“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.”
~ On Children, by Kahlil Gibran
Someone once told me that I wouldn’t know what guilt was all about until I had children. Someone was right.
I killed a kitten once. True story. I am a kitten murderer. He was fluffy and gray with the sweetest blue eyes studding the cutest kitten face ever. He was about seven weeks old and he had somehow managed to climb into the washing basket that was full of bed sheets waiting to be washed. He was probably floating in some enchanting kitten-dream as he snuggled into those sheets, breathing in the scent of his humans – all nice and content. Then I came along, gathered the sheets and stuffed them along with kitten into the washing machine before hitting the start button.
Of course, the guilt didn’t hit me right away. I carried on with whatever I was doing, oblivious to the fact that I had just killed our newest family member. It was my son who found him about an hour later when he pulled the sheets from the machine to hang them to dry. Oops. That didn’t go down well. I felt like the most horrible human being on earth. I mean, who kills kittens and feels good about it?
Wait – let’s not go down that road.
I’m quite good at forgetting about the sickos of our world, that is, until those deranged humans get too close to home. My 15-year-old daughter encountered one such sicko during a train ride a few weeks back. She and her girlfriend were riding over a few stops to get to the mall. It was about 5pm. Somehow, they had missed their originally intended train and took the next one which comprised a longer series of carriages and was empty.
Empty, apart from Mr Psycho and one lone woman they discovered in another carriage when they fled from him. Didn’t make a difference though. This guy was in his element as he set about terrorizing two teenage girls and one woman. He pulled out a makeshift weapon – get this – it was a CD sharpened into a pointed edge. My daughter thought that she was going to die that afternoon.
I mean, who allows their teenage daughter to travel on a usually safe train route on a late Thursday afternoon? And only after having just warned her a week previously about the dangers lurking on trains.
Sydney trains are worse. Riding those pathways were my thing when I was young if I wanted to get from A to B. I survived.
My oldest son was run over by a car when he was 16 years old. This was no ordinary accident. No, we go above and beyond around here. The driver of the car was drunk and performing an elaborate burnout when he collected my kid and proceeded to burn the rear car tire over the backs of his legs.
Cringe-worthy stuff, right? Just think about it – your skin burning against the rubber until there’s nothing left.
The incident resulted in five surgical procedures, a two-week hospital stint in a specialist children’s burn unit, a month in a wheelchair and a year-long struggle of leg braces, dressing changes and follow-up appointments in Sydney. Throw in an impatient teenager who thought he was superman and it made for some great times.
More guilt. Overload. But at least it didn’t happen on my watch. He’d been staying with his father out in a place called Buttfuck. Still, it was I that had allowed him to visit his dad over the summer holidays.
Same kid – and hands down, the hardest thing I’d ever had to do as a parent – was to deny him when he wanted to come home. He was 18 years old and had no direction. My cousin and aunt still lived in the Blue Mountains where he’d spent most of his life. They had offered him a roof and food in exchange for a small contribution – he had to go to work. He’d opted to go because all his childhood friends still lived there, and options were wearing thin where we had moved on the north coast.
So, I packed him up and drove the three hours it took to get to the mountains, delivering him to my cousin’s place and trying to appear brave. He called me about two weeks later crying and begging to come home. I denied him.
It was like someone had twisted my heart when I said “No”. I won’t lie – I almost caved, but somehow I knew that if I did, the experience would have been for nothing and his lessons would have gone unlearned. Someplace deep within me I knew he had to stay a little longer.
But you know what? As hard as it was, it was also one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a parent. That boy came back home seven months later and had changed into a responsible and considerate young man – the kind of young man I always saw in him when everyone else had given up on him. He was the kind of person I always believed he was capable of being, and at 22 years old, those qualities have shined through him ever since.
I was 23 years old when I first became a parent. Things were rather dicey during those early years. What I mean is that I was young and learning to be a mother without my own mother around to show me how a mother should behave. I didn’t even know how to change a nappy (diaper) before my son was born.
I remember having these silent anxiety attacks during my first, second and third pregnancies. It was the thought of being responsible for another being that tripped me up every time. By the fourth kid, nothing fazed me. I was in it and that was that. Come number five, and the childhood keepsake albums had ceased for good.
My eight-year-old daughter asked me about that the other day. She wanted to know why she and her younger brother don’t have those albums that her older siblings have. I told her that they did, but they were all digital now.
Nah. Twenty-two years of parenting and I no longer allow the guilt, at least for no extended period. Those beautiful children passed through me into this world for their own purposes. I can only do what I’m capable of doing in the moment. I am here for my own path and purposes too. They are part of it, but this is something they knew before choosing me as their mother.
I have learned to trust in my children’s innate abilities to know what is best for themselves. I show them love and compassion and ways to treat others respectfully, and hopefully provide them the base tools they need before embarking on their own lives. I don’t impose rules or impress my superiority over them. I’ll give them restrictions and offer guidance, but I back up every one of them with positivity.
It’s when they grow and move out that you realize they were never here for your sake; that they were always here for themselves. I guess the same goes for all of us because we each have our own unique paths to follow.