My son is a third generation Eagle Scout. After the early years of learning to tie knots, pitch tents, and cook over the campfire, he graduated to intense backpacking trips in places that weren’t always safe. One of the first things he learned was to never ever get between a mother bear and her cub. A single female will often just turn and wander away, but a mother defending her young is deadly.
How is it that mothers in nature instinctively go to battle for their offspring, when so many humans step back and let life happen to their children? Those of you who have been following my ramblings for a long time know that I’m not talking about protecting our children from their own choices or coddling them. I’m talking about the times when “no” is just not an option, times when I will not allow others to define my child, times when I do battle with the professional establishment because I know my child better than they do. Never forget that we live in a fallen world. Our children are filled with potential to do good and our enemy will always seek to shut them down.
I am not by nature an aggressive woman. I honestly strive to be a gentle spirit. However, when my cub is threatened, I leap outside my quiet, introverted nature and become a different creature entirely. I can be a mama bear when I have to be.
Sometimes our role is more of an advocate for our children. We need to open doors of opportunity for them when they are unable to do it themselves.
When my youngest was in 8th grade and my oldest a junior, we suddenly moved to a new state in mid-summer, prompting the need to quickly find educational resources if we were not to lose a year at this critical juncture in their development. We literally moved in on one day and left unpacked boxes the next day to attend the state’s homeschool convention. I knew what I needed and went from booth to booth asking questions and seeking help to quickly acclimate in a new environment. I wasn’t worried about curriculum, I needed people. And, by being transparent, I found them. Women would leave their booth unattended to crisscross the convention hall to introduce me to the people I needed. Word got out and people we didn’t know began seeking us.
That day I got a recommendation from a friendly musician mom for the best violin teacher in our part of the state. When I called about lessons the very next day, I got the polite response that his studio was full. Knowing this was the man I needed and that I only had seconds to change his mind, I stepped into the advocate role:
“I can appreciate that your studio is full, but let me tell you a little bit about my daughter. First, we homeschool so are entirely flexible with lesson times. Secondly, my 14-year-old daughter absolutely loves her violin. She will rush in from outside wanting to play what she’s seen or heard. I never remind her to practice. She regularly puts in 4-5 hours a day. Her teacher back in Oklahoma says she’s absolutely fearless. She will try anything and welcomes correction. She started playing Unaccompanied Bach at age 12.”
I held my breath and waited. An entirely different voice was on the other end – an enthusiastic voice that WAS interested in auditioning my daughter for his studio. He had time to do so in three days.
After securing a violin teacher, our most pressing need, I began unpacking boxes while making calls to local homeschool groups and area churches to find other resources. That next weekend found us hiking up a mountain with a church youth group. During the hike, I got to know the people who had started out as strangers. I casually mentioned that (even though I had no experience) I wanted to start a speech and debate club for my son since there wasn’t one in our area of the state. I discovered two moms who shared my desire, a teenager that had just been to a debate camp and, over lunch, we had laid plans to form a group.
Within two weeks of moving to a state where we had no family and knew not a soul, we had a music community and a debate community plus a whole new circle of friends.
Sometimes we have to fight to secure a spot for our children to prove themselves.
In our little corner of the world, AP classes are hard to find, much less a place to take the AP test. It took a great deal of persistence to secure a spot for my oldest to take his first AP test with a public school class. To get my foot in the door, I had to negotiate to pay the proctor (even though they were already being paid). Eventually I placed calls all over the state and wound up at a science and math magnet school with great testing conditions. I was willing to make the 200-mile drive and pay for a hotel room to give my students the best shot at positioning themselves for a top college berth.
Some parents have to fight hard for testing accommodations for their children with disabilities.
This process takes years of documentation and a fierce tenacity to jump through the hoops to give their child a level playing field. Even after accommodations are secured, a parent must remain vigilant. One of my friends had to draw heavily on her courage to refuse a test that came in with the wrong accommodations and insist that the school re-order the right one. Come to find out, had she backed down (and stayed in her comfort zone) her child’s AP test would have been disqualified and he would have lost a year of work.
At the far end of the spectrum are the parents who are literally fighting for the life of their child.
They do battle for the right medical care, the most helpful therapies, and the best doctors. They live in the middle of the struggle around the clock.
Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, I encourage you to move outside what is comfortable when your children need you. By doing so, you begin to train them how to advocate for themselves. They learn that they can, to a large degree, shape their world and create opportunities for themselves. But, they need to see you in action to learn how it is done.
I can be a mama bear when I have to be. Can you?
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