You know the feeling: Your child is insulted, dismissed or harmed in some way, and this primal emotion rises from deep inside, overtaking all rationality. Like a wild animal, it’s visceral. It’s emotional. It’s instinctual — and it’s very difficult to contain. It’s your inner “Mama Bear.”
When my son was injured in a soccer game recently as a result of an intentional foul, I joked that the other kid was lucky I wasn’t the parent watching the game that day (my husband handles these things much more calmly). But it was only half a joke. I can be extremely protective of my children, and I would have likely made an inappropriate comment to or about the other player. It’s just my inner mama bear coming through.
The mama bear instinct, when acted upon appropriately, can be extremely effective. When acted upon inappropriately, it can be destructive. Yes, those are two extremes, but the instinct is extreme. It’s that very strength that can cloud judgement and dictate toward which extreme the result will veer.
Over the years, my mama bear response has led me to raise my voice at children who were not mine and straight-out yell at adults. I’m not particularly proud of this. Once each situation settled down, apologies were issued promptly and genuinely. But that mama bear instinct has also prompted me to react very quickly in what were becoming dangerous situations. Discerning the right response in the heat of the moment is my challenge. Although I think I’d rather err on the side of a heavier response (citing those possibly dangerous situations), overreacting does have fallout: Hurt feelings, scared children, bruised relationships and the like.
When I have managed to elicit a calmer, albeit still strong, response to a situation, the results typically have been better. I still make sure my child is out of immediate danger, of course, but then turning that mama bear instinct into a constructive outcome — well, that was quite satisfying. An actual positive result.
Although I am nowhere near mastering my mama bear responses, I am doing better. What has helped me is occasionally running through scenarios in my head in which I react appropriately — without denying my protective instincts. It’s a mental channeling exercise. It’s not pleasant, but thinking through how I might respond if my son or daughter were bullied or intentionally injured by another child helps quiet the roar. What I would do if an adult were involved… I don’t know. Probably still go ballistic.
It’s also helped me to remember that my kids are far from perfect. While I like to think I have taught them well, and that they would never do some of the things that have been done to them, they are human and they do make mistakes. Another mother might — right or wrong — unleash her inner mama bear on my kids in defense of her child, and I need to think about how I would feel. What would I want that other mama bear to say or do?
Every time my mama bear has taken over on some level or another — sometimes with positive outcomes and others with less than positive outcomes — I’ve been fortunate that the moms around me have understood. They may not have agreed with me, but they understood. There’s something about that emotion — the power and universality of it — that most moms just get. When you communicate that it was the “mama bear thing,” there’s a certain understanding of what compelled you to act. That can be very reassuring in the aftermath, even as it may or may not excuse it.
Tell us: How do you tame your inner mama bear? Comment below!