Being a "Scary Mommy" might not make your parenting any easier. Chances are-- it will make it more challenging.

Hey, Scary Mommy! Why So Scary?

shutterstock_114516961Over the years I have come across a few of the blogs from the “Scary Mommy” blogosphere. They are usually real, raw, and humorous. Sure, they often contain superfluous expletives that I could live without, but often I enjoy the interesting content. I sometimes even nod in agreement…but not today.

Today I need to push back on the blog titled, “I Refuse to Tolerate Backtalk and My Children Know It.” I need to push back because “not tolerating backtalk” is not the most effective way to actually STOP the backtalk. And more importantly, it’s not the most effective way to raise truly respectful kids.

The author appears to be very frustrated by backtalk, probably because it’s actually NOT stopping. She writes:

My kids know if they are going to treat me a certain way, they will get treated a certain way. And while this does cause dirty looks, I would rather someone give me the stink-eye for disciplining my child than for allowing them to talk to me and others like they are a dirty dishrag. You must give respect to get respect. Their punishment has always involved me turning into the Wicked Witch of the West and taking things away from them immediately. It used to be dessert, playdates, and favorite toys. We have now graduated to screen time which has me taking their precious cell phones…

…And even though they think I am too strict with this punishment (adults have even commented that perhaps I shouldn’t be quite so hard on them), they still dabble in rude backtalk. They are human, they get mad, they lash out, and sometimes I think they are naturally testing boundaries. 

We do live in a culture where we can feel scrutinized by strangers for our every move. (I blame reality TV.) But perhaps the perceived stink-eye is for the futility of this “Wicked Witch” reaction rather than for the mom herself. We all do the best we can to do what’s right for our kids, so that is why I want to explain the flaws in the “Scary Mom” model and offer an alternative.

What’s wrong with being a harsh, scary mom?

  • For starters, fear is a poor motivator for long term change. I don’t want my kids to obey because they might get spanked. I don’t want them to stay pure because they might get a disease. I don’t want them to stay sober because they would be grounded. I want them to obey because it honors God and me and helps our days run smoothly, giving them more freedoms. I want them to stay pure so that their spouse will feel special and so that their future marriage will remain strong. I want them to stay sober because they accept who they are and don’t feel the need to self-medicate or become a different version of themselves. I want them to find real life and relationships intoxicating enough.
  • Fear is a great motivator for the moment. And unfortunately, the moment is often all that you get. The child thinks, “Oh no. She means it.” And they stop. Until next time.
  • “Scary Mom” can feel unpredictable. So many times the “wicked witch” comes out as a correlation between the child’s behavior and mom’s emotional state. This can be confusing to a child learning what is right and wrong. Since our reactions can be based on our unseen emotional state, the child never really knows when the “witch” will ride her broom stick or when Glinda Mommy will simply remind them of their mistake.
  • “Scary Mom” reacts in the moment and often forfeits the power of real discipline (teaching) that occurs outside the moment of the misbehavior. She thinks that because she exploded and swiftly punished, the issue is settled. Much work is usually left undone, which is why the behaviors continue. If you don’t pull the root of the weed, it simply grows back. Getting at the root of a heart issue often takes time.
  • “Blowing up” at our kids can train them to ignore us unless we “really mean it.” It is very easy to condition our kids to disregard mom’s regular voice because they know if she really wants something done, she’ll yell.
  • “Scary Mom” damages the relationship between child and parent. Rather than feeling loved unconditionally, the child feels rejection in the moment of their mistake. It breaks trust. The child might also begin to simply perform to avoid Wicked Witch Mommy rather than making real, lifelong changes.
  • Modeling the behaviors of anger, loss of self-control, and harsh words gives our kids a regular reminder of what disrespect looks like each time Mom becomes Wicked Witch. If a mom is a Christian, these are areas where God wants to work in our lives to sanctify his people, probably using our own kids to accomplish the task.
  • Being harsh and angry with our kids often puts their focus on how mad they are at us rather than fixing the problem at hand. The problem can be completely forgotten as the child mentally plots to do battle with us.
  • When we “lose it” with our kids, we have just revealed to them what upsets us. We have showed them our buttons to push and where the Kryptonite hides. Do we want our kids to have this information? In their immaturity, might they use this against us in the future? A child might think, “So this eye rolling really upsets you? Huh…” “Don’t like it when I stomp up the stairs? Good to know.”
  • Punishing our kids by taking things away does nothing to teach them why being respectful is important. It simply assumes that they will stop as soon as the pain is great enough. Obviously this assumption is not true long term.

What’s right with being a strong, nurturing mom?

  • Strong, nurturing Mom stays in control of herself. She knows that some kids who are denied what they want will push and argue and complain until Mom blows her stack…thereby at least giving them control over her. Staying calm and in control amidst a child in chaos, helps the child feel secure and NOT in control of his mom.
  • Strong, nurturing Mom accepts the child’s emotions. Even the challenging emotions like anger, frustration, disappointment, and sadness are accepted. She is so confident in who she is apart from the child’s approval that she can withstand being called names and not being liked at a certain time. “Wow, you don’t like mom very much right now do you? That’s Ok. I love you!”
  • Strong, nurturing Mom draws boundaries. “You are being very rude to me right now. That is disrespectful. If you can’t stop, I will end this conversation. I want you to always know to walk away from people who treat you like you are treating me.”
  • Strong, nurturing Mom teaches diligently outside the disrespectful moment. She reinforces and models respectful behavior and she talks about the importance of the child becoming a man one day who is respectful or a woman who demonstrates respect to those around her…even the ones she doesn’t like at a given time.
  • A strong, nurturing mom realizes that her relationship with the child is her most powerful discipline (teaching) tool. When the child trusts and respects the parents, he is open and willing to learn from them. He knows they have his best interests at heart. This mom works on this relationship through meaningful activities like bike rides, walks, back tickles, or sharing a meal together.
  • A strong, nurturing mom teaches her child about confession and forgiveness. When time has passed after an issue, this mom reconnects with her child about the instance and explains how those words were hurtful or rude etc. and gives the child the opportunity to apologize and to ask for forgiveness.
  • A strong, nurturing mom watches for behavior patterns and notices if disrespect is increasing or becoming a habit. This mom points out what she is observing and refers back to what the child hopes for himself, “Honey, I’ve noticed that you are using that tone more often and stomping away when you don’t get your way. This is really disrespectful. Is this who you want to be? A disrespectful, rude kid?”
  • This mom puts consequences in place that provide enough negative motivation to help the child decide to change his ways for good. “Hey, I know you are trying to be more respectful, but it’s just not working. I will not be able to let you go over to your friends’ houses until I see a change. If you can’t be respectful to your own family, then who knows how you would behave for the rest of the world and that’s not fair to them.”
  • Strong, nurturing Mom holds tightly to a vision of her child as a mature, respectful, responsible, and successful adult. She shares this vision often and encourages the child toward this positive future. “You’ll figure this out, buddy. Mom will help you!”

This summer I had my four teenage sons living in my house. While I certainly don’t have all our ducks in a row, I will say that disrespect was NOT an issue. It never really has been. Small things may have been said or done over the years, but there is an overall respectful atmosphere in the home that people enjoy. It makes it a nice place to live. For everyone.

There is no positive motivation that would cultivate an increase of disrespect. “I hate you,” eye rolling, and stomping certainly occurred here and there, but the atmosphere was not right for these behaviors to take root and flourish. Living in a peaceful, loving home with lots of freedom is plenty of motivation for most kids. I am grateful to God that His ways and His grace have brought peace to our home.

In our humanity, we can all become a harsh, scary mommy at a given moment. But rather than glorifying that loss of control, let’s use it as an opportunity to seek forgiveness and work to find a better way. Enjoy the parenting journey and keep the witch’s broom in the closet.


  1. I appreciate this post so much and found it very helpful! I know you talk a lot about “practicing” right behaviors outside of the difficult moments. Could you give specific examples of how this might look in the area of disrespectful talk? My kids are respectful on the whole, but my 6 year old has been struggling lately with being sassy. When I have brought this to his attention, I have asked, “Is this something we need to work on or something you need help with?” Tonight he responded with, “Yes. I try, but I just can’t stop being sassy.” So how do I help him “practice” this, other than continuing to model it and discuss it?

    • mariannemiller says:

      Because they are “mostly respectful” at six (HOORAY!) I would keep encouraging their positive attitude about trying to stop. Outside the moment tell them that when you hear sassy talk you will offer them a “do-over” to help them. Then IN the moment ask, “Do you want to say that a different way?” the child will THEN realize they were sassy and may be able to figure another tone, words, or body language. If they can’t,simply respond, “Well that is the disrespect that you are having trouble stopping. I will wait to talk more with you when you are being respectful…” You could have a FUN time outside the moment modeling all the ways you can be disrespectful simply by changing words, tone, or body language. EXAMPLE: “Excuse me!” can be kind, polite, rude, mean, disrespectful etc.

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