Mrs. Joanne Kraft: A mean mom understand she is raising an adult, not a child. A mean mom keeps her word when it’s hard. A mean mom asks forgiveness. A mean mom loves passionately and loves more than she disciplines. But a mean mom, I think the hardest thing [is], she keeps her word when it’s hard.
End of Teaser
Jim Daly: That’s mom of four, Joanne Kraft on the importance of being strong and consistent in setting boundaries for your kids. I’m Jim Daly, host of “Focus on the Family” along with John Fuller and you know what? Setting boundaries, John, is so hard and especially we hear here at Focus on the Family from so many moms who struggle feeling mean, you know, like when they’re setting those boundaries, it’s tough to do. It’s hard to stay consistent and we’re gonna talk about that and so much more with our guest today.
John Fuller: Yeah and Joanne Kraft has joined us. She is a popular speaker and a writer and she addresses this concept. You used the word “mean.” That’s actually in the book title that she’s written called The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids. Sounds a little counterintuitive. We’ll (Laughter) encourage you to check the book out and a CD or download of this program at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Joanne, welcome back to “Focus on the Family.”
Joanne: Well, it is great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Jim: Okay, so you titled this thing, The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids, but you actually have a positive spin on the mean mom theme.
Joanne: Oh, absolutely. Mean moms, what 4-year-old thinks is mean, a 40-year-old knows is not mean. Actually (Laughter) it’s kind. It’s loving.
Jim: Explain that. I’m not sure I get it.
Joanne: Well, I think, you know, when we have children, you know, parents, especially women, we are nurturers at heart. We want to give our kids the moon.
Jim: That’s the 80-20 rule maybe. Some actual mean mom is gonna write and say, “No, I’m actually mean.” (Laughter)
Joanne: Yeah, well, there you go.
Jim: I’m not a nurturer. (Laughter)
Joanne: Well, you know, I mean, obviously you’re gonna have those people who bristle at the word “mean.” I mean, the definition of the word “mean” is to be malicious or unkind. Well, that’s not the kinda mean we’re talking about. And I was even reading years ago The Help when that movie came out, The Help. And in it, like the first couple chapters there’s a theme where the young daughter yells back at her mom that she hates her. And the mom goes, “That is like a kick to the stomach, that I’m mean to my child. She thinks I’m mean.”
And so, I think what it is, is to be able to look at it with adult perspective and to give parents courage when their kids think they’re mean. Or even some of their friends may think they’re mean.
Jim: Well, give that portrait of what the mean mom in a good way (Chuckling) looks like.
Joanne: Well, a mean mom understand she is raising an adult, not a child. A mean mom keeps her word when it’s hard. A mean mom asks forgiveness. A mean mom loves passionately and loves more than she disciplines.
But a mean mom, I think the hardest thing [is] she keeps her word when it’s hard. And sometimes that does mean consequence with children and following through when it’s hard. And that looks mean—
Joanne: –to a child.
Jim: In fact, that may be one of the biggest errors today in parenting, is we’re trying to be their friend so often, rather than, you know, someone who’s puttin’ down the line and the boundary and sayin’ this is how we act in our home. You touched on it, but why do moms particularly struggle with that line and holding that line of boundary?
Joanne: Well, I think it’s two things. One, we believe we have just given birth to the most beautiful, precious creature—
Jim: (Laughing) And of course—
Joanne: –the smartest child.
Jim: –that’s true.
Joanne: Right, in the whole wide world there is no more [precious], you know, than our child. It’s that love that clouds the action, that clouds the follow though. I mean, when you look at the Bible, the story, even worship music. Nicole Mullen, she sings a song that many of us know, “My Redeemer Lives” and in it, a few of the lines are, “Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning? Who taught the ocean it could only come this far?”
God starts with boundaries with Creation, with His children, with the Commandments. And I think for us as parents, it’s hard, but to not be seen as this evil overlord. I mean, some of us think the Commandments, what an evil overlord. Well, the Lord is not evil. God is awesome and amazing and loving and kind and He loves His children passionately. Those things are boundaries for our help and our good to grow us up with as little scars or wounding as possible. And I think as a parent, as a mom, it’s hard because love blurs it.
Joanne: It blurs that.
Jim: Well, that’s so true and also again, these things are applicableto the dad, as well.
Jim: So, if you’re a dad listening, don’t tune out, ’cause I think the basic principles are true. You mention in your book, the mean mom idea, but you also talked about a controlling or abusive mom and you make a distinction between the three. Fill in that blank. What are the differences between the good mean mom [and] the abusive or controlling mom?
Joanne: Well, an abusive mom and that’s pretty easy, those are the parents who discipline and hurt their children. They shame their children. But actually a lot of times, these are the parents that do these things out of fear, not out of, you know, they do it out of fear and a lot of the times, it’s out of what they’ve learned growing up. I mean, they’ve had parents who had the twisted unhealthy parenting skills.
Jim: How does a person arrest that? And what I mean, how do they get control? So, maybe they did grow up in a difficult home environment. They didn’t have a loving home and they’ve learned these characteristics of shaming and other things. How do you hear yourself doing it? Give me an example of what a shaming mom sounds like.
Joanne: Well, a shaming mom is a mom who publicly reminds her child of their faults. Or maybe they’re not good enough or maybe they can never make them happy. They constantly say, you know, “You failed again,” basically is the message.
Jim: What’s the long-term effect on the child?
Joanne: Well, a long-term effect is an adult who fears, an adult who doesn’t have the courage to step out and do things in life, that … that stunts an adult.
Joanne: It stunts an adult.
Jim: Ah, now give us a little recap. Your kids, you have four kids and they’re grown. Uh … give us their ages and their stage right now.
Joanne: Yeah, Meghan is 24. She just married my newest member of the family, Robert. He’s my new son. And (Chuckling) he’s 25. And then we have David Joseph. He is 21. He’s graduating college, Grace Ann is, hold on, even I have to think of their ages. (Laughter)
Jim: I love it.
Joanne: Grace Ann is 17 and she’ll be a junior. And then Samuel is a freshman. He’ll be a sophomore in a few weeks.
Jim: So, you’re talking from a lot of experience here.
Joanne: I have four children, two boys and two girls. Each one’s completely different, each one completely different. And between the four of them, I have been molded and (Laughing) shaped in many ways. (Laughter) There’s not much that surprises anymore.
Jim: In every way. Talk about the marshmallow mom. I thought that was an interesting concept from your book. Everybody loves that—
Jim: –the marshmallow mom.
Joanne: Yes, well, I wanted to explain some of the attributes in a fun way. I mean, one of the things about this book, The Mean Mom’s book [FYI: The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids], I know the title might scare a few people, is there’s a lot of humor. So, you can definitely bring this home to your wife and (Laughter)—
Joanne: –she won’t—
Jim: –Guys, be—
Joanne: –be offended.
Jim: –be thoughtful there.
John: She looked right at us, Jim. (Laughter)
Jim: She did. (Laughter)
Joanne: And you will be invited to Thanksgiving dinner if a mother-in-law visits or a daughter-in-law, which is a good thing. But the marshmallow mom, how I define that, like a jumbo-size marshmallow mom, she is fueled by love. She is fueled by codependence and a dash of guilt. And so, that’s a jumbo-size marshmallow mom.
And so, then I talk about those moms and I give different names for ’em. Like one of them is Maria My Child Can’t Do That. That would be her last name, “My Child Can’t Do That.” And so, that’s the mom who might be still tying her high school football son’s cleats. (Laughter) Or you know, doing laundry for her adult kids who already graduated.
Jim: Ooh, you’re touchin’ on some toes there probably.
Joanne: Yeah, well, I don’t know anything, so just know I (Laughing) know nothing. I’m just, you know–
Jim: Speaking from experience.
Joanne: –yes, yes.
Jim: But that marshmallow mom, talk about more of those attributes. How does a woman identify herself as a marshmallow mom? And where do I go if I’m saying, “Oh, that’s me?”
Joanne: Well, a lot of times identifying yourself as a marshmallow mom doesn’t happen ’cause we don’t really see our own faults when we’re lookin’ in the mirror. So, a lot of times, it comes out in our kids’ actions. Maybe it’s entitlement. Maybe we’re seeing our kids expecting things, you know, just to magically appear.
Jim: Okay, now you’re really touchin’ on toes. (Laughter)
Joanne: You know, maybe those are things. It’s what the by-product is, you know. Maybe our kids are getting angry if we take away technology for a while. Those are the things you see. When you see your children behave and maybe they’re disrespectful. Maybe you kinda get embarrassed when they meet somebody and they’re rude. You know, those are the things.
Jim: Well, and it does come so naturally. You want to take care of your kids. You want to be there. You want to fix the boo-boo’s. You want to make sure that they’re enjoying their childhood. I know, I do that, ’cause I didn’t have a very good childhood. So, one of the things I’m trying to do and this is terribly embarrassing at times, I mean, I’ve taken the boys far too many times to Disneyland (Chuckling) or some you know, great treat like that, because I never went as a kid and I—
Jim: –think I’m overindulging that to a degree. But that’s not wise either, is it?
Joanne: Well, I don’t think Disneyland even on an annual basis is a terrible thing. You know which child expects it. And we went to Disneyland and (Laughter) one of the things we did with our kids was, we had enough money for the tickets, but we didn’t have enough money really for everybody to buy [everything]. You know how it is when you get—
Joanne: –into Disneyland. It’s like—
Joanne: –you lose all sense of reality and like—
Joanne: –lemonades are eight dollars.
Jim: It’s only one day. (Laughter)
Joanne: Yeah, churros are 14 bucks. And then you buy them. You just don’t think twice. So, we thought, what are we gonna do? Well, we had a garage sale with the kids. Got all the stuff together, put up the fliers. They did the work. They made the cookies to put out, you know, when people came. And you know, you’d be amazed at how many adults really, they want to see that. They want to see kids doing that and how many just blessed the kids. The kids made, I think it was $265, something around there, where they each had like $60–
Jim: Wow, that’s a great idea.
Joanne: –for Disneyland.
Joanne: So, we went to Disneyland. Anything over and above the tickets and basically, their needs, their meals, you know, they had to pitch in. And I’ll tell you, entitlement, those things, the by-product of marshmallow mom, you know, of dad, by kids like here’s a good example. We went to breakfast and orange juice was like $2 more than the already paid for meal. Well, we didn’t pay that extra $2. We could’ve paid that extra $2, but we said, “Hey, you have your money from the garage sale.” Well, guess who didn’t want the orange juice?
Jim: Right. (Laughing)
Joanne: And those are just little lessons that come that sound mean. I’m sure somebody at the next table went, “Oh, wow, terrible.”
Jim: They wouldn’t even buy orange juice for their kids.
Jim: What a mean mom.
Joanne: Right, how terrible. That’s all she wanted was $2, you know.
Jim: You in fact, talked in the book, which is funny, it was your son’s schma boo-boo face. (Laughing)
Joanne: Oh, schma, boo-boo.
Jim: Schma boo-boo, tell me—
Jim: –about schma boo-boo.
Joanne: Well, I just thought that …
Jim: What is it?
Joanne: Well, I’ll tell you. So, you know the boo-boo face—
Joanne: –right? Well, years ago, what was it, Tangled that came out, that Disney movie. And he gave a smolder, like he kinda looked and gives a smolder, ’cause he thought he was like all that and a bag of chips. And Samuel learned this smolder, but he made his lips (Laughter) real pouty.
Jim: This is your son at about what age?
Joanne: Oh, goodness, maybe he was 8, 7 or 8.
Jim: Yeah. (Laughing)
Joanne: And I just loved it. I don’t know, it might be sick and twisted, I don’t know, but when he made this face, I melted. I’m like, absolutely.
Jim: So, schma boo-boo got whatever—
Joanne: Schma boo-boo.
Jim: –he wanted.
Joanne: I’m like, hey, here’s the keys to the car. (Laughter) You got ’em.
John: So, you became marshmallow mom at the look.
Joanne: Absolutely, we are all recovering marshmallow moms and dads.
Jim: And I’m sure you end up reverting back occasionally right when you get the schma boo-boo look from now your 17-year-old?
Joanne: Oh, hey, it works with my 21-year-old and it drives my husband crazy. He’s like, are you kidding? You’re so weak. (Laughter) No, I mean, yeah, we all are, but I mean, it’s the little things. It’s the adult perspective I have to remember, you know.
Jim: Now you gotta disclose this. Both you and your husband are former police officers.
Joanne: Well, he was a police officer. I was the 911 dispatcher.
Jim: I mean, so obviously I see how you met.
Joanne: Well, yeah. (Laughter) Well, Jim, he would tell you.
Jim: Does he have a good voice or what?
Joanne: Well, he was a brave, handsome knight in shining armor type. But no, here’s the deal. What he would tell you is, that he was used to me telling him where to go and what to do. (Laughter) So, why not—
Jim: A match made in heaven.
Joanne: –get married?
John: Why not get married?
Joanne: Why not marry her? Just settle down.
Jim: So, you talk like this between the two of you, 20-X-ray, 40-ZY or whatever.
Joanne: I’m gonna teach you the real phonetics.
Jim: Okay, I need ’em.
Joanne: So, let’s say, Jim, I want to get an ice cream cone, but I don’t want all my kids to hear that I want an ice cream cone.
Jim: (Laughing) Oh, this is bad.
Joanne: I will say, “Do you want an I to Charles Edward, Charles Robert at Edward Adam Mary?” And he’ll say, you know, “Affirm, yeah, whatever.” Or “No.” So, that was the whole key. All the kids don’t hear it.
Jim: You know, that’s just too big an advantage for parents. You gotta straighten up here.
Joanne: It’s good, ’cause it is kinda nice to be able to talk behind [their backs]. You know, let’s say my daughter brings home a boyfriend, you know. I can say things, you know.
Jim: Like what?
Joanne: Well, whatever I think.
Jim: One Adam, X-ray, 2YX, out the—
Jim: –door he goes.
Joanne: Hey, actually, (Laughter) my daughter just had her junior prom and so, all the kids after the junior prom came over to the house after. Well, apparently one of the other parents was having a party and Grace had heard there might’ve been alcohol at it. And so, I told Gracie, I said, “Grace, just let your friends know they will be getting a, you know, skilled sobriety check. It doesn’t take much for us to know, you know, what’s goin’ on.” So, some of it, you know, in that.
Jim: You know, let me ask you this, with the appropriate concern, but then some parents and some moms particularly, can get really uptight about everything. It’s like their guard is never relaxed and that can create a lot of tension in the home. How does a mean mom (Chuckling), as you said in your book, I don’t even like sayin’ it, but how does that mean mom in a good sense, how does she learn to relax a little bit, not on principle, but on just always being heavy hearted on everything?
Joanne: Well, I think you understand and you know, and we say in Mean Mom, just it’s a mom that understands boundaries. And I think that mom believes in controlled failure. So, there’s a freedom to make mistakes.
John: Well, we’re talking today with Joanne Kraft on “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and we’ve got Joanne’s book. It really isn’t about you being mean, it’s about your kids’ perception of you being mean because, as she was just saying, you’re establishing boundaries. It’s The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids. We’ve got that and a CD or a download of our conversation today at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Joanne, let me ask you this. Faith is a critical component to parenting. It’s a critical component to a home, to the structure of a home, having belief in Christ and you know, operating from that perspective in everything we do, in our marriages, in our parenting. How did you come to faith? You came to faith later in life. Did that give you a certain perspective on your parenting as a mean mom?
Joanne: Absolutely. I was a mom before I was a believer, before I was a Christian. It makes it hard sometimes. And I’m speaking to those parents who may have been spiritual late bloomers like me. And so, when now all of a sudden, you have children, now you have different ideals. Now you have a different moral compass. Now you have a different life, you know, in Christ. And so, they might really dig in their heels when you all of a sudden start saying, “Hey, you know, I don’t feel comfortable, you know, watching a rated R movie together.
Joanne: You know, and those kind of things gave me a great perspective, because I think it also gives me grace for parents who may not know Jesus. But it also gives me a perspective of knowing what the difference between raising children with Jesus and raising children without Him.
Jim: You know, elaborate on that, because there are a number of moms who didn’t come from a Christian home. They have to learn how to do this in a different way. Even those that have embraced Christ may not have the parenting tools to do the job they need to do. What were some of the big rocks that you learned coming into faith after you had one child or two children?
Jim: So, you had two kids already; then you became a Christian.
Jim: What were those big ah-ha’s in the different ways that you parented?
Joanne: Well, I’ll tell you, I was a single mom when I came to Christ. And single moms, I have a heart and a passion for single—
Joanne: –moms, for millennial moms. Most of my kids are Millennials. So, it is a heartbreaking thing to be a single mom and feel so alone, like nobody understands. You know, but that was what brought me to Christ.
And I think as parents, too, a lot of times we steal those opportunities or we become God to our kids and then our kids don’t lean on Christ. For me, the difference that I saw, though Jim, and what you were asking is, there was just a peace.
Joanne: I can’t explain it. I wish I could do it better than that, but with parents I didn’t understand how to really have a household that wasn’t full of drama and chaos. I didn’t get that. And we had a great family. Don’t get me wrong. I mean, our family was a passionate, fun-loving group of people. Everything was over the top. We loved big. We fought big. (Laughter) We laughed big, everything to excess. But in the end, we all learned to love the Lord, which was awesome. So, I saw the differences being peace where there was once chaos. And then the more peace you have, the more peace you crave. And that’s huge when you have kids. I saw a trust that these women had that, you know what? No matter what, they were gonna be okay. That was huge for me. I needed that and that was with Jesus.
Jim: You know, Joanne, when you describe it that way, there are gonna be some women who are craving that peace that you’re talking about. They’re Christians. They’re in a Christian home, but they’re not experiencing that peace, ’cause their house is chaotic.
Jim: Well, what would you suggest to that Christian parent who’s not experiencing the peace of God, because she’s not finding time for herself to read the Word, pray? She has toddlers, which are drivin’ her crazy.
Jim: What advice do you have for that mom who is thirsting for what you’re describing, but even in knowing the Lord, can’t get there?
Joanne: Well, here’s what I would say to her and I wish I could talk to her personally. But what I would say is, look around. Take your eyes off of the junk goin’ on and look around, because I promise you, there are women, there are people around that would love to love on you. And I just met with a friend who was talking to me about her disappointments in the church and how she doesn’t go to church, because these people were not very nice and this kinda thing.
And I said, you know, there are a lot of people who are. And she, like other people, I think women need a mentor. They need somebody. And “mentor” is kind of a big word. People who don’t know the Lord are just baby Christians. That trips them up, because that’s too official. What I mean is, look; who [are] the people that you respect, that you go, “You know what; I really dig how she raises her kids.” That’s what I had.
When I was a new believer, I was in a church and there were like eight to 10 women. And it wasn’t one woman was perfect at everything. I chose from each woman something. This one taught me how to love on my kids and do devotion in the morning with my kids. I never did that before.
This one taught me, oh, what it meant to put a meal on the table. This one taught me [something else]. So, if the woman would just look up and say, “God, I don’t have time to be in Your Word 24/7. Forgive me, but what I want to grow.”
Joanne: Look around and God will shine a light on those people.
John: Jim, as you asked that question, I was also thinking of a woman I was talking to, who was struggling because she felt indeed, that motherhood is a high calling, but she felt like God wanted her to do something even more.
John: But that the kids kept gettin’ in the way. I mean, if there was a real dichotomy between what she felt she must do and wanted to do, how do you reconcile those and still maintain a healthy parenting perspective?
Joanne: Well, I love that you asked that question, John, because this happened when Gracie was a baby. And my husband, he was the one that turned my face back to the No. 1 ministry and that was family. I felt the same thing. I thought, really, Lord? Isn’t there something more than changing diapers and making, you know, macaroni and cheese? Aren’t I like made for something a little bit more exciting than this?
And I put an ad in the newspaper. I didn’t tell my husband. And I put this ad in the newspaper. It was … I called it like an errand-running business, so I could just get out of the house, just dear Lord, get me out of this house.
Jim: Did it work?
Joanne: Well, okay, he saw the bill before he saw the ad. And he said to me, “Hey, sweetie, you need to call them.” This is back when there were newspapers that you put ads in and not Craig’s List.” He said, “Hey, we were charged $78 for this ad and I don’t know what happened, but I’m like, oh, no. I didn’t tell him. I said, “Hey, just so you know, I’m startin’ an errand-running business.”
And he said, “Lucy, Lucy, Lucy. (Laughter) Lookit.” And I was holding my daughter at the time and he said, “Sweetie,” he said, “There will be time for all of that.” And you know what? It’s true. I am so grateful for me anyway, that I focused on my family and didn’t start writing books when my kids were little, because I didn’t have the wherewithal to do both well—
Joanne: –to do it well.
Jim: Well, and that’s important, to stay on the primary mission, but it is hard. You get distracted. You get lonely.
Jim: All those things come in and take your heart away for what you really should be doing. Joanne, let me talk about a real sensitive area and that is the marriage. Today and I think this is true in Christian homes particularly, we get very kid-centric and it’s all about the kids and did they make the honor roll? And are they going to college and what more do I need to do? And a lot of moms are consumed with that and understandably so, going back to the nurturing heart and do all you can to make their environment the best it could be.
But the marriage can suffer in that regard and you mention in your book, the importance of marriage. Talk to the woman who feels like she’s there, like you know, my husband’s actually third in the ranking, you know. It’s the Lord; it’s my kids if I’m honest and then, if I got a little bit of time left, then it’s my marriage maybe. But speak to her heart and talk to her as if she needs to take a fresh look at that, because the long-term damage could be devastating.
Joanne: Well, what I would say to her is, I know how fast personally you can go from being married to being divorced. I know how quick that happens. That turns on a dime. And so, when Paul and I were married, I also had a marriage without Christ. Now I have a marriage with Christ. Now that doesn’t make me any better. It just lets me remember, it reminds me that Christ can breathe life into dead things.
Joanne: And so, what I did with my husband, I made an intentional point to [do so]. Now sometimes kids, they do come first. But I made a point to make him priority. Any good or godly man is not gonna tell you, “Hey, you know what. I miss you. Stop putting the kids first.” He’s not going to demand that spot. So, it really is up to us to say, “Hey, you know what, kids, beddy-bye time.”
Joanne: And then point to your husband and say, “Hey, Bubb, it’s you and me time.”
Joanne: That’s important.
Jim: That’s good. I think that’s true. I mean, I think that’s a valid point. I know for Jean and I, I wouldn’t, you know, really insert myself there if she’s busy. And it’s one of the issues that we really struggle with, ’cause we’ve got four kids in the house right now. We have two foster kids, as well.
Jim: And so, she’s really busy at night and I’m not gonna jump in and say, “Hey, come on. Stop taking care of all these kids.” (Laughing)
Joanne: Right, right, ’cause she’s tired, too.
Joanne: So, you’re not gonna enforce some togetherness.
Jim: Well, and I think the math that she computes in her head is, I take a few minutes now. That means I get to bed all that much later. It’s very practical, but—
Joanne: Well, and …
Jim: –it’s hard and dangerous to ignore that time.
Joanne: Well, and what you’re doing is, you’re explaining why Penny puts the kids first every time. (Laughter)
Jim: (Laughter) All right.
Joanne: That’s my marshmallow mom, so I get her. (Laughter)
Jim: Hey, we have covered a lot, but we need to continue next time. We’ve got a few more areas that I want to discover with you and I know the listeners are learning a lot from you, the (Chuckling) marshmallow mom and the mean mom.
You know, one of our listeners just recently wrote in to us and said this: “I st