Today I got an e-mail from my dad, and although it contained a few brief lines written from a cyber cafe in Parping saying “It seems like the wedding plans are in order, I’m very happy for both of you”, it brought me so much emotion. You see, my dad has been in Nepal since November of last year, and I haven’t communicated with him since. He’s on a Buddhist retreat, fulfilling a lifelong dream he put off for decades while he slaved away in an industry he hated. His only goal was to provide his family with the best in life, and he constantly told us that the only inheritance he could give us was a good education.
I am blessed with two parents who understood the concept of parenting at its core, even though they both came from highly dysfunctional families. They both knew that parenting doesn’t mean being your child’s buddy or rescuer. It doesn’t mean doing things for them or sheltering them from the big bad world. It doesn’t mean keeping them dependent so they will always need you and always stay by you. It doesn’t mean lying to them, ignoring questions, or dumbing down answers. It doesn’t mean doing their homework or fighting their battles. It doesn’t mean giving them things in lieu of giving them love and time.
For them, parenting means arming children with tools to succeed in life. From the time we were born, they pushed us towards independence, giving us a delicate balance of freedom and limits, combined with consistency, discipline, role modeling, and the kind of unconditional love only parents have. This parenting potion gave us the security and stability we needed to go forth with confidence. We inched towards independence, secure in the knowledge that they stood behind us like coaches in a boxing ring; not to soften the blows, but to remind us of our own strength and preparation, and to give us the sometimes necessary push to go back into the fight. They weren’t perfect, but they were in it for the right reason. It was hard work, the most difficult role they ever took on, and yet not once did they falter or cave.
Their mantra was this poem by Khalil Gibran:
Children, Chapter IV
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.
I don’t yet have children of my own, but I approach my students with the same love, discipline, limits and freedom that my parents gave me, because it’s the only formula I know works.
A lot of women go into the pre-school teaching field because they “love” children. They love how cute and funny and innocent they are. But the real test comes when you love a child enough to set limits and say “no”. Some people can’t handle that, even when the child is imploring (through his actions, not words): “Please tell me what’s right and what’s wrong, what I can and cannot do, so I can make order in my head and move forth in my work of development and growth.”
Thank you, mom and dad, for hearing my pleas early on in life and having the strength, courage, and selflessness to do something about it. If I had one wish, it would be for every child to be so lucky.