Posted by: Deborah Drezon Carroll | March 27, 2012

Parents Flap Their Wings Forever


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.



  1. A wonderful perspective. Thank you.

    • Thanks so very much for reading and taking a moment to share a kind thought. I really appreciate it.

  2. Susan, a wonderful essay! So much of parenting is what I term “administrating”. After they learn to walk and talk and drive, it is the administrator who I find I have to retrain to a new position. Whether they swim or fly, the time comes to redefine my relationship with my kids. I enjoyed your perspective.

  3. I love your blog and I can’t wait to read your book. You have a lot of insight and I love your metahopr that some kids fly and some swim. So, so, true!

    • Thank you so very much! I’d love to hear what you think of the book so when you’re done, let me know. All feedback is appreciated.!

  4. I am so glad I finally got around to reading this post! It is absolutely lovely! I have not read this book but it sounds like a must read for any parent! And children, of course. Your words brought to mind how we also have to encorage our children to flap their wings when it comes time for them to leave the nest. My youngest turns 21 this year and I am dreading the day he finally has to fly away! I don’t think I have it in me to survive the empty nest syndrome! I truly hope I will encourage him to flap his wings and fly even if it breaks my heart!

    • **encourage**

  5. The leaving the nest is like so many of life’s big moments. We make it through one minute at a time and on the other side, we discover some new aspects to the parent child relationship which are beautiful. Good luck!

  6. […] Tiny.Wings.v1.1.2.iPad.iPhone.iPod.Touch-Lz0PDA10 must-play gamesWoody Woodpecker – ReviewiOS apps run on a hacked BlackBerry PlayBookTell me about your first lucid dream (i just had my first)Apple Has 650,000 Apps in its iOS App Store, 30 Billion DownloadsFlap Your Wings – NellyBorderlands Game of the YearAdventure Game of the Year – 1998Parents Flap Their Wings Forever […]

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