Last night, my Number One Son informed me that I am meaner than the mom on “Malcolm in the Middle”. I didn’t argue the point. He’s right. If you have ever seen the show, you know she’s a hard-assed, take-no-crap control freak who may or may not have been modeled after me, and frankly, I was almost flattered. In case you’re wondering, no, it doesn’t hurt my feelings that my son thinks I’m mean. I love him, protect him, encourage him, brag about him, and he wants for nothing. (Well, he does want a lava lamp that I vetoed because I think it’s a fire hazard...) I try to be the best mother I can be for him, but that’s just it: I’m his mother, not his buddy. There seems to have been a shift in parental roles from that of an authority figure and leader to that of playmate and best pal, and I’m having none of it.
I was recently reading an article written by a child psychologist who speculated that a dad who high fives his kids or plays with them every day diminishes his role as an authority figure by putting himself on the same level as the children. He said that kids don’t need a thirty or forty year old buddy. They need a leader, and I have to agree. When I was young, there were never any parents in the back yard playing games with the kids. My parents certainly never played with me. They were always inside engaging in those mysterious adult activities such as balancing the checkbook, cooking dinner, or watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”. Honestly, we didn’t want our parents out there with us. How would we have executed our clandestine trips to the Seven Eleven for Pop Rocks and Hubba Bubba if we were under the watchful eyes of our mommies?
I think my generation bought a one way ticket for a guilt trip to Spoiled Rotten Kidville. Is it because so many households these days have both parents working, and the kids are in someone else’s care all day? Is it the pressure to make sure little Dakota never gets his feelings hurt or that Katelyn never spends one moment feeling bored? I look at it this way: if my kids never think I’m mean, then I must be doing something wrong. I expect them to get mad when I make them go to bed early. I expect them to balk when I instruct them to clean their rooms before playing. If my kids didn’t complain when I told them to empty the dishwasher, I’d be suspicious. It’s in their nature to test you, but it's in your best interest to avoid becoming a doormat. I have a friend whose children are banned from ever entering the parents’ bed room. It’s called boundaries, a nearly extinct idea.
I know it’s disappointing to my children when they want me to play badminton, and I tell them “no” because I have to go inside to send the mortgage and utility payments. They are too young to understand that they aren’t even going to have a backyard to play in if I don’t successfully manage my adult responsibilities. But, guess what? I don’t owe them an explanation anyway. I don’t have to negotiate with them or explain myself like I see so many parents doing these days. Until they are able to pay their own way, I’m the boss. Period. If I spend every afternoon playing with Barbies, the dogs are going to get hungry and the laundry will most certainly become an unruly mountain of ripe underwear and socks. Plus, I want my kids to develop healthy relationships with kids their age, use their imaginations and not look to me for entertainment.
I’m all for loving, hugging and giving pats on the back (and even a high five now and then.). I’m all for a family game of Monopoly or I Spy. What I’m not all for is my kids believing that they are welcome to disregard my authority because they don’t see me as anything more than a taller, somewhat wrinkly playmate. I’m truly afraid that my generation, Generation X, will turn out a society of whiny, disrespectful, ill-behaved slackers. And if the cast of “Jersey Shore” is any indication, then we can just jump into the hand basket now because I think we all know where we’re heading…