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Are you a mean mom?
Episode 3820th October 2022 • Become A Calm Mama • Darlynn Childress
00:00:00 00:28:57

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The difference between being mean and being firm can be confusing.

A lot of moms think that when they are firm with their children, they are being mean.

For example - when you have one of your kids pulling your other kid’s hair, it’s not mean to say “Stop that. Or Don’t do that. That’s not safe. ” with a firm voice. 

Or when your child is hitting you or spitting on you. It’s not mean to say “No. Don’t hit me. My body stays safe.” 

Moms will say to me “i was so mean. I’m such a terrible mom.”

And I’ll say “tell me what happened” and often as they share the story, they tell me things like i’ve just described. They’ve used a firm voice when their kid was doing something unsafe. Or they set a boundary with their body. Or when they’ve clearly communicated to their child that their behavior doesn’t work.

When your 3 year old is screaming in a restaurant, It’s not mean to take them outside and with a very clear voice say “Screaming in a restaurant isn’t ok. We will go back inside when your body is calm. Let me help you by jumping up and down together.”

When your 8 year old is using swear words, it’s not mean to say “Those words are not ok. You can stay here with us as long as you use kind words”. It’s also not mean to say “Looks like you are using potty words, you can go into the bathroom and say those and come out when you’re ready.”

It’s not mean to let your child know that because they made you late for work 4 times this week you aren’t willing to drive them to the mall on Saturday. 

It’s not mean to leave your 7 year old at home with mom or day when you go to target (even if you promised) if they called you a stupid wicked woman earlier that day.  

It’s not mean to hold a 4 year olds hands when they are hitting you or their sibling. 

It’s not mean to not give your teen their allowance or let them drive the car or buy them a new dress  or tie  for homecoming  if their room is a mess.

  • Using a firm voice isn’t mean.
  • Keeping people safe isn’t mean.
  • Having limits isn’t mean.
  • Enforcing your boundaries isn’t mean.
  • Following through on consequences isn’t mean.

Don’t confuse being firm with being mean. 

Being mean is when you hurt your child’s body. It’s when the moment of holding their arm to protect yourself or others becomes you squeezing too hard, or shoving their body away. 

There might be a moment or many moments when you’ve been physical with your child in a way that crossed a line. Or moments when you’ve called your child a mean name. Or lectured them into shutdown mode. Cornered them with your rage. 

And right now, if you are hearing me say these examples, you might be flooded with shame and guilt. 

The way to get out of that shame and guilt is to talk about these moments. To find out what was going on for you in that moment. To be tender enough with yourself that you can say what you did, and ALSO explore what led up to that moment. You can’t change something if you won’t look at it. 

I want to model this for you. I’m going to share with you - right now- a moment when I was too physical with my child. A moments when instead of being firm, I was mean. And this is are hard to admit. But I also know that when we keep moments like this in the dark, we are strangled by the shame of those moments. We get stuck in that shame of feeling like we are bad and wrong. And being stuck in shame is the opposite of becoming calm. 

Ok, so there was this moment when Lincoln was around 18 months. We were on a camping trip and it was hot and dusty and I was pretty overwhelmed by it. Keeping a baby safe around a fire and with dirt and all of that was hard for me. We hadn’t slept much. It was the morning, and it was just lincoln and I in the tent and he needed a diaper change. While I was changing his diaper, he kicked me in the stomach. I have no idea if it was a hard kick or not, but it hurt. And without a second of pause, I slapped his leg. It was kick/slap. Like that fast. 

And I saw that red handprint on his little leg and I was filled with GUILT. Guilt is a normal emotion and it makes sense to feel it when we do something wrong. When we hurt someone. When we are mean. 

Then, almost immediately, I was flooded with shame. Shame is different from guilt. Guilt says I did something wrong. Shame says there’s something wrong with me. In that moment I was like “I am a terrible mom. I shouldn’t even be a mom, If other moms knew I did this they would hate me. I hate me” Then I catastrophized the moment and made it mean a lot about the future “Im going to fuck up this kid. He’s going to be such a mess. I’m ruining him”. 

In that moment I didn’t admit I needed help. My shame kept me trapped. I didn’t really address my rage. My reactivity. The trauma response I was acting out. 

Let me say a quick note on what I mean by trauma response – As a child I experienced a lot of abuse and neglect. One of my coping strategies was to be hypervigilant and protective of myself to make sure I didn’t get hurt. Those protective strategies worked until I became a mom. Cuz kids hit, they kick, they spit, they scream, they do all sorts of “out of bounds” behaviors because they are young and don’t know any better. They are just acting out all of their feelings and it’s our job to teach them how to act those feelings out in ways that work for everybody. But my brain saw their behaviors as an actual threat to my safety and core identity. So I got bigger, louder, stronger, meaner, colder, hotter - basically I did all sorts of mean things to shut their shit down so I could feel better. 

Was it mean to hit my kid? Yes. It was. But here’s the thing. We have to talk about the mean things in order to get help to change. If shame would have kept me stuck, I would have stayed in the “i’m a mean mom” story, 

I would never have learned how to be a calm mama. 

I didn’t get help with my rage until Lincoln was 4. And even then, it took me a few years before I was able to regularly stop being mean with my body. 

 It has taken me longer to stop being mean with my mouth. 

Being mean with your mouth is when you personalize your kid’s behavior or mistakes and say something about them as a person.

What is wrong with you? You always do this. People aren’t going to like you if you do things like this. You’re mean. You’re a liar. You never change. Keep eating like that and you’re going to be fat. Don’t be a cry baby.

You get the point. I don’t want to go too far with these, because it feels awful to hear them.

Lectures are often mean.

Insults are mean.

Name calling is mean.

Physical aggression is mean.

Threats are mean.

Sometimes rescuing your kid from a mistake is mean…

If you are in a pattern of being mean, the first thing you want to do is admit it to someone. Either to your partner, your sister, your best friend. Or book a complimentary session with me and we can talk about it. That’s the reason I started working as a parent coach. To help you understand WHY you act the way you do, and get tools to change. And to help you understand WHY your kids act the way they do, and get tools to teach them.

As I’ve done this work over the past 10 years, I’ve learned just how valuable it is to un-shame our experiences as moms in a community. With other moms who are healing and learning and growing alongside of you. 

So here’s your takeaway for this week.

When you have the thought – I’m so mean,  Look at what you actually said or did. Maybe you were being firm? Maybe you were being very clear with your limits and boundaries? Maybe your child needed to experience the impact of their behavior and choices so you followed through on your consequences. 

If you think good-ole parenting and being the leader in your family is MEAN, your kids will definitely pick up on that energy. They will decide that there aren’t any grown ups around and maybe they should be in charge. They won’t know when the rules matter and when they don’t. Then you’ll feel super frustrated that they don’t follow your rules or keep within your boundaries, and you might slip into meanness in order to get back control.

The best thing you can do is find your firm, strong, leadership voice as a mom. Get clear on what is and what is not allowed in your family. Be firm, without being harsh. 

I’ll leave you with this quote from one of my clients who said “Firm limits are the shortcut to the behavior you want without making your kid feel like shit in the process”. Yep. Firm, but not mean. You’ve got this. Have a great week.  

Free Resources:

Get your copy of the Stop Yelling Cheat Sheet at

In this free guide you’ll discover:

✨ A simple tool to stop yelling once you’ve started (This one thing will get you calm.)

✨ 40 things to do instead of yelling. (You only need to pick one!)

✨ Exactly why you yell. (And how to stop yourself from starting.)

✨A script to say to your kids when you yell. (So they don't follow you around!)

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