I have a young friend, a dear and very much beloved friend, who refers to her future mother-in-law as “Mamma Bear”. This label is spoken with a mixture of affection and exasperation; it has come, to me, to mean a woman who is overly involved in, and overly protective of, the life and happiness of her child. I hear the term with an internal shudder, and a sinking feeling that I may one day be someone’s “Mamma bear”. “Oh, no…not me!”, I think, when I hear those two words spoken in reference to some ridiculously overbearing behavior.
I have no desire, I promise you, to be overly involved in the lives of my adult children. I do NOT want to be responsible for their diets, their financial stability or their personal fulfillment. I have no desire to control their love lives or their professional development. I do not seek, in any way, to choreograph each step on the path to their respective futures.
But there is a small undercurrent here, a subtle yet powerful truth that I am finding it hard to deny. That truth has been staring me in the face in the past few weeks, and I am slowly beginning to realize that I do harbor an inner “Mamma Bear.”
That truth looks something like this: If you hurt my child, deprive my child of her dreams or hopes or plans; if you cause her the kind of pain that cuts through all of her courage and strength and confidence, then I will be absolutely unforgiving. I will not give you the benefit of the doubt. I will not make excuses for your youth or your family life or your personal struggles. I will not, under any circumstances, care about how you feel. If you hurt my child, then I will put every ounce of my energy into healing her and giving her comfort. You will no longer even register on my radar.
I don’t necessarily think that my feelings are noble or admirable or correct. I just know, in the same way that I know that I need to breathe, that by harming my child you have given up all rights to my love and support. I can’t control this reaction. I can’t decide to think logically and to react with care. I could never, ever promise to be objective. I cannot stop the force of nature that is my “Mamma bear” self. If you hurt my child, I will do everything in my power to cut you from our lives and our hearts.
I don’t want to be the “Mamma Bear” who makes my daughter-in-law cringe; I won’t bring favorite foods to the home of my nearly married sons. I won’t interfere in fashion, furniture or food choices. I will never, ever criticize the love of my child’s life. I don’t want to be worrying about the details of my kids’ lives: been there and done that!! I swear, I promise: I really do want to be done with this part of parenting.
BUT: when someone has been given love, respect and support from all of our family; when someone has earned the love of our wonderful, generous, giving child; when that someone decides, on what can only be called an impulse, to walk away from all that has been given, leaving behind only confusion and pain and loss, then the “Mamma Bear” will rear her ugly head.
There can be no explanation that will make me feel better about the sadness that I see every day. There can be no reasonable excuse for the callousness of the action that was taken that left my child bereft and alone. There is no conversation, no logic, no description that can ease the fallout from a one sided decision.
And in this situation, in this moment, I am not ashamed to be the “Mamma Bear.” In this moment, I take the role on with some pride; you will not hurt my baby without facing me, in all my wrath and strength. I realize now that when I gave birth, I became a secret “Mamma Bear”, just waiting for my moment to be released.