Committing Our Kids

When some girlfriends and I started a book club last year, we named it “Meanest Mommies on Mercer Island” (MMOMI for short) because that’s what our kids call us when we deny their whims. Last weekend, I definitely lived up to the name.

My third son has always loved vehicles; his first word was “truck,” and instead of seeing how fast his toys rolled (as did our second son) or what would happen when they careened into stacks of blocks (a la #1 Son), he would lie his head on the ground to inspect how and why the wheels turned.

When the big brothers were outside kicking and throwing balls, #3 was engineering intricate KNex machines, retro-fitting his remote-control vehicles and plotting a second floor for the playhouse (which would require a rope-and-pulley elevator). He has spent much of the past four years buying, “tricking out” and reselling gas scooters and computers. Aside from lacrosse, which employs a shaft and a netted “head,” ball sports don’t really excite him.

Nevertheless, our third son will soon enter high school, and I have encouraged him to join a fall sports team to keep him off the computer and in shape for spring lacrosse. He decided to try football again, after a two-year break, and his older brothers cheered.

Those planning to play football in the fall were “strongly encouraged” to attend team camp at a nearby college last week. #3 wavered, so I gave him a deadline for his decision. On D-Day, he signed the papers and I submitted forms and a check. And then, the day before the bus was to depart, #3 had a change of heart. He spent the better part of a sunny summer day sending me text messages, trying every possible argument to beg off of camp.

I know he isn’t crazy about football.  I know he won’t end up in the NFL. And I know that he’s happier spending summer days boating, scootering and fiddling with electronics. In my heart, I knew I should let him skip the camp. But I felt he had made a commitment to attend, and that he needed to see it through.

I remembered how I had let #3 drop swimming and football years earlier, and even miss a trip with his grandparents so he could attend a faith-based “dirt bike” camp. I recalled the conversations #1 Son and I had when his baseball and lacrosse events conflicted. I thought about the friend I gave up because she often dropped our plans when a “better” option came along.

While it would have been easier to back down, I gave myself permission to be a “mean mommy” and make an unpopular decision in order to impart and important lesson. I held my ground (as did my husband).

 That evening, the tears and shouting began. I am not proud to say that #3 broke me down, and I truly became THE MEANEST MOMMY.

I told my son that I didn’t care if he played football in the fall, and that I didn’t even care if he enjoyed the camp. “You were given the choice, and you decided to go,” I reminded him. “Now, the team, the camp organizers and your rommate are counting on you.  You need to keep your commitment.” After hours of battle, when we were both too tired to continue, #3 relented. “Okay, I’ll go, but I won’t have fun,” he promised.

I spent half the night thinking about how guilty I would feel if he got injured at camp. (Ironically, #2 Son, who hopped on the camp bus with a lot more gusto, came home on crutches.)

The following morning, as parents watched their boys board the bus, I alerted a few coaches to my son’s reluctance. One assured me, “Very few kids like football at this age. It’s a ton of work.”  Another thanked me for sending my son, saying, “I wish more parents around here understood the value of commitment.”

I joined my husband in conversation with another mom, who told us, “My son is furious with me.  We spent all yesterday arguing about camp. I am forcing him to go, and to play for at least one season.”

Somehow, knowing I wasn’t the only MMOMI made me feel a lot better.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 5 July 2011


  1. Loved this one, but I need a follow up!! He loved it? He hated it? He thanked you?!
    Sign me –
    Just Wondering

    • Since you asked… My son seemed to have a fine time at camp. He didn’t have any complaints afterwards, but didn’t thank me, either. Our relationship didn’t suffer and I think he grew from the experience, which is the best outcome. He hasn’t completely committed to football in the fall, but if he does play, I know he will be glad he attended camp.

  2. So, how’d it turn out? Did he hate it, or have fun after all?

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