A student asked me for advice since she was torn about what to do after going abroad to study. Her parents told her not to worry about them. If she decides to work and stay abroad, they will be happy with whatever she chooses. The student was torn because she wants to take care of her parents when they’re old.
I told her first of all, how lucky she was to have parents who support and respect her decision. I told her not all parents are like that especially in Asia where a number of parents expect their children to follow what the elders want even with regards to their career and marriage.
I told the student however, not to limit her choices to staying abroad or going back to China. There are more than two possibilities and options. She could study and work abroad for a while and after she has gained enough experience, she can come back to China, give back to her country while caring for her parents. She could also invite her parents to stay with her abroad to experience a different kind of life. She can think of other ways to combine her dreams into one.
It is always touching how grown up children want to take care of their parents to express their love and gratitude and like that student, I too wish to pursue my own path and take care of my parents when the time comes.
On another extreme, there are parents who refuse to let their children decide for themselves even if the children have already passed the age of twenty, thirty or even forty. I told the student that once my children reach the age of maturity, I would be more than happy to let them lead the lives they want. I would not require anything of them except that they live their lives the best way they see fit for themselves.
Kahlil Gibran said it best:
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 house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Each parent and child is both a bow and arrow sometime in their lives. My parents are over sixty and seventy while my children are just four and seven years old. I’m still an arrow hurtling into space, finding my mark, but at the same time, I am a bow for my children who will be launched someday to become total masters of their own lives, captains of their own ships.
I pray for grace that should that time come, I will take a backseat in their lives while I continue to steer my own humble little boat. I will be grateful for moments when we pass each other in the sea and I witness how well they command their own vessel. At that point, I will probably cry tears of happiness.