but there’s no proper measurement. Its like a bar graph thats missing one axis. Its always just “MORE”. And the mom who already is too lenient, should not follow that advice!
As for being displeased, yes! They do need to see displeasure. Both my hubby and I tend to be very demanding of efficiency and quality, so I think we probably need to take a chill pill sometimes. However, I hope giving affirmation and praise in an equal dose serves to keep things balanced. Dont know…its always the balancing act! I guess Ill know for sure in 30 years! =)

5 years ago

We are in the middle with some adult children and a few in the “still learning” stage. I still flip-flop between panic that they will turn into one of those extremely sloppy hoarders (take a look under their bed) or that I should just chill. I see that our first couple turned out fine and are good parents to some fine grandchildren–so maybe I can parent after all. It is definitely a job that takes prayer. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only mom that hates the mess hot chocolate brings (previous post).

5 years ago

very good thoughts. I guess I’m surprised as an older parent how mentally I may have bought into the post modern thought, in looking back, such as, did I hold the enough, did i spend enough, was I enough?? And I think as older and younger parents, we need each other! We need to bear with each other, those in the trenches and those who look back wistfully. But also that always present reminder that its always about Jesus, not our perfection or lack of it, we aren’t perfect but He is and he longs to be enough for us and our children!

[…] year and spend more time with people instead? Tending well to our responsibilities is important. Teaching our children to work is important. But I have never met an old woman who says, “I just wish I had spent more time with […]

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