Momma Bears are fierce, driven by their love to protect their children from anything that might hurt or upset them. If you see baby cubs in the wild- which I hope you never do, you know not to mess with those baby bears because momma is close by and will get involved quickly and be very upset with you. She won’t even wait to hear your side of the story. Don’t mess with a momma bear. Unlike many other animals who have to fend for themselves quite quickly after they are born, momma bears don’t even let baby bears out of the den until they are a few months old. The momma bear protects and feeds her offspring and is never far away for the first year and a half of the cub’s life, again a very long time compared with other animals.
Our culture has adopted the representation of a momma bear as someone who fiercely loves and protects her children and will fight anyone who may harm her child. Moms in the neighborhood don’t mind telling how they went “momma bear” on someone and proudly wear the t-shirt.
Moms and dads need to be the ones to step in and fight for what they know their children need to develop into mature healthy adults. If you feel like something is wrong with your child’s health, you will tirelessly make calls and take your child from doctor to doctor until you feel like someone listens and addresses your concerns for you child. If you feel like your child has difficulty learning in school, you become and advocate for your child and work with the teachers to find what your child’s optimum learning environment is and how adaptions can be made for your child to succeed. I fully embrace the Momma Bear personification in these circumstances, you are the adult, these issues are beyond your child’s level of can-do and you know you can help your child by working behind the scenes to get him what he needs to grow in health and knowledge.
The danger of being really good at being a Momma Bear is taking too much of your child’s unpleasant experiences upon yourself as you seek to protect from all harm. Some difficulty is needed in order for a child to be resilient as well as to develop into a problem solver. If we mediate all sibling arguments, call other moms to sort out our children’s differences and get on coaches and teachers when our child tells us about something unfair that happened that day, our child will not have that experience of sorting it out on his own.
In their book, Drop the Worry Ball, Alex Russel and Tim Falconer make the case that as long as the parent is standing over the child while he does his homework or brings a forgotten item to school and analyzes how a child can improve his game, the child doesn’t have to worry about it and doesn’t take ownership of it as long as mom or dad is handling the responsibility and the worrying. They make the great analogy that you should sit on the bench and cheer on your child. Just like when you took your toddler to the park and sat on the bench while he played. You were there and available if he needed you, but mostly you smiled and encouraged him when he said, “Look mom!”. Sit on the bench as your child works on out of the home responsibilities such as school, sports and friends. Encourage them and let them know you have confidence in them to work it out and learn from their mistakes.
*In the bench analogy, if your child gets hurt on the playground, you do respond. You can tell if it is a scrap or a serious injury. You either say, “aw, you’re ok,” or you jump up and run to them. You know. So yes, if you see signs of physical danger that your child is getting beyond what he can handle, please do be a Momma Bear and protect your child.
Our goal in parenting should be to raise responsible, resilient adults. As our children grow older, how much we do for our child should decrease as they get older so that by the time they are adults, they can handle it from here. Momma Bears who always seek to protect their children from harm and consequences are holding the worry ball for their kids. Give it back to your children and be a source of encouragement. Always ready with a hug and connection as your cubs learns and grows.
References: Russel, A & Falconer, T. (2013). Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement. Toronto, Ontario, Harper Collins Ltd.