There are two gifts we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I love this quote by the German writer and statesman Goethe. It sums up the dichotomy of parenthood perfectly for me.
On the one hand, a key function of our role as parents is to give our children roots: a safe, comfortable environment to grow up in and a guiding hand to ground them properly. We set an example with our actions and words that plays a fundamental role in instilling personal values, particularly in the early years of a child’s life. (Sociologists refer to the period between birth and seven years as the ‘imprint period’.) Are we challenging or accepting? Selfish or altruistic? Led by logic or empathy? What we are as adults has a major influence on what our children become.
On the other hand, we also have a responsibility to allow our children to take flight: to support them in a way that inspires rather than suffocates them, to encourage them to be more than merely the sum of their parents. In other words, to grow into fully fledged individuals in their own right.
To do both successfully requires a difficult balancing act: the proverbial light hand on the tiller. I constantly struggle to walk this knife-edge. I think most parents do. But to recognise the challenge is to be halfway to conquering it. No one ever gets it 100% right 100% of the time but we do the best job we can and that’s good enough.
That in itself is a pretty good lesson to teach our kids, isn’t it?