An incident in my garden between a hen starling and her fledgling chick caused me to chuckle last week. The mother had a beak full of worms, and her chick had a large gaping mouth expecting to have it filled with a tasty morsel. Unfortunately for the chick, her mother had other ideas. She backed away from her chick and began to run, looking back to see if the chick had got her message of ‘I’m not coming to you, you come and get it for yourself!’ I’m sure every mother will identify with this painful lesson of there being no more spoon-feeding, it’s time you learnt to do it for yourself. What a battleground this can turn out to be. It doesn’t only apply to the literal eating of a meal but, for example, learning how to dress oneself or do your own homework and research. When my younger daughter wanted to do a paper round, she stood outside the newsagents and asked her Dad to go in to offer her services. Dad said, ‘If you want the job, you will have to ask for it yourself.’ She did.
One of my favourite examples of ‘it’s time to grow up and face the world for yourself’ comes from the eagle. An eagle builds her nest as far away from the predators as she can; rocky prominences and the very top of tall trees are favourite sites. The nest is beautifully crafted and, when the time comes that the eaglets have outgrown their comfortable home, they parade on the ledges flexing their wings in preparation to leave their comfort zone. What a daunting prospect! When it’s time to go the eagle nudges an eaglet off the edge, and the unsuspecting bird plummets downwards as a watchful mother dives down and catches the eaglet on her outstretched wings. She carries him back to the ledge and repeats the exercise until the eaglet realises that, by flapping its wings, it becomes airborne. The eagle’s parental care continues, as is the case with the starling and her chick until a confident eaglet flies off to fend for itself.
The antics of the birds in the garden as they squabble, use their pecking order at the bird feeders and vie with each other in their choice of mate, illustrate all the hiccups and challenges of parents and siblings. The hard work, disappointments, joys and fun of parenting are all so worthwhile. The world is a big place and parenting demands that we are strong as we build a home and prepare our children to face that world. It doesn’t just happen.