Our children do not come to us in a dream and ask to be born. Instead, we make a choice to bring our children into the world. They owe us nothing. We owe them everything.
That does not mean that they are allowed to walk all over us and demand every wish be fulfilled. Rather, we owe them every opportunity to practice becoming honorable, loving, conscience-bearing human beings. We owe them our patience and kindness as they struggle through the learning process that every human must go through to truly understand their purpose and place in the world. We owe them our willingness to be their role models, and to practice ourselves, every day, what we expect them to adopt for themselves as they journey toward adulthood.
We owe them their education in things such as the six “selves” philosophy that our martial arts dojo espouses: self-awareness, self-confidence, self-control, self-defense, self-discipline, and self-respect. When they violate our right to one or more of those, we owe it to them to help them understand those actions are not acceptable. When they violate their own right to one or more of them, we owe it to them to help them understand that those actions, too, are unacceptable.
We owe them the opportunity to learn deeply, think critically, and to take risks. We owe them the chance to fail, but to fail productively. We owe them the chance to feel unconditional love, not only from their parents, but from everyone around them. We owe them the chance to love unconditionally, to forgive, and to express frustration. We owe them the right to have their own voice. We owe them the right to make an argument, to win it if they have done their part effectively, and to lose it if they have not. We owe them the right to experience disappointment, to express disappointment, and to find the joy in overcoming it. We owe them the opportunity to learn to accept disappointment from others, too, but we owe them the right to protection from needless heartache.
We owe them the right to expect us to respect them, and to learn to respect us and others, who also have the right to expect respect from them.
Children do not ask to be born. We parents make a choice. From then on, till death do us part, we are forever in their debt. Someday, they will be in debt to their own children. If we have done our job right, their children will feel as loved, cared for, respected, challenged, and important as we tried to help our children feel. If we have taught them well, and they have learned well, we can all truly be the positive change we want to see in the world*, working with one precious child at a time.
*Although Gandhi didn’t actually say “be the change you want to see in the world,” what he did say that inspired that sentiment is so profound that I included it as the featured image for this post.