It happened at the dinner table when Cricket –after she had already watched two episodes of Dragon Tales – pleaded for another one. I kept saying no. When she asked me the fourth time for "just one more; I super promise I won't ask for another one; please, Mom, please, Mom, PA-LEEEEEEEESE," I had to turn away, open the refrigerator door and unleash a chuckle onto the yogurt. The pathos was just too over the top. I held my ground and dispassionately replied, “The TV is off for the night.” That’s when, for the first time ever, she spewed that inevitable and vitriolic phrase, "You're so mean!"
The consensus is that I should be proud of reaching the Mean Mom Milestone, which was bound to happen as surely as teething and tantrums. Apparently, I sailed through it like a seasoned professional. Take, for example, my Facebook comments:
· Congratulations! You must be doing a good job!
· Welcome to Motherhood!
· Comes earlier than expected doesn't it? You did the right thing.
· Brace yourself - "I hate you" follow close behind.
I should have expected these responses since my Facebook status had in fact read, "I am to be congratulated for today I have achieved a milestone of motherhood: my daughter told me I was mean!" I, too, thought that being called mean proved that I was doing a great job, unyielding when bombarded by the dreaded Preschooler Whine.
At the time of the Mean Mom Comment, I crowed like a peacock, calling both my husband and mother to boast. But in the quiet of the evening after Cricket was asleep, her words resounded and stung. How could she call me mean? I pouted. Hadn't I driven two hours for a beach play-date when we live a three-minute walk from the beach? Haven't I willingly cupped her bodily fluids in my hands as they flowed simultaneously from every orifice? I was sad and angry and bewildered. I searched my Facebook comments in vain for a hint or a suggestion for swallowing this bittersweet pill.
After the dichotomous mélange of pride and distress had subsided, I was left with one thought: Why did I think our tête-à-tête was inevitable? How, when and why did the belief first enter my head that my daughter would undoubtedly call me mean? It’s baffling since I don't recall ever slamming a door in my mother’s face or telling her that she was the meanest mom ever. I don’t recall ever having had an argument with her at all. Why, then, did I assume that this moment would come for me? With every new question that night, I felt the foundation of my parenting philosophy slip away like a house built on quicksand. Finally.
I’m beginning to think there’s a collective consciousness among mothers –one in which I’ve somehow gained admission – in which clichés and stereotypes of raising kids are perpetuated, and therefore have become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we’re steeling ourselves for the terrible twos the tantrums will come. If we’re waiting for the moment our teenage daughter climbs out her bedroom window, she probably will.
Perhaps by preparing for these things we are willing them into fruition. Haven't we been inundated with this mindset in all aspects of our lives and from a wide variety of sources? The main tenet of that new age self-help book The Secret is that we attract whatever is going on in our mind. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that as a man thinks, so he is. Isn't this the same idea behind if you build it they will come from The Field of Dreams?
And, it seems, we do the same thing in parenting. Through folklore, fables and old wives' tales, we are warned about the challenges of every stage of child, and we seem to accept these things without challenging their validity. A quick glance at child-rearing books proves this:
· Your Marriage Can Survive a Newborn – Warning! Your 7-pound baby seeks to destroy your relationship!
· Toilet Training Without Tears and Trauma –Peeing in the potty can send you and your child to psychotherapy!
· Deceptively Delicious –Thinking about serving up those peas? Don't even bother; children are born with an aversion to green food!
· Parenting the Strong-Willed Child: Birth Through Adolescence –Lay in wait! Get them before they get you!
· Yes, Your Teen is Crazy –Accept it; prepare for it.
I know; I know. Child-development experts have empirical date to prove that our children will go through stages of growth –cognitive, emotional, social, etc. –in which they will test us, exert their independence and rebel against authority in an effort to build their identity. It’s normal, we’re told. But are the slammed doors and I-hate-you’s really inevitable? Is there an inherent adversarial relationship between parent and child for which we need to be proactive and on guard? I'm beginning to think not.
Cricket’s Mean Mom Comment was right on target: I have, in a sense, been mean. I’ve been laying in wait, assuming that she will loathe me at one point in her life. And maybe she will. But I’m no longer going to assume it will happen and prepare for it and other negative stereotypes. I’ll always remember My Mean Mom Milestone not as the time she stooped to my low expectations but as the time in which I jumped off this collective consciousness roller coaster and start taking things as they come. Maybe you'll call this my Naïve Mom Milestone, but it's what I'm going with for a while.