Your Children are not your Children

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. 

– Khalil Gibran

The first time your child takes a step away from you, it can be heart wrenching. Exciting, even a relief too, but heart wrenching. Whether it’s the first time they wriggle in your arms, impatient to be held by someone else, or the first time they insist on doing something ‘all by myself’, or the first time you hear the words ‘I don’t like you’. Suddenly you’re not the centre of the universe anymore. 

It can come as a breath of fresh air, to find yourself able to take time again. To do a task without feeling guilty that someone wants you, to be liberated from the eternal need and demand of a small child, even if just momentarily. 

Of course, as with all child development (and adult development too I suppose) there is no linear path away from you. More like a piece of elastic, they may tug hard towards independence, and then boing back for comfort when it all gets a bit scary. It’s the essence of the ‘secure base’ John Bowlby, father of attachment theory, described. A sensitive and responsive parent becomes the secure base from which a child can safely explore the world, checking back in when necessary to regain the confidence to explore further.

We can really rush this process if we want to. Force independence before our children are ready – and of course all children are different. Some are lone wolves from the moment they leave the womb, then there are those who are happiest in your arms well into late childhood. 

But there is a real emphasis, in our culture at least, on getting children to be ‘independent’. Get them sleeping alone, get them on to solids quickly, get them to nursery quickly. Partly this fits with our more individualistic culture. But, perhaps because of that individualistic culture, neediness can feel very frightening. The intense demands of a child can be overwhelming, smothering the sense of ourselves which is so important to us. So then of course we push to grow up and be independent. 

But no matter what we do, whether we push away or protect, there will always be a point when our children say ‘I want to do it by myself’ and we have to sit on our hands and allow it. And then, swiftly, we become redundant- used as a secure base less frequently. Eventually, we hope, the memory of the secure base then creates that base within our children. And then they truly are independent.

So don’t push too hard. You might long for the day you’re needed less. It will come. They won’t always fit on your knee. So pick them up when they ask to be carried, even when people tell you they’re getting too big. Snuggle with them at bedtime even though you can no longer fit in their bed. Put on their shoes just because they want you to. Sometimes we all need to be mothered, even when our mothers aremiles away.