Many parents justify strong attempts to mold their children into a preconceived pattern by saying, “After all, they are my children, aren’t they?” or “Don’t parents have the right to influence their own children in whatever way they think best?” A parent who feels possessive of a child, and therefore feels a right to mold the child in a certain way, will be much more inclined to feel unaccepting of the child’s behavior when that behavior deviates from the prescribed mold.
A parent who sees a child as someone quite separate and even quite different—not at all “owned” by the parent—is bound to feel accepting toward more of the child’s behavior be- cause there is no mold, no preconceived pattern for the child. Such a parent can more readily accept the uniqueness of a child, is more capable of permitting the child to become what he is genetically capable of becoming. An accepting parent is willing to let a child develop his own “program” for life; a less accepting parent feels a need to program the child’s life for him.
Many parents see their children as “extensions of themselves.” This often causes a parent to try very hard to influence a child to be what the parent defines as a good child or to become what the parent regretfully failed to become himself. Humanistic psychologists these days talk a lot about “separateness.” Evidence is accumulating that in healthy human relationships each person can permit the other to be “separate” from him. The more this attitude of separateness exists, the less the need to change the other, to be intolerant of his uniqueness and unaccepting of differences in his behavior.
In my clinical work with families and with P.E.T. classes, it frequently is necessary to remind parents: “You have created a life, now let the child have it. Let him decide what he wants to do with the life you gave him.” Gibran has phrased this principle beautifully in The Prophet:
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.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
Parents can modify themselves, and reduce the number of behaviors that are unacceptable to them, by coming to see that their children are not their children, not extensions of themselves, but separate, unique. A child has the right to be- come what he is capable of becoming, no matter how different from the parent or the parent’s blueprint for the child. This is his inalienable right.