My kids are all playing happily as I head to the shower. In under five minutes, I’ve got one in the shower with me, another keeping me company perched on the potty, and the other two hovering just outside the bathroom door. I can’t remember the last time I experienced a totally solitary shower.
Or maybe this…
The kids are completely absorbed in their activity as I dial the phone. Literally before the phone has even rung on the other end, at least one of them is calling for me. Seriously. Every time.
Or how about this one…
In a heart-warming show of filial solidarity, all four kids are cracking each other up putting on silly costumes as I sit down to my computer to write. Just as I hover my mouse over “new post”, the cackles of glee morph into screams of frustration, and I hear the inevitable, “MOMMY! Come here….QUICK!”
I have a strong suspicion that my experiences are not unique. It seems to me that this is pretty much the case for every mother I’ve known. So I’ve decided to give it a name. I call it “The Mother Duck Phenomenon.”
We moms are psychologically connected to our kids. Our mother radar is constantly sending out signals. At times I almost feel as though I’ve got four virtual umbilical cords…each one attached to a respective kid, regardless of where he is or what she is doing. We can sense when the cords have stretched too far. It’s when we excuse ourselves from the chat with a friend or tear ourselves away from the good book, mumbling to ourselves “It’s a little too quiet in here…” or “Now, where did he get to?”
Our kids feel it, too. They are superb at sensing when there is a disconnect. And that’s when the brood comes running. Their methods may vary widely, but the motivation is almost always the same. They’re looking to re-establish that psychological link, which is so key to their well-being.
Too often, we view the Mother Duck Phenomenon as a liability. We complain that we haven’t taken a shower alone since the new millenium. We punctuate our phone conversations with stage-whispered invectives: “Mommy’s on the phone – be QUIET!” We roll our eyes as we shut the laptop and go off to play referee.
But there’s another way to experience this. Instead of viewing it as negative, I’m learning to use it as a wonderful tool that helps me maintain a peaceful relationship with my children. For example…
When the brood is on the move:
I used to feel like a human sheep dog trying to corral my kids into the car. I’d herd them out the door, and attempt to steer them from behind. Now I’m confident that if I’m headed to the car, for the most part they will be too. Of course, being a Mother Duck doesn’t mean you don’t give kids plenty of time to transition – I still do that. It doesn’t mean that when Mama’s ready to go, everybody better get on board – we still work as a team to honor the needs of each. But when the moment of departure is upon us, I’ve relinquished my role as sheep dog. Who wants to be herding a bunch of reluctant sheep, when instead you can feel like the Pied Piper? It’s all about trusting that Mother Duck Phenomenon.
Getting my ducks in a row:
In the past, there were many moments that I felt like an under-appreciated activities director on a cruise ship. I’d planned all sorts of fun stuff – stuff that my kids had expressed an interest in doing – but when I suggested that we dive in, nobody wanted to. Now I just jump in myself and trust in the old Mother Duck Phenomenon. Yesterday, we were outside enjoying the unseasonably warm March weather. Looking at the raised beds that my children had requested, it occurred to me that they needed some work. In the past, I would have asked everybody if they wanted to help out. Not yesterday. I just grabbed a shovel and got busy. In less than ten minutes, all four of my kids were happily digging beside me.
Make no mistake, I’m not suggesting that we exploit this phenomenon to manipulate our kids into doing what we want. That’s not the kind of relationship I want with my kids. But when we recognize it for what it is, there are two benefits. First, we can be a bit more patient with the lack of personal space. Second, we can see it as a way of inviting our kids to join with us. Will they always take us up on it? No, not always. And that’s okay. But when they do, what a gift! It’s a golden opportunity to bond together, building memories and shared experiences.
As I write this post, two of my kids are upstairs falling asleep with their dad. One is just feet away from me asleep on the couch. And the fourth is sleeping literally at my feet, curled up with a pillow and blanket on the floor next to my computer. Yup, I’m a Mother Duck. And grateful to be one.