I don’t know what it is about them, but I love ducks. There’s something about the way they quack and waddle about that I find completely adorable. Recently, an online video of a mother duck and her babies reinforced my appreciation for these friendly fowls. It turns out that in addition to their cuteness, these birds have a thing or two to teach me about motherhood.
In Ducklings vs. Stairs, we watch as 12 ducklings try with all their might to climb steps twice their height. Their mom has easily ascended the stairs and patiently waits for her flock to catch up. The little ducks run to and fro on the bottom step trying to figure out how to overcome this challenge. You can sense their frenzy and growing panic as they repeatedly try – and fail – to scale the giant steps. The ducklings jump with all their might only to fall slightly short of the height they need to succeed.
Sometime during the course of this three-minute video I become a bit too invested in the fate of these birds. I find myself leaning forward and quietly cheering on the little guys. Jump! Just a little bit more. You can do it. Irrationally, I want to reach though the screen and carry each duckling to the top of the stairs.
Although they only need to climb two steps, the task in front of these little birds seems insurmountable. They’re trying so hard, yet they just keep failing. Part of me is annoyed with the mother duck for just standing there and watching her babies struggle. Why isn’t she helping them or at the very least offering some better coaching? Come on Mom, it’s time to step in. You’re obviously needed.
While I silently admonish the mother duck, one little guy successfully jumps to the second step. You can see his excitement and determination as he immediately tries to conquer the second and final step. His perseverance pays off, and I let out a little cheer as he joins his mom. He did it! On behalf of the mother duck, I feel proud of that little one. (Perhaps I was feeling a bit too maternal that day.)
Seeing the first duck succeed seems to fire up the rest of the flock. Their jumps suddenly have more force behind them, and they begin to leap a little higher. One-by-one the other ducklings surmount the steps and join their family at the top.
Finally only one duck remains on the steps, and I feel a sense of urgency as it struggles to catch up with the rest of the flock. I begin to worry that he might get left behind. The mother duck, however, has quiet confidence in her late bloomer. She patiently waits at the top knowing that this one too will figure it out. And eventually he does. After he jumps the final step, he runs to join the flock. Together as a family, they waddle off to their next adventure.
How often do we feel like the mother duck in that video? We stand at the top of life’s metaphorical stairs and do our best to help our kids navigate life’s challenges. We teach, we correct and we encourage with the goal that eventually our kids will need us less. As we transition from caretaker to coach, one of the biggest challenges is knowing when it’s time to step back and let our kids figure things out on their own.
Standing on the sidelines, it can be impossibly hard to watch our kids stumble as they learn independence. Failure is a natural – and needed – part of the equation but try telling that to our hearts. While we instinctively want to protect our kids, deep down we know that some lessons just need to be learned the hard way. So we step back, and we hope that our kids will persevere through life’s obstacles.
Like the mother duck, our job is to give our kids the space and time to try, fail and eventually overcome the challenge in front of them. We offer encouragement and the reassurance that we will not leave them behind. Most importantly, we demonstrate a quiet confidence that our babies can – and will – figure it out on their own.