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.
I first read this when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, and I cried for the sheer beauty of these words. Truthfully, I cry nearly every time I read this. I have more than once thought that this would be a beautiful graduation reading, but I could not be the one to read it – I can’t get through it without my throat closing with tears.
I approached motherhood with a lot of intention – my children were not accidental, I called them forth with everything in me – I wanted them. Foolishly, arrogantly,(and I have since laughed at myself over this with a few good friends), I was sure I was going to get it all right. I was going to learn from my parents’ and others’ mistakes I’d observed, and know what to do and do it, better, just right. I was blindsided by the realities of raising actual real live people. They didn’t respond and behave they way they were supposed to, and I failed. Failed and was humbled and learned and have to keep learning that life really doesn’t follow the best laid plans (there’s a reason why this is a such a well known saying) most of the time.. And it has been a worthwhile failing and humbling that continues to stretch me well beyond my comfort zone all of the time.
When I first realized, or maybe it’s more accurate to say over the many moments where I began to recognize that I was going to be raising these girls as a solo mother, my focus narrowed. I was slammed hard by some of my personal failings and poor choices, and realized that from that time forward, I was going to do everything in my power to create the strongest, stablest base I could for these girls to leap from.
I think the reason I love these words so much, is that for me they give focus and meaning to this very intense process of raising small humans into someday adults. It is exhausting and trying at times, and sometimes feels incredibly thankless. It is so very easy to get caught in the minutiae of everyday life that I forget what it’s all about. But when I read this, it brings me back to center. I come back to the bigger picture of parenting, which my mom used to say, quoting Haim Ginott, is to raise strong, humane people. So when I read this poem, I remember.
I remember that although we are on this journey together, it isn’t all about me. That although I sometimes I have the urge to cling, parenting is about so much letting go, so they can be who they are meant to be, outside the shadow I cast.
I remember that talk is cheap and actions are everything, and frankly, I talk too much a lot of the time, and they would rather have me just show up and be with them, and show them by example how best to live, whatever that means in the moment. This is a Tall order, because what one person knows all of that? But ultimately it means being present and being as decent and strong and humble and honest as I can be, so they can learn that too.
I remember, in moments, what it was like to be 7 and 14, and I attempt to merge these feelings with some of what I hope is the wisdom of my nearly 5 decades and come up with something that makes sense in how I relate to them. Sometimes this even works.
I remember that there were many things my parents taught me that I pushed against, and some which I left behind, only to come back around to as life experiences and maturity have led me back to the importance of some of their lessons. The really important stuff they gave me stuck, the stuff of how to treat others and how to treat the world around me, and how to eat well, and how to be open minded and open hearted, stuck, it worked. So as they grow and push against me, I remember that some of this is the normal part of becoming one’s own self, and that, hopefully, the important stuff is already in there, and will solidify when it’s time.
I remember what my mother said, what so many have said, about putting your own oxygen mask on first. And sometimes, I remember to do this. But especially lately, I’m getting that doing this for myself is a gift to them both because I’m a fresher, more inspired mom when I care for myself, and, if I do this for myself, they get to learn the importance of doing it for themselves also, before they have children, if they chose to do so. This is a work in process, for sure, but a worthy one.
I remember, on my best days, how rich this journey is, how quickly it goes, and how much I want to savor it. And on my not so best days, well, eventually I remember this again and come back to it. I look at their fresh faces, smell their hair (when I can still get away with it), and breath it the simple goodness of loving them.