My love/hate relationship with Mamma Bear

Whenever I have an aversion to use a word or phrase that everyone else seems to love, I’ve started to realize it’s worth exploring.

This week, a phrase that seems to be beloved in our special needs community has been caused me to wince several times. And that phrase is: Mamma Bear.

I know that probably makes me different from many parents of children with special needs. What could possibly be wrong with the image of a Mamma Bear when it comes to parenting our vulnerable kids? I know plenty of moms I respect and admire who fiercely protect and defend her children at the risk of her own safety, popularity, and mental health. In the special needs community (if I can generalize for a moment here), saying we’re a Mamma Bear is like wearing a badge of honor, and typically something we strive to become. Because the opposite–abandoning or neglecting our children–is simply so against our nature as mammals (human, bear or otherwise) that it is repulsive.

But here’s my problem with the concept of Mamma Bear:  

By nature, I am not a confrontational person. If I’m honest with myself, I’m almost dysfunctionally conflict averse. Getting over my need for everyone to like me all of the time is something I’m working on. And so in the past, the equation proposed by the special needs community (or maybe it’s just the message that I have internalized) that “advocating = fighting” has been really unproductive for me.

I’m so not comfortable being the Mamma Bear that it caused me to check out and run away from some really intense fears about needing to put on my armor and fight. And I don’t deny that sometimes, you may have to fight. I’m not trying to change those Mamma Bears who are getting things done out their on their childrens’ behalf. I’m simply saying that for me, that approach doesn’t work.

Recently though, it has occured to me that there must be another way for me to relate to the experience of advocating for my child, one that doesn’t trigger all sorts of negative emotions that shut me down. What if the opposite of abandon and neglect doesn’t have to be conflict? What if, instead of seeing the special ed administrators, the ignorant teachers, the “system” as the opposing side to be dealt with shock and awe, I could bring something else?

I still haven’t found the full answer to what that option could be.  I’m experimenting with using honest compassion as my tool–trying to see the people I’m relying on to care for me child as people first. People who had dreams of making a difference at one time, people who do deep down still want that. When I can see that person, and connect with that person, something happens in our dynamic that is really hard to put my finger on, but it is powerful. Maybe when I see them with compassion, my own fear is not triggered, and I can talk to them in a way that is more present. I’m not sure. But it seems to be working well enough that I’m going to continue to explore it.

To all you conflict averse parents of special needs children out there, do you have a mindset that works for you?

Published by Cristin Lind

Facilitator, consultant, speaker for better health and care through patient-professional partnership. Passionate about helping change agents build courage and agency. She/her.

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