About a month ago I had an interesting experience as I took my dogs outside. As usual, I was trying to hurry them along and said, “Come on guys… up we have to go in.” My little boston terrier Ginger paid me no never mind (which is not necessarily unusual) and stopped and looked up at a tree. I kept trying to hurry her in but she continued to grow antsy and sniffed around the bushes below. “What is it girl? What are you doing?” I followed her trail and looked up and saw the smallest and most neatly assembled bird’s nest I had ever seen. I was fascinated first by the nest and secondly by my dog’s keen awareness of her surroundings that had completely evaded me.
What I learned from a Hummingbird Nest About Parenting:
- A Hummingbird carefully chooses the location of the nest. Jon Freidman discussed how the South American Hermit hummingbirds place their nest strategically below leaves in trees so as to provide a protective barrier ceiling. What a beautiful and protective image created from nature. I truly believe that parents want the best environment for their children and work hard to create that. Unfortunately, social and economic situations do not always allow parents to provide all that they wish for their children. Become familiar with community resources that will help foster your child’s growth. Cities, libraries, and churches often offer free events for children and families that help enrich and foster connected families. Especially during these delightful summer months, there may be a host of opportunities right around the corner.
- Hummingbirds carefully choose the makings of their nests, choosing items that provide both the most comfort for their young and camouflage from predators. Seeing the intrinsic nature of the mama’s nest in my tree was amazing to me. The exterior looked like carefully sculpted layers bonded with cement although I know that was not the case. The mother hummingbird thought of her young babies as she spent the previous 2-3 weeks constructing a nurturing and protective environment for them. As parents we may spend hours every day concerned with our children’s “nests” or social environments, almost instinctively knowing (or researching) what will be the healthiest setting for our child to thrive in. Trust yourself and your child. Whether it is your toddler who feels ready to leave their crib or your adolescent who is practicing individuation by shutting themselves in their room to watch youtube videos until dinner, both are giving you clues to their specific developmental needs.
- Hummingbirds sit on their eggs 60-80% of the daylight hours. To think of the patience and self-control it must take to sit there over your eggs and wait is mind blowing. It reminded me of the work I do everyday to practice presence in my life with my own children. Life can often feel very overwhelming and busy and we try to multi-task by doing two or more things at once. Our kids are masters at telling if we are paying attention to them or just providing lip service. The human connection is so vital that energetically we can tell if someone has checked out even if they say they are listening. Set down your phone, turn down the volume on the television, and put down your book for a minute when your kid wants your attention. Enjoy your moments with your children… all too soon they will be gone from the nest.
- Mother Hummingbirds will feed abandoned babies that are placed in her nest or a nearby nest. Some of the greatest memories I have of my children are those younger years in pre-school and elementary school when we would have a house full of their friends over and I would be preparing snacks or meals for them. The community family needed to love, support and raise even one child is so evident in our world. I love the stories of resilience my clients tell me as they recall that one neighbor, teacher, or relative who listened to them when they needed it most or offered them a snack when they were hungry. Those moments are some of the most remembered and cherished by kids.
- The baby birds leave the nest out of their own volition, without pushing from their parents. American culture has adopted such a strict standard of launching a child once they reach 18 years old that parents can feel a sense of shame if their kid is still in the home. That pressure to be on your own can also leave the young adult anxious, depressed, or feeling lost. Brain science on growth suggests that full development is not achieved until at least 25 years old with the need for adult mentoring and social support playing an important role in healthy maturing (Simpson, 2008). Many kids feel unprepared to go away to college or to enter the workforce fulltime. Listening to your child’s needs at this transitional time and helping them find an avenue where they feel successful, even if it is not “the norm,” may make any transitions feel more supported and keep your family relationships connected and fulfilling.
So here we are, four weeks later and now the nest lays empty. No longer do I see the sweet little mama hovering over her babies as they grow. She was unfazed by my presence as I tried to stealthily observe her every move. She slowed down my pace as I made time to sit outside and learn from her. For one month my mentor was a beautiful, patient, quiet, and small hummingbird. I looked forward to returning home to my garden to see what my little hummingbird friend was doing now. Oh, to live as she does, with that much constant awareness of her surroundings, with persistence and gentle compassion, and with such loving patience to best care for her babies. Thank you kind friend for teaching me so much.
Trish Phillips, PsyD, is a psychologist in Orange County, CA, specializing in treating individuals who are seeking a deeper connection to themselves and others in their lives. Using internalized strength from the kid in me sees the kid in you, Trish has helped hundreds of clients find and nourish their wounded core and child within.
Friedman, Jon, “Nesting Behaviors of Hummingbirds,” The Wild Bird Store, wildbirdsonline.com
“Baby Hummingbirds,” Worldofhummingbirds.com
Simpson, A. Rae, (2008), Brain Changes, MIT Work Life Center, hrweb.mit.edu