by Carol Jensen
Raising ducks has been instructive in parenting. When our ducks were babies, we protected them from cold, hunger, thirst, fright and injury. Now that they are teens, we satisfy their needs by giving them their autonomy.
Once we moved them from the indoor brooder to the sunny backyard, we quickly found that they instinctively seek shelter in the provided coop when the sun goes down, and we have only to close the door after dark to keep them safe. But they grow restless in the morning if we are slow to release them. As soon as we unlock the door at sunrise, they flutter their wings, stretch and run about foraging.
I was concerned about them under weather extremes, but they showed me they can take care of themselves. A little rain delights them, but when the heat is strong, they seek a shady hollow, perhaps beneath a bush. Distant thunder doesn’t seem to ruffle them, yet lightning in close proximity sends them scurrying toward their house, as does sudden, strong wind.
One day we watched a cat sneak into the yard and creep toward them as they were swimming blithely in their pond. My inclination was to chase the cat. Restraining myself until the crisis became drastic, my worry became amusement when the cat sized up the situation – four birds in several feet of water – and turned away without bothering them.
We have a grandson, age 3, who loves to be near them. We have taught him that if he will just sit on the grass with arms outstretched, perhaps holding some peas or lettuce, they will come to him. Likewise, when we want to shut them up to mow the yard, we have only to invite them into their coop with a few tender, green morsels. They don’t balk when we understand their nature.
However, when we were out of town recently, some neighbors cared for our ducks and met with quite a bit of resistance in trying to herd them around. The little girls, eager to be near the ducks and to feed them, followed them incessantly trying to get closer. But for every step the girls took, the ducks moved that much away.
At night, the caretakers thought the birds needed to be in their coop at an earlier time. Our neighbors didn’t want to wait until dark. It was very frustrating for them to try to coral the ducks, which scattered in every direction when any move was made to steer them toward their house.
One evening there was a heavy hailstorm, and our protective neighbors fretted that the ducks might be injured by the marble-size hail. They spent many wet, cold minutes trying to catch all the birds and get them inside in a timely fashion. Not wanted to be restrained, the ducks struggled every time a grasping hand touched them.
It occurred to me that chasing ducks and teens have some parallels and that our greatest successes are when we reach out and beckon to them without compulsion. Our Savior set the example for us: “Whosever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come.” (Alma 42:27) “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him.” (2 Ne. 26:33)
We can invite our teens to serve others, to be cheerful with their siblings, to excel in their schoolwork, and “to be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58:27) without forcing them to do it in our own way and time.
For example, when I got uptight about the mowing that my 13-year-old son was NOT doing – at least on my schedule - I encouraged him to come up with a solution. He wrote a contract specifying when he would mow, and what would happen if he did not keep his bargain. I have not had to worry about the lawn. He knows his responsibility and he takes care of it.
In a similar fashion, I fretted over the math assignments my daughter was not completing, especially as her summer camps drew closer. But she assured me that she would finish in her available time if I would just stop breathing down her neck. If not, she would pay for the course herself.
I believe there is great value in letting our youth establish their own parameters under our guidance. The flaw in Satan’s plan was that he wanted to MAKE us do it his way.
Teens need real choices and the subsequent outcomes. “Men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.” (2 Ne. 2: 27)