Our culture’s current emblem of ideal motherhood is a Momma Bear. There are swag and memes galore promoting the symbol and associated concept of an ever-vigilant mother. And it could be a good thing.
According to the Urban Dictionary, a Momma Bear is “a wonderful mother who is protective, but in a good way. she acts like a mother bear in all senses of the word; caring, protective, helpful, loving, powerful, strong, a refuge of sorts.”
Defining A Momma Bear
Unfortunately, the Urban Dictionary is notorious for slanting definitions to make people feel good about doing bad.
For example, it defines Bible as: “the Book that is often kept in hotel rooms to make men feel guilty after they’ve cheated on their wives, or after they’ve watched that blue movie.” Hardly a serious attempt at defining the word. (And what’s with using the term “blue movie” when they mean porn?)
So let’s set the Urban Dictionary definition aside. What it says a Momma Bear is, is not what anyone who reads cultural context knows it to be.
A Momma Bear is a mother who acts instinctively and fiercely to shield her children from physical attack or psychological harm. Here’s an example, out of dozens available, of a typical meme.
This is a great message in one regard. If a mother senses that her child is in imminent physical or psychological danger, she should absolutely put herself between her child and the source of that danger. A good mother protects her child.
(Read about a neglected method of protecting your child from bullies here.)
So What’s The Problem Being A Momma Bear?
But a good mother does not always protect her child. Let’s think about that.
The message of the meme is that no one should “mess with my kid.” That’s not necessarily the same thing as protecting them from imminent physical or psychological danger. Messing with your kid could mean anything you find offensive or bristle at. And that is way too broad a definition.
Sadly, many moms think teachers are “messing” with their kid when they call them out for the wrong they’ve done. Or they think another neighborhood mom is messing with their kid when they refuse to let their kids associate with them. Good mothers should let their child feel the natural consequences of their misdeeds by other members of the village helping raise them. Instead, our culture encourages them to let their Momma Bear instincts take over and act on instinct – derailing attempts at discipline.Acting instinctively often means abandoning the thinking part of the brain. Click To TweetTrouble is, our instincts are not always right. And acting instinctively often means abandoning the thinking part of the brain. If a parent defaults to charging in to play the hero when their child is messed with rather than gather facts, they risk being a fool – even to their child.
Sharing My Encounter With A Momma Bear
When one of my sons was a senior in high school, he had a girlfriend the same age. With my permission, my son used my minivan to take her on a date and the van broke down. I got a call to come get them at a nearby park.
Clearly, they’d been “parking”. I was surprised because I was unprepared. But surprise turned to shock when I discovered bed pillows in the back of the van. I didn’t know what base they’d gotten to, but I suspected they were at least rounding third. At best.
I sent my son walking home and drove Miss Thing to her home. I explained on the way that my son was not going to be a teenage father if I could prevent it. She defiantly protested her innocence and shared my “presumption” with her own mother. Her mother was livid at my accusation and went full Momma Bear. She trusted her daughter’s word and invited my son to come live in their house – because I was an unfit parent!
But I saw what I saw in the van. And I figured there was probably more evidence. When my son was at school, I looked for and found that evidence in a stash of letters from Miss Thing. They were hidden in a box under his bed and graphically confirmed her intentions to put my son’s future at risk. (Note: We told our kids they lived in our house and there was no place off limits to us in our house. School shootings happen, in part, because parents don’t know what’s in their kid’s rooms.)
It just so happened my husband’s employer transferred him to another state the beginning of that school year. He was working in Iowa while I and the kids stayed in Kentucky so our son could finish his senior year with all his friends. But when up against a crazy Momma Bear like Miss Thing’s, I had to do what I had to do.
We all went to Iowa on Christmas break and didn’t come back. Our son finished the last semester of his senior year at a new school 1,000 miles away from Miss Thing. (Yes, he was mad at the time. But a few years later he told me I did “the absolute right thing”. And yes, I did send Momma Bear her daughter’s letters after we moved. I heard through the grapevine she was furious at Miss Thing. Because they proved her own foolishness.)
How Being A Momma Bear Hurts
Our kids are sinners. Just like we were at their age and still are. They’re not above lying to you to get what they want. If you deny that, you risk getting played like Miss Thing played her momma. And if they can do that, your child will lose respect for you.
Every child desperately needs parents they can respect because as they grow older, respect becomes the foundation of their trust in you. You don’t trust someone who’s not worthy of it. And if they can’t trust Momma, who should they trust? There are plenty of people who’d like to take your place for their own ends. And the outcome of that can be devastating to everyone.
So wear your cute Momma Bear swag, but think twice about its message. Don’t defend your child like an unthinking animal. Defend your child like a thoughtful, intelligent human who won’t be played.