About the Guest
Mothers, where do you feel your value comes from? Dr. Meg Meeker, author of the book, "The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers," explains that mothers, driven by egos and fear, often push their kids to become high achievers because they're afraid their children will miss out on opportunities and happiness if they don't. Meg asserts that kids mostly just want their mother's time and attention, so moms should relax and leave the competition to others.
Dr. Meg Meeker asserts that kids mostly just want their mother’s time and attention, so moms should relax and leave the competition to others.
Bob: If you’re a mom, God has established what ought to be your priorities. Dr. Meg Meeker says, “In our culture today, that list has been amplified by a factor of six/seven,”—maybe more.
Meg: The list for mothers—on the areas of their lives where they need to attain perfection—is overwhelming. They need to act like perfect mothers. They need to be patient, and calm, and kind. They need to pray enough. They need to lose weight. They need to exercise. They need to have a job outside the home / they need to not have a job outside the home. No matter what mother you talk to, she’s never getting it right; and the list of what He wants us to be for our kids is so small.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Dr. Meg Meeker is going to help you, today, realign your priorities as a mom. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.
Dennis: Do you know, Bob—this the first time, in over 19 years of doing this broadcast, we’ve ever had a guest refer to you and me as eye candy? [Laughter]
Bob: I called you eye candy / she called me eye candy. So, you know—
Bob: —I’m not sure—
Bob: —exactly what to make of that. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, I want you to know, Meg—you are the first. I promise you, “I’m going to rat on you and tell Barbara—[Laughter]
Dennis: —“when I go home.”
Bob: I want to get a button made that—“I am eye candy”—
Meg: Yes, eye candy.
Bob: —just wear it around the office.
Dennis: “…for a radio show”—
Bob: Yes, right.
Dennis: —make sure you put that on there. [Laughter]
Well, Dr. Meg Meeker joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Meg, welcome back.
Meg: Thank you for having me. [Laughter]
Dennis: She is the author of a new book, 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose, and—the last word I love—Sanity / sanity. [Laughter] Meg is a pediatrician.
She’s practiced for more than 20 years. She has four children. She and her husband Walter have been married for more than 30 years.
One of the habits you talk about in your book is that of eliminating competition.
Dennis: Would you explain what you mean by that?
Meg: Oh, sure! As we talked about, in our earlier show, women are fiercely competitive—mothers, in particular. We are very competitive with ourselves, but we’re particularly competitive when it comes to our kids. We want our child to edge out that other child. This, ultimately, harms us, it harms our kids, and it hurts our friendships as well.
I think over the past 20 years—I think the competitive spirit between mothers has escalated enormously. Again, I think it’s just a very unhealthy thing because it drives us in a direction—it shapes our parenting—it causes us to make decisions over what to do with our kids that aren’t always in their kids’ best interests.
Sometimes, we even know this in our gut. You know—it’s against trusting the instincts again; but we do it because we believe we need to do it in order to keep kids competitive.
Look at the popularity of the book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, with Amy Chua. Everybody raced out to get the book because, here, this Yale professor at Law School was telling everybody they need to higher their expectations of their kids, which in many ways I agree with. However, she said, “If you really want to raise high- performing kids—the kind that look like mine—here’s how you do it.” I think it was that competitiveness and that competitive spirit that drove people to want to read a lot about that book. So, you know, there you go.
Dennis: Meg, what do you think is driving that? Is it ego? Is it living out our lives through our children? Ultimately, what’s taking place here?
Meg: Yes, I think it is ego. I think that, many times, mothers have figured out, “Where does my value, as a mom, come from?"
We’ve sort of figured—we’ve been taught that our value is to produce these fabulous kids, who are high-performers / who are high-achievers. Moms feel like that and dads feel like that as well. That’s why you’ve got the soccer moms and the soccer dads screaming, on the sidelines, at the kids.
Interestingly, the fastest-growing sport amongst boys, I believe, is skateboarding because there’s no parental involvement—it is fun / they just like it. Baseball, hockey—those kinds of things—because, definitely, our egos—we’re working them out through our kids’ successes.
But here is the danger——when we, as moms, define our value and worth through the success of our kids, where does that take us? It takes us and our kids to a very bad place because, if our kids fail, well, then, we fail. So, we work very, very, very, very hard to not let our kids experience failure because we don’t want to experience failure. Then, that child feels, “Well, I can’t fail." They pick up on this—that: “I am this sort of marionette that is being run by my parents. I need to dance perfectly."
I can’t tell you how many kids tell me they can’t stop skiing, they can’t stop ice skating, they can’t stop playing soccer because “It means so much to my mom and to my dad.” Unfortunately, kids start to feel that’s the only way they get attention and love—is by their parents watching them. You get this really vicious cycle going. It really stems from this competitiveness that we feel. That, again, I believe is fed by two things—our ego—we want / our value is through our kids—but also fear.
We push our kids because we are afraid not to because, again, that’s stepping out of the mold. That’s taking our kids in a different direction. If we don’t have faith that God will give us strong guidance in that direction, then, we live in fear. We are too afraid to go there: “What will happen to my child if I pull them out? What will happen to my child if I—God forbid—have him do no extracurricular activities for three months of his life? That’s un-American!"
There is where that fear comes in. It’s that competitiveness that is rooted in fear and rooted in our egos.
Dennis: Our daughter, Ashley, first-born, tried out for cheerleader and failed. I’m going to tell you—we felt exactly what you’re talking about here. I mean, I watched my wife—this was a big deal because she’d been helping her do the cheers and do it all. Now, there were some strange circumstances that occurred that Ashley ended up making the squad after all; but in that two- or three-day period, where she had failed and hadn’t made the team—I want to tell you—it was kind of a gut-check time, for us as parents, to say: “Wait a second! What’s this all about here? Is it living our lives out through our daughter or not?" It was healthy. Failure really can be a very instructive teacher.
Bob: Well, I want to ask you about that. If I were to take you back to the time when your kids were still young, and I were to ask you, in the middle of that—
—you’re a pediatrician, you’ve got your practice, you’re raising your kids—if I had said, “Would you give yourself a mostly passing grade, as a mom? Or would you say, ‘I’m failing as often as I’m passing’?" How would you have answered it back then; do you think?
Meg: I probably would have said, “I’m failing as much as I’m passing,” because I think that I was so worried about being a good mom. One of the lies that I bought into, as a young mom, is that I really felt that it was my job to keep our kids happy at all times. Keeping our kids happy means making sure they’re never bored, making sure they don’t fail, making sure they’re not frightened, making sure they’re not bullied, making sure they’re not crying. You know what I’m saying. Probably, every mother out there goes: “Yes, yes, yes. I’ve got a longer list than you do."
Dennis: Lots of heads nodding right now.
Meg: Yes, but our job isn’t to keep our kids happy.
Our job is to raise good, strong people / men and women. The only way they’re going to learn the great lessons are to fail and to know Mom and Dad love them just the same: “It’s okay that you didn’t make the cheerleading squad. Who cares? That’s not who you are."
You know, I see a lot of girls with eating disorders. They are terrified of failures—very high-performing kids, very bright young girls, highly-disciplined—that’s why they can starve. They are so afraid to fail they won’t even fail at starving. The ultimate success, as somebody with anorexia, is to die because you have controlled yourself to the point where you have starved to death. How twisted is that?
Again, as parents, we have adopted this. I don’t believe that my mother lived with this. I don’t believe that my mother felt it was her job to keep me happy all the time. I know she didn’t! [Laughter]
Dennis: She actually brought—
Meg: God rest her soul.
Dennis: —some pain to your life?
Meg: She did. She made us work and same with my dad. They were Mom and Dad. Their job was to raise good people, and to love us as much as they could, to let us try some things out and see if we liked them—play soccer, ride horses. “You do this,” “You study here,”—but if I didn’t get good grades, my mother didn’t blame herself. If I didn’t make the soccer team, my dad didn’t think it was his fault. We have taken this on as 21st century moms. What I am saying is: “Take it off! This is not our job."
We’ve put so much on ourselves that: “No wonder we can’t be happy / no wonder we can’t feel any joy because we get up in the morning, and the list of what we need to do is so exhaustive.” We feel like crawling back into bed. This isn’t freedom—this isn’t how God intended us to live. I really want to break this for women.
Bob: So, you think the average mom today would say, “I’m failing as often as I’m succeeding"?
Meg: Absolutely. I know she would.
Bob: And the way out of that cycle for her is to adjust her priorities and expectations?
Meg: Yes, yes—to peel some of the responsibilities off of her shoulders that she feels are hers.
I was asked by the TODAY® show to come in, at the beginning of summer, and talk to all the mothers, who were fearing summer because they were afraid their kids were going to be bored. I got on national television; and I said, “One of the best things you can do for your kids is let them be bored.” I haven’t been asked back—[Laughter]—because it’s very good for children to learn what to do with empty time and space and not have mom rush in and fill it up.
Dennis: Barbara read a book when she was in the middle of this. She felt this pressure—I know this was a number of years ago—but she read a book called The Hurried Child. It was all about how our culture is forcing our children to grow up at an increasing rate.
I look back at what we were facing compared to today. If it’s the hurried child back then, it’s the frantic child today.
You know, the problem, as I see it, is not with the child—it’s with the parent. You tell a story about yourself, about your own competitive nature. While you were going to the hospital one day, you raced another person to the hospital! Now, share that story because—
Dennis: —this illustrates—
Dennis: —the very thing we’re talking about.
Bob: You tell it in the book! [Laughter]
Meg: —I tell it in the book.
Dennis: The problem—
Bob: —you might as well own up to it on the radio.
Dennis: “We have met the problem, and the problem is—
Dennis: —“is us,”—yes.
Meg: It’s the author—
Meg: —of the book.
Meg: Yes. You are absolutely right. I was pregnant, I think, with our second. So, when I write about competitiveness, I really know what I’m talking about because I was fiercely competitive. I hope I’m better than that.
I was a second-year medical, pediatric resident. I had one child at home. I was pregnant with my second child. It was probably 6:30/7:00 in the morning. I was racing down the freeway, trying to get to the hospital before my colleagues.
Dennis: Hold it! Hold it! Hold it! You were pregnant—
Dennis: —and you were racing?!
Meg: Did I not put that in the book? [Laughter] I was pregnant, and I was racing down the highway. I was going over 60—probably, over 70—because I wanted to be the first one there to start. I was also pregnant. Lo and behold, I’m going down the highway—I look out my left, and I see a car passing me. I saw the driver of that car was a colleague of mine, about my age, who wasn’t pregnant—but another female. She was beginning to pass me.
Well, she didn’t turn her head to let me know that she saw me. I certainly wasn’t going to let her know that I saw her. So, I sped up a little bit. I sped up, and she sped up; and I sped up, and she sped up. We literally were like crazy ten-year-olds, trying to race to the finish line. I thought: “What am I doing here? I’ve got a child, and I’m a mom, and I’m racing." I stopped myself—I said: “Here, you’re putting your own life and your own child’s life at risk because I’m a competitive person. Knock it off!"
Sometimes, that’s what we need to do—is we need to look ourselves in the mirror and say: “Where am I being competitive in my life? Where am I being competitive in my kids’ lives?”—ouch!—and pull back.
Dennis: You know, how you dress your kids—I mean, always having to have GapKids® clothing so that your kids all are dressed in the latest fashion to be able to compete with everybody else in the neighborhood. We compete around education / where our kids go to school—
Dennis: —we compete around sports, as you’ve mentioned.
Bob: Academics is another area—I mean, it’s—
Dennis: It’s endless.
Meg: It’s endless.
Bob: It really is.
Meg: The list for mothers, on the areas of their lives where they need to attain perfection, is overwhelming. They need to act like perfect mothers. They need to be patient, and calm, and kind. They need to pray enough. They need to lose weight. They need to exercise. They need to have a job outside the home / they need to not have a job outside the home.
No matter what mother you talk to, she’s never getting it right.
That’s what I see in the overwhelming majority of the mothers that come through my office weekly. It’s very, very concerning because it’s energy-consuming. It’s unhealthy for us—but it robs us of that great joy that God intended for us to be as moms. The list of what He wants us to be for our kids is so small.
Dennis: I can almost hear, Dr. Meeker, there would be those who are pointing a boney finger at the radio, going [whispering], “I cannot believe she was racing while she was pregnant, carrying a baby." Yet, we, like you, race competitively around all these issues, where we’re driving our kids off the charts.
Maybe, the message for today’s broadcast is: “Take a look at everything you are doing. Pull out a machete—cut 10, 25, 50 percent off the top.
“Give yourself and your child some margin.” And to take your advice from being on the TODAY show—of saying, “Let your kid be bored." That almost seems like that’s countercultural, at a real core essence, because we don’t want our kids / we can’t afford for them to have some downtime.
Meg: Boredom means, to us mothers, “You’re a bad mother." That’s a lie. There are many lies that we believe like that—that: “If your child is afraid…” / “If your child gets bullied…” / “If your child doesn’t get into this school, that means you’re a bad mother." These are all lies. We need to walk away from them, and we need to really examine our motives for why we’re doing with our kids what we’re doing. I think that can be a very eye-opening exercise because that will help us really slow down and stop that racing.
Bob: So, if you’re a mom, and your four-year-old comes up and says, “Mom, I’m bored,” what do you say back to your four-year-old?
Meg: “Go outside. Good,”—because learning—you need to learn what to do with yourself when you’re bored because guess what?—a whole lot of life is boring, as a grown-up. [Laughter]
Dennis: I’ll tell you what Barbara said—she’d say: “Okay, go to your room and get a great book. Just sit down and read a great book." I mean, we’ve lost the art of some of the great literature—
Dennis: —and just enjoying a quiet spot, allowing the mind to experience faraway places, fantasies—
Bob: And to say to a child, “You need to figure out how to solve your boredom problem—
Bob: —“rather than mom figuring out how to solve—
Bob: —“your boredom problem because that’s one of the skills you’re going to need when you grow up is, ‘How do you solve your problem?’ You don’t just go ask Mom. You do it yourself."
Meg: Right; but see, moms, who feel that they need to be good moms—which we all do—feel that we, again, are to fix our kids’ problems and make life good for them. You know that—where did that come from? That did not come from Scripture.
Bob: What’s the balance, then, between a mom who would be negligent—who’s just not engaged / who is kind of disinterested—and the mom who is really trying to cultivate some of these virtues, wisely, into her child?
Do you know what I mean?—because a mom feels like, “If I do that, I’m being negligent."
Meg: Yes; yes. Well, I think that one of the places that we start is that we realize our kids’ need is not a lot of stuff to do and not a lot of chaos. What our kids need is time with us—quiet time with us. So often, I tell moms, “Your child doesn’t care whether you go to a store and buy a box of brownies that are premade, or get a box and cook them, or make them from scratch. What your child really wants is to sit down and eat a brownie with you."
We’ve lost sight of that—that kids want our company. They don’t want our service, they don’t want our work, and they don’t really want our money, all that much—now, the kids listening to that will turn off the radio pretty fast—[Laughter]—but they want us—they want our time, and they want our attention. What I would tell all the great mothers out there—and I know we’ve got thousands and thousands of great mothers listening right now: “Just calm down.
“Peel off some of those expectations that you have of yourself for your kids. Start giving kids your company and focus on that rather than giving them time that you’re running around with them."
Try an experiment. Do it for a month and see how the dynamics in your home change. I have a great story about that—when my daughter / one of our daughters was 13. She was our eldest daughter. I had a big old Suburban. I was—it was about 7:00 at night—nobody had eaten dinner. I didn’t even know what I was going to cook for dinner. I was driving her to a birthday party—
Dennis: So, you decided to get an oval track and go racing again.
Meg: I started to race again, and I did it a whole lot. [Laughter] This was, you know, after I saw my neighbors taking their kids skiing. [Laughter] So, I was driving her, with all the other three kids in the back of the car, out to this birthday party—it was very far away. I was exhausted. The kids were complaining because they hadn’t eaten, and she had to get to this birthday party. I pulled the car over to the side of the road. I said: “We’re done. This is ridiculous! I’m racing. I’m not going to do it." I turned the car around, and I went home.
Well, my 13-year-old was furious with me because that’s not what good mothers do—they take their girls to the birthday parties, even though the whole family hasn’t had dinner. She was very upset with me. We pulled into the garage—and we’re pretty strict with our kids’ language. She got out of the car. She pounded her fist on the hood of my car, and she looked at me. I said something; and she said, “Mom, shut up!" I said, “Oh, you’ve done it now,” because we don’t speak like that in our home.
I grounded her for a month, which meant she could only come home after school and be with me all month—no ice skating, no downhill skiing, no whatever. The first week of that month was not very fun. By the end of the month, we enjoyed being together so much that, when the next semester of school came, she backed out of a lot of her stuff and wanted to be home more. She was calm / she was a happier kid. I was happier. We got along better.
That was such a pivotal moment in my life.
It was only through grounding her—because of bad behavior—that led me to believe: “What this child really needs, at 13, is not more stuff to do. She needs more time with me—where we can figure life out." If we argue, we learn how to work through those arguments. If she’s having a great day, she talks to me. I’m very close to my daughter, who is now 28 years old; but that was a real turning point in my life, to recognize that what our family needed was more time at home, under the same roof.
Dennis: Okay, I want to summarize what we’ve talked about here. Number one, as parents, you need to get off the race track—get out of the competition, retire as a race car driver, have a pit stop, and get off the oval—just pull out of the track. Secondly, we need to raise bored kids. That’s what we need to do. We need to raise bored kids—kids who experience boredom. That’s a great objective. Number three—find some reason to ground your kid for a month. [Laughter]
I mean, this is great advice—seriously!
Meg: It worked.
Dennis: Oh, it does work!
Meg: It does work. It does work because it forced us—because mothers know the one reason we never want to ground our kids is because we know we have to be with them then. You know, Dad comes in and says, “Okay, no TV for a week." Well, every mother knows: “Oh, no! Now, I have to talk to them every night for a week." Grounding kids is painful for moms, but it was really through that experience that I learned so much about what kids really—what my kids really needed.
Bob: You may have started an epidemic of grounding that will happen tonight as a result of folks hearing the program.
Dennis: Kids are going to be hiding. [Laughter] You know, they’re going to be hiding from their parents. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right—if they haven’t already said: “Mom, turn that program off.
Bob: “Can we listen to something else, please?
Bob: “Whatever you do, don’t call and get a copy of Dr. Meeker’s book. Don’t order that."
I’ll just let you know we do have the book, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Dr. Meg Meeker’s book, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order a copy at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, we want to say, “Congratulations!” to David and Brandy May, who live in North Carolina. The Mays are celebrating 19 years of married bliss today. They got married on this day back in 1997. They have attended three Weekend to Remember® getaways—so they are doing their regular marriage maintenance. We just want to say, “Congratulations on 19 years of marriage!”
We are all about celebrating anniversaries, here at FamilyLife.
In fact, as we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year, we are focusing on all of the anniversaries that have happened because of how God has used FamilyLife in the lives of hundreds of thousands / actually, millions of couples over the last 40 years.
We recently had some friends of the ministry, who came to us, aware of the fact that this was our 40th anniversary and also aware that the summer months can be challenging months for ministries like ours. They have agreed that, during the month of May, they will match any donation that we receive from listeners, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $350,000. It’s a very generous offer on their part. We’re hoping to take full advantage of it this month. So we’re asking you to consider today making a donation that will be matched, dollar for dollar. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com—make a donation there. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Or mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how dangerous it is for a mom to start looking around and comparing the job she’s doing with the jobs other moms are doing. That can be a trap, and we’ll talk about why it can be a trap tomorrow. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. See you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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