The Wimpy Mom Syndrome: From Doormat to Doer

Posted June 22, 2010 by

Before you had kids, were you the people-pleasing type who sought praise from others and preferred to avoid conflict –  sometimes at the expense of expressing your own opinions or needs?  I was. I believed that being “nice” earned you friends. While motherhood has, to some extent, forced me to don the cloak of assertiveness, I must confess that I’m still a wimp. But now I’m just a wimpy mom.
I think mothers have dual standards: We’re told to hold our boundaries, yet our kids’ needs supersede our own. We’re expected to be consistent with our discipline, yet “choose our battles wisely.”  I sure wish that a mommy manual came with the delivery of my children to help me navigate my overgrown field of options. I frequently end up being, as my fiancé puts it, “walked on” – particularly by my kids. How did this happen?

I believe there is a formula involved in my particular wimpy mom malady: One factor is my innate tendency toward being a pushover; I met the requirements for being “co-dependent” long before the term was coined. Mix in a big dollop of guilt that I carry from my divorce from my sons’ father. And finally, stir in my sons’ intellectual prowess and alarmingly believable drama skills and there you have it: I’m a mommy minion.

The late James Lehman addressed the walked-on mom syndrome in one of his articles, Masters of Manipulation: How Kids Control You With Behavior.  In it, he states, “[Kids] learn quickly which parent can be manipulated and how much it will take to get that parent to give in. Some parents will give in when the child applies a little more charm and warmth. Other parents give in when the child lashes out, screams and gets abusive. You can be sure your child knows what it takes to make you back down. So you need to be sure to talk about your plan for managing this behavior as parents and stay on the same page.”

My kids know what charms and antics will usually get to me – things they learned at surprisingly young ages. The younger one tends toward tears and righteous indignation, while the older son prefers to play a game of mental hopscotch or become enveloped in drama (and, if that doesn’t work, he resorts to tears). I don’t like to admit it, but there are times when I feel hurt, anxious, and even angry because I feel like I’m being walked on. Learning to be assertive – not saying “yes” when I really mean “no” – is one way to avoid being manipulated. By learning to communicate in a direct, open and honest way, I find that I can defend myself when confrontation happens. This tool is very effective when combined with the Total Transformation Program techniques.

For the sake of space, I’ve condensed my view of assertiveness to the Five C’s:
COOL – Keep it, don’t lose self-control

CONSIDER the other person’s thoughts

COMMUNICATE your feelings

CLARIFY the behavior you want to see

CONSEQUENCES – State them clearly

And if that doesn’t work, use those lemons to make lemonade! I recently started an online business and named it WalkOnMom.Com because, well, it fits. The title has a double-meaning: you can create a custom t-shirt that reads, “My Kids Walk All Over Me!” (among a variety of other sayings) on the site, and it echoes my tendency toward being a parenting pushover. Alas – it won’t save me from being a wimpy mom, but it affords me a giggle every time I say the “Walk On Mom” name!


Susan Engel is a mother of two, writer and parent blogger for Empowering Parents.

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