My son Samuel perfected what we called his “boo-boo lip” in kindergarten. Later, he discovered another look: “the smolder.” It wasn’t long before Samuel’s infamous “smabooboo” was born — a cross between a boo-boo face and a smoldering gaze — and I surrender every time.
As moms, our love for our children is almost superhuman — unconditional and unending. Yet sometimes this powerhouse of love and affection overwhelms our parenting. Our wisdom and good judgment melt in the face of our children’s desires, and we become marshmallow moms.
This isn’t something to be proud of. Yes, marshmallows moms are sweet. Who doesn’t love sugar? But being overly soft and sweet in our parenting can be detrimental to our kids.
What is a marshmallow mom?
A marshmallow mom is a total pushover. She takes the shape of the parent her child wants her to be, enabling unhealthy habits and overlooking bad manners. Though well meaning, marshmallow moms inadvertently encourage entitlement, disrespect, laziness and selfishness in their kids.
Tying a child’s shoes for far too long, letting rudeness and disrespect slide or giving a teenager a relaxing summer off instead of encouraging that first job seem like kind and tender approaches, but this flavor of parenting is no good for our kids. We need to start asking ourselves, Are we helping our children in the long run?
Engaging the moment
Samuel was 7 years old when he called out “hey” to get the attention of a waitress. We corrected him and asked him to use polite words, but minutes later, Samuel suffered manners-amnesia and hailed our waitress once again with a loud “HEY!”
My inner marshmallow mom was briefly tempted to let the incident slide, to just enjoy a peaceful dinner with my family. But picturing Samuel as a young adult speaking to a waiter, clerk or airline attendant this way spurred me to action.
I explained, “Samuel, this young woman is working harder tonight than you’ve worked all your life. It’s hurtful and disrespectful to get her attention that way. You’re going to apologize to her for yelling, and for the rest of the meal if you want to engage any adult — including us — in conversation, you need to start with ‘excuse me’ or ‘pardon me.’ ”
For the rest of that meal, Samuel had the opportunity to practice manners. We appreciated his formality — which included some dramatic flair — yet it was the beginning of a lesson that stuck. Today Samuel speaks very respectfully to adults, especially when out in public.
Teachable moments come along when we least expect them. It is our ongoing response to these moments that squash our propensity for marshmallow parenting. Do we avoid conflict and let peace and convenience rule the moment? Or do we engage our children with wisdom and the recognition that the seeds we plant in our young children become the harvest we gather when they are young adults?
Small steps, big beginnings
One day when my kids were young, I slumped down at my kitchen table and dropped my face into my hands. Tears welled as I prayed silently. Really, Lord, is this my lot in life? Teaching children to put away their toys? Reminding them repeatedly to use kind words and to share with each other? Lord, surely You must have something bigger, more important for my life.
After I whined to a friend about yet another frustrating day, she gently said, “Don’t despise the days of small beginnings.”
Her words stung a bit. But they also encouraged me. I knew the Scripture she was referring to: God encouraged Zerubbabel in his efforts to rebuild the temple — a gargantuan task that had its beginnings in far less monumental ways (Zechariah 4:10). Isn’t that what we’re doing as parents? It’s a big mission — to help kids become healthy, wise and resilient adults — and it’s done every day through small decisions, through small beginnings. Each tiny opportunity we have as parents is full of purpose.
The conversation with my friend gave me confidence to correct my marshmallow-mom tendencies. I didn’t change overnight; marshmallow tendencies run deep. But it’s the small things, the tiny beginnings that mold and shape us to be the parents our children need most.
Charles Spurgeon gives hope to parents when he writes: “God will give success to your little works: God will educate you by your little works to do greater works; and your little works may call out others who shall do greater works by far than ever you shall be able to accomplish.”
Here is how I interpret his words for daily parenting:
- Teach your child to pick up her toys, and you may raise a responsible adult.
- Teach your child to share, and you may raise a kind adult.
- Teach your child to choose words carefully, and you may raise an encouraging adult.
- Teach your child to serve, and you may raise a sacrificial adult.
- Teach your child patience, and you may raise an adult who knows peace.
- Teach your child about hard work by experiencing hard work, and you may raise an adult who won’t go hungry.
- Teach your child about heartache, and you may raise an adult who has joy in any storm.
- Teach your child not to fear, and you may raise an adult who can face any adventure life brings.
- Teach your child to value differences, and you may raise an adult who respects all people.
- Teach your child to be happy with little, and you may raise an adult who is content.
- Teach your child all the reasons you love God, and you may raise an adult who desires to love God, too.
Joanne Kraft is the author of The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids.