Posted: May 21st, 2012

The Meanest Mom in the World

By, Fr. Mark Sietsema

Thoughts for Mother’s Day 2012

We live in a time when people write books and go on talk shows to tell all about their lives, including the not-so-nice parts of their childhood.  So it is not entirely out of place for me to divulge something to all of you.  When I was growing up … I had the Meanest Mom in the World.

I know this comes as a shock to those who have met her. It would not surprise her, though, to hear me say this, since my siblings and I told her more than once when we were kids.  This knowledge didn’t seem to bother her; in fact, she even said it about herself!

At mealtime, I was perfectly willing to have seconds on meat and more potatoes and gravy.  But she insisted that we had to try the vegetables each and every time.  It’s irrelevant that now, as a grown-up, I now enjoy Brussels sprouts and asparagus. When I was a kid, I hated them, and it was just plain mean to make me keep trying them again and again, like that was ever going to get me to like them.

At school the other kids wore Levi’s jeans.  When she finally let us wear jeans to school (because for a while she wasn’t sure they were “appropriate”), what did we wear?  Sears Toughskins.  Why? “It’s a waste of money to pay more for a piece of denim just because it had a different tag on it.” Which might have made fiscal sense … though not to the other kids at school, who always let us know that there was a big difference in brands.

Then, when we came home, we had chores.  Mom made us dust and vacuum and wash the dishes, like we had nothing else important to do.  I even had to learn how to cook meals and handle the laundry.  It’s as if she was preparing me to go off and live on my own, which eventually, of course, I did because of all the meanness.

As a kid, I figured out that sometimes quitting is the best option.  But my mom never came around to that point of view.  My Rocket League baseball coach was less interested in teaching boys how to play the game and more interested in winning.  So he stuck me in left field and he shook his head in disgust when I struck out again and again.  I wanted to quit mid-season, but Mom said we had to follow through on our commitments, whether we liked it or not.  And so I stayed on the team to the end of the season.

You know, in retrospect I think my Mom cared less about whether we kids were happy and more about whether we were doing the right thing.  Because of her we wrote thank you notes for gifts that we weren’t thankful for.  We went to church every week—even in the summer!—and we had to take part in all the goofy Sunday School activities.  If we ever got a little money, we had to put some in the collection plate and most of the rest in our savings account.

It couldn’t have been easy being mean all the time.  Now that I am a parent, I know how hard it is to say “No” to your kids: first of all, because you want them to like you, and secondly, because once you say “Yes,” they stop bugging you and let you get back to reading the paper.  So I have to give my Mom credit for her iron willpower in staying so consistently mean to four kids equally for so many years.  That’s an accomplishment, and I do recognize it.

My wife is now vying for the title of Meanest Mom in the World.  I have to say, she’s a strong contender.  When the boys were going through the “Terrible Twos,” saying NO! to everything, I wondered why she wanted sympathy.  Who, I ask you, do you think they learned that word from?  Only one very mean mother!

I think to claim the title of Meanest Mom you have to have one key characteristic or you’ll never make it.  You have to love your children so much that you don’t care if they say they hate you, … or even care if they really do hate you—so long as your rules help them to be safe and healthy and thoughtful and (in the long run) independent, self-sufficient adults who have the gumption to be equally mean to your grandkids.

To be honest, now that I am older, I feel sorry for the kids who didn’t have such a mean Mom saying No to them all the time.  Because of my Mom, I learned to say No to myself: No to cutting class, No to blowing off homework, No to calling in sick when I wasn’t, No to taking things that didn’t belong to me.

And for her Mother’s Day gift this year, I am going to do this for my Mom: I’m going to floss my teeth, wash my dishes, hang up my clothes, take off my muddy shoes before I go in the house, and not ruin my appetite with snacks between meals.  And look, here I am in church, too! I hope that makes her happy.

I guess I’m happy too; at least as happy as a guy can be who had such a mean Mom. And so to all you mean mothers and grandmothers and godmothers who say No to the ones you love, this day’s for you.  God bless you and keep you and give you many more years to tell us what we don’t want to hear. We’ll never admit it, but we really are very grateful to you after all. So thank you!  And we love you!

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