Reruns and Leftovers

Lessons In Love And Logic From The Zoo

One of the key principles of the Love and Logic class I’m taking is allowing your children make as many mistakes as possible, even mistakes which might net them a minor boo boo.  Better to learn those life lessons early on when the price is low rather than in college when the stakes are much higher – a concept I fully embrace.

At any rate, I was reminded of that as I was going through my old posts and cleaning up links and photos and such, when I came across this post from December of 2005.  You should be able to click on the photos to get a better look.

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 There’s one in every family. And apparently this is no less true for the animal kingdom.

Earlier in the week, we took Sean to the zoo.   On this particular day, the mother lion was lounging with her four babies on the edge of the precipice that separates her from her favorite lunch – spectators.

The babies were jumping on her back and gnawing at her ears and playing with her tail, which she was tolerating, but one baby cub in particular was really pushing her buttons and getting on her nerves. Anyone relating? At one point she gave the cub (probably a middle-child cub) a big show of her sharp white teeth and a gentle whack with her sizeable paw and he settled down. For about 3 seconds. But it wasn’t long before he tumbled off the edge and down the 30-foot sloped concrete wall into the ditch.

As though we were on a boat that had suddenly listed, everyone let out a collective gasp and leaned waaay over the guardrail to see the fate of the baby cub. The little guy was unharmed, but frightened and confused which he indicated by looking up pitifully at his mother and siblings and screeching “aaaak!” And then the crowd would refrain, “aaaaaw!” And then the cub would screech “aaaak!” And the crowd would go “aaaaw!” This went on for several rounds like a Ray Charles song.

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The general consensus among the humans was that something was wrong with that mother lion. We all expected that when her baby fell off the edge of the world that she would leap to his rescue, because that’s what we would do, because we are smart humans with the many parenting resources of Dr. Phil at our disposal. But she just rolled her eyes and yawned and let the cub sit in the ditch and “aaack!” for a while. Meanwhile the other cubs were running back and forth along the edge, wringing their paws and freaking out, all worried and concerned about their sibling, sometimes even considering making the leap too but then thinking better of it.

Finally, after a few minutes, the mother lion got up and sauntered down into the ditch and sat nearby and ignored the cub while he continued to spaz out and “aaak” and run back and forth. The baby cub made 10 or 15 heroic attempts at climbing up the concrete slope but never made it far before sliding down to the bottom in a demoralized heap, but at least with a fresh manicure. And with each effort, the crowd would cheer “Go! Go! Go!” and the mother would look up at us with an expression of contempt that said “idiots.”
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Mama Lion made no effort whatsoever to solve the cub’s problem. She kept one eye on the three cubs up top, occasionally giving them a snarl and a look that said, “Don’t make me come up there” and one eye on the prodigal cub. After about 30 minutes the baby cub found the steps by accident and in tiny shaky steps made his way back up to the top able to own his victory. After the cub was safely back with his siblings, the mother lion bounded up the steps in two easy leaps in a display of mighty muscle and majesty.

And it was about that time that I was really appreciating the concrete divide that separated her from me and my cub. And it was also then that I appreciated the unexpected lesson in parenting.

Top Photo: Mama Lion needs coffee
Middle Photo: Problem child needs correction
Bottom Photo: Where’d Bubba go?

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Are you a helicopter parent? Do you immediately go in for the rescue? Or are you a mother lion?  Do you let your baby “aaak!” and make them figure it out?

42 thoughts on “Lessons In Love And Logic From The Zoo

  1. Oh A.M., I love this post. I have a tendency to leap in and rescue. However, I am understanding the importance of allowing them to problem solve on their own. As long as no one is bleeding or on fire, I’ve been stepping back and making them find their way out of situations. It’s not always easy.

  2. I have been both kinds of parent in the lives of my 12 and 16 year olds. I see now more than ever that you MUST , I mean MUST, heavily instruct them and then let them learn some things the hard way. It’s so difficult to watch sometimes. But makes me consider how frustrated God must be with us. He has instructed us well through the scriptures and fellow Christians, but He lets us make our own mistakes. Because it’s for our own good. Don’t you know He’s thinking “Come on you big dufus, get with the program! Don’t make me have to come down there again!”

  3. I think a mom’s instinct is to be a helicopter parent. We want to protect. My hubby and I decided before the boys were born to let them make mistakes and learn from them. It’s not terribly easy (and other moms tend to spaz out sometimes and hover for you) but we can see them learning (sometimes) and it makes me smile. YOur class sounds GREAT!

  4. My name is Doug and I’m a helicopter parent (especially for my daughter). There are times that I pull a mother lion, but ususally regardless of the person, my natural instinct is to solve their problem. I guess the lesson I didn’t learn was that sometimes people need to figure it out on their own.

    Maybe that’s because I spent so much of my time figuring it out on my own.

  5. i’m glad my mom was a mother lion and let me figure it out while keeping an eye on me incase i went too deep. it has made all the difference in me being able to solve problems on my own and being independent and not lazy and spoilt. 🙂

  6. I am definitely a mother lion . . . unless great bodily harm is about to be inflicted upon one of my children or the child they are playing with, I will let them figure it out on their own. There is no better lesson than the one you learn by doing.

  7. “To helicopter or not to helicopter.” Well, I guess it depends on my ability to multi-task that day. We always created barriers between our toddlers and the big dangers, like stairs and stoves. Otherwise, that’s just plain stupid.
    But when it comes to figuring through a frustration or spatting it out with a sibling, we (or I) try very hard to let it all shake down. If it’s a physical feat, I give verbal encouragement or tips. If it’s an argument, I warn them to keep hands and feet to themselves. This usually required separation when the Irish triplets were under 4. (Twins and a 10.5 month older one.)
    As far as problems with other kids, I don’t hesitate to ask the other Mommy if they can “fill me in on what I might need to know about how my little Sweet-Sweet might be contributing to the problem”. This gives her the ability to tattle-tale on my child, if need be. Was I intervening in my kids problem with another child? You bet! I don’t and won’t tolerate bullies. Period. Kids deserve an active advocate.

  8. *climbs on soapbox*

    As a high school science teacher (who is also the mom of a 3 y.o. boy), I would like to take a moment to recognize and THANK every non-helicopter parent of a younger child. It is those parents that produce the THINKERS in my class. The ones who can solve problems and don’t expect me to do that for them. The ones who politely ask, “May I borrow a pencil?” instead of whining, “But I don’t have a pencil!” From the bottom of my nerdy, full-of-love-for-my-students heart, thank you, thank you, and thank you again.

    *dismounts from soapbox*

    My personal struggle is to not swing too far the other direction. I find myself so irritated with helicopter parents at work that I’m terrified of becoming one myself. Sometimes I wonder if I’m teaching him to not tell me about his problems at all. That’s what my mom did for me. I never talked with her during high school or college about any major problems, because I thought she wouldn’t help me. It definitely wasn’t because I didn’t want her to know. It was because she’d taught me that I needed to solve my own problems.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, AM. I just love your writing.

  9. Wow, I wish we had a class like that in the boonies. Having a 12 year old is a very interesting study and balance in helicoptering and mother lioning. I try to let her make her own mistakes and work her problems out,offering my sage(haha) advice.I spent a lot of my younger years with little to no supervision/guidance and made a lot of mistakes including some very large and regretful ones. I guess because of this I’m a combo between a lioness and a helicopter. A lionopter, a heliness?

  10. The first step is admitting that you have a problem and I admit that I’ve been a helicopter parent before. Not always…but I shudder to think of the times when I did it. More than I’m comfortable mentioning. What a great lesson.

  11. My name is Paula and I am a helicopter.

    But I’m trying really, really hard not to be. Great post.

    Strangely enough, I think one thing that contributes to the learned helplessness of kids these days is the back-to-back scheduling of enrichment activities. The school day is longer, then after school we chauffeur them to one supervised club/lesson/sport after another. There’s very little unstructured time for kids to get back to nature, play, explore, and make mistakes — all without an adult hovering overhead. I’ve actually restricted my kids to one activity each for this reason. Oh yeah — and it’s a lot easier on the pocketbook.

    If you’re in doubt as to the long term effects of helicoptering, the Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about how companies now have to hire “praise consultants” to help execs motivate their 20-something employees. They send them balloons and such when they do a good job. Seriously.

    Another good read on the topic is “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” by Wendy Mogel.

    All right, I’ll shut up now.

  12. Oh goodnight Paula! Seriously? Wall Street is hiring “praise consultants” and sending balloons (!) That is extremely… sad. What about the reward of doing a good job and being a good worker?

  13. Excellent post! You really get down to the heart of a matter… I hope this blog is still up and running when I have kids, so that I can delve into the archives!

  14. Wonderful writing, A.M. You made your point without having to roar at anybody.

    Some close friends and I were just discussing this concept. How much better to let them make their mistakes now and learn from them than to protect them now and have them make mistakes later with much larger consequences.

    My brother, a classic strong-willed child if there ever was one, got into major trouble in junior high and high school. But my parents labeled it God’s severe mercy and let him suffer through. It worked. He actually learned something.

  15. I am new to your blog and you are a wonderful writer. Someone else has commented on your ability to see what we all see and make the profound observation or comment. I love your humor…. But on this a perfect lesson from God’s creation. Thanks

  16. The more kids I have, the more lion-like I am becoming. I see the necessity and realize I don’t have to be in my kids’ faces at all times, with flashcards and BandAids in my pockets. The danger I see is swinging too far the other way. Hopefully I’ll be able to maintain sensible middle ground.

    I want to be wise about the whole thing…I am such a different mom to my younger bunch than I was to my older kids.

    I’ve had to let my older children learn hard lessons lately and face consequences I couldn’t and wouldn’t rescue them from. They survived. So did I.

  17. I am not a helicopter mama. And honestly, they irritate the heck out of me. We are raising children to be adults, not to be big kids. It isn’t just jumping to their rescue, but also not allowing them to learn simple tasks.

    I have friends who still pack their highschoolers lunch. Hello, starting in 5th grade all my kids take over that duty. My brother-in-law didn’t want his kids to “have to” empty the dishwasher. Hello, my kids start at five.

    I have a friend whose daughter went away to college last year and she summed up over protecting well. She said, “I wish I had let her make more mistakes. Now she is going to make them and I won’t be there to help her learn the lesson.” Amen.

  18. Great topic! I love the Mama Lioness story!

    And so many insightful comments. Paula, thanks for the book recommendation, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” (am going to go find that book!) and how really pathetic and scary about hiring the praise consultants for the 20 somethings. We as a society need to start looking at how we are raising our children. What is going wrong? And I agree also about the overscheduling. I see that everywhere around me. I often think it has actually been a blessing that my family hasn’t had the funds to do all of those activities, but I like to think that I would have chosen to keep activities to a minimum even if we had had the funds.

    I am usually a mama lion. I had two children 10 months apart, one miracle boy by blessed adoption and one miracle girl conceived (not on purpose!)- 10 days after Boy was born! I was just a LITTLE overwhelmed at 43! For my own sanity I became a lion parent. At times I find myself questioning that choice – when a mom asks me in an incredulous voice, “You let your son walk ON THAT WALL!?” …and I let her know that he needs to learn. And he may fall off. Usually I feel secure in my decision, but sometimes I second guess myself.

    Thanks for the great thought provoking discussion, A.M. I’ll be thinking on this for a while. I also want to take that Love & Logic class!

  19. Excellent post! Yes, kids can’t learn to make wise choises if there ARE no choices, and they are not motivated to make wise chooices if there are no consequenses for the foolish ones. Coaching kids on wisdom, pointing out the mistakes of others (using bad examples) and praising good choices, really pays off. I didn’t rescue my kids, but I really tried to give them a good base of wisdom from which they could evaluate choices and be able to recognize their mistakes and how to correct them. I think it is also very important to help kids follow through on their mistakes in a godly manner; confessing sin, asking forgiveness and making restitution as needed. We adults know that we need this our whole lives, so it is not a good idea to ‘protect’ them from these humbling aspects of life.

  20. I’m much more of a lion, but I always feel a bit judged for it. I like to let me kids figure things out for themselves within reason. I know this will only get harder as they get older, but I hope I can keep my “lioness” ways.

  21. I just want to add to what Paula said, not only are there praise consultants, but I reacently read that human resources managers are having parents (of grown-ups) calling them to find out why Johnny or Susie didn’t get the raise or the job and to make suggestions on their child’s work environment. HELLO?
    As Shackelmom so wisely pointed out, we do have to train our kids, such as making restitution, confessing sin (they aren’t able to do these things naturally) but if my son says “I’m stuck” I usually look to make sure he can physically manuver out and if he can, tell him to be a problem solver and walk away. He doesn’t need me solving all his problems for him.

  22. Parenting?? I’m still in hysterics over the Ray Charles line!!! =) It is so hard to know when to rescue them or let them work it out on their own. I have done both and can tell you many success stories, but there are also times that I can look back now and wish I had gotten involved. I think that most of the times when there were other children their age involved, I let them work it out. Too often, adults get involved when they shouldn’t. Kids will argue, get mad, but will forget about it in a day or two and be best friends again. Adults will get in on it, get mad, and take it to the grave with them.
    Oh, it doesn’t surprise me about the “praise consultants” for the 20-somethings. They grew up in the time frame where they got stickers for every little, piddly (is that spelled right?) thing they did and, probably, had helicopter parents. I know, because I taught during that time (this is my 27th year) and everything was all about positive, positive reinforcement…… remembered your homework for the first time this week, I appreciate how you only interrupted me 6 times today instead of 10, etc. I bought stickers by the truck load! We had charts all over the classroom. Don’t get me wrong…… I am not harsh and am very good working with those who have learning/ behavior/attention problems. I love the differences in kids. Now, our educational system give “one-size-fits-all” tests to all elementary/high school students in our state. There is never a happy medium, is there? Just wait until these stressed out, hard-working kids hit the work force. They’ll tell the by-then thirty-somethings (the old twenty-somethings) to get a grip! I love your angle on things!

  23. I am sooooo mother lion, and have been since my first (of three). I think I learned a lot from observing my sisters with their sons before I became a mother myself, but really it’s been a parenting method passed down through the generations in my family. As the saying goes, “Stupid is as stupid does”. And as my grandmother — a God-fearing woman if there ever was one — used to say, “Sometimes those gifted kids can be so d**n dumb.” If we don’t let them learn from life along the way, we may find that they never learn to love the life they have.

  24. What a wonderful story! L

    I am pretty good at being a lion. My twirlybird instincts only flash on when I see real impending danger.

    Small pains and difficult trials are good for my son to experience.

    It’s my husband’s arm I have to catch all the time, pulling him back to let Braden figure it out. And I love him for it.

  25. Like Rachel May, my parents were the opposite of helicopter parents, so I learned never to ask anyone for help with any problems.

    I’m afraid I lean a little too far the other way with my daughter, but I figure I can’t be ridiculously helicoptering her if I’m still allowing stuff that makes my MIL gasp in terror!

  26. I’m sooo NOT a helicopter parent, but I was just doubting myself today wondering if I’m parenting these children the right way. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from your story. Thank you. 🙂

  27. What a great post. I had to laugh, because I have frequently related motherhood to being like a mother tiger–babies crawling all over, gnawing on an ear, swatting at a face. YOu take it and take it and take it until you finally give ’em a swat that sends them spinning.
    I once had a friend call me a “closet hoverer.” I don’t LOOK like a hoverer–but I am. I do try to let them figure it out. . .while I hover above the surface. . .trying to look all nonchalant on the outside. The momma lion KNEW that her baby wasn’t going to be stuck there forever–just long enough to learn a lesson.

  28. You gave me inspirations to share more about mum’s love and the feelings when trying to let the little ones learnt from their mistakes. A few topics for my blog too. Thanks!


  29. Thanks for the reminder… We do need a balance, between helping when help is needed and interfering every step of the way!

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