Parents – Children
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
“… Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for
you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2: 48-49).
The conversation between Mary and Jesus highlights the unique vocation of parents to their children. It is indeed a beautiful and a fulfilling vocation that parents have. It is beyond my expertise to offer socio-psychological parenting skills or to outline the various parenting styles. My intention is to reflect Khalil Gibran’s words on ‘Children’ (The Prophet) in the context of Lk 2: 48-49.
When Mary and Joseph find the boy Jesus in the Temple, they express their worry and anxiety, “Son, why have you done this to us?” Jesus’ response to their query takes us aback, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The gospel says that he returned with them to Nazareth and let his life in his family deepen his call to the mission he was given.
Joseph and Mary helped Jesus grow as a person and also to prepare him for his mission – the purpose for which he came to the world. They knew that Jesus’ life and mission cannot be tied to Nazareth alone. As parents, they did what they could to enable their son to prepare himself for his future mission. Mary, as a mother, would have been sad at Jesus’ departure (Joseph had already passed away); still she must have been at peace to let her son begin his journey. Isn’t this the vocation and mission of every parent - to help their children discover and live the purpose for which they have been sent into the world? This is what makes the vocation of a parent so noble and worthwhile. The unique relationship between parents and children brings to my mind the poignant words of Khalil Gibran on parenting.
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.
Gibran’s words may sound harsh but they are not far from the truth. Parents are the biological components who have given their bodies as vehicles for their children to come into this world. We did not choose them, but God chose us as their channels to be born at a particular time in history. We lend our bodies and not our souls; for they come with their own souls. They do not originate from us but from God and that’s the reason we can never claim ownership over them; they are not material possessions to be claimed as our own. At most, we are just temporary custodians of our children. Let us cherish them, enjoy their presence with us but once their wings are strong enough to fly, let them have the freedom to fly where they are destined to go.
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.
As parents, we definitely have responsibility towards our children for their biological, physical, emotional, mental, moral, and spiritual growth. We are a living witness for them; we assist them in their growth but we do not draw the blueprint of their lives. It is not our vocation to write their scripts and how those scripts should play out. They are born with their own blueprints and write their own scripts and also the conclusion to their scripts. We accompany them in their journey of life sharing our stories and our collective wisdom. We, as parents, give them love and create an ambient of love for them to nurture, learn the values of life, and grow towards realizing their purpose in life. They have their mission to complete just as we have ours.
They are with us today sharing our world but tomorrow they move to their own world and we will not be able to share and live in that world. The world and the culture in which they are growing today will change, and all that we can do is to guide them today so that they are prepared to respond with a compassionate, loving, non-judgmental mind and heart to their own changing cultural demands. Let them learn the art of loving by being loved unconditionally, compassion by experiencing compassion, and accepting differences by celebrating uniqueness and tolerance. We cannot foresee how their life will unfold in the future but we can prepare them today with the needed spiritual, moral, human, and compassionate values to respond to their own future. Do not be tempted to make life changing decisions for them. They can consult us and ask for our input. Help them to identify their unique gifts and talents and set them on their paths to fulfill their life purpose, trusting that the path will lead them to the mountaintop. Their presence with us is the greatest gift but we can never hoard the gift.
True love seeks nothing in return. Love just wants the best for the other – the well-being of the other; this holds true even with regard to our children. Love is not over-protective or over bearing. Love can survive only in the field of true and genuine freedom. The most difficult thing is to strike a healthy balance between making them dependent (on all those things needed for their growth) and allowing them to be independent (to grow and to become what they are meant to be).
It is normal that we want them to do well and make it ‘big’ in life and to be ‘somebody.’ But don’t place them under the stress of our expectations for them. Let us not be upset when they choose to chase their own dreams; their choice of studies and career, the choice of their life partner, the religious practices they choose to observe, and in choosing to listen to the inner Spirit calling them... are different from what we have imagined for them. Let us not chastise or look down upon them if they choose happiness over projects, peaceful life rather than being sucked into the rat race and a simple and contented life over materialism and consumerism. They have not come into this world to fulfill our unrealized dreams. In an environment of true freedom let them grow, explore, and become the best version of themselves. Love rejoices: let us be happy when they respond to Life’s call and not complain about the sacrifices we made for them or try to force them to go on a guilt trip.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
Maybe this is another difficult thought to be considered: to strive to be like them. As parents we expect our children to be like us. The call here is to be open and to prepare ourselves to face the future as it unfolds and to accept the changes and to adapt ourselves to the changes that are bound to happen in our lives. The collective wisdom of the past and lessons from our own life experiences are invaluable teaching guides as we move forward in our life. But there is always the danger of holding onto traditions and customs and refusing to adapt ourselves to the changing signs of the times. We need to be flexible – ready to adapt ourselves and to accept changes as life moves forward and not backward. Life is where both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ meet. It is in the sphere of the between that life happens. Let us not be stuck and remain stubborn to changes. Often, as parents, don’t we use the phrase, “This is how it has always been done.” I am reminded of Jesus’ saying: “Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins (Mk 2:22).” The Pharisees, the Scribes, and the Priests of Jesus’ time could not accept Jesus’ teaching on religion, personal relationship with God, God’s unconditional love and mercy, and his Table Fellowship with the sinners because they were not opened to a new and different perspective on God and religion. Let us be open to the flow of life, to go where the Spirit leads us to.
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.
For the arrow to reach its intended goal, the bow has to be held firm and steady. As parents our goal in preparing our children is to face the world and carry out their mission in life. They are the arrows that will fly from our bows. Our happiness and fulfillment, as parents, comes from knowing that they are where they are intended to be and doing what they are called to do. The arrow, to function as an arrow, has to leave the bow. The bow does not go with the arrow and it cannot. All the sacrifices the parents make for their children and all the hardships they go through for the well-being and growth of their children are for the arrow to eventually leave the bow when the time comes. Parents’ happiness is seeing their children live their life and realize their dreams. In this beautiful relationship between parents and children there is no place for entitlement. They are in no way obligated to us; their only obligation is to life, love, and the infinite. No expectations and no suffering. I strongly believe that children out of their genuine love for their parents will be there for them, when parents need them. Let us not take them on a guilt trip or play the sacrificial lamb. Love cares.
It is necessary to cut the physical umbilical cord for the child’s growth but it is equally important to let go of our psychological and emotional cords if they become a hindrance in their journey to reach their destiny. Strengthen their wings to fly into the vast space that lies before them.