We do everything in our power to raise our children to be good people and to have a happy life. But in our efforts to lead them toward what we think is “best” for them, it’s easy to slip into a common parenting pitfall: we try to shape our children in our image or in the image of the person we think they should be. The truth is that children are not formless lumps of clay to be molded. Though they do need our guidance, they are their own people.
Of course, due to their immature brains and inexperience in the world, they need guidance so that they stay safe and grow healthy and strong. There is a lot they must learn at home and at school. When they are upset, they need comfort and help in learning to manage how they feel. They also need encouragement in exploring their interests and reaching out into the world. All of this influences their growth toward the adult they will one day become.
But when you push them into a mold they don’t really fit, they learn to live a role that does not match them. A boisterous child can learn to be quiet, but when forced to maintain this, they must shut down their natural exuberance. A sensitive, artistic child can learn disciplined logic, but when forced to give up their creativity in favor of linear thinking, they lose their natural way of expressing what is in their being. These children disconnect with their true nature, and they feel the pain of that – even if they can’t put words to it. So it is up to their parents to be sensitive to their needs.
Kahlil Gibran expressed this in a particularly eloquent way in his poem "On Children":
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.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
The task of parenthood is not easy. It requires simply loving your children, looking out for them, instructing them, and also attending to their inner nature. This nature is fragile and needs to be nurtured. But when you recognize your child as the budding carnation that they are – letting go of your desire for a rose – you offer the very precious gift of helping them become their best and happiest self.