One spring, I watched an adult male robin and a young male robin as they hopped in my yard, pecking at the ground.

I noticed the larger robin was leading the smaller one – obviously papa and son.

I was fascinated. I had never seen that obvious action of teaching in nature before. I wondered how long it took the mama bird to push him out of the nest, and then the papa took over the teaching so he could survive.

Papa’s role had changed; he no longer brought worms to the nest for the babies.

That’s what we want for our children – not so much the worms but the learning and growing. We care for our children when they are young and cannot care for themselves.

As parents, we do our best to teach them by example and in all the ways anyone learns anything. We encourage their talents and provide opportunities as we can. We gradually nudge our children out of the nest so they will learn independence and live the lives they were meant to live apart from us.

The door always is left open with a soft place to land, no matter their age or place in life.

But the day comes when they fly the coop and we wave goodbye, helpless to stop time. A mixture of sadness, pride, love and hope rises within when we comprehend we have been working toward this day since they were born.

The time with them has moved far too rapidly, we realize, as we blink away tears.

My husband and I became empty nesters in 1995. All three children were grown and out on their own. When our youngest, Mary, waved goodbye to us after her wedding, I was told it was OK to cry.

But I said I was fine and very happy for her. She had married a nice man whom we loved.

The moment I landed in the passenger seat of our car to go home, I burst into tears.

How had time moved so fast?

I recovered on our drive home. I reminded myself again how happy we were for her.

Later that evening, I walked into our bedroom and found a framed picture of Mary with us, taken when she was about 3 years old.

A letter had been placed next to it.

As I read the letter, my hands shook with emotion and the tears once again fell. She was thanking us for being her parents.

The litany of mistakes I’d made over the years could have canceled out her loving words. So often I felt that I had messed up and had done things wrong as a parent.

If I could do it again today, I would do things differently. This same daughter went on to successfully homeschool all three of her children, and now she’s on the verge of being an empty nester, too.

That day, in 1995, as I read and reread her letter and then shared it with my husband, the old regrets melted away.

The letter is still tucked behind the photo. I have shared it with a few close friends, and each time, the tears return.

A quote from the book “Live and Learn and Pass It On” – described as “a collection of wisdom from people aged 5 to 95” – states, “I’ve learned that simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.”

Pastor and author Gordon McDonald agrees: “All effective fathers learn the importance of a wise and flexible response to their children’s calls for attention. No busy signals here. No hold button.”

That also holds true for mothers, stepparents, grandparents, foster parents, adoptive parents or any adult in a child’s life who can offer the simple things to our children that involve time.

Talk and listen, cook, read, laugh and solve problems together.

Help with homework and attend their sports games, plays, concerts, art shows and science fairs.

Show up. Be present.

As ordinary people, we can show extraordinary love as we see each child as a unique gift, pecking his or her way through life, looking for an example.

Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by Day column for ThisWeek Community News. Contact her at