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.
“On Children” by Kahlil Gibran
This is a poem by Kahlil Gibran is famously known for its reality of parenting. It is well-loved by many and reminds parents how our children are with us for a season, that we cannot control them as they are beings with their very own thoughts.
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How many of us can easily say – we love our children as they are?
Don’t we wish, sometimes that they were more obedient, smarter, better in studies, better-coordinated, better in art, taller, skinnier, healthier, “more normal” or just like our neighbour’s sister’s son?
The urge to compare our children with others is strong. However, this can be toxic and also erodes our children’s self-esteems. As parents, we ought to love them as they are and not who we want them to be.
Shifting Our Mindsets as Parents
Parenting seems very stressful. We take responsibility for bringing home the bread and butter, ensuring all necessities are sufficient, that our children get chauffeured to and fro enrichment classes, sign up for extra classes to boost their academic performance, choose the best sports and music coaches. The Singaporean parent does not stop at getting our child to “succeed”.
What is the danger behind this desire?
Firstly, we may be stifling their potential. Packed time tables especially with academic-focused classes give our children little time to develop their interests and strengths. Secondly, perhaps we may be feeding our own insecurities rather than meeting their needs. Projecting what we want them to be rather what they can be is a common perspective. Thirdly, we fail to meaningfully define what “success” is, and may forget about aspects such as mental health.
In Kahlil Gibran’s poem, the role of parents is to be archers who can help our children soar. We are stable bows, lending our children strength and bearing sufficient tension. While we cannot determine the kind of arrows they are, we help them to find their way and help them to fly to the best height they can reach.
Ways to Appreciate and Affirm Our Child
Remembering that our children are unique and special individuals is key to appreciating them. It is natural to want to compare them with siblings and peers but we should refrain from doing so. Just as there is no perfect parent, there is no perfect child either.
Each child has his or her own strengths, personality, skills and interests. Take time to observe and know them, and choose to always see the positive bits. For instance, quiet children can be the most observant and diligent while energetic ones mean good coordination and motor skills. Choose to see the good in them. As a mother, I tend to be over critical and nitpick at the tiniest flaws.
There are practical ways to practise this positivity. For every criticism you make, praise them in three ways and start with the positive feedback. If you see certain mistakes in your child’s work that he or she has focused on for the last ten minutes, acknowledge that ten minutes of hard work before jumping in to correct him or her.
The praises can sound like this:
“I see that you have been concentrating for the last ten minutes.”
“You have really worked very hard at the sums.”
“That is a lot of effort for trying to do your work well.”
“You have most of it done really well and accurately.”
“Your handwriting is very neat, keep it up.”
Choose to affirm their positive attitudes and behaviour and make suggestion on how to improve.
“You have the right thought process and I know you are working hard at it, how about trying this method instead for this question?”
“Let’s work together, shall we? If you keep trying, you will get this right.”
As parents, our words and actions mean the world to our children. Let’s be intentional about loving them for who they are. Even when they bring home poor scores on their spelling tests or assessments, or behave poorly, make grievous mistakes, tell lies – let us affirm them even in the midst of such moments of “failures”. Through failures and disappointements, they can learn to better themselves and know that their worth is not in their achievements and they are much more than that.
We can also remember our children’s strengths and learning styles and try to help them to hone their skills and interests. At the same time, we must also learn and adapt our parenting styles to their personalities, preferences and needs. This way, the children can grow without inhibition and be encouraged to be the very best versions of themselves. Our children – are not ours to control.
Let’s Appreciate Our Child and Affirm Them Accordingly
We all love our child and want the best for them. Let’s remember their best as well as we continue to steer them towards greater heights. Appreciating our child for who they are is a start.