Recently the P.D. Eastman children’s book, “Flap Your Wings” has been rolling through my brain repeatedly. I keep hearing “Flap your wings, Junior!” It was what I used to say to my kids when they were trying something new. It became part of our family lore, a metaphor for going out into the world to attempt something you were unsure about.
The Junior in the book was an alligator who was raised by loving parents who happened to be birds. If you haven’t read, do so as soon as you can. You’re in for a delight. One message of the book was that if you try something, even something for which you may not be equipped, you might fail, but in doing so you might discover that you’re good at something else entirely. Or, at the very least, the failure won’t kill you and you might learn something valuable. Junior the alligator had parents who wanted to teach him what they knew best — how to fly. Alas, Junior had no wings. So despite the best parenting intentions and the enthusiastic wild cheering on the sidelines (Flap your wings, Junior!), Junior fell from the nest and the sky, failing to fly. Failing miserably but landing, as fate would have it, into a pool of water where, amazingly, in failing to fly he (and his loving, adoring parents) discovered that he was a swell swimmer. “Maybe Junior wasn’t a bird after all,” his mom said, after witnessing his failure to succeed at what they taught him. “No,” said his dad, “but look at him swim.”
So it is with us parents. We flap our wings wildly all of our children’s lives, trying to teach them what we know best. They leave the nest (Seriously, you parents of young children may not think it possible but they will grow up and leave, I swear.) and then we yell, “Flap your wings.” And, if we’ve raised them right, they do. We watch. They soar, they fall, they soar again, they fall again. We watch, we cheer. We celebrate when they soar, we crash when they fall, but through it all, if we’ve taught them what we know, if we’ve shared our lives with them, we have given them the tools they need to lead fulfilling and happy lives.
I believe in this method of parenting. I believe strongly in the bonds that develop from integrating our children into the lives we crafted before our children were born. I even wrote a book about it! But the book ends when the kids are ready to leave the nest and flap.
I didn’t write about what the parents do next, so here comes that bit of advice.
Our children have to find their own safe place to swim or to fly. As loving parents, we taught them to fly but they may be destined to swim and we just have to accept it. Our kids don’t always turn out the way we hoped, prayed, imagined, or wanted them to. That’s not their issue, it’s ours. As parents we must strive to accept the children who fly but we must also embrace the ones who swim.
I’m working on that daily. I flap my wings and cheer my daughters on. Sometimes I can’t help myself, I still encourage them to fly, because it’s so engrained in my view of the world. Then, fortunately for me (and them I suppose), I remember that my view of the world is just that — mine. I rein myself back in and continue to cheer them on as they swim away.
Note: If you’d like to read a lovely review of my parenting book, please visit Dominque Goh’s blog here.