As the beaming mother of a significantly impacted son with Autism, and a neurotypical daughter, I’m constantly caught off guard in ways both delightful and confounding of how truly, madly, deeply different they are from me and my husband. As parents I think we inescapably expect our children to emerge as emblems of ourselves with a degree of shared looks, tastes and interests, seems a sort of an environmental mandate. And yet I am stunned by the enormous reserves of patience my daughter possesses which I sometimes lack, her sartorial style when I can barely coordinate shorts & tee, her natural sense of justice on complex social disputes about which she’s never been specifically taught. But also a recklessness and propensity for taking serious physical risks with her body that could injure her which I never even considered at any time in my childhood or life.
My son has a certain even-keeled disposition with which he was seemingly infused at birth, though also a sort of “live wire” inexhaustible energy that allows him to swim laps, run track, dance hard…and still never ever go to sleep a minute before midnight. His sense of navigational direction is uncanny and uninherited, his auditory capability almost superhuman. His total lack of anticipatory anxiety about upcoming stressful events is something I truly cannot grasp, he having emerged from the womb of an inveterate worrier and controller of that which I can hold steady in my shaky grip. His enormous build and sheer strength is equally mysterious since, no disrespect to his father, his broad-shouldered build, extreme muscle mass and brick-like exterior seems a matter of spontaneous combustion.
Of both my children I am genuinely in awe and occasionally envious. Sometimes I vacantly sit and stare at these wondrous creatures who are intimately mine yet completely unfamiliar. I often wish I was more like them, I want a sort of reverse-birth where they gift to me these mysterious qualities they somehow own which passed through me and by me entirely, so I can try them on for awhile too. But there is no role-reversal in the universe of parenting, we go first, hoping our children both follow and lead us. And in that arises the profound pain of how little control I have over their absolute safety, their autonomous and sometimes foolish choices, the destructive mistakes they must make for themselves in order to learn to rebuild from scratch rather than from me. I am a strong believer that the best education derives from real world experience, and there’s no substitute for it. So we parents can teach, plead, weep, cheer, coach – but we cannot control that which cannot be controlled, and we must recognize the hubris in trying. As it must be, as it was for us, our children will carve their own destinies into the concrete of an unpredictable world. But for all of us parents who sometimes make the mistake of holding on too tightly for all the right reasons, I felt like sharing this exquisite wisdom on children, from one of the world’s best thinkers:
by Kahlil Gibran
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.