Sometimes I’m Mean-Mean Mommy… But That’s Actually Okay

My mother-in-law always described the dynamic in my husband’s house when he was growing up, as “mean-mean mommy and fun-fun Daddy.” I don’t think I have to do too much explaining about what she meant here. And it often seems true of my household, too. I think it might be common in many homes for Dad to be the “fun” one, and for Mom to be the one who enforces the rules, but I don’t want to make any generalizations, so I can only speak to my own experience. (If anyone else wants to share their own thoughts on this, thereby giving me something to generalize about, as well as making me feel like I’m not alone on this one, please share them!)

Usually, I try to avoid this dynamic, because it feels really sucky to be in. It’s not fun to be the mean role, obviously. But it often seems like it’s just what I’m destined to do: I’m the one who pays attention to the clock when we’re at the park and enforces our departure, and I’m the one who urges us to get dinner started a little bit earlier, rather than just allowing the toddler to have a few (more) chips since he’s hungry now, to give just two examples.

I know that a good deal of this dynamic has simply carried over from our relationship before kids. I’ve always been more of the “manager” in our lives. But the end result of this is that it’s easy to feel like I’m the mean one, and my co-parent is the fun one.

Tonight, it was a bedtime crisis. It was our son’s 2nd birthday today, and we decided to try putting him in a big boy bed instead of in his crib. Without going into all the details, what ended up happening was me sitting in the rocking chair in our son’s bedroom, holding him close and reading him a quiet, sleepy story while he wailed in my arms. (Without, miraculously, waking the sleeping infant in the same room.) We’re talking rigid spine, kicking feet, and super sweaty hair (you know exactly what I’m talking about if you’ve ever helped a toddler through a tantrum). The kind of hysterical crying one can’t help but fall asleep at the end of. Throughout our ordeal, he frequently called for Dad. And I know why. In such situations, Daddy seems more understanding (read: offers more options and engages in more conversation), while I operate like a steadfast tin soldier: I try to exude a mix of gentle calm but immovable confidence as I simply repeat my line that it’s time to do whatever I’ve said and that everything is okay, over and over again.

It feels really mean. It would feel a lot nicer to agree to get Daddy instead, or to offer to lay down with him so he doesn’t have to go to sleep by himself (even though he’s been doing so every night without issue for many months), or to compromise by turning on the bedroom light and letting him play more with his trains on the floor, or allowing him to extend bedtime with another bottle. But instead I stick it out, hold firm to the line I have drawn for him.

And though it feels shitty in the moment, when my kid has stopped tantrumming about whatever it is he’s screaming over, I feel like I’ve taught him something valuable for future. Maybe he’ll accept next time that it really is bedtime, and decide the tantrum isn’t worth it before he even starts. More importantly, I’ve given him some reassurance in his world. Reassurance that Mom actually does know what she’s doing, and in the end, she was right: everything is okay. Most of all, I hope I’ve given him some comfort. Comfort that no matter how upset he gets, Mom remains by his side, a calm force of love surrounding him and seeing him through those awful feelings, even when the problem he sees doesn’t disappear, and even if moments before that love seemed like a horrible barrier to his desires and will.

So even though it sucks to be mean-mean mommy, I think someone has to do it. And I’m okay with that being me… some of the time.

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7 Comments

  1. Leslie Pizzanelli says:

    You’re not alone!!! Before we had a baby, my husband called me “Taskmaster”. A special role that I knew I had no choice but to fill if our lives were going to have any semblance of order or efficiency. My husband is very laid back and I’m an over anxious planner. Sometimes we don’t understand one another.

    Though I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything, I can’t help but feel that being home on maternity leave only helped to perpetuate this division of roles in my family. Being with our child 24/7, I quickly became the authority in his eyes (definitely not my own) who knew what needed to be done when and how to do it. While this job took up all of my time, I think he felt free to settle into a more laid back role with our daughter.

    I try hard to enjoy as much fun with her as I can, but the reality of it is that if I don’t keep my job as Taskmaster, important things won’t get done because everyone is now relying on me in that position. I agree that someone needs to do it and yeah, it often feels shitty in the moment. But the total payoff is much more rewarding. It’s all fun and games until someone starts crying, and when that happens, come to mom. She’ll know what to do!
    You’re doing great, mama! Keep up the good work 🙂

    Like

    • I think it is especially difficult not to fall into this role, as you say, because in being on maternity leave, you may become the ‘authority’ on your child/parenting, which adds a level of ultimate accountability to your actions that maybe your partner doesn’t experience. (Though at the same time, I have always found that I get the responsibility of being the authority, but not the deference when we disagree, which doesn’t seem fair! *grumble, grumble*)

      I can definitely already see that the payoff is worth it, even though my oldest one is only two! Because when he throws a tantrum or whines, these behaviours end more quickly for me than they do for fun-fun Daddy… 😉

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  2. Marianne says:

    Even it is not totally funny, you made me smile! I can totally relate to your story, Lindsay! There has been quite a few moments of conflict in our family life when I have said I was sick and tired of being the “bad cop” and the CEO of our family… It can get really heavy, especially that feeling that things will fall apart if we let go. However I must say that over the years (10 now soon with Lila!!), many discussions (and arguments! not pleasant ones at that…), we have found a balance. I do recognize that I can be over-controlling, wanting things to be done my way and even though I am still far from being perfect I have tried to chill out and accept that the same result might be achieved in a different method. At the same time, my better half has really taken on his responsibilities of being firmer, better with timing and organization. I guess we have come to an agreement on a common style of parenting but it took a while. I am still the more organized one but it does not feel unfair any more and things get solved and discussed more peacefully. I am now sometimes the mean-mean mommy but only some of the time! And you are totally right in saying that that job has to be done. It is an exhausting one as we need to be consistent and coherent ALL the time but I think that once the kids get older and they navigate life with natural boundaries you do feel it was worth it! Hang in there!

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    • Thanks, Marianne! It’s really good to know from someone who has more years of co-parenting experience that it is possible to work out these sorts of balances down the road! Having been with my partner for almost fifteen years, you would think that we could have worked those out already, but kidless life is so different from parenting life that sometimes it seems we’re starting from square one on some of those imbalances!
      It’s hard, too, once you’ve taken on and internalized (as Leslie said) the Taskmaster role: you might morph into being controlling *because* it feels like there is so much at stake, which makes it both more important and more difficult to try to not be controlling or require things to be done your way. It’s quite the trap! You hang in there, too! 🙂

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    • It really does feel that way sometimes, like they get all the fun. I just was saying to my husband tonight that I would love the luxury of being able to make the ‘poor’ choice to stay up later than is good for me, knowing that I might get to sleep in the next morning should my partner choose to let me… breastfeeding a 3-month-old simply doesn’t allow for that! Hopefully our roles won’t be so set by the time he’s weaned that I can sometimes be the one to stay up late and get to sleep in 🙂

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      • gibbo1983 says:

        I bottle fed which made it a little easier for dan to actually muck in but it does make me laugh how the men think theyve done u a huge favor bu getting up with them maybe one morning in a month.

        Liked by 1 person

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