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Look, Mom, you're an empty nester

All eyes have been riveted upon an 80-foot-high perch in a cottonwood tree near the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa. Thanks to live video streaming, people from 130 countries have visited the nest of two American bald eagles. Four million daily page visits are recorded, and it's also on YouTube.

After laying three eggs in February, the eagle couple set up housekeeping. The female handled about 72% of the incubation, dutifully turning over her eggs hourly for 35 days. The first eaglet hatched in full view of Web fans on April 2.

Thankfully, the female has been oblivious to the many eyes observing her maternal skills. She's lucky.

Although women make up the majority of the American workforce and earn about 60% of college degrees, they know all too well they're ultimately judged on their parenting skills.

Motherhood is a role none of us studied in school. It comes with on-the-job training. Yet society expects women to be good mothers and holds them more responsible than fathers for parenting. Like bald eagles, many women typically assume nesting duties 72% of the time.

What's it like to parent an eaglet? Although they quickly grow to resemble their parents, their behavior is markedly different. They have the instinct to fly, bite, or pounce, but they don't have the precise skills. They learn by watching their parents. As they mature, parents feed them but have little other contact.

Sound familiar? Children learn by watching, even when we don't know they're paying attention. They often learn to do the opposite of their parents.

There's even a word for the fear of growing up to be like one's mother: matrophobia. Daughters vow never to make the same mistakes as their mothers. They go on to make different mistakes.
I'm regularly dismayed to discover my mistakes. Mom bought frozen concentrate orange juice, but it wasn't affordable for us to drink it daily. Thanks to the wonders of modern packaging and food distribution, my kids had plenty of juice on hand. Today, dieticians warn against giving children under age 6 more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice daily because it contains so many calories. I wish I'd known that 20 years ago.

I'm also finding out how wrong I was not to let my girls get filthy dirty.

New research suggests that kids exposed to lots of germs early in life are less likely to develop allergies, asthma, or autoimmune disorders.

An Oregon State University professor says that holding girls to a higher standard of cleanliness than boys may be leading to health disparities.

Women have a higher rate of asthma than men – 8.5% vs. 7.1% – reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women are more likely to have allergies as adults. According to the American Autoimmune-Related Diseases Association, women are affected three times more often than men.

But before you push your daughter toward the nearest mud puddle, the researcher admits, "The jury is still out."

Indeed it is. As we all learn sooner or later, most moms do the best they can. As far as we know, mother eagles don't suffer guilt about unintended consequences. But we won't know what happens to the Web cam eaglets; the camera is set to go dark in July, about the time they leave the nest.

Young eagles often rush out, feeling fully capable of being on their own in the world.

Unfortunately, about 40% won't survive their first flight. They often wander far and randomly. Males tend to return closer to home than females.

This mirrors a recent Flying The Nest survey that says parents are three times more likely to allow adult sons to return home than daughters. 58% of moms admitted to spoiling sons who returned to the nest, compared to 35% for daughters.

My husband, Stan, and I have watched our younger daughter, Alexa, grow into a wonderful young woman. She leaves the nest in August. With each celebration of maturity, there's been a fresh pang of loss. It's time for our Southeast Webster-Grand Eagle to spread her wings and soar.

But first, please turn off the Web cam.

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