Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. - Proverbs 22:6 (NRSV)
The poet Kahlil Gibran said, “your children are not your children…you may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.”
Easy for him to say—Gibran himself was childless. But he makes a fair point. Child development research underscores the power of temperament, or what we like to call nature, the idea that each child is born fully a person already: cranky, happy, confident, anxious, mellow, intense, introvert, extrovert. Nurture can shift and shape nature but attempts to change it fundamentally tend to go awry.
Proverbs says parents should “train their child in the right way.” This probably doesn’t mean making our children over in our image, projections of our unmet needs or unfulfilled dreams. Try instead: getting to know the child God has gifted you—their “grain,” as if they arrived an uncarved block of wood that Life will gradually reveal. We are a tool in the hand of the Divine, working with that grain to help them become who God intends them to be. Going against the grain wrecks the wood and frustrates the Carpenter.
This is good news: you can’t take all the blame if they turn out to be biters, boasters, or voters loyal to the other political party.
This is also bad news: it means you have limited control over who and how your child will be. You’re there to love your children, support them, set an example, and curb their worst impulses, but you can’t “make” them. That part’s already done. They are their own people, on their own path. Or is that also good news?
God, help me to get to know and love my child in all their fullness, as You made them, and as they are becoming.
Molly Baskette and Ellen O’Donnell contributed this devotional to Hard and Holy: Devotions for Parenting, a collection of devotionals for the spiritual practice of raising, teaching, learning from, delighting in, and cleaning up after children. Order Hard and Holy today.