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Why Kahlil Gibran’s Poem Was The Best Parenting Advice I’ve Ever Got

Posted: April 23, 2021

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this parenting gig came with instructions? Kahlil Gibran’s beautiful poem on parenting became the best parenting advice the author ever needed! 

There is never one right way to raise a child. The oft-repeated mantra of parenting is that children do not come with a training manual. We parent according to our own instincts and personalities. A million books have been written on this subject based on the different personal perspectives; so much so there is a total information overload! 

Some people are helicopter parents, while others insist on not hovering over their kids. There are Eastern and Western styles of parenting. Attachment parenting comes naturally to some, while others believe there is nothing wrong in letting babies cry and exercise their vocal cords. Some cultures demand obedience, while others encourage their offspring to explore their own individuality.

Parenting is important to all of us and it is an issue we deeply care about. It is a job we would all like to excel at! Sometimes though, I wonder, are we overthinking this whole parenting thing? Are we making it more complicated than it needs to be?

Kahlil Gibran and his famous words on parenting

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), a sensitive and sagacious Lebanese-American writer and poet, has left behind a mystical legacy of words resonating with wisdom on this topic. His poem entitled On Children is short, his message is simple, and yet so infinitely powerful and profound.

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, 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. 

We make them, but we don’t own them 

The meaning I decipher from these lines is that we do not own our children. They are free spirited souls, and we cannot chain them in servitude. They are wondrous miracles from God, a product of Nature’s soulful longing for creation of more life. Parents are just the vehicles for the arrival of babies on earth.

Gibran goes on to write that children need our complete unconditional love and acceptance, but they do not need to emulate our thoughts. We should not impose our beliefs on them. Children do not bear the responsibility of fulfilling the unfinished vicarious dreams of narcissistic parents. Our kids should follow their own path and passion. Children can never realise their complete potential if parents put pressure on them to act a certain way.

Jess Lair, an American author, rightly said, ‘Children are not things to be molded, but people to be unfolded’. He also said, ‘We inevitably doom our children to failure and frustration when we try to set their goals for them’.

Metaphysical learnings

The souls of our children dwell in a metaphysical abode, one we cannot visit. Nor can we predict the vastness of who they are meant to be. The past and the future are not ours to fathom but we can only live in the present. Let us nourish and nurture our children everyday. Mindfully, with an abundance of love.

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 hands be for happiness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves the bow that is stable.

On Children, Kahil Gibran

What I derived from these lines is a beautiful metaphysical metaphor.

Parents are the bow, children are the arrows, and God, the archer. Parents should offer stable support, and yet, be flexible. The arrow will successfully shoot forth into the Universe and make its mark – only if the bow is willing to bend. The Almighty knows the path of the arrow and its mark on the world. God in His infinite wisdom loves both the parents and their children.

This poem by Kahlil Gibran is very popular. It has been the subject of parenting blogs for a long time. I read it for the first time in my 30’s, when my children were toddlers. Interestingly, I did not ruminate deeply on the meaning behind his words at that time. I was busy raising my kids, and I scoffed at the idea that my children were not mine! Really? I carried them for nine months, gave birth to them, devoted all my time and energy to their upbringing the best I could, and yet they are not mine?!

How this poem changed me 

When my daughter was little, I worried incessantly when she started talking very late, and was quite timid at school. I told her that she should try to talk more. We signed our youngest son up for soccer, when he was never really into it. Needless to say, when I look back, I feel like we did some things right, by always consistent and loving parents. But we also did some things wrong, especially when our inner tiger parent reared its ugly head!

As my children have grown, it has dawned on me that I must not limit their possibilities. I have learned to let go and let them be. I love them for who they are so that they can have the confidence to be who they want to be. It is okay to be an introvert, it is okay if soccer is not their passion. Our children have the freedom to follow their interests. We discuss the pros and cons of every idea they put forth, but we do let them decide what they wish to do with their life.

Today, our kids are smart, caring and confident young adults. We never hesitate to tell them that we are very proud of them. It has been a joy and a blessing to see their beautiful spirit unfold, like petals, and to see them bloom and grow into their own unique personalities. They choose subjects and clubs of their own interest, and are passionate about what they are studying in school and college.

Now when I read Gibran’s poem, it makes perfect sense to me. I can completely connect with his beautiful words. I think it is the best and most meaningful parenting advice I have ever received.

First published here.

Image courtesy: Pixabay

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I grew up in India but I have lived in Southeast USA since 1996. Part-

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