Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Why Minnesota Mothers Are Doing Pretty Good

From time to time, we offer free editorial space to common folk with something to say. Today's topic for discussion concerns the issue of parenting, a subject that has been in the news lately.

Nobody wonders how Minnesota parents raise such stereotypically stereotypical kids. They never wonder what these parents do to produce so many nice children or what it's like inside a nice family. Well, I can tell them anyway, because I've done it. If it's not too much trouble and you have a minute, here are some things my daughters, Jenny and Cristi, were never allowed to do:

• Skip doing their homework
• Put their elbows on the table while eating supper
• Miss church (except for the day after prom, during deer hunting season, and on Super Bowl Sunday)
• Go to school in April without a jacket
• Get into a van with a strange man
• Use swear words in the house
• Forget to call grandma on her birthday

I'm using the term "Minnesota mother" loosely. I know some Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowan and Minneapolis parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Minnesota heritage, almost always born out of state, or Catholic, who are not Minnesota mothers, by choice or otherwise.

All the same, even when other parents think they're being nice, they usually don't come close to being Minnesota mothers. For example, my Chicago friends who consider themselves nice only apologize to guests about how badly prepared the mashed potatoes are. At most, they'll include the carrots. For a Minnesota mother, apologizing for the potatoes is the easy part. It's asking forgiveness for everything from the poor selection of cheese and crackers, to the dry turkey, to the weakness of the pie due to the poor selection of apples at Byerly's that's tough. (To say nothing of how the coffee could be better.)

Despite our squeamishness about comparing ourselves to others in public, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Minnesotans and others when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 non-Minnesota mothers and 48 Minnesota mothers, almost 89% of the non-Minnesota mothers said that "if a person mispronounces your name you should immediately correct them." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Minnesota mothers felt the same way.

Minnesota parents can get away with things that other parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily went to the basement to look for something for over two hours without coming back upstairs. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But neither I, nor anyone else ever spoke of it ever again.

Minnesota mothers can say to their daughters, "Oh, you're going to wear that dress?" By contrast, other parents have to directly address the issue, talking in terms of "sluttiness."

If a Minnesota child gets a B, well, good for them! Room for improvement.

Other parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. Minnesota parents would surely do this too if we knew anything about the passions or feelings of our children.

Here's a story in favor of niceness, Minnesota-style: Aunt Lena is about 84, still using the restroom and driving by herself. She was a real firebrand. After she lost Ole, her husband of 61 years, we were over at her house for meatloaf. It had been just a month and we were worried about how she was coping, alone in an old farmhouse far from anyone else.

In the middle of ice cream, Lena became very quiet and looked as though she was going to cry. I immediately mentioned how we were supposed to get some snow by Friday, but that I wasn't sure if it was going to be three or five inches. Lena clicked on the local news, and, wouldn't you know it, we caught the end-of-program forecast. It was five inches. And we got to talking about if it would be wet and heavy or the good light stuff we've been getting lately which is really easy to sweep and not much of a hardship at all, in fact, it makes it nice to get out there and get some exercise, especially if the wind isn't blowing.

Even my husband Carl gave me credit for that one. Without nice, Lena would have had to face her crushing grief in front of us. Thanks to the Minnesota style, Lena was able to avoid an embarrassing expression of her emotions.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Minnesota parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would sacrifice anything for their children, even if it was out of their way and they weren't already sacrificing something anyway. That's just who we are.

But if you don't agree with the Minnesota mother's approach, well, I'll look into that. Maybe you're right.

Edie Larson just does not know how to feel about the Packers being in the Super Bowl this year.

36 Comments / Post A Comment

freetzy (#7,018)

But does Edie respect her firearm?

libmas (#231)

This made me happy – and I'm from upstate New York. Thank you.

deepomega (#1,720)

What animals are associated with Minnesota? Need a catchier term.

hamburgerhotdog (#2,337)

Timberwolf mothers? White tailed deer mothers? Walleye mothers?

panchomill (#1,187)

Loony mothers?

Joey Camire (#6,325)

Love this.

TCJunior (#1,099)

Gopher Mothers? Though I'm from rural Illinois, my mother could have written this. Enid! Write a book! I'll buy it!

hockeymom (#143)

I love this so much.

Further categories of things Minnesota Children Raised my Minnesota Mothers are not allowed to do:

Walk thru the house WITHOUT skate guards on. We understand that sometimes it's necessary to come inside to go to the bathroom or get some hot cocoa, but do NOT scratch up our nice wood floor with blade marks. Santa put skate guards in your stocking for a reason, mister.

Say "no thank you" to Grandma's dry-as-a-bone turkey. Take it, put a smile on your face and say it's delicious. I know it's a lie, but God forgives those kinds of lies because you are making people feel good during the holidays. Minnesota mothers do not allow fighting at the holiday table.

Talk politics. Minnesota mothers do not allow their children to have political opinions. It's not polite for kids to think or really, even hear about politics. Sometimes people don't agree with us on politics and when they don't agree, WE DON'T DISAGREE.

Laugh at green bean hotdish. Or any hotdish. Hotdish is not a laughing matter, even if it does contain marshmallows and shoe-string potatoes. It's great Aunt Jenny's recipe, it will be your recipe some day, so put a smile on kid and eat it.

ProfessorBen (#1,254)

And if you do talk about politics, and your grandmother says "I'll have to think about that", she's really, really not asking you to explain more. It's a polite old-person / Minnesotan way of saying I totally disagree but am way too polite to admit it to my grandson.

TCJunior (#1,099)

But green bean casserole is delicious! Who would laugh? Only those not lucky enough to have tried it.

hamburgerhotdog (#2,337)

My mother has hundreds of recipes for horrible Luthran basement potluck salads, most of which contain jello, cream of mushroom soup or BOTH, and you are not allowed to not like them. NO. You just take a very small scoop and you eat it, missy, no making faces.

Oh, so you weren't going to mention the hotdish?

hockeymom (#143)

See above.

Ah, so sorry, I don't know what's gotten into me! Some weather, though, eh?

Bittersweet (#765)

Wow, Minnesota mothers are just like WASP-y Connecticut mothers but without the soul-crushing passive-aggression and with less drinking. Nicer, in fact. Which, OK, was maybe Edie's point.

SeanP (#4,058)

Less drinking? Do you know any Minnesotans?

Hustad (#1,531)

Oh my GOD. This is good. Or, you know, in MN parlance, "interesting." Or "something." (Usage: "Isn't that something!" Typical response: "Yes. And did you see how much snow they got up in Blaine?")

shesananniemal (#9,627)

interesting=bad, right? or maybe just "inneresting"=bad…

Hustad (#1,531)

True, though in my family "interesting" saved you from having to articulate an opinion on anything that was in any way provocative. Could be good, could be bad, but best of all is we just don't think about it!

SeanP (#4,058)

You say your cousin married a man with a forked tongue? And he sacrifices goats in the back yard? Well, that's different.

forrealz (#1,530)

I couldn't stop myself from reading this as the voice of Patty/Freedom.

karinabthatsme (#9,624)

Something else that's really something: It took 5 years living out of Minnesota to get me to stop correcting people on my name! (but joke's on them, cuz it's really not that hard, alright!)

hamburgerhotdog (#2,337)

I have an extremely weird last name and people in my family often argue on what's the correct pronounciation but I never correct anyone who says it wrong–friends of several years were shocked to hear me pronounce it and know they've been saying it wrong all along.

LotaLota (#1,703)

How could the author forget to mention the classic Minnesota damned-with-faint-praise phrase:

"That's different."

TCJunior (#1,099)

It took my wife years to figure out that when I say something "isn't bad", that's Midwestern for "this is very good".

Bonnie (#1,782)

I've heard all the children there are above average.

hman (#53)

…and their radio hosts breathe heavily into their mics.

blily (#1,411)

I love this. I mean it as the highest praise when I say that this is as good as the best of The Onion. I wish the Times would run it as their final piece on the subject.

hamburgerhotdog (#2,337)

Born and bred Minnesotan living in New York for about 14 years and you'd better believe my soon-to-be kids are getting Minnesotan mothered, hardcore. I think the biggest stand off between my mother and I was winter boots–I refused to wear them in junior high and was willing to get frost bite to prove a point. When she saw m in a pair of Sorels a few years back I could practically palpatate the glee coursing through her veins: after a million, "You're wearing that?"s, she wins.

barnhouse (#1,326)

SO good. Or should that be, "I liked it just fine"?

Face (#3,654)

Stuff My Minnesota Mother outlawed:
- Eating before thanking the Lord. (Both "God is Great" and "Come Lord Jesus" are acceptable.)
- The phrases "pissed off" and "shut up."
- Hats at the kitchen table.
- Wearing tube-tops with overalls. ("You look naked! NAKED!")
- Playing with toys until Thank You notes for such items were written.
- Shorts unless it was at least 45º outside.
- Leaving any item out in the rain.
- Calling people after 8:00 PM.
- Wasting food.
- Addressing adults by their first names (unless prefaced by aunt or uncle).
- Taking longer than "twenty minutes" to get anywhere or do anything.
- Black lipstick and incense.
- "In Living Color"
- Crossing freeways on your bike.
- Fratricide.

Basically oppressed, really. I feel lucky to have survived.

melis (#1,854)

Forty-five degrees for shorts? I wish my northern Illinois mother had been so lenient. 65 and not a degree below.

David Anderson (#9,635)

Well, not all Minnesota Mothers are as gentle as Edie. For a more realistic look at MMs, you might want to read this assessment of Gopher State mothering:

tumblingwall (#8,185)

A lot of these Minnesota nice things are really easy to manipulate. People expect you to reject things like food and places to stay several times before eventually excepting it, even when you desperately want it.
This is how I always get the last piece of pie and the best cuts of turkey when I go home.

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