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The struggle to keep your cool as a parent.

September 12, 2013

Have you ever watched those nature shows on television about animals in the wild? I love the ones with the mamas and their babies. Not too long ago, I saw one about a mama bear and her little cubs. They all (including mom) looked so cute and cuddly, until some other animal messed with them. My, how quickly things changed! Mom was immediately on her two back legs, lunging, clawing, and snarling, looking terrifyingly angry. She effectively sent the message that she is not to be messed with, especially when it came to her cubs.

Sometimes, I feel like that mama bear, too.

A few years ago, my son was attending a day camp. The camp went on a field trip, and there was a “miscommunication of sorts” between my son and the camp counselors regarding eating lunch. Long story short, he had his lunch with him but didn’t eat it when he was supposed to (he said he never heard them give instructions to eat), and when he asked to eat later, he was told that he couldn’t, and that he had missed lunch and lunchtime was over.

That afternoon, when I picked him up from camp, he immediately told me his version of what happened and that he was hungry. Cue the Angry Mama Bear! I was very angry and very confused. Who were these people that told my child, with food in his hand, that he could not eat it?! Those that know me, know that I am a very friendly, mild mannered person by nature, but after hearing what happened, I wanted to walk back in there and let everyone know (loudly) how extremely unhappy I was!

I did go back in, only to learn that the person I needed to talk to had left for the day. I left a message with the staff, who quickly sensed my displeasure, and went on my way. My next step? Feed my son and try to calmly question him again, to get his full side of the story and try to see if there was any pieces of the story I was missing. I wanted to make sure before I discussed the matter with the staff, that I was aware of any poor choices on my son’s part. Did he ignore the instructions, or just not hear them? Did he use good manners when he asked to eat? Was there anything he should or should not have done? Did he do his best to stick up for himself and let people know what he needed? We talked, and I learned that my son did his part, and according to him, was not acting up and was behaving appropriately.

The next morning at camp, my husband and I decided that we would drop off our son together, as a unified force, and were greeted by exactly who we needed to talk to. I asked her, calmly, if we could all meet somewhere and talk. She agreed. As we sat down, I took a deep breath and tried to gather myself.  I wanted to raise my voice. I wanted to question her logic, her rationale, her intelligence. I wanted to yell. I wanted to ask her, who, exactly, did she think she was, to deny a (MY) child food?! I know my husband felt the same way. However, we kept ourselves under control.

I kept control because I didn’t want to be “that mom.”

We all know who “that mom” (or “that dad”) is. I’ve been “that mom” before. Maybe you’ve been “that mom” or “that dad” before, too. He or she marches in to the room, yells, fusses, and demands. Sure, they may get results, but they rarely get respect. As soon as he or she leaves, everyone sighs, rolls their eyes, and shakes their head. They might do as they’ve been asked, but it’s only because they don’t want to be bothered by him or her again. “That mom” or “that dad” often embarrasses their kid and ends up looking foolish to everyone around them.

We didn’t want this situation to go down like that.  We wanted to create a culture of respect between us and the camp staff. We felt that if we, as parents, were respected, there was a greater chance of our child being respected, which leads to his needs being taken care of.

So, I took a deep breath, and let my Mama Bear alter ego step aside. I wanted this person to know how I felt about what happened, but in a helpful way. We wanted results and respect. Respect for us would equal respect for our child. Besides, this really wasn’t even about us. It was about him. The way we handled this situation mattered, because it directly affected the way we, and in turn, he, would be treated by the people that worked at the camp.

We told her exactly what we were told by our child. I told her that she was the one that my son said told him “lunchtime was over,” along with a few other concerns that had been brewing since camp started.

We did not raise our voices, but we were firm. We were careful. We did not accuse her of saying these things to our child, but we did let her know what our son told us. We even took it a step further, and presented to her a wish to work together on this, so as to lessen any feeling she might have been having of being attacked.

She apologized. Her eyes welled up with tears. She swore she did not remember saying telling him he couldn’t eat, but at the same time, owned that “things happen.” She assured us that it would not happen again. That was enough for me. I didn’t need a confession. I needed a verbal agreement that things would be better going forward.

Lesson Learned

When we, as parents, find ourselves in situations where someone has “done our child wrong,” it can be very difficult. Sometimes, our kids act up and receive their due consequences. But sometimes, they suffer because caretakers (school staff and personnel, camp counselors, coaches, babysitters, etc) make poor decisions. In this case, it seems that the camp was staffed by somewhat inexperienced young people, working their summer jobs, and led by a leader that did not always make good decisions.

Harnessing our Angry Mama (or Daddy) Bear can be quite a task. However, I’ve learned that to get the results that I’m looking for when it comes to my son, and the appropriate treatment that I think he deserves, I have to take conscious steps to not be “that mom.” I have to slow down, stay calm, share my concerns and make my requests. I don’t do it that way for me; I do it that way for him.

Letting our kids know that we, as parents, are their biggest supporters, defenders, and advocators has a powerful effect on their self worth. They feel important and that their feelings and experiences matter. It helps them learn how to assertively defend themselves and speak up for others around them. It gives them the feeling that they are people too, with rights and deserve respect. We did our best to do that for our son that day, and we will continue to be there for him in any way that we can.

Have you ever been “That Mom” or “That Dad”?  Do you have any tips for dealing with tough situations when it comes to the care of your children?