The battle hymn of the "bully mother"
Using "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," as a jumping off point, we can finally challenge some fond assumptions of educators and parents that have gotten us into trouble in the past 30 years. The assumption that self-esteem can be promoted by indiscriminate reward needs to go. Lowering expectations as a way to insure success has been counterproductive—that should go as well, as should the notion that repetition has no place in learning. Amy Chua has correctly pointed out that the “American parents”—note the quotations—may have swung a bit too far toward the permissive side for our own good.
But let’s talk about ‘Tiger Mom’ vs. ‘American Mom’ vs. ‘immigrant mom’ this business of putting quotations around the people instead of looking at the people. Joyce Antler warned in her blog post that slapping labels on types of mothers can be very dangerous. It can lead to some hard feelings.
This recently happened to me.
A casual friend of mine started a thread on Facebook recently. She was 'threatened' by the woman organizing one of her children’s soccer teams, and plaintively asked: "What about the bully mothers, the ones that try to strong-arm you into coming to a meeting on Saturday night, and then threaten you for not volunteering?" Within half an hour, six of her friends also posted on her thread.
I was home doing a fairly dull project, so I checked what was posted.
Apparently, many of this woman's friends had met the dreaded "bully mother," and they all had something to say about her. They chimed in to commiserate, to offer strategy on how to handle the bullying mom, and to speculate on the pathology that develops when small minds get drunk on a bit of power. (I thought, drunk? power? on a child's soccer team?)
One of the comments was "it's amazing--people get into a position to twist arms and they turn into a Fox News host."
I hate Fox News hosts. But I have often asked people to help organize children’s soccer teams.
Then a dad, I think, said, "I just smile at them. I love to watch when they twist themselves up into knots," and the originator said, "OK, I'll smile, but that was not my first instinct." (I thought, yes, we know, your first instinct was to whine on Facebook.)
Another said "I just say 'I'll try to be there,” and another: "Just tell them this is your year of NO." Every so often they re-iterated how annoying these ‘bully moms’ are.
These parents, who may or may not show up and feel threatened by a strongly worded request for help NEVER let their children run around and play unsupervised. If these parents just chased the kids out of the house and said "go out and run around and don't come back till your cheeks are rosy," these children would not need to sign up for organized sports to get some exercise. Then the need for bullying moms would vanish.
So I chimed in and I said as much. “Maybe this mom was just desperate for help and did not feel like chasing everyone around to get it,” I said “If she is a volunteer herself, maybe you should give her a break.”
Why in heck did I even care what these people said? I did know many of them casually, but not all.
When the thread opened with a mean label about a mom who did what I did for so many years—run an AYSO soccer team I felt I had to stick up for my 'tribe.'
I was so eager to see what happened with my post and the thread of comments that when I went to the store, I had my phone in my hand but I forgot my purse in the car.
I have volunteered for so much work that simply did not need to happen when I was a child, work that involved snacks, snot, and supervision. I did not believe all of it was needed but it was voted on by a group, that I have an antipathy to—I'll say it—the 'whiny moms' or the working moms who want their own children to be in organized things but just can’t make time to do the work.
Then it changed again, to a discussion of what is better, a mom that is openly aggressive or a mom that just sniffs and talks about you behind your back.
“Oh, yes,” I posted. “The Whisper Moms.”
And I got "unfriended."