The oft’ repeated woe of parenting is that children do not come with a training manual. There is never just one right way to raise a child. We parent according to our instincts and our personalities. A million books have been written on this subject, and there is an information overload out there based on the different personal perspectives on parenting.
Some people are helicopter parents, while others insist on not hovering around their kids. There are Eastern and Western styles of parenting. Attachment parenting comes naturally to some, while others believe there is nothing wrong in letting babies cry and exercise their vocal cords. Some cultures demand obedience, while others encourage their offspring to explore their own individuality.
Parenting is truly important to all of us and it is an issue we deeply care about; a job we would all like to excel at. Sometimes, I wonder, are we overthinking this whole parenting thing? Are we making it more complicated than it needs to be?
Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), a sensitive and sagacious Lebanese American writer and poet, has left behind a mystical legacy of resonating words of wisdom on this topic. His poem, On Children is short, his message is simple, and yet so infinitely powerful and profound.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you, they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
The meaning I decipher from these lines is that we do not own our children. They are free spirited souls, and we cannot chain them in servitude. They are wondrous miracles from God, and a product of nature’s soulful longing for creation of more life. Parents are the vehicles of the arrival of babies on this earth. Gibran goes on to write that children need our complete unconditional love and acceptance, but, they do not need to emulate our thoughts. We should not impose our beliefs on them.
Children do not bear the responsibility of fulfilling the unfinished vicarious dreams of narcissistic parents. Our kids should follow their own path and passion.
Children can never realize their complete potential if parents put pressure on them to act a certain way.
Jess Lair, an American author has rightly said, “Children are not things to be molded, but are people to be unfolded.” He also says, “We inevitably doom our children to failure and frustration when we try to set their goals for them.”
The souls of our children dwell in a metaphysical abode, and we cannot visit or predict the vastness of who they are meant to be. The past and the future are not ours to fathom but we can live in the present. Let us nourish and nurture our children mindfully everyday with overflowing love.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite.
And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hands be for happiness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves the bow that is stable.
What I derived from these lines is a beautiful metaphysical metaphor. The parents are the bow, the children are the arrows, and God is the archer. Parents should offer stable and secure support, and yet they must be flexible. The arrow will successfully shoot forth into the universe and make its mark only if the bow is willing to bend. The Almighty knows the path of the arrow and its mark on the world. God in his infinite wisdom loves both the parents and their children.
This poem by Kahlil Gibran is very popular. It has been the subject of parenting blogs for a long time, and many people have read it before. I had read it for the first time in my thirties when my children were toddlers. Interestingly, I did not ruminate on his reasonings at that time. I was busy raising my kids, and I scoffed at the idea that my children were not my children! Really? I carried them for nine months, gave birth to them, devoted all my time and energy to their upbringing the best I could, and yet they are not mine?
When my kids were little, I worried incessantly when my daughter talked very late and was very shy in school. I told her that she should try to talk more. We put our youngest son in soccer, and he was never really into it. Needless to say, when I look back, I feel like while we did some things right as we were always consistent and loving parents, we also did some things wrong specially when our inner tiger parent would rear its ugly head.
As my children have grown, it’s dawned on me that I must not limit their possibilities. I have learned to let go and let them be. I love them for who they are so that they can have the confidence to be who they want to be. It is okay to be an introvert, it is okay if soccer is not your passion. Our children have the freedom to follow their interests. We discuss the pros and cons of every idea they put forth, but we do let them decide what they wish to do with their life.
Today, our kids are smart, caring and confident young adults. We never hesitate to tell them that we are very proud of them. It has been a joy and a blessing to see their beautiful petals unfold, and to see them blooming beautifully and growing into their own unique personalities. They choose subjects and clubs of their own interest, and are passionate about what they are studying in school and college.
Now, when I read Gibran’s poem, it makes perfect sense to me, and I can completely connect to his beautiful words. I think it is the best and most meaningful parenting advice I have ever received.