Knowing When to Step In

A few years ago there was a video that went viral on the internet about a baby elephant who was saved by her herd after getting caught in a strong river current. While on safari, a group of travellers witnessed this amazing display of the powerful bonds that exist in the animal kingdom, and they caught it all on camera. The river was deep and the banks were high, adding to the drama of this suspenseful rescue. Thankfully it had a happy ending. After a serious struggle, the six month old calf made it out of the river and on to dry land with the rest of her herd.

Everyone that watched and reported on this adventure saw a baby being rescued by its family. Period. “Isn’t that wonderful”, everyone thought, “that even in the animal world the young are so well looked after and rescued by their parents and other elders.” I, however, saw something a little different. When I viewed the video, I first saw a family closely watching over its young but from a distance.
No helicopter parenting in the elephant world! They did not step into action until it was clear that the calf was in distress and could not manage on its own resources. Even when they came to the rescue, the adult elephants did something really interesting. They first created a barrier between the swift river current and the young elephant, allowing the baby to compose itself and then attempt to get out of the river. When this was still a task too daunting for the baby, the adults guided and pushed it from behind. Eventually the young elephant made it out of the river on its own steam with the loving support of its elders. What a beautiful life lesson for all of us.

As parents, it is always a tough call, but one we really need to carefully consider. When do we swoop in, without question, and rescue our young? When do we guide them through difficult times but let them do the work themselves? And when do we back right off and let them navigate on their own? As a Mom, I know this has always been, and remains, my biggest challenge. I have seen first-hand, in my own family and in the many families I have worked with over the years, that making the right call is critical to our children’s ultimate success in life. So much depends on us taking the right path at the right time. It is not a job for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

This weekend when we thank our moms for all that they have done for us, let’s be sure to thank them for the times that they didn’t just scoop us up and solve all of our problems, but rather let us try to figure our own way out of tight spots. Let’s thank them for instinctively knowing when real danger was near and coming to our rescue. And let’s thank them for all the times in between.

My best,

Marie Bates
Principal and Co-Founder
Children’s Garden School