Bite-Sized Philosophy | Childhood

Kahlil Gibran on Why Parents Don’t Own Their Children

The Relationship Between Parent and Child Doesn’t Have to Be One of Ownership

R. C. Abbott
5 min readJul 12, 2021

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Black and white photo of a young girl is teary and speaking to a man who’s face we can’t see. The subtitle says: Your words don’t affect me anymore. The image is a screenshot from Robert Bresson’s film: Au Hasard Balthazar.
Photo credit: CriterionBabe. Au Hasard Balthazar, 1966, Robert Bresson

Kahlil Gibran’s beautiful work of poetic prose, The Prophet, has been beloved for generations. The story is exquisitely simple: Almustafa, a fictional prophet who has lived for twelve years in the city of Orphalese, finally has the option to return to the isle of his birth.

The people of Orphalese have come to love him and are saddened to see him go. To cope with the pain of his departure, the town seeress suggests that before he embarks across the sea, Almustafa shares some of the truth he has come to know about the time between birth and death.

When he can’t think of what to discuss, the crowd makes suggestions. They ask him to speak about love, giving, houses, crime and punishment, reason and passion, freedom, self-knowledge, etc. Each topic is given its own mini-chapter and contains simple verses packed with profound ideas.

The Prophet’s third discussion centers around children.

Your Children Are Not Yours

Of all the directions the prophet could have taken a conversation on parenting, children, and childhood, he chooses to focus on the relationship between a parent and a child and the common misconceptions a parent might have about children. He begins:

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.

The idea here is that children are something much more than us and much more than their relationship with us. They do not belong to us but have a purpose and a path stemming from the wishes of Life itself. Just because they have come through us in the form of a seed or a womb does not mean that we are entitled to them. Even though they live alongside us, they are not ours.

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