A pediatrician in 1984 gave me a small grant to write a book or booklet on parenting. I published a paperback with the title, “Your Children Are Not Your Children,” words from Indian philosopher Kahlil Gibran. Gibran expounds:
They are 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.
That passage has become a favorite in my 48 years of parenting. There is some comfort in knowing that parents are but one influence, although a powerful one, in the way a child grows and goes. Many other dynamics, like genetic predisposition and peer pressure and the child’s freedom to conform or rebel, lie outside parents’ control.
Oftentimes, when a child with a birth defect or leukemia or a horrible injury from a riding mower or a drug overdose or a mysterious virus arrived in our hospital, I sat with devastated parents struggling with inconsolable guilt, a guilt that pretty platitudes and scripture quotations could not reach or fix.
There’s an old adage that conscientious parenting aims to give children roots and wings: roots, like examples of justice, kindness and love; wings, like examples of curiosity, imagination and wonder. What children do, thereafter, becomes their responsibility. We parents go on standby, holding the bandages and ointments ready.