I started working in a chiropractic practice a couple of months ago. The office has all the appropriate artwork and signage one would think to find in a holistic medical environment. All informative, all acceptable. There is also a photocopied print of a poem, unremarkable, unintrusively pinned to a cork board positioned next to the computer I work on every day. Since day one, this copy has bothered me.
The poem, On Children by Kahlil Gibran, irked me. Why is it there? Every day I read the verses and, though I’m inspired on some level, I’m always left with a bitter aftertaste. Your children are not your children, it says, fair enough, nobody owns anybody, I get it. And then it goes on about life’s longing and how we get to be with our children, but not possess them. Okay.
The first line in the second stanza is what has me swatting at imaginary flies. And, isn’t that always the case? Inconvenient truths are insistent, are they not?
You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts, Gibran insists. Umm, hold up. Stop the bus!
Ever heard of the old proverb, train up a child in the way he should go? Me too. Many times. It means, to my understanding, give your child your damn thoughts! And is that not the job of a parent, to teach your kids right from wrong? Morals, people! We give our children an education in right-thinking so that they may be productive, upstanding people in the community. So that they carry-on/believe-in the abstract ideas we ourselves were taught to uphold. They won’t depart from it, the proverb promises; your children will think like you when they get old if you train them in the ‘right ways’, says the ancient text.
But, do they? Will my kids think like me if I put in the effort to ‘train them’?
Why does anyone have children? Biological representations of ourselves— why do we do it? There are millions, literally, millions of children on this earth who need parents, and yet we all go on, insisting that we need to birth our own offspring, the flesh of our flesh, the fruit of our loins. Is it because we all want there to be someone, at least one person out in the world that is… like me? Even the slightest physical appearance of ourselves in some other human feels right, right? It’s evolutionary. Smoke and mirrors.
Having a child is an exercise in socially acceptable narcissism. When my child looks beautiful, it reflects well on me. When my child achieves good grades, it’s because of, well, me. Even when my child is quirky and different from their peers, it’s because I’m unique— bravo, Mommy! The apple does not fall far, they say, just a chip off the old block, they wink.
So when my child swears publicly, or gains massive amounts of weight, or fails to be anything other than a boring, ‘C’ grade student— the shame. And when he doesn’t believe in God, or worse, believes in a different God…You, dear parent, must not have done a good job. The tree is rotten! The block is broken.
And the parent of the child with special needs? What of they? In my personal experience, those parents, are doomed. How can we ‘train’ up that child? What if they don’t say please and thank you when we’ve told them too; what if they can’t? What if they look nothing like us? What if they can’t read or count? Those children, they will never be chips, they are their own block. As all children are— an entirely new creation.
Don’t give your child your thoughts, Gibran insists, and further on he says, you may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. Scandal!
Sitting at my desk, I cast a furtive glance at the poem. “So what do you want from me, Mofo! Give me a freakin’ clue.” (Yes I shout at long-dead poets, I have crushes on them too. They never reciprocate.) ‘Cause if I’m not allowed to tell them what to think, what should I do?
Perhaps, the contrast (or similarity?) between the poem and the proverb is in the ‘how’ not the ‘what’. As a parent, my job is to teach my children how to think, not what to think. According to Gibran, my kids already have their own thoughts (no shit, Sherlock!), maybe to love them means to help them know their own minds? Bloody hell!
Believe it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to think. Science! We can actually change our own psychology in order to live happier, more meaningful lives, by being conscious about the way our thoughts make us feel. Not kidding, folks: feeling good? Your thoughts are producing neurotransmitters that promote the release of dopamine. Feeling shite? You guessed it, your brain is the drain.
Am I talking about teaching my kids to put on a smiley face all the time? Do I have a smiley face all the time? Y’all know me by now— I’m fond of a good rage. No. If I could give my kids anything, I’d give them my knack of keeping shit real. But I am learning that I can give myself a set of mental pathways which will predispose me to navigate life with perspective and change my behaviour. Positive psychology, friends— I even took a course. I’ll aim to help my progeny grasp this, my act of love.
My kids, if they are hardy enough, will survive their upbringing. I did. I’m about ninety percent certain that when they are doing their own adulting, they will think I’m a Looney-Tune and that all I believe in is utter codswallop. That’s okay. Just so long as they know their own mind; so long as they know how to think! Most people don’t have a clue, you know. Sheep.
As for the line in the poem that says that I should strive to be like my children… well, that ain’t hard: Morgan has the keenest people-sense I’ve ever seen; she’s practically psychic. And Jude? Jude’s going to rule the world— I’m the Binky to his Brain.