To all of the women and non-binary folk out there who don’t have children for whatever reason, or if you have children but still play a role of “mama bear,” you deserve to hear this.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Autistic people have a high rate of trauma and abuse. Many come from parents who attempted to normalize them, whether or not they knew they were autistic and whether or not their families thought they were doing it for the right reasons: so the autistic child would fit in, be more responsible, and so people wouldn’t think he or she was weird.
So, it’s not uncommon for autistic people to have been taken in by some benevolent “Mama Bear” type who has helped them to feel safe, loved, nurtured, and seen by at least one person. These Mama Bears have been lifesavers.
Recently, I read a heartbreaking blog from a friend of mine, and she said something which took my breath: I wasn’t a timid child, but was easily frightened, and sometimes I wonder about the life-long effects of never having had anyone comfort me EVER. No one ever took me into their arms as a child and said, “Things will be alright.”
I have had a few Mama Bear women in my life, but there is one who stands out. Her name was Beverly. She was a special ed teacher in the school where I worked for 11 years.
As a teacher, I occupied the same space I have in every role I have ever played: not quite a fit. I was misinterpreted by other teachers, especially some of the veteran teachers in my department, and quickly became the black sheep.
There were subtle passive aggressions, like not telling me about meetings or deadlines, and major aggressions, like not allowing me to attend events funded by grants I wrote.
Changes in the way special education worked resulted in me sharing my classroom with the most boisterous, confident, strong (read: intimidating) voice in the workplace: Beverly B. She was a force and an anachronism, always light years ahead of the times and delightfully behind the times. She was “old school.”
At first, this arrangement was catastrophic. We couldn’t have been more different. I was the least organized person in the building, relying on my charisma (with the kids) and my otherworldly memory to survive. She was regimented and ordered to the second, and her plans were concrete. Oil and water doesn’t quite cut it to illustrate our differences.
We eventually had to undergo mediation because we butted heads like a pair of rallying titans. Finally, something clicked for Beverly. She must have realized in my floundering how profoundly disabled I was, and that no matter how hard I worked, I was not different from her students.
In fact, I was the future of her students– not lazy, not dismissive, not uncaring, but also not capable in the same ways as most people. I was never going to be able to function like her and my success in that position depended on someone else’s benevolence.
After that, she became the best ally I ever had. She brought me lunch sometimes, reminded me about upcoming deadlines, let me in on all the relevant office politics to which I’d been oblivious, explained everything in concrete terms which had always evaded me, and helped to keep me organized.
But her guidance and accommodations were world-shifting for me. She helped me to keep my head above water, walked me through ways to self-accommodate to empower instead of enable me, and plugged me into the social nuances I had previously missed.
She used her privilege and her power to help me meet my potential– with substantially less suffering for me. I wish all persons in the world had a Beverly on their team.
From a few of my friends on Mama Bears:
I never had a mama bear. I never had anyone tell me that it would all be okay. Or that I was safe. Or pretty. Or anything other than awkward, or difficult, or too (insert as appropriate- loud, emotional, quiet, bossy). There was a lady in my street though, called Deanna. She would be dead now. She rented out her spare rooms, by some arrangement with social services, to adults who needed support. She saw my need, and she tried. But my parents refused to let me visit her because of the perceived ‘threat’ of those who lived with her. But she knew that her animals helped me. That they brought me peace and comfort and acceptance. And she made her animals available to me always. I spent my childhood on her doorstep, walking her dogs, and the dogs in our neighbourhood. This small effort, this act of seeing me and giving me a way to connect and feel loved (at least by the pets), was life-saving.
And another friend:
I had a school friend who was a game-changer. It was comforting to know someone strong and less reticent had my back. She would be my buffer from social interaction. She would allow me to participate when I didn’t know how to initiate conversations. She didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. She even stood up for me once when a girl made a snarky comment about my greasy hair. I was about to laugh it off and just mumble “whatever..” But I was surprised when she jumped in to defend me, shouting “That is RUDE! Don’t say that to anyone!!” No one had ever done that for me before. It’s still an anomaly to me to this day, but she really did try to protect me and made my school days bearable when I was being bullied.
So whether you have biological children or not, if you are a “Mama Bear” to someone who needs to be nurtured, appreciated, seen, and protected, Happy Mother’s Day to you.
Sometimes, the family who chooses someone is the only family that person has, or the only family who ever truly loved that person. Being a Mama Bear is a selfless venture and something that is done for no other reason than to be a beacon of loving kindness and grace.
You deserve to hear today that you are loved, appreciated, respected, adored, and valuable beyond words. Happy Mother’s Day.
Share this article with the Mama Bears in your life, whether they have been that role for you or for someone else. They need to know what kind of difference they’ve made for others.
Terra Vance is an industrial and organizational psychology consultant specialized in diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, and poverty dynamics. She founded NeuroClastic, Inc., a nonprofit organization led by actually-autistic individuals and showcasing autistic perspectives and talents. Parents, service providers, educators, employers, and autistic individuals will find a wealth of information and resources at NeuroClastic for self-advocacy and supporting autistics. To contact Terra via email, click here.
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Vance, T. (2019). Happy Mother’s Day to All the Non-Bio Mama Bears. Psych Central.
Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/aspie/2019/05/happy-mothers-day-to-all-the-non-bio-mama-bears/
Last updated: 12 May 2019 Statement of review: Psych Central does not review
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