My family and I witnessed an amazing sight on our front porch recently. A mama duck had been sitting for 30 days in our planter on her eggs. We checked on her multiple times a day, watching her and her eggs. And then a couple of weeks ago the eggs finally hatched! We saw the cute ducklings climbing around the planter and chirping. It was the sweetest image and my girls (okay, and me!) loved it.
Then early the next morning the mama duck must have decided it was time to bring her ducklings to the water behind our house. We stood at the front door window watching the duck commotion.
First, the mama jumped down from the nest and started quacking at the ducklings. The ducklings would stand on the edge of the planter and chirp back. We decided it was duck language for, “Mama, I cannot jump that far; we’re up too high!”
She would fly back into the planter and quack some more and then jump down again and repeat the process. I almost teared up as I watched the mama duck encourage the ducklings to be brave. You could tell the ducklings were scared and she kept quacking to encourage them to jump. Sure enough, after a little more convincing from the mama duck, seven of the ducklings jumped down from the planter. They landed on their backs and rolled over to find their feet and then to find their mama.
It got me thinking about my own role in mothering my girls. The past few months as the crisis-learning teacher, sibling negotiator, snack distributor, and everything else in between hasn’t been easy. But as I stood there watching the ducks, the fog lightly lifted enough to be reminded of one of my most important roles as a mom: encouraging my kids.
I know that sounds obvious. Yes, of course, we’re moms; we are supposed to encourage them, right? But I’ve found when I’m stressed or frustrated or just plain tired, encouraging the sweet souls in my house isn’t always my first reaction.
I was talking about this with Anna and Laura on our blog team recently. Laura said something that struck me. She said she envisioned herself putting on a cheerleader hat each day of crisis-learning. She felt her job was to help her kids feel they could tackle the obstacles in front of them.
I’ll be honest that I haven’t always had pep in my step like a cheerleader as we’ve been tackling school assignments the last couple of months. After I’ve asked one of my daughters to focus for the 15th time, my voice doesn’t sound much like Mary Poppins. Or when my other daughter throws herself on the floor saying she can’t do the project, empathizing and encouraging her isn’t my first response.
But here is what I keep thinking about: what if instead of being my girls’ taskmaster or micromanager, I am first their encourager? What if instead of harping on them to stay on task, I empathetically say things like, “That looks hard; I know you can do it.” Or “Keep going; you’re almost there.” Or “How can I help you finish this task today?”
I don’t think being a cheerleader looks like becoming a peppy Pollyanna to our kids. Some moments it might feel fun and light. And in those easier times, when both mom and kids are in the groove, we sigh a huge sigh of relief and thank the Lord above.
But most days at my house getting through the school days has felt long and challenging. Being an encourager to my girls in the trying moments has taken intentional effort to ask God to help me respond gently, kindly, and creatively. And it has taken lots of grace to begin again when I’ve raised my voice or lost my cool or plain just wanted to give up. On many days I’ve gone to bed defeated and prayed for fresh energy and wisdom to begin again the next day.
This whole crisis-learning season has taught me a lot about myself and motherhood. I’ve learned the importance of pausing to brainstorm a creative solution before barking out an order. (Which I admit was how I tackled the first week or so of trying to convince my girls to do their work.?) Instead of saying, “Get your behind on that chair right now!” I started to say, “Go skip down the hall two times and then come sit down and finish listening to your morning message.” I’ve also realized my girls need more emotional connection from me to stay productive. I began scheduling some cuddle breaks (or wrestling matches ☺️) in between our tasks to fill up their love tanks. We didn’t do it every day but when I remembered to do this, the day seemed to be more enjoyable for everyone.
About a week into our crisis-learning gig, I realized we were definitely over our heads. It occurred to me that it would be wise to begin the day with prayer as a family. I was finding all of us had big emotions that we didn’t always handle super well ?♀️ and starting the day by asking God to give us gentleness and kindness for the day ahead was important. (I’ll preface this to say we’ve never quite figured out how to start our day in more than a quick prayer before running out the door to school so this was new for us.) It has been a good opportunity for our girls to tangibly see what it looks like to ask God to help us in our times of need. My husband and I have been looking for more ways for our family to feel on the same team and this little practice has helped set the tone. There were days we got right into learning and didn’t take the time to pray together and I admit, I could feel the difference on those days.
I’ve learned sometimes being a cheerleader for my girls has meant giving them space instead of hovering. Or letting them take a breather when they’re frustrated. Or finding something positive to say when I want to point out the negative. Or taking our work outside when we need a change of scenery. (Although that sometimes derails the learning all together, but ?♀️…)
This season of crisis-learning has grown me as a mom maybe more than any other season. (Although the newborn stage was right up there!) I have felt about every emotion one could feel and sometimes many at the same time. I think that’s why I teared up when I watched the mama duck quack at her ducklings. It was on a day when I needed some encouragement as a mom and teacher and the mama duck reminded me of my God-given role.
She knew the ducklings’ obstacle looked huge to them. She quacked some encouragement and when they still wouldn’t jump, she reminded them with her presence that she was right there. And she stepped into her role as a provider and protector as she waddled toward the waterworks, the ducklings following to begin their next adventure. I pointed out to my girls that the mama was making sure the ducklings stayed close to her because one of her jobs was to protect them, and my youngest daughter said, “just like your job is to protect us.” ? I guess we all were connecting with this mama duck experience more than I realized.
As our crisis-schooling winds down and summer amps up, I am realizing I will still have lots of opportunities to apply all of these lessons I’ve just learned. Instead of my girls finishing their math assignment, the task in front of us may be putting away laundry or cleaning the playroom or reading each day.
I pray as mamas we ask God to help us take advantage of these moments to encourage our kids instead of nag or micromanage. And on the days, like yesterday for me, when we forget to put our cheerleader hat on, may we rest in the grace God gives us and remember “His mercies are new every morning.” There’s always more grace to begin again.
P.S. Because we’re big on not sugar-coating things around here, I have to tell you the whole story about this duck experience. The mama duck ended up leaving six of her ducklings in the nest. ?♀️ She tried to get them to jump and they never did and so she left with the seven that followed her. My girls then tried to feed the remaining ducklings some grass and when my girls got close the ducklings got spooked and jumped out of their nest! ?♀️ We then spent the next hour trying to collect the ducklings around my front yard and keep them together for the mama duck to return, but to our knowledge, she never came back. And when we came back to check on our ducklings they were gone. ? So my sweet little mama duck analogy only goes so far ?, but we’ll hold onto the learning experience and hey, I’ll take comfort in the fact that at least I’m handling motherhood a little better than the mama duck?! ?♀️