No More Mama Bear: The Love of Jesus Helps Us Love Other People’s Kids

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Anyone who has seen a few nature shows knows that mama bears in the wild are ferocious and will kill any being who threatens the life of their cubs. Humans and animals alike fear the mama bear, yet also revere her willingness to do whatever it takes to protect her offspring.

Among humans, the phrase “mama bear” is often used to highlight a mother’s loyalty. Search the web and you’ll find multiple companies producing t-shirts and mugs hailing the “Mama Bear.” The countless memes circulating are both hilarious and scary. The underlying message of all these is the same: Mess with my kids, and I’ll mess you up.

On one level, I get it. I love my children fiercely and I’m a bit frightened by the potential damage I could inflict on someone who physically attacked one of them. However, it becomes quite problematic if the mama bear instinct carries over into all areas of life. 

If my kid seems challenged too much or too little by the teacher at school, ROAR! 

If a coach doesn’t seem to treat my kid fairly, ROAR! 

If another child appears to threaten my kid’s success, ROAR!

I am particularly mystified that this “mama bear instinct” is often lauded in Christian communities. I have watched others nod with approval when a mother uses it to justify her own questionable behavior, and I’ve heard others use it as a way to excuse a mother’s completely unacceptable (and sometimes un-Christian) behavior.

Today’s Christian Woman ​published an article entitled “Releasing Your Inner Mama Bear.” The tagline intrigued me: “Nurturing and using your maternal instinct for the best.” Oh, I hoped, she’s going to write about utilizing that instinct for those other than your own children – particularly those who are most vulnerable.

As the author put it, “Like bears in the wild that instinctively protect their young from predators, moms are hardwired to protect and to advocate for their own cubs.” Her primary example involved speaking up so that school staff would switch her child into classes she believed better suited her child’s giftedness.

While that is not a bad desire or course of action, what about all of the other cubs? Especially those children without someone to protect and advocate for them?

Christians, it is imperative that we disrupt the mama bear narrative.

Our desire to endlessly pursue what we perceive to be what is best for our children can – and does – harm other children. While we rarely intend to hurt other kids, our children’s path to “success” often leaves other children in the dust. Our children benefit to the detriment of others.

Take a gander at our current systems of education. Under the guise of knowing what is best for their children, parents stress mightily about where to send them to school. I’ve heard countless discussions around which of the “good schools” kids should attend, as no one would even consider a “bad school.” And once their children are secured in a good school, parents are ready to pounce if anything or anyone appears to threaten their child’s success. Mama bears expend valuable energy clawing their way through their child’s time in the “good schools,” energy that could be used to aid otherwise defenseless cubs elsewhere.

This approach to parenting simply does not align with one seeking to walk a life of service guided by the sacrificial love of Jesus. It’s time we considered the value of a different kind of animal mother.

I’d vote for the elephant. According to a BBC article entitled ​10 Astonishing Animal Parents, “In times of danger group parenting comes into its own as all the older elephants form an outward-facing circle when under threat, keeping the vulnerable calf protected in the middle.”

What if human moms naturally defaulted to this behavior, protecting the most vulnerable children in our society by uniting to form a hedge of protection? Mama elephants aren’t just looking out for their babies – truly they are their sister’s keeper!

According to the same article, baby elephants are sometimes kidnapped by other groups: “When this happens, the baby’s entire herd might group together, looking more powerful and threatening, in order to get back their precious cargo.”

Human mothers could learn from the elephants. Instead of hyperfocusing on their own children, moms ought to recognize that they are far more powerful when they work together. Christian mothers should regard every child as “precious cargo” and seek the good of other children as much as they do for their own.

There is simply no justification in the Bible for focusing ALL of our energies on our own children. We must pray to stop seeing boys and girls as “other people’s kids,” and start extending our love and care to them as if they are “ours,” and as valuable as our own. 

Our Lord loved children – ALL children. When the disciples tried to prevent some kids from approaching Jesus, he rebuked them and said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). He who did not marry, who produced no children of his own was – and is – a father to all. He did not value strong nuclear families above all other relationships – rather, the family unit is beautifully broadened in His kingdom. As Jesus proclaimed, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50).

So mothers, as we continue to love our own children, may we grow in our love for ALL children. And while we can learn from mother elephants, we aren’t animals. We are beloved humans, made in the image of the living God and raising image bearers in a world filled with other image bearers. We’ve been called to Him by grace alone, not by anything that any of us have done – and certainly not because we are especially good moms.

We serve a God who loves us, not because we are lovely but because he calls us beloved. And we learn the most about love in remembering that Jesus not only turned toward us in our rebellion but marched all the way to his death upon a cross. Because we are greatly loved, He calls us to love God and love our neighbor.

Every day we must fight our selfish (mama bear) instincts in order to walk in the often more difficult way of Jesus, who said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). We have to pray to remember that the story is much bigger than our little lives, yet also believe that the way we live our lives matters. For one day the King will say to us, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

 

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