Giving children space

One of things I examine in Under Pressure is how we can become over-invested in our children, treating them as a mini-me. These days you often hear people talking about their kids with the collective pronoun: “We have lots of homework this weekend;” “we are signing up for football this year;” “we are applying to Harvard or Oxford.” This may start out from the noble instinct to do the best for our children and to be close to them, but it can go too far. Another problem is that in a culture in thrall to management science the temptation to approach child-rearing as a kind of product-development is strong. So we think: “If I add X to my child, I’ll get Y at the other end.” Unfortunately that is not how it works. Child-rearing is much more complex, blurry and confusing than that – and all the more thrilling and enriching as a result, I think. A child is not a product but a person born with his own character, aptitudes and flaws – his own soul. In that sense, parenting is more about discovering and celebrating who our children are rather than striving constantly to turn them into what we want them to be.

Since Under Pressure came out, several readers have sent me a poem by Kahlil Gibran that sums up these ideas with a gentle beauty. So I figured I’d share it here:

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 our 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.”

And while we’re on the subject, here is something that Anne Frank wrote:

“Parents can only give good advice or put [children] on the right paths,

but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”