Every year blackbirds nest snug within the wisteria in my back garden. This spring one of the fledglings almost didn't make it. Smaller than its siblings, it hopped around helplessly, unable to fly or fend for itself. Its leg appeared damaged and it looked altogether forlorn.
I'd always thought that in nature it's all about the survival of the fittest and that the parents would abandon it for being weak and 'imperfect'. But I was blown away by their attentiveness. For the last five days as he struggled, they haven't left the baby's side, bringing tasty morsels and generally rallying round. Yet, the parents have also given the little bird enough space to take its next tentative steps.
It has been a heart-warming spectacle, but it has also made me think about parenting, and the challenge we face to strike that vital balance: smother our babies and they can't fend for themselves but leave them to their own devices and they will flounder. Resilience in children is built on solid foundations in many areas - trust, independence, awareness of their passions, protection and ability to express emotions. But today it is so very hard to deliver this alchemy, and parents often feel as helpless as their offspring.
In recent years, social media has created greater separation between teens and parents. While it allows teens greater freedom to interact without some of the dangers of being out on the street, online there can be just as much exposure to unhealthy forces that parents can't monitor. Socialising and escapism are important parts of childhood, and today's online world can provide them but the virtual world also gives them an opportunity to create and test out 'new identities', away from their families. I know a few teen girls who are sweet and a bit naive off line but have created the online persona of a sultry, pouting teen through posed and airbrushed selfies, imitating their favourite social media stars.
Not enough has been done by the social networks to comfort parents. If you don't allow your kid to participate, they will definitely be the odd one out at school, but at the same time, how can parents adequately safeguard them from cyberbullying, online grooming and the growing pandemic of teen narcissism. In the social media world, being different, like the scrawny little blackbird, is also an uphill struggle. In a highly visual world, the stereotypes for 'what's beautiful' have become even more engrained - super-slim body, long limbs, thigh gap, silky blonde hair, white teeth and a perfect pout. In a world where you are judged first by your profile picture, anything outside of the new norm, sticks out a mile.
All of this lead me to write my first book, The Ugly Little Girl. I was motivated to provide children with a safe place that they could escape to, focussed around an alternative school - a night time one for self-esteem where everyone feels like an Oddbod and lessons teach you to know and like yourself.
So when I look at mother and father blackbird nurturing their chick at a healthy distance I am reminded that the basics of parenting can be simple. It has been overcomplicated by the digital revolution and our 24hr access to an excess of information. It's time to get back to basics, to fledge our children, raise them till they are robust enough to fly alone safely and to cherish them for who they are, whether they seem to be the weakest or the strongest, they all need to know they are all worthy of self-love.