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.
“Your children are not your children.” This was a lot easier to subscribe to when I was a theoretical parent. When I was a young woman, I believed that I would raise my children to be independent. To have minds of their own. To be free spirits who lunged toward life with unfailing bravery, never looking to the side, never looking back. Then parenthood happened, and I realized that kids don’t always make good decisions.
I should have known this by personal experience. When I was in fifth grade, my parents brought me and my siblings to a local shoe store to buy new school shoes. With eight children who grew faster than mold on bread, I can only imagine what a financial drain and monumental task this must have been. I always wondered why Pete, the store owner with the raspy voice seemed harried when the whole lot of us filed into the store, sat in the red leather chairs and removed our shoes. He patiently measured each foot, laced each shoe, and placed it on our feet, making sure there was a thumb width from the top of our toe to the end of the shoe. Then he had us walk up and down the rug to make sure they didn’t slip in the back or pinch our toes. One by one, he and his wife Doris would wait on each child until we were all laced and buckled into shiny new shoes, begging my mother to wear them home.
My practical mother always selected shoes made to last longer than they would fit, with rugged soles and sturdy stitching, but on this particular trip a pair of shiny black oxfords caught my eye. They were much more delicate than the shoes I usually wore, and the soles were glued on, creating a smaller, more feminine silhouette. I immediately fell in love with them and pointed them out to my mother. To my dismay, she shook her head and explained that the shoes I had chosen were not made to last and I would need to pick a pair from the selection that Doris held up for me to admire.
This was not a message I wanted to hear. I loved those shoes. I hated the others that smiling Doris nudged closer to my face. And so the battle began. I whined. I sulked. I protested that the other shoes hurt my feet. I dug my knee socked heels in so hard that my mother did something she rarely did. She caved. However, the concession came with a warning. If the shoes fell apart, a replacement would not be provided. I cared not one bit, but danced home in victory, my shiny black oxfords on my feet. I was thrilled, but only for a few weeks.
As my mother predicted, the shoes did not last long. Within a month, my white socks could be seen peeking out from the hole between the soles and the upper. And true to the warning, I had to wear torn shoes for the remainder of the season, because there was no money to replace them. The embarrassment of wearing torn shoes to school far outweighed the disappointment of having to choose a more practical option.
I didn’t realize it then, but now I know how wise my mother was to know that sometimes kids have to make their own decisions- good or bad. She knew that the best lessons are learned by living them and that experiencing a few bumps along the way is all part of the Master’s plan.
I, on the other hand, struggle with this concept. I have to fight the urge to protect my loved ones from the consequences of their actions. I want them to always make the right choices- to opt for what will be good for them in the long run. I don’t want them to make costly mistakes. I don’t want their cheeks to burn from embarrassment. I don’t want them to feel the sting of their errors.
But it’s not about what I want. It is about what they need. They need to live their lives and make their own decisions, right or wrong. They need the freedom to choose and they need to be allowed to make mistakes.
Like Gibran said, we are not the arrows. We are the bows. So, reluctantly, sadly, I draw back the bow and let the arrows fly. And although tears roll down my cheeks and splash on my feet, I know it is right. Because it is not my life and they are not my children.