Uncomfortable? That’s Life, Kiddo. (Or, Why I’m Not Raising Professional Victims)

I don’t mind if my kids are uncomfortable.

No, seriously. Of course, when they were babies and had dirty diapers and empty bellies, I dispatched those discomforts (those are the easy ones). But these days? If my sons find themselves in situations where they have to suck it up, wait, make do, play second fiddle, or just plain-old not get what they want when they want it (or at all), I sit back and watch rather than scramble to fix it. And that even goes for times the situation is pretty obviously unfair. (Because who promised fair? Not me, that’s for sure.)

Take two springs ago. It was my older son’s First Communion – he was the guy in the dark blue suit with the white ribbon on his arm and the gel in his hair, with his name on the cake and with him in all the photos. That left his younger brother on the sidelines. Oh, he’s in the pictures — with the most aggrieved puss on his face that I’d ever seen:

Here we are, two years ago. Catch that pout on the little mister!

Oh, my heavens, but he was jealous!

So what did I do? Pull him aside and wheedle him into smiling for photos? Promise him an ice-cream tomorrow for some appropriately celebratory behavior today? My instinct was that had I indulged his ‘tude with anything other than a straightforward brush-off, I’d only foster the absurd impression that he deserved some sort of salve for what actually amounted to a pretty run-of-the-mill “slight,” the kind real life is rife with.

What I said, after we started up the post-ceremony party at our house, was “go get some cake and play with your cousins; it’ll be your turn in two years.” The unspoken subtext being, “get over yourself, short pants, because if you start thinking we love the big guy more than you, or that you deserve mollifying for a ‘bad’ day, you’re heading down a dangerous path and I ain’t going with you.” I have no intention of raising professional victims.

I’m glad I didn’t indulge his fit of pique that day. He wasn’t a baby in need of attention or unable to understand his second-place role; he was a pissed-off 5-year old! I refuse, categorically, to make excuses for my sons’ behavior, either in or out of their earshot, though to be sure the former is worse; to intervene, fix, smooth, or otherwise try to leapfrog them over any potential wrinkle in their roads. Because the road is just too full of wrinkles.

You start up with that stuff – the fixing, the apologias – and before you know it you’ve moved from “poor you, no one’s paying attention to you on your brother’s big day,” to “poor you, that college rejected you!” Whoops. When do they grow up, in between those two types of “poor you”? And how?

Is it too obvious to say that in order for children to grow up knowing that life is full of discomforts that one has to deal with, they have to actually, you know, experience discomfort? Sometimes you have to cool your heels on the side of the field because it’s not your game today, and no, you don’t get to play with Mom’s iPod to “make it better.” (And as an aside, what’s “better” than watching your sibling’s game, or dance recital, or piano lesson?) There doesn’t always have to be a snack for you. If the Munchkins are for your brother’s team (and don’t even get me started on why any of them need Munchkins after every game), you don’t get to dig in until last.

It’s not all even. Nothing is. Ever. And sometimes that sucks, and often that hurts. As one of my favorite lines in “The Princess Bride” goes, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”

If you’d been faced with Mr. Jealous Pants, what would you have done?

25 responses to “Uncomfortable? That’s Life, Kiddo. (Or, Why I’m Not Raising Professional Victims)”

  1. Caro

    You are my hero! I don’t want professional victims or spoiled brats, either. Right now I’m dealing with my almost 3 yo taking toys right out of the 6 mo’s hand b/c in the 3 yo’s mind, all that he surveys should be his.

    I know a family with two girls and for each gift-giving occasion, each girl gets presents b/c the parents are too lazy to just put their foot down and say, “Look, it isn’t your birthday today! When it is, you’ll get gifts! Today is your sister’s day.” It makes me gag. I guess the 14 year old will also get a car when the elder girl turns 16?

  2. Honeysmoke

    Right on! He will understand what you did for him one day and will thank you for not making him whiney like some of his friends. :)

    1. Adrienne

      No they won’t. They’ll never thank us. And that’s OK; it’s what being the mean mom is all about. Truly, the best we can hope for is that they’ll turn around and raise their kids the same way.

      1. Caro

        I disagree. My mom was an original mean mom and I was thanking her even before I had kids of my own. Now that I do have kids and I’m in close contact with other people’s parenting decisions I thank my mom all the time for being a hard***.

      2. Sandra

        I also disagree. I was thanking my mom for being a ‘mean mom’ when I was still in high school. Now that I have 4 kids of my own I sometimes wish I had the temerity and energy to be meaner than I am, but when my teens’ friends all want to hang out at my house because there are rules to follow and they all know I care then I know I’m doing something right!

      3. Stepha

        I disagree! My mum wasn’t mean but she was firm and stuck to her guns. I’m in my 30s, don’t have kids and have been thanking her for ten years for raising me the way she did… even though I was sometimes so mad at her growing up! But I can see the difference between my attitude towards some things and that of (some of) my friends. So yes, they will likely thank you one day.

  3. robin

    I love this! You’re right, it is a very slippery slope between pacifying them for small things now and then being the parent who attends interviews with her child. I remember being bored, cranky, jealous, etc as a kid and I learned from those feelings. If we never let our kids experience a negative emotion, they will be insufficiently prepared for life.

  4. Claire B

    Thank you for sharing the photo – how priceless! I am going to bookmark this post and refer to it often over the coming years because baby#2 is about to arrive and I’m unsure how my 4 yr old will react. Oh he’s excited now but when reality hits home? We shall see! Life isn’t fair and baby brother/sister isn’t arriving with a fistful of presents for their big brother. I know my Mom has photos just like yours of me and my brother – too bad for us – and it’s going to be the same way in this house too :)

  5. Mel

    My son had a bit of a difficult time during his cousin’s 4th birthday a few weeks ago – his isn’t until June. It was rough for him, but I felt he did pretty well handling the discomfort.

    It’s been a few weeks, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t ask me when June 28th is. At least he knows when his birthday is, now!

  6. Frog creek

    Boy you make me feel inadequate as a parent! LOL. I am too too much too soft with my kids. And I’m paying for it now that they are 12 and 14. I wish I had been tougher when they were younger.

  7. Kim

    OMG!!!!!!! I can’t believe I found you. There are NOT a lot of parents like you, which are like me. They “say” they are but they are not. They are helicopter flying, kindergarten to grade 12 interfering, indulgent, excuse making parents. I can’t stand them and the society, in general that is producing these lazy, ungrateful, entitled children. My house hold slogan is “suck it up butter cup”. Ie. my youngest daughter age 2 or 3 at the time took a tumble on the patio slabs at a neighbour’s house. There was a round of gasps by the parents. She got up. Literally dusted herself and then exclaimed “it’s alright, I’ll live” while toddling off to do something else.

  8. Glenn Hiscock

    Let me preface my rant by saying this … Why are there not more parent’s on this planet like you. I am the proud father of a soon to be 5 year old spawn named Larissa. She is also known as the spawn, goober, and hey you …. I was in the sights of this this morning and this was my wee rant about it …
    So I drop the spawn off at school this morning … as a good Father should … and there is this little snowflake of a boy … I’m quite certain his name is Colton, Sage, Firefly or Skippy or some absolute ridiculous name parents give their boys these days ; regardless… this little load was crying “I want my Mommy .. I want my Mommy .. I want my Mommy” and just losing his little mind. The dumbass teacher at the school picked him up and coddled him like he was an infant.I almost lost my mind ! What I would have done was grab Captain Snowflake by his dumbo ears and say .. you know what kid …. there are days I want my Mommy too … but she died of Cancer last year is with the angels right now … now cut the crap and get and play with the rest of the kids … I am so sick and tired of these little bubble wrapped brats … stand up for yourself kid; and parents … let your boys balls drop for Christ’s sake … rant over … Hawaii in 52 days

  9. Audrey Walker

    I have plenty of those types of pics with my youngest son. Its his loss to mess up a nice family memory, but he also got over as he got older.

  10. Kelly

    AMEN! I would have done pretty much what you did. My kids are 2 and 4 and whenever they pull crap like that I talk with them about how things in life aren’t always equal. I teach middle school and quite often my students’ response to something is, “That’s not fair”. And my response is always, “Life isn’t always fair either. It is my job to prepare you for that as well as teach you social studies”.

  11. sandra

    I may be way out of my league here, since I fundamentally believe in what you are saying, but looking at your picture, it is hard for me to beleive that you have any understanding of what its like to be a single mother with 100% absent fathers. A little about myself, I am a strong minded single mother of 4, I have worked a full time job or been a full time student my whole life (minus 8 months of my life that I was literally unable to get off the couch due to a serious illness) at the time I had a 2 yr old and a 3 year old. Other than that I live my entire life feeling like a terrible parent, for 1, I chose a terrible father for my children, he is terrible – he has spent roughly 4 hours of time on the phone with my kids making false promises to them and then breaking them (these kids are 15 and 16) the other father is incarcerated and will be for at least 5 more years – we are not together and there is no supportive family behind either of these guys. So I work my butt off to provide for them (I have received $298 in child support since 1996) I spend every evening cooking, bathing, chores, paying bills, helping with homework, grocery shopping and cleaning and reading bedtime stories (when possible). I have lived with the guilt of not having a “family” for them since day 1, and when they really want something they play on it.. My support system is me! What am I supposed to do? I hover, because they are teenagers and I cant afford for either of them to get pregnant, get on drugs or drink. I hear the whining, but the fact is if I can I do, but most times I cant… They are not spoiled, I dont live outside of my means, and only 1 kid gets gifts at a time for birthdays… I still feel like they walk all over me… I should also note that my (16) son is gay and is not completely comfortable with it yet and my (15) daughter was sexually assaulted at her school in 8th grade, my little ones (9 and 3) dad is incarcerated, so I am it! How do I deal with that? They have been slighted their whole lives, by their dads, by my family- who is ridiculously disfunctional, (all four of them (gma, gpa, aunt and uncle)are functioning alcoholics),they are terrible examples of what a family looks like and so I can say that if I had a husband, and didnt spend my entire existance making sure there is rent and food and gas, and if I had anything that remotely looked like a support system, and if they had fathers to back me up, and if there were less of them and if… then I could be a mean mom!

    1. Amy

      You have made some poor decisions. Time to stop. Your kids will do exactly the same thing you did if you don’t change everything now. Get support. Ask your incarcerated husband to check our Prison Fellowship. Go to a church with good male role models. Get your kids involved in good groups like Scouts were there are excellent role models. Take your teenagers to Young Life. They will find people who listen, a peer group that stays out of trouble and mentors. You will find a safe place and care for your weary soul. You can try to do it all on your own, but it is so much easier if you let people help.

  12. Donna

    I have caught myself saying what my mom used to say “Life’s a B$#%! and then you die”. A bit harsh but gets the point across (she used it on me when I was a teen, not a young child). Then it was “Life isn’t always fair, deal with it”….and guess what, I dealt with it and here I am today.

  13. Tonja

    I love your post, and as a Mom of two boys – 10 and 12 – I have had many of these moments, especially with the younger one. Every birthday he has been a real bear on his older brother’s day. My answer is essentially the same – too bad, buddy. I’ve had to fight grandparents who want to buy something for both on birthdays(people who, by the way, weren’t even the slightest bit indulgent with me or their father – neither of us ever even had a bday party let alone an extra gift – but of course want to make things ‘all better’ with the precious g-kids).

    My kids are growing into great young men because I show them tons of affection, love and support but do not indulge their jealous, cranky, or just plain ugly behavior when it arises. Ignore, address it, or whatever seems appropriate, but move on! You’ll reap the benefits more every year.

  14. LRH

    I found your site today via Lenore Skenazy’s post about you. I am like-minded as you. The main form of this I see a lot–when it’s the birthday of one of their children & they give gifts to the other kids who feel bad about all the attention being given to the one whose birthday it is. Some of them try to do that with our gifts, & I put a stop to it. It should be obvious: if it is your son Tommy’s birthday, then Jane should be understanding of that & wish her brother Tommy a happy birthday and understand TOMMY is the one who will be allowed to choose where to eat, where to go play at, get all of the gifts etc. I cannot STAND it when someone, in this case, goes to Jane saying “poor thing, no one’s paying you any attention? Here, I got you a little something.”

    If my kids do that? I give them to 3 S’s–[s]uck it up, [s]hape up, and [s]hut up, or a 4th S, as in a spanking, is headed your way on the fast train.

    Mean dad? You better believe I am with such things.

    PS–I like how you captured your son’s frown, I totally approve, yet at the same time, I can tell you–I’m a hobbyist photographer & take my photos seriously, and he’d been disciplined for that too, ha ha.


  15. sarah

    I just discovered this and think it is great. I am a mostly mean mom who leans on the “soft” side when it comes to their emotional lives. I did realize that I do say “I am sorry” too much. Thanks for some clarity and putting words to some of my instinctive mothering choices.

  16. Sassystep

    This is awesome. As a step parent to two incredibly spoiled kids I love this. DH is coming around, but I can’t get over how their mother coddles and gives in, all in the sake of
    “letting kids be kids” then complains that her daughter can’t accept no for an answer. To me “letting kids be kids” means climbing tree’s, playing outside with friends, getting free time to use your imagination, being allowed to act silly, etc. To many it means never having a hardship or discomfort.

  17. Amanda Matthews

    sandra, I’ve been a single mother with a 100% absent father in the past, and here’s my advice. You teach them to use birth control. You teach them to help you with the housework and grocery shopping and etc. And then you trust them and yourself that you taught them these things well enough to let them do them.

    Families come in all shapes and sizes. If all you have is yourself and your kids, there is their family right there. You are all each others’ support system.

  18. Daisy Moore Lalwani

    Couldn’t agree more! My son (age 11) and I just attended his little sister’s dance recital, that included 17 other numbers by other dance classes. Some boys in front of us were playing games on a parent’s phone the whole time. I was appalled. My son was quite a good sport about the lengthy show, and my kids and I discussed the fact that you should (a) support your siblings and the other performers and (b) learn to deal with the fact that life can be boring at times and figure out how to use your imagination to entertain yourself. My daughter, age 8, even said, what will those boys do when they grow up and go to their kids’ dance performances?