Being Protective While Allowing Independence: What We Can Learn From Ducks in the Park

My husband and I were enjoying time in a park watching a family of ducks.  The parents had their proverbial ducks in a row as they traversed the lake.  One adult in front leading the way and the other in back to make sure no one strayed, they drifted along the water.  We watched as they prodded the duckling who tended to fall behind and as they stayed alert to the sounds around them that could signal danger.  We were enthralled watching their system for snack time.  Before the ducklings could go ashore, one adult climbed out of the water and surveyed the scene.  Once the area was deemed safe, the duck went back into the water to lead the young ones ashore.  Then, the ducklings were permitted to wander in the grass collecting food and eating while the adults stood vigil.  They turned their backs on their feasting young and watched all around.  We have much to learn from these ducks.
The adult ducks stood guard while their children ate.  They did not hover over their young telling them how and what to do.  Instead, they turned their backs to them and watched for danger from others.  How many human parents have said, “I trust you.  It’s everyone else that I don’t trust” but then they act in ways that demonstrate just the opposite.  Those adult ducks looked outward and not in at their family.  They were watching for the “everyone else that they do not trust.”  The ducklings spread out a bit but stayed nearby.  They seemed to understand that there was safety in numbers and, as soon as they were done eating, they rejoined their parents and dove back into the water and into their usual formation together. 

It is our job as parents, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone who guides young children to teach them to leave us.  We are tasked with teaching them to exist outside and apart from us – to be able to make decisions, earn a living, be responsible and contribute to society.  They, our children, need to learn to exist independently because eventuality, if events happen as they should, they will actually have to live without us.  How can they learn the skills they need when they are not given the space to step up on the shore, wander in the unknown grass, make decisions, stumble and regain their footing?  In an atmosphere of unconditional love, they will come to us when they need us.  They will return to their comfort zone, their family formation.  We do not help them when we hover, speak for them, make every decision for them and ensure that they never fail so they never learn resilience.

Go to the park one day. Watch the ducks.  They get it.

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