We all know that feeling. The one you don’t even think about, but that spurs you to action. Before you know it, your hackles have risen and you are spitting venom (even if it’s polite venom-spitting) at another human being. And it’s all because you feel your children are threatened.
I remember the first time I really experienced this sensation. Before this experience, I had felt it in abstract ways, but nothing quite like this. I was caught off guard by how controlled, but out of control, I felt. We were at a local play space and a family was there with their young children and fairly new twins. As we were leaving, my curious child reached out to touch one of the twins on the foot. I started to say something to her about not touching the babies, when the twins’ father reached down and clamped his large hand around the wrist of my small child, forcing her away as he commanded her to not touch his babies. My voice was calm, but by no means was it friendly. “Next time, I would appreciate it if you allowed ME to address the actions of my child and CERTAINLY I will expect you to keep YOUR hands off of my THREE-year-old when asking her to do the same.” I was shaking, but I forced myself to maintain eye contact with this man until he moved away. It still angers me to this day as I think about it. I totally get that his babies were little and my kid’s hands were grubby. He was not wrong in his desire to not have her touch them. But, in his impulsive reaction to protect his kids, he sparked my need to protect mine.
Daddy Bear vs. Mama Bear
I would argue that in choosing to take your very small infants to a place where little kids play, you are setting up the risk for germ exposure, so he shouldn’t have been so surprised when it happened. In any case, he should not have touched my child as he was asking my young one to understand an expected social behavior he was not able to demonstrate himself. But, I digress.
Recently, on a playdate I watched my child interact with a similarly aged friend. I watched the friend repeatedly engage in behaviors that my child was requesting he stop. I tend to sit back and let these situations play out a bit because I do think children need to learn how to engage with one another in a variety of situations. Eventually, my child, frustrated, returned the “favor” and splashed this kid in the face. He immediately started crying and ran to his mom. At this point, his mom took it upon herself to reprimand my child and tell her that she should not have done what she did. At that moment, I felt that mama bear feeling again… as I am sure the other mom was as well.
Mama Bear vs. Mama Bear
Very kindly, but also very pointedly, I told my daughter… “You know how he has been splashing you in the face, even though you have been asking him to stop? Well, you didn’t like it when it was being done to you and he doesn’t like it done to him. Hopefully, you both have learned that you shouldn’t do something to someone else that you wouldn’t like done back.” I locked eyes with his mom as I finished saying this. She didn’t say anything else, but it got me thinking. Are we too quick to move into Mama Bear mode?
I am all for calling my kid out on things she does that are wrong. I believe in guiding her through feeling consequences and by no means do I think she can do no wrong. I am also fine with other adults asking my kids to respect them, their house, their rules etc. However, in both of these cases, I feel like the other parent went “Mama Bear” too quickly. Before running to your child’s defense, you should stop and ask yourself if your child A) truly needs protecting and B) does your child have some blame in the game?
We do not have to fight every battle for our kids. In the first situation, had the father waited even 5 seconds before laying his hands on my child, I would have taken care of it for him. In the second example, simply recognizing that her own child had some responsibility in the way things played out would have kept the Mama Bears out of the equation. Our children are not always the perfect little angels we want them to be and that is okay too, because who is? They are learning to be decent (hopefully) human beings and are certainly in need of guidance. But, that does not mean we jump in at the first sign of a struggle or protect them from every little upset life sends their way.
That Mama Bear instinct is so important and you absolutely should protect your kids when there is a real threat. However, I think being splashed in the face was the best lesson that kid learned that day. Maybe next time, when someone asks him to stop… he will listen.