Your Children are Not Yours

“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”

Kahlil Gibran

Ever since I became a parent the words of Kahlil Gibran have resonated with me and I find myself re-reading his poem “On Children” time and time again. With each read, there’s something new that I haven’t noticed before, and of course I relate it to my own experience with my children.

Sometimes even with the best intentions we as parents tend to cripple our children’s progress and raise them in ways that will hold them back. We’ve probably all done some of these – being overprotective, being possessive and not wanting to let go whether it’s the first day of school, first date, first day at college or when your child finally leaves home. There is so much information available nowadays about good parenting and the way to avoid mistakes, yet when it comes to calling your children ‘your own’ and finding within yourself the strength to release them, most of us seem to struggle with the very idea.

It’s only natural that we want the best for our children, however in trying to protect them and guide them in life we sometimes go too far. As Gibran continues in his poem:

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.”

These two lines are the perfect reflection of how we very often tend to instil our views and perceptions, with the best of intentions, on our children. I’m not trying to say that you should never share your thoughts or ideas with your children. On the contrary, having open communication, listening and answering your children is key. Very often in our busy lives we tend to talk at our children and don’t necessarily listen or hear what they have to say to us. By no means, we should relate our experiences and stories to them, however, we should also be aware that they will form their own ideas, opinions and views and that’s perfectly normal.

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. 

Wanting you child to thrive and grow up as a successful and happy adult is a natural desire for every parent to have. However, we also need to remember that the reason we have children is not to fulfil the ambitions, hopes or expectations we might have had ourselves. By no means guide and encourage them, but let them find their own way forward. Let them take risks, make mistakes (and learn from them), let them love and be loved even when it means that they will have their hearts broken.

And don’t worry about losing them or growing apart from them. If you have given them the freedom of going forth into the world, of shaping their own identity and at the same time feeling supported and loved then you have done your job as a parent well. You can’t expect your children to take care of you as this is not a barter system – “I took care of you when you were little, now you look after me when I’m older”. It doesn’t work out this way automatically and that’s not why we have children. However, by releasing them and giving them the freedom to fly “as living arrows” (Kahlil Gibran) they will always have this precious connection with you, something that’s a lot more tangible than the obligatory family visits, dinners and seasonal holidays. Your child might be living on the other side of the world and be a parent themselves, yet they will know and appreciate that your wisdom, strength and love were as important to growing up into an independent adult following their passions as much as their own energy, determination and drive.