Clellie Lynch: The natural authority of all parents
EAST CHATHAM, N.Y. — June may be the month of brides for humans, but in the avian world, this warm and windy month is prime time for rearing baby birds. Goslings growing quite quickly wiggle-waddle behind their parents across the grassy area by the pond. A flotilla of wood ducklings glide behind momma and then paddle frantically as soon as she squawks, a fuzzy bunch of maniacal tub toys near the shore of the pond. High up in treetops the peeping of chicks grows louder as soon as the adult bearing a crushed insect nears the nest. "Me-eee, Me-eee," each one cries begging for a crustaceous tidbit.
A couple of days ago, Danny opens the front door and halts as young phoebes flee the tidy nest resting on the lintel. Last week we could only see those wide baby mouths and today they are on the wing, instinctively flying and then landing in the nearby lilac bush. Will they survive? Will the adults feed these youngsters for a few more days? Will they teach them how to live up to their family traits — to catch flies on the wing?
Years ago, Danny and I observed osprey fledglings being taught how to fish by their parents. The adult catches a fish and then, in mid air, hands it off to the youngster who eventually turns the fish to the proper flying position — head forward for aerodynamic flight. Another youngster, brave and daring, spies a fish and imitating its parent dives in for the catch. We watch the silvery scales glitter in the sunlight — success! Then the young osprey sinks into the water and disappears for a few moments. The fish is too big, too heavy. The osprey, wings aflutter to shake off the water, awkwardly flies upward. Definitely a lesson learned!
FREE-RANGE TO HELICOPTERING
Not only birds but all living creatures — humans included — have a natural instinctual authority for doing what is best for their species when rearing young from infancy to the age of being self-sufficient. This natural authority takes many forms — some seemingly harsh. Gannets and other seabirds nest high up on rocky islands and bluffs and teach fledglings to fly by pushing them off the cliff. Swallows feed their out-of-the-nest young as they sit side by side on the wires until one day the young swallow gets bored with being force-fed and swoops off on its own to snag a mosquito. So even within the avian world we have disparate examples of parenting, from free-range to helicoptering.
Parenting takes many forms, yet ultimately most parents want the same things for their children. What is tantamount, according to my neighbor, Adelia Moore, in her new book, "Being the Grownup: Love, Limits and the Natural Authority of Parenthood," (Hollow Hill Books, 2019) is realizing as a parent you are always the adult in the relationship.
You are the one setting parameters. Although all creatures rely heavily on instinct, we humans have a curious intellect that allows children to push, rebel, thwart parental boundaries, trying to set their own or eliminating them altogether. But as the grownup, it is your choice that matters most: the home, where to build it, safety and schooling and a set of values to live by. To do this best, parents have to understand their children and realize that each is a separate entity. You may treat them differently, but you want to protect them from fear and danger and instill in each the same values.
Upon meeting Adelia, she and I discovered we were both from large families. Each of us is the third oldest of nine; in her family, six girls and three boys; in mine, six boys and three girls. In any case, as young girls with many sibs, parenting "skills" were part and parcel of growing up. By the age of 11, she and I were deemed reliable enough to babysit outside the home for 25 cents per hour.
How does one translate the in-many-ways-chaotic childhood we both shared into modern day situations and problems? Our family didn't have a TV until I had already graduated from college, so there were no arguments about how many hours a child could watch or how many TVs would be needed for so many children of different ages. I can't imagine how my parents would handle the modern day problems of cell phones and the internet. My mother didn't drive until she was 67, so we learned early on what we wanted to do and how to accomplish whatever without being ferried from lesson to lesson or play date to play date. Bikes were a real plus!
Most of us learn how to care for and raise children from what our parents did or did not do. Some parents think their own upbringing was too strict and try to do the opposite with their children. Then again some think their parents were way too easy on them, that their parents had no idea what they really were up to and therefore set strict rules and regulations that must be followed.
Adelia Moore, fascinated with the differences of parenting that abound, became a clinical psychologist specializing in families and their problems with child rearing, incorporating what she learned growing up and what she learned raising four sons along with her husband. Many examples within the book come from not just her clientele, but from her own experiences.
HEAR THE AUTHOR
The book takes its readers from nest building to nest emptying with descriptive situations and how to resolve difficult problems while still remaining the grownup. Moore includes the variety of possible parenting authorities that a child may have, from a single parent who has help from relatives or caretakers, to those children whose parents are divorced and remarried so they are raised by two sets of parents.
She also discusses the inherent differences in children who even within the same family require different techniques. Some children are always obedient; some, rebellious; some, just plain devious. So parents must assess each child's developing maturity and judgement. Styles of child-rearing vary from place to place, from culture to culture. Methods change too. Gone is physical punishment, replaced with various techniques: bad boys couches, naughty corners, time outs, and loss of smart phone privileges.
To hear more first hand from the author, come to her reading at the Williams College Bookstore today, June 20 at 4 p.m. Whether you are a beginning nester or an empty nester, "Being the Grownup" is a clearly thought-out book that outlines both parental situations and problems with possible solutions and strategies for being the adult in the relationship.
Clellie Lynch is a regular Eagle contributor.
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