~ by Dena Douglas Hobbs
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and the 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.”
I find myself repeating a paraphrase of Kahlil Gibran’s great poem “On Children” over and over to myself like a mantra:
“My children are not my own.”
In part this is physically true. We struggled with infertility and first became parents by adoption. In many ways this was a blessing, because I understood my daughter as a gift to me that was all grace. I had nothing to do with making her or bringing her into this world. I just happily received a little girl at the Atlanta airport one August afternoon and have done the best I can to love her and raise her ever since.
In our eleven years together, my daughter has done some amazing things. She won all kinds of medals as a gymnast when she was in elementary school. Now in middle school, she played as the only girl on her brother’s soccer team with a fearless heart and a savvy that led her to become a leader on the team. Recently she has embraced a love of baking, making all kinds of treats that I gladly eat.
The thing about my daughter being adopted is that I am less likely to claim her accomplishments as my own. I am decidedly nonathletic, was always afraid of boys, and struggle in the kitchen. Wherever she got these traits from, it was not from me. So when she excels, I am happy for her, but it is not a notch on my ego. I just think there must be a really athletic woman in China whom we should thank for trusting us with her daughter. Or wonder if I ever met her birth father I would discover he runs a bakery.
I am reminded that this child is not entirely my own.
Since our daughter came into our world first, I think this “child as gift”mentality framed how I saw my son as well. After years of trying to get pregnant, my son was a spontaneous surprise. This made him feel like a gift sent to me as well. Not like something I created, but something that was made for and given to me, just received through my own body.
And this is helpful, for as much as my son looks like me, he is his own kid. I know some of this foreignness comes from a woman raising a boy child. But who knew anyone could know so much about sharks? Or spend hours crafting bows and arrows from whatever he can find? Not this pacifist mamma.
Before I shrug off another monologue about the bull shark or scold him for making weapons, I stop myself.
This child is not my own. He is his own person with his own interests and ideals. Let him embrace them.
Then there are the times my children are less than ideal. When they forget to flush the toilet (again), or are mean, or bomb out at school. My first impulse when my children struggle is to blame myself. If I wasn’t so forgetful and disorganized, then my son would keep up with his papers better. Or my daughter’s constant complaining and huffing must be a result of some behavior she sees in me. But then I remind myself that I can’t save them from failure and struggle. Even as I am imperfect, so they shall be as well.
So I learn to give my children and myself grace enough for them to fail. And for us all to still be loved anyway. For if they don’t fail, how will they ever truly learn to succeed? My children cannot learn from my mistakes, they must make their own.
For these children and their successes and failures are not really mine to own.
And now my children are growing up. Which means they are growing away from me. My daughter has hit the “eye-roll” stage of life, and I have begun to regularly embarrass my son. When did these children whom I once held so close start to push away? When I am tempted to punish them for their eye rolls and teasing of my silly traits, I pause and decide if it is truly merited or if I am just hurt by their rejection. For now the hardest part of parenting has begun.
I must realize my children will not always be children and are not mine to own.
I must let them push away until they launch themselves like arrows out into the great wide world. Now matter how awkward or painful that may be sometimes.
Fortunately these days we are still in the push away then pull back close stage. I roll my eyes at you and then want you to lay in bed with me for a while so I can tell you about my days and have you calm my fears. And as confusing as this all is, I will try to keep holding it all with an open hand.
For these children are just gifts for me to care for and then pass on to others. It is grace to care for them and it will be grace that brings them back to me again and again.
I am so grateful for these children. Even and because they are not my own.
To read the whole of Khalil’s poem “On Children” click here:
Or for a groovy musical rendition of the poem listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock sing it here:
Dena Douglas Hobbs blogs at Centering Down (denadouglashobbs.com) and is the author of the Advent devotional, Lighten the Darkness. She and her husband are raising (and learning to let go of) their two children at their home in Middle Georgia.