The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
"And a woman who held a babe against
her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
And he said:
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."
We devote two days each year to mothers and fathers. We send flowers, buy cards, give gifts, etc. Yet, it occurred to me today that we don't really discuss what's important about parenthood. And in my usual way, this makes me want to throw questions at the general populace. How separated is the idea of one's mother or father from the biological definition of the labels? How much importance do we attach to the idea of gender in them? Where we place those who exist outside these labels says so much about us a culture. We, culturally, seem to like nicely delineated roles and labels. How many stories do we have about the quietly hardworking mother who bakes cookies and kisses hurts away? Or about fathers who are gruff and stern and teach their children about work and stoicism?
We could provide, perhaps, just as many about deadbeat dads who vanish on their children or single moms ill-equipped to handle motherhood who inflict their own variety of harm on kids through negligence and/or ignorance. We thrive on these simple, relatively uncomplicated archetypes of parenting. Well, I can't say that with a completely clear conscience. There are plenty of people in my life who I know see past that, who embody a different model proudly and with a great deal of deserved resentment at the limiting attitudes they see lauded with regard to what makes a mother and what makes a father. There are also those who don't get the honor of a title who parent in ways unnoticed and unsung.
When I honestly sit down and think about what seems valuable to me about the idea of a parent, a mother or a father, what I think about are the small ways so many people have helped to form who I am. Who are helping to form who I am becoming, I might even say. I spend a lot of time around people who have children lately. As someone who's wanted to be a parent for a very long time, I pay attention to them. And, I want to have a nice, neat conclusion here about what I've seen, what I plan to borrow and steal and avoid based on the different types of parenting I see going on all around me. But, I can't. The closest thing to an essential truth I can put in words is that most parents seem to make it up as they go along and that the strongest, happiest, most loving children I can point to seem to be the ones whose parents (whether single, partnered, of either gender, whatever) fall outside the carefully constructed ideas of parenthood our culture puts out Hallmark cards for. They're still strong parents and teach their children well but I see in their homes love balanced with discipline and more importance placed on the joy of being a parent than on modeled perfection. These are the parents who, it seems to me, who value their children as individuals and, if I can paraphrase Gibran, realize that their children aren't really 'their' children.