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.
– Khalil Gibran
A student in my class selected “On Children” to read aloud for a Morning Meeting share during National Poetry Month in April. I have loved Khalil Gibran’s writing since I discovered it in my late teens and knew of this poem, but this reading had been my first time hearing it as a parent. There was something even more striking having heard it read in the voice of an eight-year-old child.
I love the way Gibran has captured a sense of the detachment (see: the virtue of detachment) needed in order to assure I am guiding my children towards developing an authentic sense of self, rather than creating an extension of my own self. I see this detachment as having to work in harmony with the steadiness and commitment to intentionality that must be honored in order to help them cultivate the skills needed for that purpose.
In the middle of the poem, Gibran writes, “You may strive to be like them/but seek not to make them like you./For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” I have read these lines over and over and each time come up with a new understanding. Today, these lines tell me that I must harness any inspiration I get from their natural energy into my own pursuits and support them as they may choose to harness their natural power into a completely different pursuit or perhaps no pursuit at all. I have many hopes for my children, but I also recognize that they are already developing their own personal interests and their passions will surely change and evolve across their lifetime as have mine.
My wife and I have a marriage ritual. Every year on our wedding anniversary, we read our vows to each other. Our ritual both honors the day we “sealed the deal” via ceremony and grounds us in the principles of the commitment we have made to each other in marriage. I love this ritual because it calls attention to the unconditional love and purposefulness that can too easily be taken for granted in a relationship.
I mention our anniversary ritual because I am considering a similar way to remain in relationship with this poem. I think I would like to read this poem to them each year on their birthday as a vow to them as a parent. I had originally shared with my wife that I would like to have a canvas print of this poem made to hang in our house. I do still love this idea, but as with any form of art, its meaning can be forgotten if we do not intentionally bring our attention to it on occasion.