The end of swooping season

When we first moved here last September, we were amused by the crazy bicycle helmets we saw everywhere! Each helmet sported plastic zipties or pipe cleaners sprouting out of the vents, giving a vaguely punk rock impression.

We asked around and found out that September and October is Swooping Season, when magpies become especially territorial about their hatchlings in their nests and divebomb anyone who gets too close--school children at recess are even victims sometimes! Bicyclists are especially targeted so they go to great lengths to discourage being attacked, including putting eyes on the back of their helmets, doing the zipties or pipe cleaners, etc. (though many experts say the tactics don't actually work).

As annoying as it is to be swooped by those angry birds, I feel for those bird parents. I can identify! The protective instinct is strong in us. We want to swoop in, fix things, flap our wings and, yes, peck out the eyes of anyone who gets close to messing with our kids. I was completely prepared to write a post in praise of swooping magpies.


And yet.  

I think there's an even better lesson here. Swooping season ends when the young fledgling birds start making their own forays out into the world and our swooping has to ebb, too. It's one of the hardest transitions in parenting I've had to make, the gradual hand-off of responsibility and decision making for what is, after all, their lives.

Case in point: Once one of my kids had an issue at school with some social meanness. We talked about it at home and I really really really had the mama-bear urge  to go address it with the school faculty. But this kiddo said "no, I've got this" and decided to ignore it for a bit longer. Then, when it didn't seem like it was going to resolve itself, the kiddo made an appointment to discuss it with a teacher. Just like that. (And then I went and ate three Cadbury Cherry Ripe bars from the stress of sitting on the sidelines, but that's a different story entirely.) Epiphany.

I love Anna Quindlen's advice: "When we dropped off our daughter [at school] they gave us a card with the words "What are YOU going to do about that problem?" They suggested we put it by the phone and read it when our kid called complaining about the roommate/the courses/the food/the advisor. There's way too much parental involvement at a time designed for separation."  

But, really, if this is going to work well I think we actually have to start before college drop-off, right? Now, I'm the first one to admit that this can be so hard. Those high school years are rife with Important Decisions and Momentous Things. Just remember that you're raising not just a college freshman but a wonderful, functioning adult. Yes, it can be painful to watch but, if we can step back from solving our kids' problems and become a more distant safety net in those last few pre-launch years, our older teens will flail and fail and figure things out. They'll ultimately gain more confidence for the leap into adulthood. We end up gradually becoming advisory rather than decidery (which I'm deeming a word, by the way) and our kids learn to do some joyous/independent/instructive swooping of their own.

Fellow mid-stage parents, unite! All together now: What are you going to do about that?