When Mama Bear Is Provoked

by Erica Layne on May 22, 2012

When Mama Bear is Provoked

The wind, which is so typical in my neighborhood, picks up. I unload my boys from the car, wondering if shorts and flip flops were the best choice for them. (It’s late May!)

In the same way that they hear fire truck sirens long before I do, they instantly spot a small dog shivering away in front of the grocery store, his leash tied to a stack of houseplants for sale. We crouch near him, and the boys pet him tentatively. We don’t have any pets, so their interactions with animals are usually guarded at first.

A lady comments on the dog’s shivers, insinuating that we’re the cause. In my opinion, he’s more cold than frightened, but what do I know about dogs?

We’re about to say goodbye and head into the store when Trenton sticks his foot onto the little dog’s paw. The dog jumps back, but the lady’s reaction is far bigger. She acts like Trenton had just stomped the heck out of her toe, scolding me for “letting” him do that and whipping our her “I work at the humane society” card.

My heart is racing as it always does when Mama Bear flares up. I pointedly ask the woman if she has children and then (sarcastically) thank her for the scolding. Clearly not my finest moment! (And not even particularly witty either!)

I am usually a conflict avoider, but my children and my parenting strike a fierce reaction EVERY TIME they are confronted by a stranger. I can’t help myself! A sarcastic or passive aggressive comment almost always escapes! As much as I want to say that I’m going to change all at once and humble myself enough to take it with a smile, I know those blows hit too close to my core to extinguish immediately. Plus, when advice is given by an unrelated party (and at the cost of another person’s feelings over those of a dog!), I think standing up for yourself is merited.

That said, I don’t want to be rude, and I don’t often think quick on my feet either. So I decided that a rehearsed (albeit curt) response would be preferable to the sarcasm I’ve been known to let escape. In an effort to prepare for the next time Mama Bear is provoked, I have literally been walking around repeating these words out loud:

What do you think? It’s a step up from my gut reaction, right? I have said this aloud so much in the last couple of days that my three-year-old actually asked, “Why do you keep saying that?” (Ha!) But next time around, I am determined to be ready! I’ll let you know how it turns out. :)

What do you do when Mama Bear is provoked? Do you hold your tongue? Do you say something you usually regret? Do you stammer on the spot and then draft pointed comebacks in your mind for the next few days?

One more thing—

Once we were safely in the store and out of earshot of the animal crusader, I knelt down and asked Trenton why he had stepped on the dog’s paw.

“I just wanted it to lick my toes.”

All that for a no-harm-intended toe lick. 

Linked up with The Better Mom and Grace at Home.

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courtney May 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Unsolicited comments from strangers really get my blood boiling. I’ve never had someone get quite so involved! I like to think I would have said something very cutting (which isn’t great), but probably I just would have stumbled over my words and then scurried away feeling flustered. I think that phrase is a perfect reaction! And practicing it so you’re comfortable saying it is genius.

Alana @ Domestic Bliss Diaries May 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I, too, tend to be rude when people give unsolicited advice. I think I’ll have to write down your response and rehearse it next time someone involves themselves. After all, when said in a pleasant tone, we can make our “point” without losing our Christian testimony. Plus, rehearsing what to say is a great thing to pass along to our children as well, teaching them to deal with negative comments from others.
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Erica {let why lead} May 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Exactly! There is totally room for making a point, as you say, in a Christian life. (My husband could go forever on how Christ had a spine and was not afraid to be bold in the right circumstance! :) I also love your point about teaching our children that a planned response can help them stay in control.

Andrea Baker May 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm

This brings back a similar memory of when Kenzie was 14 months old and we were in the shoe section of a department store and Kenzie was walking around while I closely was supervising. This rather large lady was trying on shoes and walks in front of Kenzie. Kenzie accidentally steps on her foot (Kenzie weighed about 14 pounds at the time). And the lady explodes and complains that her foot hurts and walks away (pushing Kenzie down as she leaves)!! I walked away and could hear this lady telling her friend that people need to control their children….! I quickly told Nick that we needed to leave before I slapped that lady across the face. And then I was furious for days after thinking of every mean thing I could have told that lady but didn’t. Luckily I’ve had a lot of experience with rude people and have learned to ignore them and walk away, but now that I’m pregnant again the mama bear inside of me is returning! (Clearly these people do not have children)
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Erica {let why lead} May 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm

That is crazy! I admittedly love that story, though, because it proves that people are just nuts—I mean, who would push down a cute 14-month-old girl? AND it proves I’m not alone in brainstorming retaliation responses for the next several days! :)

Sarah May 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm

You can let trenton know that my dog will lick his toes, probably more then he would like haha! I can’t wait to see you guys!

Josh May 22, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Love the post Erica. Love the rehearsed response, and I can’t wait to hear how that goes!

Jillian May 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Reminds me of the time we were all walking to the library. At the time I had three children, all old enough to understand when spoken to/about. A lady approached me and stated that she, “Stopped at one because the chaos of many children would have been crazy, and I must be having the hardest time of [my] life, with those three following me everywhere.” My momma bear kicked in (hello! They can HEAR!), and I stated, “I’m sorry that you weren’t brave enough to take the chance at having the greatest joy ever known to human kind. MY children obviously are better behaved than your one was, and that child probably got their lack of manners from YOU.” Yes, I was mad, but dang, I was not going to let my children feel bad for existing!
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Erica {let why lead} May 22, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Oh man, that’s a good one! What really stands out here is what your children will take away from it. They’ll always know that you wanted them and that you have made them the most important people in your life. You go! :)

Thanks for commenting, Jillian!

Tricia May 23, 2012 at 3:06 am

In the moment I hold my tongue, but I usually wish I had the guts to say something because I usually do have something to say!

PS – I passed on some blog love to you: http://makingitfeellikehome.blogspot.com/2012/05/liebster-award.html
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Melanie May 23, 2012 at 3:46 am

I am so bad with confrontation. I can think of a million things I *wish* I would have said after the moment has passed, but in the heat of the moment I’m usually a stammering idiot. I love your rehearsed response. I might have to start practicing that one, too.
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Sarah May 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm

We were at our favorite lake town on a warm, early spring day. My three boys {and myself} tossing rocks into the water, as we always do in the spring when the ice goes out. Every year.

So I hear off in the distance, a man YELLING things. It took me a few minutes to realize that he was yelling at US! I stopped tossing, and turned towards him to see why he was yelling – had someone fallen into the water? But instead, I realized he was yelling at US, with a crowd forming around him because his voice was SO loud and angry. He was ranting on and on about how we were “destroying the shoreline” and how “we have to pay a whole lot of money to have them pull the rocks back out.” {Mind you, this is a lake with million dollar homes and people with a lot of money, just not us. So I was feeling a little bullied too.} Immediately, I felt a fire inside me. First, there are NO signs in the area saying that we can’t toss rocks into the water {if in fact it were such a problem, I’m sure the wealthy residents would have put up a sign}. Second, we were not by any boats or docks for him to be worried about and lastly, we have tossed rocks numerous times in front of the bicycle cops without so much as a request to stop. Well I walked right up to this 6 foot 6 inch {or taller} BIKER man and his giant while handlebar mustache with my finger swinging in his face – telling {not screaming at} him in front of the ever mounting crowd, that SCREAMING at my family, especially my boys, is NOT an acceptable means to get across his point. I told him I understood his concerns, defended our actions {aka my first, second, and last above}, then scolded him for the embarrassing and ridiculing way he yelled at my family in front of people, and asked him why he didn’t merely come over to TWO ADULTS, explain his concerns, and ask us to stop. My boys were shaking and scared of him and that just made me SO mad! He treated us like we were a group of malicious teenagers throwing rocks at a boat for kicks. But you know what…he listened an didn’t say another word. But he also didn’t apologize, which is when I had to walk away from the situation.

So I know how this Mama Bear will react to people who thrive off of their own rule making and enforcement- by standing up for myself! Good for you to standing up to your “humane society worker!!!” I’m so PROUD of us!
But…I still get fired up just thinking about that guy, if you can tell by all of the caps :)

Have a great day!
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Erica {let why lead} May 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Ha! He didn’t say a word because he was stunned that this strong mama was defending her family! That’s awesome! You described the whole incident SO well. I could visualize it perfectly. People can really get up in arms about the strangest things, can’t they? I’m actually drafting a post along those lines. Sometimes they let that one issue they care about blind them to everything else—even basic human decency!

Sarah May 23, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I agree! And when I was done “setting him straight”, I sat down with my boys where we were tossing the rocks, and explained to them why I stood up to the man {well, I wouldn’t call him a man!}. I explained that we were not breaking any rules, or doing anything wrong {no sign, no boats, etc.} and he was being a bully. I told them that I was standing up to the bully because he was abusing us with his words, and that he was not being respectful or appropriate. I think we, as mother’s, can turn those encounters into teaching moments to prepare our kids for school and those tougher years. And I like what you said about human decency! So true.
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Erica {let why lead} May 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm

That is awesome! I am honestly so glad I can benefit from the thoughts of more experienced moms, like you. I’m almost excited now for the next time something like this happens, because I want to use it to teach like you did. Bullies are a problem no matter what your age! (Also sometimes I wonder if mean comments from strangers are more likely to happen when you’re the mom of boys. I think people can sometimes assume boys are being deliberately mischievous and also that they can handle a scolding better. I don’t agree; it’s just an observation.) Thanks again for your comments, cute girl!!

Tiffany May 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I’m an East Coast girl, so of course, I always have a snappy comeback at the ready for butter-inners. Should I respond in that way? Probably not.

I will say that I have not had people comment on my parenting or my children in anything but a positive, general way. When breastfeeding in public, I am always ready for some comment, but I never get one. I’m sure my day will come. :) I have had people make ignorant comments about our adoption, and I admit to giving a sarcastic response to a couple people. But really, what do you expect me to say when you ask me if I love my younger daughter as much as my older??

I will try to use your phrase, but no promises. (Juliet Sugarbaker has always been one of my idols, so you can imagine the type of responses I typically favor.)
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Janet May 25, 2012 at 12:45 am

My kids are in their 20s now so mama bear doesn’t raise her paws and growl too often anymore. Though for my son with autism it is still a reaction at times. He’s very high functioning, thanks to the people God placed in his educational life in response to many people’s prayers. Most people in short term contacts or very familiar circumstances don’t know. But that’s not always true even today. When he was young, totally different story, behaviorally. I had a Big Bird leash for him and me because he got away from me once in a very busy shopping center. I wasn’t kind to people’s responses that he’s a child not a dog and “what’s wrong with you?” Just one example. Your rehearsed response is to the point (a polite mind your own business).

Erica {let why lead} May 25, 2012 at 1:51 am

Thank you so much for commenting, Janet! Just today at lunch a good friend and I were discussing how difficult it would be to have autistic child and how easily it can be misinterpreted, especially by strangers who don’t know. You are a super mom! I’m excited to check out your blog!

Ashley Ditto May 25, 2012 at 3:00 am

I am always mama bear. But, people have said some really rude stuff. I’m not just flat out rude, but I do stand my ground when need be! Love the picture Erica!
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susan@avintagefarmwife May 25, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Crazy reaction from that woman. I think the problem here is that more and more people seem to equate their pets or any animal to children. Hello! They are NOT the same. Good for you for standing up for your little ones.
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Mom, nurse, pet owner May 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm

I am still Mama Bear to my almost adult kids. Like you, I do not appreciate unsolicited parenting advice from strangers. I am also Mama Bear to my wonderful four-legged children, a chocolate lab named Louie and a pit bull named Milford, both rescued from the humane society. Louie would have licked your sweet son’s toes as he wished. Milford, however, might have bitten your little one because he hasn’t been exposed to young children and their unpredictable actions. Now, as a very responsible pet owner, neither of my dogs would have been tied out in front of a grocery store. Dogs are as unpredictable as children and frankly I don’t trust either if mine when they are out of my earshot let alone my line of vision. I am also a nurse who has seen many, many dog bite wounds over the years and can’t emphasize strongly enough to not allow your children to approach ANY dog. Shivering can also be a sign of fear and fear aggression in dogs will result in someone getting bit by that dog. And usually it’s the littlest kid who is closest to that dog’s mouth. Perhaps this is what that person feared, who really knows what her motivation was. You would have seen the incident differently if that dog injured your child. Trust me, that woman’s actions would have been the last thing on your mind if your son had to be rushed to the emergency room. So, just some friendly, albeit unsolicited, advice – Mama Bear is okay, just don’t fail to see the real danger when you are protecting your kids and defending your parenting. Keep your wits about you, Mama.

Richella @ Imparting Grace May 28, 2012 at 1:12 am

Mama Bear is one strong lady. :)

My three “boys” are now 21, nearly 19, and 15, and all much bigger than I. But I WILL rise to their defense if need be. I like your rehearsed response; I think that’s a good idea.

A few times when we’ve had an incident of rudeness such as you endured, I’ve responded in the moment and then told my boys that we should really pray for that person. I explain that such behavior must surely be the result of someone’s being either terribly unhappy or not having any kind of faith to help guide their actions. Terribly sad.

We ARE called to be kind, but I definitely agree that we should NOT subject our children (or ourselves) to this kind of bullying.
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Allison June 19, 2013 at 12:00 am

Oh I hate when strangers give me ‘advice’ recently a woman told me ‘You don’t want to put that back in her mouth’ after my daughter’s paci fell on the floor. and honestly I was about to do it. So I pretended to put it away and get out a new one from my bag to avoid having to make it more awkward! I think this is a pretty good response, it gets the point across with out being too rude.
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