Tuesday, 19 March 2013

On Children
Kahlil Gibran
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.
Recently a member of my extended family shared this poem with me. I remember as a young man in my early twenties reading Gibran’s work and somewhere at home I have his poetry book, ‘The Prophet’.
As educators and parents, the poem ‘On Children’ challenges us to reflect on how we deal with our children. Gibran suggests through the poem, that a child's parents should not be controlling toward their child; rather, they should give their children the opportunity to succeed on their own.

It is so normal and natural to model and impart your own values, thoughts and ideas to your children. In fact it would be impossible not to as children will end up ‘doing what we do rather than what we say’ as modelling is so very powerful. If we curse and swear around home, no end of cajoling our children not to swear will ‘wash’. They will of course speak to their friends with the same ‘lingo’ used around home.

As parents it is so tempting to step in at every turn to try and influence your child’s decisions. A classic example of this comes around the time of making decisions about which subjects to choose at secondary school. Many parents will try and influence their children’s thinking based on their own dreams and hopes for their offspring. Parents often see the pitfalls and limitations of certain courses and actively try and steer their children in the direction of what they think will be best in the end.

I remember being guilty of this myself. My son had just finished his science degree and was thinking about doing post graduate studies in micro biology. Knowing that the ‘risk /  future financial reward’ factor here was not as good as many other post graduate routes, I suggested he do a parallel degree in law saying if science jobs were not available, maybe he could use a law degree within the science industry. He saw straight through me and said, “Dad, I’m not in this for the money, I’m passionate about science.”

Yes, I was worried about his financial security. I didn’t push it, as deep down I knew he should follow his own dreams, not be influenced by the fear of his father. Isn’t it so true in life that we know what is right deep down in our hearts but fear of future security can sometimes get in the way of really ‘chasing our dreams’.

Serious problems can arise when a child’s abilities or interests are out of sync with his/her parents’ dreams and aspirations for him/her. If the parents by deed or implication put pressure on their child it can impact very negatively and be extremely counter-productive, often ‘shutting down’ the child’s self- belief.

Getting back to Gibran’s poem, the central point I take from it is to allow children to be individuals. In fact, foster and celebrate this individuality. In this way children will be more likely to blossom and realise their potential. If we do want to influence them, and of course we do, then maybe we should all aim to follow the wise monkey’s words: ‘Speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil’. In this way, our children will see good people modelling good ethics and values. It is so important we allow our children to be comfortable in ‘their own skin’, and support them with their aspirations

We are not going be around forever and we must help prepare them for being on their own, making their own decisions. It is their journey and the best thing we can do is be supportive of their dreams but also ensure they are ready to take the responsibility for their decisions as well. Part of all this is having high expectations of our children pitched at their personal best level and appropriate to their age and stage. A central part of supporting our children to be in a position to achieve their aspirations is to ensure they have the skills and values such as persistence, resilience, optimism and creativity. Life can be tough and we will be doing them a disservice unless we prepare our children accordingly.