I have had an earworm for a few days now. It’s Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Children” or rather the Sweet Honey in the Rock song version. Go on and listen for a bit. It’s really good. I’ll be right here waiting for you.
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, yet they belong not to you.
I’m not sure what made it pop into my head. I probably hadn’t heard it since high school when some parents did it as an interlude during the annual “talent night” performances. I remember hearing it back then and thinking “wow, this makes sense.” As a teenager it was so validating to hear, in poetry, that children–teenagers even– have their own will, direction, goals, needs and wants. Teenagers/children deserve respect from adults. And they behave better when they feel respected and valued.
I heard “On Children” when I myself was on the cusp of adulthood. But as a mom I think it really does make sense for children of all ages…even now with my kids at the tender ages of 2 and 4 it makes sense.
Perhaps my child doesn’t want quite so many cuddles or kisses from me anymore. Sad for me, but valid and to be respected.
Perhaps my child tells me she has outgrown her favorite books, games, or tv shows. Also valid and to be respected.
Perhaps my child hates the activity I signed him up for. It’s ok to change course.
We all wish our kids would listen to us. We think that if they could just hear what we tell them life would be better, easier. But maybe sometimes we should give up the power struggle and find a solution that respects both our parental role and the child’s reason for such resistance.
My son wants to wear shorts in 50°F weather to preschool? He will quickly learn on his own if he is cold. His preschool requires he have a change of clothes in his backpack anyway.
My daughter wants to wear the same T-shirt for 36 hours? As long as it’s not plastered with food or dirt it’s really not hurting her or anyone else.
If I recognize my children as complete souls even when they’re so little, it will be easier to do the same and let them be who they are as teenagers too. I won’t be able to test this for 10 years or so, but it seems logical.
If I respect their ability to make choices for themselves now (in age appropriate ways), they will know that I respect them to make good choices during those dreaded teenage years.
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.
This paragraph of the poem suggests to me future situations when I may wish they could use the lessons I’ve learned, apply them, and skip over some of the struggle I experienced. Things like dealing with tough social situations, planning a path of study to lead to a career, or matters of dating and finding love. I can try to impart my own wisdom, but in the end, I learned from my own difficulties and so must they. Sometimes repeatedly.
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 hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
All I can do is do my best to give them a solid base of love and support from which to grow. Respect them. Trust them. Gently guide them. Stay flexible. And when the time comes, let them fly. A parent’s job is to raise our kids so that they may leave us. Only then will they truly become themselves. This leaving doesn’t just happen at 18. It happens gradually over the course of their entire childhood.
Kahlil Gibran was a philosopher and writer born in 1883. I believe his advice has withstood the test of time. I think I will trust him on this one and incorporate his philosophy into my parenting the best I can.
I really love this….you a wonderful example of someone living by this philosophy. Your children are very lucky to have you as their mon
Sandra’s text and photos align wonderfully with philosopher and poet Kahlil Gibran.