I know why tigers eat their young…
It is easy to pass judgement on those in the throes of parenting. We’ve all done it. We’ve watched a child’s fit or public rebellion and silently criticized the parent or their response. We have rolled our eyes at a mom who counts to ten, gives a second chance, then counts to ten again, never to successfully redirect the child in question. We have felt our hand twitch with the desire to swat a disrespectful teenager with attitude or a two year old in a bawling heap. We have been sure that we could parent better, been firmer, more consistent and stronger. We have made presumptions without knowledge or experience. We have forgotten our own moments of failure or despair or temporary insanity.
I have made the correct choices for my children, said the perfect thing, disciplined appropriately, patted myself on the back for my practically perfect parenting, then watched a situation explode in spite of my brilliance. While I hold parents to a certain standard and expectation, I also understand how things can go awry and would like to offer my support to mothers of all species.
Perhaps the most malicious parental response to a child’s insanity is the consumption off offspring. The most maligned “Brat Snacker” is the mother tiger, and I know why tigers eat their young.
Oh sure there are the obvious nutritional benefits: cubs are protein rich, calcium fortified, and high in iron and most essential vitamins. I imagine cubs can be quite tasty too. But the real reason tigers eat their young is the most primal of all behaviors: Self Preservation.
This is not because of the need for food, but because sometimes in the wild (as in a home with children) you must remove that which is most risky to your well being. Since tigers cannot call a neighbor to “take this cub off my hands” for the afternoon, eating them might just be the most practical solution.
Now, I am in no way suggesting that human parents should eat their offspring. I am simply offering a level of understanding to the often demonized tiger parent who has been backed into a proverbial corner by a tantrum throwing toddler cub or teenager.
(I know they don’t eat teenage cubs. I am just offering preemptive understanding in case it ever happens.)
I am sure tiger parents celebrate the arrival of their babies with the same pride and joy that human parents feel. I can envision them watching their perfect little bundle stretch and yawn as he snuggles in between them. He is flawless, an angel! His smell is sweet, his noises soft and delightful. Each little growl is met with oohs and ahhs.
Soon visitors arrive to gawk in awe at the precious newborn. Those who have raised their own little cublets have a certain look on their faces that the new parents mistake as satisfaction. In fact, they are concealing their fear and withholding their laughter. Soon, those little noises will be screeches. The sweet little smells will be toxic stench and the growls will turn into whining complaints.
When the grandparents arrive, they look lovingly upon the newest member of their family. Grandma tiger points out some physical similarities to her own little cub who is now a proud papa. Then, grandpa takes a stroll down memory lane. His eyes twinkle as he goes through the stories of infancy, then toddlerhood. He and grandma can barely get through the stories of adolescence before laughter has them doubled over and singing in unison “You reap what you sow!” Just about this time the new parents have the grill out and their their beautiful plump cub is sitting in a mesquite marinade.
Do not be alarmed! Grandma tiger steps in just in time to save the little darling. After all, if they had to suffer through the ups and downs of parenthood, her little prince isn’t getting off that easily!
Don’t judge me. I love being a mother – really! My children are a blessing and a gift! But, I am a realist and truly believe that you must embrace the good with the bad, the happy with the sad, the straight A’s with the MIP’s.
In all fairness, it should be revealed to prospective parents that child rearing does not get easier as your babies get older.
While you will no longer schlep around car seats, strollers, diaper bags, binkies, porta-cribs, blankets, Barney CDS and Cheerios, you will instead be schlepping lost or forgotten soccer cleats, homework, permission slips, purses, wallets, uniforms, driver’s licenses, debit cards, prom tickets, corsages and anything else you did not slip into the backpack of your teen who is declaring their need for greater independence. They will gratefully return home when they need money, food, clean clothes, a nap, a shoulder, help with a last minute assignment or more money. They will leave thoughtful reminders of their presence such as dirty clothes, stinky shin guards, moldy lunches that went uneaten, all the junk from their recently cleaned cars, pizza boxes and Chipotle foil wrappers that will eventually pass through the dog.
Teenagers do serve a purpose. They can turn on the television with the perfect combination of remotes and commands. They can make sense of computers and iPods, cell phones and iPads, programmable remotes and alarm systems. Perhaps their strategy is to make themselves invaluable by convincing their feeble minded parents to purchase mystifying gadgets that require the complex, multi-tasking brain of an X-box trained teenager and make themselves indispensable. Smart.
I have lived through the trials and tribulations of my children’s lives relatively unscathed except for some wrinkles, a few gray hairs and an extra 25 pounds (on a totally cubless diet). I have had the pleasure of celebrating graduations, state championships, and prom coronations. I have survived first kisses, first breakups, incredible successes and devastating failures. Through it all, we have leaned on each other, laughed, loved, embraced and endured. We are not on the other side yet, but we see the light glowing a little brighter every day.
As we enter the next phase in our family adventure, I am enjoying the developing friendship with my offspring. I find myself delighting in their stories, listening to trials I don’t have to fix. I hear their concerns about graduations, jobs, future spouses, eventual children, taxes, insurance and all of life’s adjustments into adulthood… and I don’t have to solve or provide for any of it because they are ready. They are prepared to take the leaps that will be necessary in the future. They are ready to take on life with confidence, intelligence and incalculable abilities. They are ready to work for themselves, their partners and, yes, their children. They will know how to love unselfishly, give without expectation and parent with the humor and resolve it takes to fight the urge to eat their cubs. And, of course: I will be there to laugh with them, support them and close the lid on the barbecue grill.
Carol is the proud mama tiger to two cubs, and two cubs-in-law… who are all still alive and well.
Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.