A couple of days ago, I received an email from someone who stumbled across my blog through a thread on Mothering magazine. They made a lot of nice comments, which I appreciated, but near the end of their email they said one thing that has been nagging at me all weekend:
I'm trying to mold my child into being the best that he can be, but I'm finding that raising a child is more an art than a science.
What an intriguing thing to say. In some ways, I definitely agree; I mean, there is certainly plenty of artistry in parenting, at least more than there is science. But molding your children is something I struggle with. I mean, a child is not a piece of clay to be molded at your desire into your ideal image or any other one. These and other metaphors - some artistic, some not, and most of them seemingly non-threatening - are woven all throughout mainstream parenting culture. While they do provide us with some ready sound bites to describe what we're going through, however, there are no metaphors that accurately capture what I try to do as a parent.
For me, children are not pliant clay, ready to be molded at my hands into whichever image I feel best.
For me, children are not static paintings, meant to be admired from afar for their beauty with no real understanding of what makes them so striking.
For me, children are not puzzles to be figured out, or problems to be solved.
For me, children are not opportunities to exercise patience or practice my ability to deal with challenging people.
For me, children are not made of building blocks, in need of an architect to put them all together in order to make something beautiful and cohesive.
For me, children are not works in progress, learning to crawl, or ready to take flight.
No, for me it's much more simple than that.
For me, children are people.
For me, children are people who sometimes need my help, sometimes need my approval, sometimes need my wisdom, and sometimes just need my shoulder to cry on or my eyes and ears to share their thoughts with.
For me, children are people who thrive with unconditionality, explore with freedom, learn with choice, and love with example.
For me, children are not a work of art . . . they are an entire city filled with paintings, symphonies, rap songs, sculptures, performance art, ballet and tap, monologues and choruses, skyscrapers and hovels and everything in between. Some of these are finished, some have yet to be commenced, and most are in various stages of work. Some will be returned to again and again, improved, changed, tweaked, torn down only to be rebuilt again with new tools and inspirations; others will be left as they are, complete or incomplete as the child sees fit. Some of what they do will appeal to some people, and many things will appeal to a precious few. When most people look at my children - the entire palette of thoughts, dreams, actions, words, passions, pursuits, wants, needs, and ideas - they may choose to see what is unfinished, what still needs to be worked on, and what should be done differently to conform to their image of what a child should be.
But when I look at that palette, when I experience what they are creating, I do not see anything but joyful children doing what they should be doing - freely pursuing the things that give them joy with no rules, no bounds, no molding, little good or bad, and plenty of love and support along each step.