From the time my first child was old enough to sit up and watch the other kids play around her, I’ve noticed a strong mama bear tendency living within me. If those bigger kids came too close or got too rough next to my little girl, the urge to swoop her up and protect her would suddenly overwhelm me. Then as she got older and was able to interact and play with kids her age, I would watch like a hawk and woe to the little heathen kid who would dare take my darling’s toy away from her, or hit her, or even look at her the wrong way. I’ve held a policy of not correcting anyone else’s kid until there is actual physical or verbal contact aimed at my own kid, but once that happens I don’t hesitate to call that kid down. The mama bear awakens quickly when her cub is threatened.
As my kids have grown over the years, and developed friendships and social skills, there have been times when I couldn’t protect them. And they’re learning that sticks and stones can break bones, but words most definitely can hurt. But the desire to protect them is always at war with the knowledge of the need to teach them truths about life and about their own heart. This means that I have to learn to tame that mama bear inside me, and instead focus not only on soothing the hurts that will inevitably come, but also on teaching them the best way to biblically handle those hurtful moments.
Case in point: Last week Abigail’s most recent dreams and desires came true when her “very best friend besides Catherine and Elisabeth” got to spend the day at our house–“even without her parents!!” For most of the day, everything was wonderful. They played, they included Catherine, no squabbles, no behavior issues, all well and good. Then we went outside and our neighbor heard kids and came over to join us. As it turns out, the neighbor and the friend go to school together and were very surprised and excited to find each other at this unexpected playdate. The two of them immediately launched into some detective game, unintentionally leaving Abigail as the third wheel at her own house. Needless to say, she was not thrilled with this turn of events. I was playing with Elisabeth and Samuel, but watched closely to see how Abigail would handle this. She tried to play along for awhile, but then, in a desperate attempt to regain control of the situation, she suggested a different game. They totally didn’t respond. She suggested it louder. Again, nothing. They were so caught up in their excitement that they didn’t even hear her. One more attempt, and she finally ran to me in tears, saying, “Mommy, they won’t even listen to me! She’s never not listened to me before!”
Now, what was going on inside of Mommy? Mama Bear was raring her head. My first desire was to get the other girls’ attention, and tell them to be respectful and listen when someone is talking to them, like I would have done had it just been my own children. But reason and self-discipline won out, along with a stronger desire to take every opportunity to shepherd my own little girl’s heart. I said nothing to the friends. Instead I talked to Abigail about friendship and serving your friends, putting their desires above your own, and not always trying to get your own way. I told her to just go back over there and play their game with them without trying to change the game. She calmed down, ran back to them, and promptly starting suggesting the other game again. Again they didn’t listen, again she ran to me in tears, again Mama Bear rared up, and again I tamed her down. I reminded Abigail of what I had just told her, and told her that she needed to be selfless and let her two friends play what they wanted without trying to control them. She finally was able to calm down and let go of the reins and play the detective game with her friends.
That night it was obvious that she was still upset, so her daddy and I spent some time talking to her in her room. Her biggest issue was hurt that her best friend so quickly ignored her to play with someone else. So we talked about how friends will let us down, and do things that hurt our feelings, and sometimes won’t listen to us, but that Jesus is the friend that will always be there for us and never let us down. We talked and prayed and she shared her heart with us. Later, while Clay was reading to Catherine and Elisabeth, she came downstairs and asked if she could stay up late that night just to spend time with Mommy and Daddy. Although I had to tell her no, it warmed my heart because I knew that we had soothed her hurt heart by taking time to talk it through with her. The next day her paragraph topic for Grammar was “Things I Like About My Family.” One of the points she wrote was “spending time with Mom and Dad because they make me feel safe and warm.”
If I had let Mama Bear out of her cave and made the girls do what Abigail wanted, my child would have gotten her way and not had her feelings hurt as much as they ended up being hurt, but we would have missed the shepherding opportunity, the closeness that we felt that night, and another opportunity to point her to Christ. Mama Bear tendencies can be overwhelming at times. I love my children with a fierce love that longs to protect them from all hurt in life, but that is not a helpful desire. I am so thankful that I tamed the mama bear that day. My child didn’t get her way and her feelings got hurt, but hopefully her heart softened a little to the ways of Christ-like friendship. And if it takes hurt feelings to open her eyes to the love of Christ, I’ll tame that mama bear anyday.