You can dress her up in a ruffled collar and put her in a circus. Teach her to balance on a huge, ridiculous ball. Train her to stand on her hind legs and beg for a sardine. Or pander to an audience. Or play nice like a giant teddy bear.
But mess with her cubs and you’ve got another thing coming.
Is it fair to ask Mama Bear to quell her instincts? Is it wise? How long must she sit at the conference table, the mediation table, the hurried diagnostician’s desk with her sharp, elegant claws awkwardly folded in her lap? How long must she stand by stoically at the playground, the ballpark, the schoolyard, trapped in a flimsy cage of politeness and etiquette and “what would other people think?”
As with all topics social-emotional-parental, there are many opinions about Mama Bear.
Mama Bear is a woman with low self-esteem some say. She doesn’t feel worthy to protect herself, but will go to the mat for others, most of all her children.
Mama Bear is overreacting. She’s unreasonable, immature, disrespectful, a nuisance. She’s one of those mothers teachers and school administrators dread.
She’s a helicopter parent.
Others say Mama Bear carries a mother lode of maternal guilt tinged with a shade of PTSD for not sticking up for her cubs in the past. She vows never to let that happen again, and she means it.
Perhaps she’s a misunderstood shepherdess, an archetypal goddess, a super heroine with the singular focus of fiercely guarding her charges.
Or she’s in denial. It’s her cubs that are the problem.
Or she’s Darwin’s exhibit A of only the strong survive.
I don’t know which of these views is accurate, if any. Maybe that has to be determined on a case-by-case basis. I only know in a world where too many children are left unprotected, neglected, bullied, pressured, evaluated, poked, prodded, abused, and unloved, the appearance of a Mama Bear on the scene is the least of our worries. We’d do well to give her autonomic responses more credence.
I’m not advocating for moms to go on rampages at teacher’s conferences, challenge everything the pediatrician says, or pick fights with little league coaches. We must operate in mutual respect for one another. By all means, we shouldn’t kid ourselves or lie to others. We must accept responsibility and help our children accept it when at fault.
But we must also concede Mama Bear didn’t ask for those nagging feelings that something’s not right. She doesn’t want those feelings. She doesn’t want there to be the possibility that anything’s wrong or that her cubs are in danger. She can’t ignore her intuition, and I would bet in most cases neither should we.
In her book A Special Mother, Anne Ford encourages moms to listen to their intuitions. Ford writes specifically about identifying learning differences in children, but I think her advice has applications across the board for parenting. She writes:
“You truly do know more about your child than you think you know, and if you feel strongly that something isn’t quite right, don’t turn away from those feelings based on something someone else tells you or on the misguided hope that if you don’t acknowledge the problem it will go away.
“Let intuition be your guide.
“It may not give you firm answers, but it will certainly tell you that you need answers.” (pp. 11-12, © 2010)
Mama Bear, next time you feel in your heart or in your gut that something’s amiss, resist ignoring it. Consider your instinct to be a God-given gift. Throw off the circus garb. Rustle up a low warning growl. Investigate with courtesy, but also with confidence, strength, and dogged determination. You are The Mom. Part of your job is to protect your children. You need not apologize for that.
What’s your Mama Bear story?