On the morning of my son’s bar mitzvah, I turned to a page in a favorite inspirational book and found this Khalil Gibran poem about children (see right). Your children are not your children/they are the sons and daughters/of Life’s longing for itself…
Although I longed to become a mother, I never believed my children were mine. They are not my property nor extensions of me and how they turn out, I believe, is a direct relation to who they are as individuals, not mimicry of my own desires and beliefs.
That’s a rare perspective, I think. Many (maybe most?) parents see their children as theirs, and direct them as such. Believe what I believe, do what I value to be worth doing, make ME proud.
I honestly mean it when I say that I have no attachment to how my children turn out (as long as they are not criminals or hate-filled meanies). Their college choices, career paths, life partners – those are decisions they and they alone have to live with. Who am I to tell them which one is right or wrong?
And yet, I am raising my children in the Jewish faith, my faith, my belief system. While I tell them that this is our heritage and our ancestry and it’s where I find meaning, I also tell them that there is meaning in every belief system, every community, and we are all pretty much saying the same thing, with different details and characters.
But is that believable if I am committed to one faith?
Is it do as I say, not do as I do?
I ponder this as friends steer their children toward baptism in their faith or bar mitzvah or first communion, and applaud the child’s performance and choice. But I wonder if our children have any other choice, really.
Children by definition seek to please their parents. We raise them to do so. It is built into our Judeo-Christian culture to honor your parents. Which means do right by us, please us, make us proud.
So at what point do children step over into their own mode of thinking and get to choose? Is the choosing already ruined because they have been encouraged in a particular direction for all of those formative years leading up to the day of independence?
If so, then we are not raising independent thinkers. We are raising confused mini-mes who don’t know where we end and they begin.
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.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.