Marie Roker-Jones shares how a simple phrase “Lions don’t raise lambs” and her own childhood experiences made her reassess her parenting goals.
Years ago, I adopted a phrase that a friend’s mother used to say “Lions don’t raise lambs.” I thought it was a powerful statement to make and soon made it my parenting motto. That is until I decided to take a look at myself. Who was I kidding? The only lion I was like was the Cowardly Lion or Alex the Lion from the movie Madagascar. After all, I’m the one who had to sleep with the lights on after watching The Sixth Sense (it’s not even a horror film).
The more I thought about it, I realized that this statement reflected my relationship with my mother. My mom is one tough cookie who is sweet and loving at the same time. She’s the kind of lion that would hug you and warn you that you’re about to be mauled.
As a kid, my mom tried for years to mold me into, well.. her. I was a skinny tomboy who enjoyed doing everything she wished I wouldn’t do. I hated dresses, the color pink, dolls and anything remotely girly. I was also a quirky and wildly imaginative introvert. Yet, my mother prevailed. She was determined to make this square peg fit into a round hole. What she got instead was an octagon, the confused offspring of a circle.
I can understand how why mother felt the need to mold me into something else. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate my strengths and my interesting character, she feared that if she didn’t refine some of my rough edges, I would be a walking mess. Even though secretly she appreciated all my antics, she worried that I would be a wild card. As her only daughter, she wanted to ensure that she gave me the proper tools to become a woman of substance. She longed for me to be ladylike and proper. The one thing she didn’t consider is that I’m not like her. Although she wanted to create a clone of herself, my mom never made me feel that her love was conditional or that I was good enough. My moms loves fashion, makeup, gardening and baking. My mom is cardigan, skirt and heels and I’m Converse, jeans and a t-shirt. Funny thing is that my mom was never critical, she was just hopeful. For all her lioness efforts to not raise a lamb, she got an alpaca, which is much worse. Have you seen an alpaca?
It took years of power struggles for my mom to understand that I wasn’t going to change. While she admired my independence and self-reliance, she was annoyed by my non-compliance. Although some of her refining methods work, deep down I remained that quirky girl who rather hang out with the guys. I remember thinking as a young woman, “I hope I don’t have a daughter, because I would screw her up.” Pretty dramatic but it was how I felt.
Which leads me to why I abandoned the “lions don’t raise lambs” way of thinking. What would that have meant for my son? It wouldn’t have been fair to him to try to make him someone he is not. I’ll be honest that since I was raising a child of the opposite sex, it was easier to let it go. The truth is lions can raise lambs or whatever animal they choose to raise. The beauty of having a child who is different from you is that you can appreciate the world through his eyes. As parents, we are the strong force in the development of our children’s confidence and self-esteem. When we start to lean towards creating clones, we deprive our children of their self-discovery and self-awareness. Character building is about working with the child you have, not changing him to the child you want him to be. I knew that I wouldn’t want to do anything that would negatively influence my son’s perception of himself. Whenever I was worried about whether I’m doing things in the best interest of my son, I would allow him to show me the way. Now that we have two sons, it’s interesting to see the difference in character and personalities. So this alpaca takes it all in stride and enjoys the journey of raising a badger and a eagle with her bear, which makes our home an interesting place.
If you’re ever in doubt if your parenting expectations are clouding your ability to see your child as whole and self-reliant, remember the words of Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
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.