Forget Tiger Mom - Be a Duck Mom


Surprising and unexpected lessons from nature

First, a disclaimer: yes, I am a marriage and family therapist, I run my own private practice, and yes, I love doing it. I think I have the best job in the world, frankly.

But first and foremost I am a wife and a mother. I can honestly say that my family is my first and top priority.

Enter problem. Did you notice my priority list so far? See anything - or anyone - missing? I didn't either. Until I started to get so tired that I remembered one important person I was forgetting. Me.

So, I've been embarking on a new journey to take better care of myself. Not the typical New Year's resolution, guilt-ridden, "I-should-take better-care-of-myself-so-I'll-work-out-like-a-fiend-for-three-weeks-and-then-give-up" bit. This had to be different - true slow-paced self-care, taken little steps at a time. So far, the steps are no-brainers: more rest, better food choices, and regular, gentle exercise.

In this spirit, I've been walking at one of our neighborhood parks a couple of times a week while my 5 year-old twin girls are in school. Sometimes I walk with a friend, sometimes alone, but I am trying to do it on a consistent basis.

Last week I went for one of my walks. It was a beautiful spring day, with bright sunshine and enough of a cool breeze to make the walk very pleasant. The park I visit has a large pond, more like a small lake, in the center, and my walk takes me all the way around the pond, usually a few times.

On this day as I was passing the south end of the pond, I noticed little balls of fluff frolicking at the shoreline. They were ducklings, and there were six of them. In the middle of them was their mother, a smooth brown mallard.

Here's the kicker: she was sleeping. Sleeping! I couldn't believe it. Here she was, right at the water's edge, surrounded by her feisty brood, and she had tucked her head around her back, snugly fit her bill between her feathers, and was taking a snooze.

How could she sleep? Wasn't she worried? Granted, they were ducklings, but they were still playing in the water, unsupervised, swimming out and coming back, getting into little skirmishes with each other...and she slept through it all, unfazed. I realized I needed to do some thinking about why I was envious and in awe...of a duck.

Now, maybe nature creates some lazy duck moms, but I don't think so. Instead, I think this little duck was there to remind me: you must take care of yourself. The truth is, she knew they were safe. She was sleeping, yes, but she was standing, not sitting, and she was right there with the ducklings, but she still took the opportunity to rest amidst the craziness. Do ducks feel guilt? It sure didn't look like it. A lesson for me, I thought. As a mom especially, taking care of yourself can't wait.

After watching for a few minutes and taking some pictures on my phone, I kept on going. Behind me, others had gathered to watch the cute baby ducks and their momma. She was roused by this activity, and with some loud quacks ushered her brood into the water and down the pond.

A half a mile later, I saw her again. This time, she was at the water's edge with her family, while a mom and her little children tossed pieces of bread into the water. As I passed, I took a good look. Was she nosing chunks of food to her little ones? Was she swimming in the background, supervising their meal?

Heck no. She was eating. In fact, she was at the forefront, gobbling up all the bread she could as soon as it was tossed. Her babies got some if they were fast enough, but Momma wasn't about to forgo a meal to ensure they did.

Again, I was dumbfounded. Where was the mothering instinct? Had I stumbled upon the world's most selfish duck?

Not likely, but here was another lesson for me. Like putting the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your kids if the plane is going down, the momma mallard knew a simple truth: if the mom falls, the babies fall too. Quite the opposite of "going against nature", this duck was being true to her basic survival instinct for both herself and her babies. She knew that she needed food to be able to provide for her family. She knew needed to take care of herself, and she did so first and unashamedly.

Wow. This was alot to process at 9:30am on a Monday. But, I think I got it: I can't always come last, and sometimes, I have to come first. It was a good reminder that my health and wellness is inextricably linked to the health and wellness of my family, and that me taking care of me is, in actuality, also me taking care of them. And now, instead of being a helicopter mom or a tiger mom, I'm going to work on being a duck mom.