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.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
- Kahlil Gibran
I first read this poem many years ago and back then, it struck a chord with my angsty and independence seeking teenage self. After rereading it now from the perspective of a parent, I see that it contains more profound messages than I'd realized before having children. Here's what I take away from it now.
We are but guides for our children. From the moment they enter this world, children are full fledged people with their own needs and preferences. We have the responsibility of caring for them and guiding them when they are young and vulnerable, but that does not give us the right to dominate or manipulate them. Too often we think of childhood as preparation for life, a time to mold kids into contributing members of society so that they will be good citizens at some distant point in the future. But children are living genuine lives from the time they are born and deserve to be treated with empathy and respect rather than power and superiority.
We cannot control our children's lives (or their thoughts, emotions or opinions for that matter). We can't shelter them from pain and we can't prevent them from making mistakes, even when we can see that they are about to make them. And even if we could prevent their mistakes, in wouldn't be in their best interest to do so because they will only be able to draw on their own resources and develop resilience if they are allowed to stumble and pick themselves up again.
I do not know what the world will be like when my children set out on their own, but I hope that the parenting strategies I choose will encourage them to develop self-confidence, resilience and trust in themselves so that they will thrive no matter what life throws at them. I will know that I have done my job well if they have the courage to be true to themselves and to follow their own dreams.