How to Be a Fearbuster Mom

Callie’s instagram picture above says just about everything I want to say to young moms today:

Put your game face on, but admit that you are terrified.

Vulnerability and valor are not mutually exclusive. Fear is unavoidable, and you’ll probably feel a lot better if you’ll admit you feel it. But fear sure is a terrible motivation for just about any endeavor in life, especially for parenting. Make fear parenthetical and make the rest of your scary job as a mom the main sentence. That’s courage.

Somehow, I think we moms are duped into thinking we have to raise children who are respectful, beautiful, obedient, happy, and nice. We have to make the exact right choice every single day about schedules, snacks, and sleep. We have to feel peaceful and exude peace to our children. It gets more complicated as the years go by. Netflix, video games, “bad” friend choices, parties, sleepovers, clothes, sports, all threaten the illusion of “safe for the whole family.”

Speaking in our ears all the time is the blaring voice of a very opinionated Christian culture which, by the way, is telling you in some cases the exact opposite of what it told me when you were little. And if we listen to this voice, the world we eventually launch our kids into becomes a scary place… to us. If we’re not careful, our kids will learn this slightly paranoid world view from us. One type of kid will find this fascinating and go for it, ill-equipped and wild. Another type of kid will anxiously close in and make his or her own world smaller than God ever meant it to be.

Somewhere along the way, probably at those times when a few of my worst fears actually happened, I became more focused on my Father and what he could give me and less on what I could give my kids. And my fear began to subside a little.

Recently my courageous friend Karen pointed out a surprising phrase at the end of Jesus’ words about how our heavenly Father is a better Parent than we are, even though we have good enough instincts to give our kids fish instead of snakes and bread instead of stones:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13

So God doesn’t always give us the safety we crave for our children or enough money for a college fund or a house in a good school district. He may not enable us to help our kids keep up with every fashion trend or new tutoring program. We may find “bad” friends at our doorsteps, or our own kids may be treated, rightly or not, as the “bad” kids. Things may not go according to the newest parenting plan you learned at the newest parenting class.

But God promises to give good gifts, and the only gift He mentions in a parenting parable every child born to a parent understands is this: His Holy Spirit.

As I began to defer in my fear to this Holy Spirit, the one who represents Jesus inside of me and around me, who illuminates the Word of God with a still small voice in the still, scary mornings or the dark, scarier nights of parenting. As I began to hear him, I found a place to tell my fear out loud. And I discovered my path for the next nanosecond of my life, including what to do next as a parent. I could rest, at peace, knowing this was a voice I could trust. Every next was in his hands.

It wasn’t a template, and it hardly ever looked the same twice, but in the best sense it “worked.” Not knowing the outcome (Ahhhhh… the fear in that!) turned out to be the best plan of all.

This January, one of our sons had this to say about his childhood in his journal:

“We didn’t have much money—so this perfection did not look like a big house, a nanny, or frequent vacations. But we did have something significantly more important and lasting—unconditional love… It was beneath my feet from such a young age propelling me forward in confidence and strength. I had fears, doubts, insecurities, but they were never a huge burden on my life because of the culture of peace and love my parents created for our home.”

If I could edit his journal, and I can’t, I’d correct that last phrase. I’d say that we did not create the culture we ended up with over the years. While we, being evil, were handing out fish and bread as best we could, God was doing the rest. And the rest was pretty much all of it.

Mama Bear: 10 Reasons Why Maternal Ursinity is Almost Never a Good Idea

Because I got the flu this week, you get leftovers. The following post is the most viewed on this blog, so chances are you’ve already read it. But in case you haven’t and in case you thought being a Mama Bear to your cubs was a good idea, here you go…

Bill says if I could bottle my indignation and sell it on eBay, I’d be rich. It’s true. On some days, the slightest provocation against someone I love can set me off. I admit it, I have the feral instincts of a Mama Bear.

One of our sons came home from school one afternoon and announced that Suzy Q (you guessed it, not her real name) had broken up with him. He and Suzy were in seventh grade. I responded that I didn’t know he was “going out” with Suzy.

He said, “I didn’t either.”

He didn’t sound too upset, just bewildered. His manhood had been bruised, if only slightly. So I said, out loud, “That’s okay. Her nose is too big anyway.”

See? I swatted with my clumsy bear paw before I had a chance to think. It was just a comment, not one I’m proud of, but it’s a little reminder that the Mama Bear is not just a storybook myth. She is real. And she’s not what you think. The furry matriarch with the porridge and the medium-sized bed is atypical at best. I used to wonder why Goldilocks jumped out the window and ran home when, in all the books, the bear family’s home looked so cozy. The bears themselves seemed friendly and harmless. But Goldilocks must have guessed the true nature of those ursine creatures. Smart girl, she exited before things got ugly. There’s a reason bears are in zoos and not in people’s backyards. Think Mama Bear, and you may as well think grizzly.

Contrary to popular belief, what your kids need is a Mama, not a Mama Bear.

I believe this so wholeheartedly, I’ve compiled a list of my reasons not to be a Mama Bear. But before I share, let me say I’m not talking about “Mama Bear episodes.” Maternal fury isn’t safe, but sometimes it’s necessary, because there are real dangers out there. Most of us are prepared for those. We carry sunscreen to the beach, we have the “don’t take candy from strangers” talk, we meet our kids at the bus stop. We know where in the house to gather our children in tornado weather. Which window to help them through in a fire. Where to meet in Disneyland if we get separated. How to call 911. When action is required to defend our loved ones, we don’t hesitate. We act.

But the truth is I’ve never climbed out a second story window in a fire, or out any window for that matter. I’ve never called 911. Poison Control a few times, but never 911.

In all our years of raising school-age children, I can only think of two times we called the school to defend or protect our children. (See #3 below for a hint on how that went.) I can think of only once when I barred the door to our house and told a child (an extremely shady sixteen-year-old who hung out with the twelve-year-olds in the neighborhood) he could not come in our house. Only once. That’s because we learned early on that rising up on hind legs and roaring at our kids’ adversaries, real or imagined, was simply not in their best interest, not then or in the long run.

Did our kids experience unfairness at the hands of those we entrusted them to—teachers and coaches—and from others who were less trustworthy—their peers? You bet they did. Did other parents ever judge or scold them unfairly? Did they get a bad grade or two they didn’t deserve? Were they ever left out, uninvited, teased, cut from a team, or placed last on the roster? Yes, all the time. Did these experiences break our hearts harder and longer than they did theirs? You know it. Were we tempted to intervene? To charge in and fix things? Yes and yes. But most often we did not, and here’s why:

1. Mama Bears teach their children that they are victims, that the world is a scary place and people are out to get them. Every single adult I know who views the world like this either had a parent who stepped in too often or almost never. And these same adults do not handle life well because life was either always or never handled for them. (Different wounds, same result)

2. Mama Bears lose out on valuable coaching times. This is really sappy, but a companion plaque for “Sometimes God calms the storm and sometimes he calms his child,” might be “Sometimes Mom and Dad calm the storm and sometimes they calm the child.” I know how sweet it is to meet God in the middle of a trial, to get his perspective and his comfort, to learn a lesson in the strong arms of Christ. Why would I want to miss out on that kind of interaction with my child?

3. Mama Bears lose the right to bare their claws when it’s time. Once Bill called the school about something (not even involving our children), and the headmaster responded immediately. He told me, “I know if Bill Murray has a problem with us, it’s probably a real problem.” This was not due to our wisdom, but rather to our silence.

4. Mama Bears tip the scale from ownership to entitlement. Every time life is not fair and you tell your child it should be, you at best distract them from taking full ownership of their culpability in their problems.

5. Mama Bears are not the same as Helicopter Moms. A Helicopter Mom’s actions are predicated upon distrust, in her kids and in everyone else. Mama Bear assumes her kid is blameless and everyone else is at fault. Do I have to say how unhealthy this is?

6. While a Mama Bear’s claws are retractable, her words are not. Whether they agree with us or not, people listen. Maybe we exonerate or extricate our kid in this instance, but our accusations of others lead to judgments. The damage, like fertilizer, spreads. And, like fertilizer, it smells rotten. Which leads to…

7. A Mama Bear is her own worst enemy. In the end, her knee-jerk reaction to any perceived assault on her kids hurts her as much as it does anyone else because it turns her into something she never wanted to be. A Mama Bear is a carnivore with bones in her belly. She lives in a cave and has a tough hide. Great qualities for living in the wild, but not so great for mingling with humanity.

8. Mama Bears teach their kids to pounce first and ask questions later. This, friends, is how prickly people are made. More than once, I drove one of our sons home as he sobbed his heart out in the backseat after an unsuccessful tryout for a team. And more than once, my heart still aching for him, I overheard his phone conversation with a friend who’d also been cut, the two of them plotting how they would “rock the rec league this year and try out again next year.” Had I been that mom, the one who calls the coach to fill his ears with how blind he must be to not see the potential in her child (I have actually heard parents whose children were mediocre athletes claim they could “go pro” if only the coach would give them a chance), I’d have missed this miracle of growth in my son.

9. Mama Bears may even unwittingly mask the message of the Gospel. Do we really want to take the pristine truth that “there is no other name by which we are saved” and add “no other name but Mama’s” to it? I know it sounds absurd, but think about it for a minute. Who is God? Defender, Redeemer, Emmanuel, God with us. If he is all these things, then maybe, just maybe, he allowed this or that unfairness to occur so that our kids will learn who he is in very real terms. Maybe he wants to defend them himself. To rescue them. Maybe his purpose is not for us to wage war.

10. Mama Bears devalue their children. Yes, our kids need us to be their advocates and cheerleaders. They need us to be for them. But that’s the point. They need us to be for them, not just for their comfort, their achievements, their grades, their reputations or even their momentary happiness. When we act as if it’s the end of the world when these things are challenged, we tell our kids this is what matters most. But when we sit with them in their sorrow or their frustration, we show them that they—right now and at the end of a hard road—that they matter.

As adjectives go, ursine is a useful word. It anthropomorphizes a noble human action: fierce protection of one’s family. But turn it into a noun, a word that doesn’t just define the action, but the whole person, and, well, that’s another story. To act ursine at the right time… acceptable, noble even. To be ursine, to have the blood of a bear lumbering through your veins… inhuman.

If someone is in real danger, don’t tame the savage beast of the Mama Bear. Sometimes it’s appropriate to act ursine—a toddler wanders close to the edge of the deep end, a stranger approaches your twelve-year-old daughter in a parking lot, signs of distress are all over your teenager’s life—go ahead, stand up and roar.

But you were created to be a human, not a bear. Someday your kids will thank you for remembering that.

Girl Meets Boy: Holiday Edition

{The holidays are coming, and we are gonna eat around here. I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about cooking for men, and I’m re-sharing them with you here today… along with a new favorite recipe at festive Murray gatherings. I’m not sure if it has a name. We just call it crack. So, cheers to you and yours, and enjoy the feast, beginning to end.}

By all rights I oughta be one conflicted woman.

Heavily influenced by my grandmother, Lula Grace Burton, who took me to tea rooms and taught me how to set a table and made ginger bread palaces with me at Christmas. Raised by Mary Lu Smith, a bona fide artist who rebelled (just a little) against her mother’s domestic felicity and let me make fancy dinners while she preferred to cut the grass. (To this day she’ll tell you she hates to cook, but I think she’s lying. You can’t be that good at something you hate.) I was taught that women were so much more than “all that” at Agnes Scott College, where marriage and family were not worthy enough goals for a woman of letters. Bill Murray showed up to challenge that line of reasoning. And I rejoice that he did.

I tell you, the ghost of my grandmother lived in our house. But so did four boys and one man… and me.  Ever since the birth of our first son, I have had this tug of war to maintain the “all that” of womanhood and to relish the “nothing like that” that was so prevalent in a testosterone-dominated house, as well as staging a little coup in my own head. I love both of these polar-opposite worlds. And every once in a miraculous while my two worlds come together.

Here’s one unexpected place where they do: in the humble appetizer.

When a boy reaches twelve, or whatever age puts a little fuzz on his upper lip and an unearned swagger in his step, the phrase “that will spoil your dinner” becomes obsolete. Nothing will spoil his dinner. I’m not saying you should add appetizers to the menu at this stage of your family’s life. Heaven forbid, another standard to feel guilty about! (But maybe you could let up on the scolding about snacking.) I am saying you should let yourself do it if you’re so inclined. Here’s what I’ve discovered about appetizers:

They all but enforce your guys to hover in the kitchen, near you. Don’t tell them… I didn’t plan this part, but I’m not complaining. I know this may not seem like a good thing right now, but the day is coming when you’ll miss all that under-footed-ness and you’ll want some of it back.

They increase the specialness factor of the meal. I remember when I’d make “sad food” for a post-funeral potluck or “happy food” for a family with a new baby, and the boys would act all hurt that it wasn’t for them. An appetizer feels like it is all for them, because it is.

But here’s the benefit of an appetizer that I appreciate most: It lets me be a girl in a boy’s world. The recipe that follows is a perfect example. Pork tenderloin meets caprese salad. Carnivore meets pretty.

The very fact that I’m flinching a little as I post a recipe on a blog that isn’t about recipes is proof that I’m still that girl who was nurtured by two strong women (three, if you count Agnes) and, thus, I have this approach-avoidance issue with domesticity. But, in the end, I love food, and I love it when it brings my worlds together:

Caprese Salad with Pork Tenderloin

One small pork tenderloin, grilled, any flavor (This recipe was inspired by the leftover teriyaki pork loin in my refrigerator on Mother’s Day)

Heirloom tomatoes
Buffalo mozzarella
Fresh basil leaves
Fresh herbs (your pick – I used rosemary, dill, parsley, and oregano)
Salt and pepper and a little garlic powder
Balsamic glaze (you can find it near the vinegars in the grocery store)
Extra virgin olive oil in a spray bottle

Spritz a platter with a little olive oil. Arrange medallions of the pork (I just cut everything to be close to the same size). Top with generous slices of the cheese, then the basil. Place a slice of tomato on top. Season. Spray with some more olive oil and pour the glaze over all, to taste (and in a pretty pattern, of course). You can use toothpicks if you’d like, but not necessary.

Murray Crack

1/2 cup mayo
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup any flavor Captain Rodney’s glaze (you can buy it here)
2 green onions, chopped
6 Ritz crackers, crushed
6 slices cooked and crumbled bacon

In a bowl, combine mayo, cream cheese, cheddar cheese and onions.
Pour into a greased quiche pan.
Top with crackers and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
While still hot, top with crumbled bacon and Captain Rodney’s glaze.
Serve with crackers, corn chips, or crostini.