58. Life’s Longing for Itself

When I was in college, people were reading Kahlil Gibran, who wrote, “Your children are not your children. They are the children of life’s longing for itself.” And Sidney Poitier was coming to dinner. Many people became resolved to be more open-minded than their parents were. Some came home from college with people their parents hadn’t expected, and parents had to either adjust or fight. I’ve heard many stories of the fights, and none of them ended in victory for anyone.
Your child probably won’t come home with the person you had in mind. And it probably won’t be Sidney Poitier, either. It could be someone with a gender you hadn’t expected. Maybe it won’t be anyone. Maybe your child will spend vacations away from you, and then end up living in San Jose. Maybe your child won’t go to college.
Which of these possibilities is the scariest for you? You may have tried hard to clear your mind of preconceptions about your child’s future, and if you’ve succeeded, I applaud you. I thought I had, and I came close, but one of my daughters caught me voicing a disappointment born of a preconception. She challenged me on it, and she was right. If this paragraph has left you curious, good for me.
One of our roles as parents and educators is to prepare our children for the future. In part, that means making sure they know what they may discover about themselves, and know that who they are is more important than how they choose to live. It also means making sure we are aware of the possibilities, and ready to respond rather than react. Our children ought to know what is important to us, but they need to know that they are important to us. For me, that means if one of my daughters decides to join the army or become an executive in some corporation I deplore, she must know I will still love her. You may have some other nightmare about your children.
But that child of yours, whether championing a cause you oppose, living a life that baffles you, or disorienting you in some other way, is also the person who ran to you crying, looking for and finding comfort. He/she is the child who drew a picture just for you. She/he is the child you loved and love.

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