I had already started writing this blog, when one of my all-time favourite poems popped up on my Facebook feed (yes, hands up, I do use social media ;-)):
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.
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.
My initial reaction after reading this poem some years ago was something along the lines of: “Of course they are our children, I gave birth to them, they are a part of me and I have never loved a being like I love my children. We are raising them as best as we can, trying to instil our values, making sure they are kind and well-mannered etc.” … you get my drift. Something had touched me though and I read and re-read the poem many times, and the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the sentiments in this profound piece of poetry. Yes, I still do believe that we as parents play an unreplaceable vital part in raising our children, we are their first blueprint for learning and behaviour, and our love and affection helps our children to thrive and develop physically, emotionally and cognitively. Also, our children will imitate our words and actions when they are young, that’s an important part of learning and the reason why we should always be mindful of our behaviour in the presence of our children (…as she shouts at her daughters down the corridor to stop screaming!! ;-), we all know how difficult that can be!). They are their own person though, right from the moment they are born. We have two daughters, and right from the word go they both showed their own unique personality and character. I’m sure it has happened to most of us, that we meet siblings and wonder how they could possibly come from the same gene-pool ;-).
I also believe though, that it is important for both parents and children to acknowledge at some stage, that even though we are forever (hopefully) lovingly connected, we cannot be (or be made) responsible for each other’s decisions and life choices.
I got the impulse for writing this blog after the 18-year-old son of a very well respected and liked personality here in Ireland was charged with possession of drugs and intent to supply. As expected in our world of an unforgiving media and the acceleration of social media there was an onslaught of opinions, both supportive and criticising, but plenty of nasty comments relating to this person and her “obviously lacking” parenting skills. I was appalled as in my own opinion this young man made a bad choice for himself, his parents would obviously not have wanted him to get himself into this terrible situation nor would they have raised him in that way. Nonetheless I’m sure there is a huge amount of guilt and “what ifs” on the parents’ shoulders, as there would be on any of our own, were we in this situation.
It got me thinking about my own parenting, my children and the way we as parents often feel responsible for anything our children say, do or think. Now this goes for both positive and negative examples of course. If our children do well in school, achieve in their sports teams and musical education, display good manners and kindness, are helpful and obliging, we automatically feel proud and delighted not only with our children, but with ourselves too. We did well, we taught them how to behave, we encouraged their interests and talents, we poured our heart and soul into raising our beloved offspring. So far so good… Then one day, we might get a phone call from the school principal or team coach or the mum of one of our children’s friends with the news that our child bullied a classmate, got into a fight with a child on the opposite team or behaved downright rude at a playdate and threw a tantrum when asked to share a toy. These are just some random examples but you get the picture. How often is our first reaction: What? My child? Never!! and then when the answer is Yes! My child! Only this morning! our next step is the good old guilt game: What did I do wrong! Should I have done more of this and less of that? What could I have done differently?
I am not saying that we don’t have any influence on our children or that all our effort, love and devotion is in vain, what would be the point of parenting then? But we do have to acknowledge that as much as WE see ourselves as independent individuals (remember, we still are our parent’s children too!!) our children are their own complete person too. As difficult and frightening as this may be for us parents, they will have to make their own choices and decisions, and with that comes making mistakes, some more, some less significant. But thankfully by giving them their independence and valuing their individuality and independence, we will also see them grow and flourish and achieve things we couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams.
Of course, this is a slow progression, after all human babies are the most dependent and vulnerable offspring in the natural world and young children depend on our presence and loving care for both their physical and mental/emotional development. It’s just something to keep in mind for our own sake as much as that of our children’s. They are not supposed to be a mini version of ourselves, even though that’s partly unpreventable, we are related after all. Children have to learn to take responsibility and realise that there are always consequences to their actions. It’s a natural learning process and the older they get, the more their own personality will shine through.
As long, as they know that we love them unconditionally, even though we mightn’t like or agree with some of their choices and behaviours (and vice versa, we sure aren’t perfect, far from it!) we’re providing firm roots to come back to, but they have to do the flying themselves. For our children to be able to do that, we need to let them…
“You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.”