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What can parents learn from penguins?


Family of penguins
Family of penguins

If you visit Worcester right now, you can’t fail to notice the penguins that are appearing around the City centre.   They are part of a fund-raising project by St Richard’s Hospice. The hospice is funded by voluntary donations – if you would like to support this wonderful service, you can do so at https://www.strichards.org.uk/donate/.


When we think about penguins, our thoughts might well go to the harsh environment in which they live and also to the ways that they work together so that they – and their chicks - can survive and thrive despite the unpromising conditions.

 

That got us thinking.  When we see parents in mediation, they are usually facing major challenges – their own ‘harsh environment’ in which they want their children to survive and prosper.   What might parents – and especially separating parents – learn from the penguins?  


  1. The biggest lesson, perhaps, is that penguin parents work together.  They share responsibility for nurturing their chicks, keeping them warm and allowing both parents to feed themselves and their chick.  They are aware of each other’s needs as well as the needs of their offspring, and they support one another in meeting the challenges that they face.  One of the worst habits of separated parents – and definitely one to avoid – is the habit of undermining the other parent.  One of the best gifts we can give to our children is to help them to enjoy a positive and safe relationship with their other parent.

  2. The second lesson that parents might learn from penguins is that they communicate with each other and listen out for each other.  Although penguin colonies are crowded and very noisy, they are able to identify each other’s calls, and stay in touch so that they are able to work together.   Good communication helps human parents too – letting each other know what is going on enables both parents to contribute to meeting their children’s emotional and material needs, and helps to avoid misunderstandings and conflict.

  3. What’s more, penguins are able to identify their chicks from their calls.  Our third lesson from the penguins is that listening to our children is vital if they are to thrive.  We need to be able to recognise when our children are unhappy, and to support them to understand their feelings and to deal appropriately with then.   Have a look at our article, on this blog series, entitled: ‘Helping your child through separation and divorce’ for more information about this.  Really focused ‘active’ listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to anyone and especially to our children.

  4. The fourth lesson about parenting that we can learn from the penguins is that have been observed forming cooperative parenting groups, where they take turns caring for each other's chicks to increase their overall breeding success.   Having others around us who we can share in mutual support is a real help when facing the big challenges in life, and especially in parenting.  Asking for help can be difficult – it might mean  admitting that we are struggling with the task of being parents.  Yet, reaching out for help can be the first step towards making things better for our children and ourselves.


So, when you see the penguins in Worcester, ask yourself what you might learn from them – and don’t forget those whom St Richard’s Hospice are serving.

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