Eagles are beautiful and majestic creatures. I have always admired their grace, stealth, and power. What I didn’t realize is that they had something powerful to teach me about parenting. Eagles co-parent, working as a team from building the nest to watching the last one fly away. Co-parenting is uncommon in the animal world. When the female is sitting on the nest, the male goes off to hunt for food and often shares with his sitting mate. He also gives her a break from time to time, and he sits on the nest while she goes off to hunt or enjoy time away from the business of egg-sitting.
Once the eaglets hatch, the male eagle primarily hunts to feed them in the earliest stages. However, growing eaglets demand more and more food, so soon, both parents have to hunt to keep the little darlings fed. Eagles are protective of their young, and biologists have observed that when both parents are hunting, they seem to trade off who will stay close to the nest if there is trouble.
Those are all fascinating facts about eagles, but what does it have to do with my lessons about parenting? It is what happens when the time draws closer for the juvenile eagles to leave the nest. The mom feeds them less. They squawk and complain, but she is trying to entice them to leave the nest and hunt for themselves. If these initial efforts fail, she will fly by the nest with food in her mouth. Often this is all it takes for eager, overachieving young eagles. However, there is usually a stubborn young bird or two determined to remain in the nest and play video ga….eh, I mean stay in the nest and wait to be fed.
When this happens, Momma Eagle will eventually kick the youngster out of the nest. See, she knows that the world is scary for the young eagle and that he would rather stay where it is safe, and all his needs provided. As long as the parent eagles continue to feed and provide for them, they have no reason to leave the safety and comfort of the nest. But, even if the parent eagles were prepared to spend the rest of their life providing for their offspring, they know something that we human parents seem to struggle with. Eagle parents know that by letting them stay in the nest for too long, they will miss out on the essence of all it means to be an eagle.
I am not advocating that we kick all of our young out of the nest at some pre-determined age. What I do think is that there comes the point when we need to make the nest less accommodating. There are many reasons why our young adult offspring might need to stay at home. Maybe they are having genuine financial struggles, perhaps they took a fall and needed a safe place to return. It could be that they are working hard toward goals like education, saving for a place to live, gaining valuable experience that will one day help them find their dream job. There is nothing wrong with them living at home as adults IF they are maturing into adults.
If, instead, they are still in their bedroom playing video games and yelling, “what’s for dinner?”, it is an entirely different scenario. By providing them a safe place to live and eat, if the parents provide for all their needs, then we are robbing them of all that it means to be a person. Think about all that being an adult means. It is so much more than an arbitrary age of responsibility. It is the freedom to go to make your way in the world. Young adulthood is the time to figure out exactly who you are and where you fit. It is the time to learn from mistakes, fall on your face, get back up, and try again.
It is learning to accept the consequences for bad decisions, finding love, the freedom of moving into your first place. It is learning how to budget money, take care of yourself, and falling madly in love. It is also getting fired for not being responsible, getting your heartbroken, and so many other things. This culmination of experiences is what helps us eventually discover who we are and where we fit in this world.
If eagles are smart enough to know this is what is necessary for their children, why do we humans struggle to figure it out? Each family is different, and as I said, there are good reasons for adult children to remain or return home. As long as living at home is not robbing them of the trials, joys, and tribulations of truly being an adult, then that is great. But, if they are adults and still dependent on their parents to provide for their needs, they are being robbed.
My analogy excludes exceptional circumstances like a child with physical or mental limitations, or who are battling mental health issues. To those parents, you have my most profound respect. I am talking about perfectly healthy, capable young people who are simply too comfortable in their parents’ nest to feel any compulsion to build their own nest.
When we take care of our kids well into adulthood, we are not doing them any favors. We are robbing them of precious years of experience to figure out this adult thing. So, like the eagles, there comes a time when the nest doesn’t need to be quite so comfortable. Yes, they should always know where home is. They should know we have their backs when the world does get dark and scary. What they shouldn’t do is be allowed to spend their days playing games while we work to feed, clothe ad shelter them. It isn’t how the world works, and we are setting them up for failure.
Instead, like the eagles, let’s teach them how to survive on their own. Like the mother eagle who flies by the nest taunting her young with food, it may seem cruel. It serves the purpose of enabling them to learn to be successful on their own two feet. They will screw up, fall flat, make mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. It is a right of passage to adulthood. Let’s stop standing in their way.