It seems to have such a positive connotation at first, doesn’t it? The notion of the protective parent, getting between her (or HIS) babies and any element of danger?
But here’s the thing (trigger warning): the key word in that sentence is BABIES.
And—I say this with love because I am SO right in it with ya—if your child is old enough to be going to school, he or she is no longer a baby.
And the loving—and biblical—thing to do is to empower them to become more and more age-appropriately independent. Preferably before they have to leave the den.
Now, this “mama bear” concept is not new—in fact, even Urban Dictionary (where I go to understand what my teens are saying to me) has a definition for it: “a mom who can be cuddly and lovable but also has a ferocious side when it's necessary to protect her cubs.”
No one personifies this more, perhaps, than the infamous Beverly Goldberg of “The Goldbergs.” Described as, “An overbearing, hyper-emotional shopaholic with no sense of boundaries and a big mouth that she's not afraid to use,” Beverly is, as her kids would say, #smotherly. “She gives everything to her kids and has been there every step of the way… Just one problem: She's at the point in her life where it's time to start letting go, but she CAN'T.”
My favorite example of this is an exchange with her husband during a Halloween episode in which she wants to follow her oldest son (age 16) to a party and talk to a girl he likes, because she’s afraid the girl will reject him:
Dad: “Bevy, you can’t always be there to protect the kid from heartbreak.”
Mom: “Why are you talking crazy? Of course I can!”
Dad: “If you keep standing in his way, he will never grow up, and I will not allow this.”
Mom: “I am his mother and I am going to protect him.”
Dad “I am his father, and I am protecting him from YOU.”
(For the sake of this post, I’m going to pretend I can’t relate with her AT. ALL.)
Bev, it turns out, has become quite the cultural phenomenon. Based on the real-life Beverly (mother of the show’s creator), her parenting, um, “style” has become quite popular—there are websites dedicated to her, you can cook her recipes, take a quiz to see how much you’re like her, and share memes about #goingallbev on somebody, like that’s a good thing.
But IS it a good thing?
When we “Mama bear” our kids to the point where they’re unable to pick out their own clothes, don’t have enough social skills to ask a girl out, can’t talk to a teacher about a bad grade, don’t know how to make toast, pump gas, or do laundry, and count on US to get them out of any and every difficult situation, we’ve not done our children any favors.
In fact, we’ve handicapped them.
Twice in the New Testament Paul tells parents not to “provoke” their children, so they “do not become discouraged.”
We usually read this verse and in our minds we translate “provoke” into something like “torment, goad, or aggravate.” But the connotation is really one of causing a child to become “stirred up, resentful, or bitter.” Because behaving in such a way with our kids is disheartening to them. It crushes their spirit. It discourages them.
I mean, what could be more discouraging than knowing your parent doesn’t think you’re capable of doing something?
We’ve been given our children—whether they’re 6, 16, or 26—only on loan from the Lord. They are not ours to keep, despite how much our hearts may break at the thought of them giving them back. And we’ve been assigned ONE MAIN TASK with them: to train them up in the ways of the Lord so that even when they are old they will not depart from them. (Proverbs 22:6)
Training, like it or not, is not the same as rescuing. Over-protecting. Enabling. And you know the difference—you FEEL it. When you desperately think it’s on YOU to spare your child from pain (really THINK about THAT one for a moment) rather than trusting God to know what your child most needs in order to become the woman or man of God she or he is meant to become, you are not walking in faith.
Because despite your very best efforts to avoid them ever getting hurt (because, face it—when it hurts them, it hurts US and WE don’t want to feel that pain), they ARE going to hurt. They’re going to fall off the jungle gym after you’ve warned them not to go that high. They’re going to fail that test they really, really studied for. They’re going to get their heart broken by a guy or a girl. They’re going to make stupid decisions that have life-altering consequences. And it’s gonna hurt like HECK. For all of you.
But it’s not Beverly Goldberg who’s going to save them. Nor is it going to be YOU.
It’s going to be Jesus.
Because he’s the ONE THING they desperately need even more than a world class “#smother."
Train them up, fellow moms and dads. Train them up well.
But when the time comes—and it’s going to come over and over and over again—the very best thing you can do for them is to trust God,
and then let them go.