Friday, February 20, 2009
I Wanna Be a Mean Parent
When I was a child, my parents were mean. Horribly mean. And, I hope that I will be just as mean as they were.
My parents weren't physically, emotionally, verbally, or psychologically abusive. That's not the kind of "mean" that I'm talking about.
When other kids had Oreos and ice cream for breakfast, we had to have eggs, toast, or cereal. When other kids had Pepsi and chips for lunch, we had sandwiches and carrots. While other kids had pizza and cake for dinner every night, my mean parents gave us healthy meats, potatoes, vegetables, and fruits. My parents were mean when it came to food.
We were required to be clean and wear clean clothes; other kids could wear the same clothes for days. We had to have normal, appropriate haircuts; other kids were allowed to be rebellious with their hair. We had to look “presentable.” Since I'm the oldest of their three children, I didn't have to wear hand-me-down clothes, but my mean parents made my brother and sister wear my old-but-still-good clothes, just to save money for other things like college. Can you imagine?
Our mean parents gave us bedtimes. And we had to stick to them! While other kids got to sleep until noon on the weekends and have no responsibilities, my parents completely disregarded child labor laws and gave us chores to do before we could play. We had to help with the dishes, set the table for meals, and keep our toys picked up. It was like they dreamed up chores for us to do in their sleep! Where did they come with these unreasonable expectations?!
Once we were in school, things got even worse. We had to walk to the bus stop, about a block away, for junior high and high school. Even in the rain and when it was cold. Other kids got to sit in their parents’ fancy car, even on nice days, avoiding the unrestricted socialization with the kids besides us with mean parents.
My brother, sister and I weren't allowed to be "sick" like our friends and miss school. Some other kids could stay home by themselves when they had a headache, hangnail or other critical ailment. Not us. In fact, I can distinctly remember my mother saying "You're not sick, you just have a cold. Get up and go to school." We never got pulled from school to go on vacations. "That's what summers are for," we were told.
They were mean about our grades, too. While other kids celebrated Cs and Ds and just passing classes, my parents accepted nothing less than As and Bs. Somehow they knew that if we got anything less, we weren't really trying. They had us figured out. They were actually involved in our education. They kept tabs on major projects, annoyed us about completing our homework, and constantly asked if we needed help. We were expected to speak properly, and write even better. It was horrible. Come graduation time, none of us were allowed to drop out and we were expected to go to college. Just awful.
Our mean parents made us go to church every week. We couldn't skip and stay home like some other kids. We weren't allowed to wear jeans or shorts and we had to look presentable. We had to pray, participate, and pay attention in our Sunday School classes and during the service. Unlike some of the other kids, we weren't allowed to climb on the pews, make noise, or fall asleep. It was completely unfair.
When we were older, my mean parents insisted on knowing where we were at all times. They had to know where we were going, when we were getting back, and who we were going with. If plans changed, we were required to call. If we were late, we had some explaining to do.
They set rules and boundaries for the three of us. They knew how to say "no" and weren't afraid to do so. Their "no"s were uncompromising and there was no negotiating the standards of behavior that were expected. Even if they didn't totally agree with everything, they worked as an unwavering team to set the bar high and expect the best from us, always.
Somehow, their mean-ness worked. All three of us grew up to be well-adjusted, polite and well-spoken. None of us have been arrested or talk like Valley Girls. We all hold college degrees (one of us, multiple!) and are now successful on our own. They taught us to be tough, smart, and strong. None of us are entitlement-minded or dependent on anyone or anything. We grew up to be honest, God-fearing, and self-motivated. And, we owe it all to our horrendously mean parents.
Now, with a child of my own, I hope to set the same mean standards and expectations. I can only hope to be as mean a parent as they were. I can’t wait to use one of my favorite phrases, “You’re not sick, you just have a cold,” and I can guarantee you that I will be filled with pride when my child finally calls me "mean."
So, if you're reading Mom and Dad, thanks for being so darn mean.