Book Review: Mean Moms Rule

May 3, 2012 by Jennifer Carsen

“My name is Denise, and I’m a Mean Mom.” Thus begins Denise Schipani’s fantastic new book, Mean Moms Rule, subtitled “Why doing the hard stuff now creates good kids later.”

Make no mistake: Schipani loves her two boys to pieces and would do anything for them. But the “mean mom” of her title is one who is determined not to spoil, coddle, or pander to her children – at the expense of her own life and happiness, or (even more importantly) at the expense of their future as responsible, productive citizens.

It’s an old-school model of parenting that has unfortunately fallen out of favor these days, in a child-centric world that caters to every whim, every minute, every time. Schipani notes (accurately, I think) that this model has some highly undesirable side effects:

– Kids who can’t emotionally manage criticism

– Kids who don’t feel they have any stake in the homes they live in, the things in that home, or even in the emotional life of their families

– Kids who feel little genuine compulsion to try their best

– Kids who don’t feel or display nearly enough gratitude for what they have, the enormous gift that every day is

If you’ve read Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé, Mean Moms Rule has a similar ethos, minus the elements of high fashion and delectable pastries.

Schipani spells out her philosophy in ten “Manifesto” chapters, each one built around a pithy yet valuable takeaway. E.g., Manifesto #2: Take (or Take Back) Control. Manifesto #6: Say No. Smile. Don’t Apologize. Repeat as Necessary.

I particularly enjoyed her dinnertime anecdote about her own mom, the original “mean mom” Schipani’s parenting style is modeled after:

When I was a little girl, I’d ask my mother (in the same way my kids do now), “What’s for dinner?” And my mother would sigh and say, “Everything you hate.”

It brought to mind memories of my own mom, someone I would not put in the same hard-core “mean mom” category as Schipani and her mother, but nonetheless someone with firm opinions and boundaries for both me and my brother, combined with a generous dose of common sense.

I always wondered, as a child, why my mom would insist on regularly making for dinner those beef short ribs I hated. Didn’t she know I didn’t like them? I certainly made my opinions clear. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized, embarrassed, that the household simply didn’t revolve around me. Period. Nor should it have. The familial shots should never be called by someone whose main source of income is Tooth Fairy money.

It’s a way of life that too few parents are willing to impose these days, with negative consequences for both parents  (“Hang onto yourself,” Schipani advises. “You may need that person later”) and children alike.

Schipani points out that her parenting style is just plain hard sometimes, in terms of both continually establishing boundaries for your children and in terms of swimming upstream in an ever-more-permissive society. But she feels the benefits are well worth it. “I am going to take these two little boys I’ve created and turn them into good men. If it kills me.”

As with all book reviews on this site, unless otherwise specified, I have not received any compensation for writing this review and am in no way affiliated with the book’s author. We’re all about editorial integrity here at Mommy Tries.


  1. Sounds like a book I would like!

    • jcarsen says:

      It’s really a great book; she’s a very sensible mom. I found myself nodding along a lot and saying “Yes–exactly!”

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