I was listening to the song "Red Dirt Girl" by Emmylou Harris, and didn't understand one of the lyrics: "her mama leaned hard." What does this mean?

Her daddy turned mean and her mama leaned hard

Got in trouble with a boy from town

I did find one definition from this blog, but it doesn't seem to be what I am looking for: "To lean hard you must get under God’s feet and submit to His plans and purposes, even if you do not see them fully or understand them at all. Leaning means shifting all the weight of the burden from your shoulders to His."

  • 1
    I don’t know what it really means, but I don’t see why you’ve dismissed the definition you found.
    – Jim
    Mar 13 '18 at 15:50
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    From the context, I would say it means that her mama rebelled against her daddy when he got mean.
    – JonLarby
    Mar 14 '18 at 10:58
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    At a guess I'd say it was lean as in "put pressure on" as a parent might put pressure on a child, and while some pressure is positively motivating, too much causes more in stress than it gains in encouragement, which would match the "turned mean" from the other parent.
    – Jon Hanna
    Mar 14 '18 at 11:09
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    It's not wholly obvious but it prolly means "When her daddy turned mean, he slapped her mama around" Mar 27 '18 at 20:28

MacMillan Dictionary:

2[lean on someone] INFORMAL to put pressure on someone in order to make them do something The Prime Minister’s been leaning pretty heavily on her to resign. Synonyms and related words

lean on someone, informal

The song has two separate ideas. The line does not suggest the father did something to the mother. It suggests the father was mean and the mother was strict and the girl got pregnant anyway. The mother "leaned hard" on her to not have sex with boys, but it didn't work. She got pregnant.

The lean hard on someone is the same as to lean heavily on someone.

It is a song about a poor family. "red dirt girl" suggests an unpaved country road where the girl lives. Country lanes are often just dirt roads and some are reddish or orange dirt.

Here is an excellent article about poverty in rural America published in The Guardian in which the author, a woman, states subjects of concern to rural communities very clearly, as it applies to her own situation.

"Even at a midwestern state university, my backgroundagricultural work, manual labor, rural poverty, teen pregnancies, domestic chaos, pervasive addiction – seemed like a faraway story to the people I met."

The article makes clear that teen pregnancy and poverty are typical subjects in poor, rural areas.

poverty in rural Kansas


Mom was leaning hard on alcohol to help her cope. She also turns to alcohol and pills in the story. Her mother could have also been leaning hard on her for psychological support since her husband was drinking heavily. Probably due to the loss of his son. Damn sad song. But beautiful

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