Because we’re both suckers for adorable animal videos, my friend, Maggie, sent me a link of a giraffe giving birth at the Memphis Zoo. You can watch it here: Click here: Giraffe Birth at the Memphis Zoo
A crowd gathers around the enclosure to watch. Momma giraffe stays to one end, pacing a bit, her belly contracting with the effort of the ordeal and we see hooves emerging from her. The crowd sits vigil, kids snacking on chips or spooning up ice cream as hooves become entire legs, then a head appears and finally, plop! out drops Baby Giraffe unceremoniously to the ground and everyone applauds.
The email with the link had stated that even the long drop was an essential part of the birth – it kick-starts the lungs. It also advised watching all the way to the end, to see Baby take the first wobbly steps. Of course I did, and it wasn’t so much Baby (though adorable) that struck me, but Momma and what she did after he was born.
Momma Giraffe nosed, licked and prodded her newborn, as animals do. Once he was on his feet, a little shaky, she purposefully moved in directly behind him in a supportive fashion. He’d sort of slump against her, a little lazy. When he did, she stayed stoically behind him while gently but firmly prodding him forward with one leg, making him stand on his own four feet.
I work in a High school and every day I see the results of Helicopter Parents. We’ve all seen them: the parents who fight every battle for their children, from playgroup to their Senior year, and the end result is often a sort of whiny, helpless and frankly confused human whom I’m afraid will struggle mightily with the disappointments of Life. On the campus, when they are finally thwarted by an Administrator who puts the breaks on, say, begin granted credit for a class they failed by two points or continually missed without valid excuse, it’s astounding how they (and their Helicopter Parents) melt down. The Rules, it seems, should not apply to them. They are Special. Parents have successfully taken the teeth from most of the discipline schools can mete out, barring the most egregious offenses. I'm not calling for a return to corporal punishment, but I do wish Administrators trying to discipline errant students didn't feel so much pressure to bow before Helicopter Parents' threats of going to the school board.
One day In my college Developmental Psychology class, Dr. D said something that has stuck with me: “Your job as parents is to prepare your children for Life…. without you in it.” Such a simple but frightening concept: in order to perpetuate the species, our job as parents is to equip our offspring with the necessary skills to survive Life long enough to produce their own children. We must ensure they can do that even if we are no longer here when they do. Every day I see kids who engender within me profound worry for our species. Somehow, we have become so invested in easing their lives, in nurturing their self-esteem that we often do not prepare them for the harsh realities of Life.
I was shocked by the small Participation ribbon every exhibit received the first time Charlotte entered her Elementary school’s Science Fair. Everybody won, just for showing up. The winning exhibits looked as if a marketing team had assembled them and I strongly suspected the student’s parents had more to do with those projects than the students. I heard tales from friends, the parents of athletic children, about every member of the team receiving a trophy at the end of the season, regardless of wins vs. losses. I’ve often questioned the policy of bumping a High school student’s grade of 68/69 to a 70, because “no one fails with a 69.” Really? What if that is all the student earned? (I have heard two schools of thought on this: one teacher felt she was not so infallible that she might not have made a one- or two-point calculation error; another adamantly refused to bump such grades on grounds that with a modicum of effort, students could earn the point or two needed to pass the class.) Late work is customarily accepted with no loss of points and failed tests are “corrected” for a passing grade of 70. Thus, it comes as a shock to freshman college students when their instructors either refuse late papers or, if gracious enough to accept them, deduct 10 points per day.
I watched in amazement as fellow Philosophy classmates dropped the class, muttering about the gross unfairness of our professor’s refusal to give us a study sheet. “Come to class, participate in the discussions and read the material,” he assured us, “and you should have no trouble with the tests.” What they wanted was a detailed list of items likely to be on the test, and he refused. Being so much older than my classmates, I couldn’t help shaking my head at the point they clearly missed: it’s a Philosophy class. If they could support the argument that the sky is orange, they could pass. Knowing the exact years Socrates lived is less important than understanding what Socratic Method means. Nope, they wanted a list of facts they could regurgitate on a test; they didn’t want to think. This is what worries me most about how we’ve been raising and educating kids for the last thirty or forty years. I am not sure that we are teaching them to think.
Having spent many years in Corporate America, I know that Life is harshly competitive, with clear winners and losers. When it was my job to run risk assessments on bids or proposals or mitigate the risk of a project via good contractual language, turning in my work late or doing only the barest minimum would not have brought me success. It would likely get me laid off in the next round of reductions. As a Contract Administrator, someone willing to do the job well, to do more than the minimum required could easily and quickly replace me. It was never enough to merely show up.
While my childhood was far from perfect, my parents somehow instilled in me a desire to produce good work, because it its part of me, it bears my name. It’s a desire to have the world think well of me, because I think well of myself.
There is nothing harder than watching one’s child crash and burn, but I have concluded it’s an essential part of parenting. Through Elementary and most of Middle school, I occasionally spent my lunch hour dashing back home, scooping up whatever project, permission slip or lunch my daughter had forgotten and delivering it to school, so she wouldn’t lose points. In her eighth grade year, it occurred to me that one day in the not-too-distant future she would be in college, most likely out of state and I would not be there to bail her out of her forgetfulness or, more accurately, her irresponsibility. I had gotten her day-runners, a hand-held device, whiteboards and all manner of organizational tools she refused to use because she could call and I would dash. So, I warned her and then I stopped. It was painful, but she adapted and far faster than I, who still roiled internally whenever I made myself let her metaphorically fall. When she screwed up, I tried hard not to remonstrate, tried to listen and encourage and move on. I can’t say I was particularly good about that, but I tried.
I think parents can take a lesson from Momma Giraffe: stand firmly behind your children, let them know you are there and support them, but nudge them forward when they are wobbly. Make sure that, capable of standing on their own feet, they will survive Life… without you in it.