A Lesson on Nest Building


An object lesson on mothering was right outside my front door.

I never would have thought a bird could teach me how to be a better mother. But that’s what happened several years ago when I found a bird building her nest in our front-yard almond tree. I was impressed that she positioned the nest high in the tree so that animals would not likely disturb it and that she chose two strong, sturdy branches to provide solid support and protection against the elements.

I peeked in on the nest only occasionally so I would not disturb her growing family. First I saw four eggs appear, then I could hear the chirping of baby birds. As time passed the chirping subsided, so I decided to check on things. My heart sank when I realized tragedy had struck. The danger had come not from without—but from within. Two of the four young birds had grown up and flown away, but the other two had died, tangled by their feet in some plastic strands in the nest. They had struggled to pull themselves free but could not do so.

I realized what went wrong. When the mother bird had built her home, she used the usual twigs, branches, grass, and reeds. But she had also been attracted to some colorful plastic strands that she wove throughout the nest. They looked similar to natural materials, but they were a little flashier, a bit more shimmery. They were not the same, however. The plastic had no give, and when the two remaining baby birds had tried to get free, the artificial materials pulled tighter.

I have often thought of the lessons that little nest taught me as a mother in my own family. First, I need to build my nest using the proper materials. Our prophets have counseled us to build solid homes with materials such as family home evening, scriptures, family prayer, Sabbath day observance, and service to others. These tools give me the best chance of success with my family.

Or I can build my nest with flashier substitutes that may be more popular, more exciting, or easier to use. But they are not the same. I may decide renting an occasional inappropriate movie or making a casual stop at the store on Sunday won’t matter too much. Or I may think that attending only some Church meetings or having home evening just once in a while won’t hinder my eternal salvation.

Maybe not, but I’ve decided I don’t want to take any chances. I want my own nest to be as safe and secure as possible. I want to minimize any outside influences that could be harmful to my children, whether physically or spiritually.

Some children remain strong no matter what influences are occasionally brought into the home. Two of the birds in my front yard were able to free themselves and fly away to start building their own nests. But for other children who confront harmful influences, the results may be disastrous, as they were for the remaining two birds in the nest.

Second, I’ve learned that I must be somewhat flexible with my children. Ideally the natural materials in a nest allow some give so that young birds can practice leaving at times without being in much danger. However, the plastic in the nest I observed was inflexible. The strands were so strong and tight that the birds couldn’t break free on their own.

I need to ensure that my children can start testing their limits with a safe base of standards from which they can learn to make decisions. Sometimes children fall away because parents have been too strict and authoritarian while independence is being learned. When the children are on their own, they haven’t internalized those standards for themselves.

Being a parent requires a great deal of love and patience and knowing when to be flexible. How can we know how strict or lenient we should be? That guidance can come through the messages from our Church leaders, the Holy Ghost, prayer, fasting, and scripture reading. As parents we must learn to rely on the Holy Ghost and be worthy of His constant companionship.

Although my experience with the birds in our almond tree was bittersweet, I am grateful for what one of God’s small creatures taught me about my family. I must do all I can to provide a haven for my children in which they can learn and practice good decision making. I must heed the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord so I will know how to teach and respond to my children to help them best. When they are not under the protective wings of their parents, it will be up to them to use their agency wisely. But in the meantime, I will know that I have tried to build the best nest possible.

Let’s Talk about It

This article may furnish material for a family home evening discussion or for personal consideration. You might consider questions such as:

  1. 1.

    How can activities such as family home evening, scripture study, family prayer, Sabbath day observance, and service to others help make stronger families?

  2. 2.

    Can an occasional inappropriate movie or casual stop at a store on Sunday affect families spiritually? How?

  3. 3.

    How can parents determine how strict or lenient to be with their children? How can children’s actions play a role in their parents’ decisions?

[illustration] Illustrated by Steve Kropp

Robin Ruff Van Wagenen is a member of the Farmington Second Ward, Farmington Utah South Stake.