Mine, but not mine: recognizing that our children do not belong to us


Feverish, sickish, so-tired, the three-year-old falls asleep on the couch, one hand down my shirt, the other in my hair. I wait until his breathing is deep, deep, deep, and then I carry him up to stairs to bed. Cheek-to-cheek… I breathe him in, I smell him, feel him—love him so intensely, so madly, always, and in particular in this moment, and I whisper to him as I hold him, “Mine, mine, I’m so happy you’re mine…”

Except… of course, he’s not. Do you know this of your children? That they’re not yours? I think it’s one of the hardest unlessons most of us never learn…

I talk about “my Cinder,” “my Flora,” “my Ender”–all the time. And my partner, he is always “my Sean,” especially when I really love him. And I talk about “my mother,” “my brother,” “my friend.” I’m not about to stop using the possessive. Of course not. I love my Flora to pieces. I  call my love “my Sean” when I want to underscore our connection. But…

They’re “mine” in the sense that a relationship binds us, a precious relationship.

But they’re not “mine” in the sense that… I own them. Control them. Shape them.

Do you know this about your children? That you don’t own them? That you don’t, in fact, create them? If you have teeny, teeny children, you might not know this yet. You may still be devouring parenting books and philosophies. You may be in love with Dr. Sears’ attachment parenting philosophies because you think that doing the AP things will make your children a particular way… You may think that they are yours.

But they’re not.

They’re their own.

Those of us blessed with a strong-willed, challenging child as our first-born learn this unlesson very very quickly. Mine to create, shape, control? Ha. By the time Cinder was 15 months old, I knew this was not the case. Flora, more accommodating and eager to please, may kept me deluded longer. But she too is of me—but not mine. Her own. Completely her own.

Ender, I knew was his own before he came out of my belly.

It’s so hard to realize this because… well, they come of us. And for birthing mothers, out of us. For all parents, adoptive, foster, birth: we are so responsible for them. For keeping them alive. We create their environment—their opportunities—and their obstacles and challenges. We make their lives… easier or more difficult. And we love them, gods, we love them so desperately.

But they’re not ours.

Their own.

Ender sleeps. I watch over him while his fever burns, comes down. Love him. Accept that while I am ever-so responsible for him… he’s not mine. But his own. I don’t own him. He is my trust. My responsibility. In my care.

But ultimately, he belongs–to himself. To the world. Not to me.

Terrifying. But also… freeing. Don’t you think?

Like this? Then check Mommy, for Real’s Mommy’s Law. Shorthand summary: if parenthood was a job, it would have “control freaks need not apply” in the wanted ad.

And thank you to Katia at I Am The Milk for the kind words about NBTB’s They Tell You It Gets Easier. They Lie post, as well as Camilla and Louise at The Best of Two Sisters for referencing “Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. You will” in their Are we harming our girls? post earlier this week. NBTB’s eating disorder post is also flagged by the thoughtful Thalia Kehoe Rowden at Sacraparental, in (Hopefully Not) passing on body hatred–thank you, all, for continuing the fight to save our daughters.

Oh. Of course, you want to know how did my writing retreat go? Ever so well. Stay tuned.

Photo: Feverish Ender asleep in our cargo bike.