Being a parent is hard work. Not hard in the sense of trying to decide what to wear to a wedding, but hard in the sense of trying to climb Mt. Everest every single day, without ever reaching the top.
The harsh reality is that as a parent you are never done being a parent. Not when your kids go off to college, not when they get married, not even when they have kids. The cloak of parenthood is a permanent mantle that stays firmly fixed, from the days you first lay eyes on the beautiful Creation of Allah gifted to you, until the day death separates the two of you.
I recently broached the subject of having office hours with my 11 year old. He of course was not familiar with the term. I was mentioning this to him, because he has this revolving door policy with my bedroom every night. He will come to say salaam and get his hug before going to bed, discuss some manner of great importance (usually having to do with something his little brother has done to annoy him), and then leave. About 10 minutes later, he’s back. So one day I finally said, “Maybe I need to post office hours. So that you know I am done with my mommy duties once its 9 pm.” His response? “Mom, you can’t have office hours, you are my MOM.” Need I say more?
And yet we forge on, trying our best to fulfill the responsibility of being good parents, as an integral part of being good Muslims. Whether we read the expert articles and books on parenting, or follow our gut instincts, each and every person blessed with being a parent tries his or her best to nurture and guide our offspring with love and care. If only there was a magic pill that you could make each newborn swallow at the beginning of their lives that would ensure that they will grow up to be the epitome of all your hopes and desires. If you are Indian, that usually means to become a doctor, marry a doctor, and every single one of your grandchildren ends up (brace yourselves) a doctor!
However, since such a pill doesn’t exist, maybe it’s possible to come up with a simple list of advice to parents, derived from my observations and experiences of traveling the well-worn path of parenthood. As the morals and values of our society continue to degrade with each passing day, it becomes even more important that all parents of Muslim children band together in solidarity. We must help each other to raise our children to be strong pillars of our Faith, ready to face the pressures of the world and stand straight and tall as shining beacons of truth and righteousness. Let’s see what we can achieve together, Insha-Allah.
First, remember, each child is different. Just when you think you have hit on a system that works, you will have a child who completely bucks the system and thereby has you staying up nights worrying that he will grow up to be someone’s stalker. Be flexible in how you deal with each child. While a time out may work for one child, a sibling may respond by just a stern mommy voice. One of my sons will stop in his tracks when I pull out the scary mommy voice. However, my other son will completely lose it, thereby making my attempt at discipline superfluous and therefore completely useless. So I literally had to teach myself to not yell (I mean use my stern mommy voice) with this child, and instead use an even toned, calm voice, to explain why he was driving me bananas. This is not an easy task. As teachers we are sometimes asked to differentiate our instructions to meet the different learning needs of our students. A differentiated lesson may be implemented once in a while, for a 50 minute class period. But as parents we will have to differentiate our parenting to best suit the needs of an individual child for the rest of your lives. But in the end the results you will reap will be very beneficial, Insha-Allah.
Second, give yourself a break. Realize that with each additional child, the challenges of parenting increase exponentially. As first time parents, we are so pressed to be the very best parents that we can be, that we always cross our t’s and dot our I’s. We never let a single “teachable” moment pass us by. Ever situation has to be over analyzed and dealt with accordingly. My first born says I was very strict with him and he is right. He complains that his younger siblings get away with a lot more and I can’t deny that either. But what he doesn’t realize, because he is only 17, is that I have learned to pick my battles. I don’t try to correct every single infraction or control every single minute of their lives. I have learned over the years that children will be children, who a lot of times act like they are brain damaged, and they will make mistakes, and do things without thinking, but you can’t jump down their throats every single time. You’ve got to pick that golden moment to make your point. And realize that they may get it or they may not (due to the brain damage), but you don’t hold it against them. And then you wait again for the next shiny golden moment in which to embed another nugget of wisdom into their systems, Insha-Allah.
Third, spend quality time with your children. Notice I saw quality not quantity. We are able to accomplish a lot in our day, thanks to cars, smart phones, and despite Facebook. We run around all day and a lot of time our children are in tow, but how much of that time is spent getting to know them? So many times, while on walks with my daughter, I see other parents walking with their kids, but they are on the phone talking to someone else. It makes me so sad to see that. As parents we have to try our best to spend one on one time with each one of our kids. This time doesn’t have to be for hours and it will definitely not be a daily occurrence. But hanging out with your kid is a mutually beneficial activity. I am always amazed at how good I feel after having even a 5 minute conversation with one of my kids about something in their life. Since my kids are big gamers, I have to admit I have to fake interest, and I don’t think I do a very good job, but I try. But the results are always worth it, when your child makes eye contact with you, and his face has lit up about something, and they have provided you with a window into their world, that moment is, as the credit card commercial says, priceless. Keep in mind that you will have some children who will demand more of your attention than others, but try your best to spread yourself around. My third son can be the least talkative, and it’s only recently that I realized that he also craves just me and him time. And if I can get him by himself, he will talk my ear off about everything from karate class to the latest episode of his favorite cartoon. In fact right now he is lying next to me talking about why no one ever talks about Mongolia. (Wait, I need to stop typing now and make eye contact and talk about Mongolia.)
Fourth, give and accept apologies. Children and parents are not perfect. They will make mistakes, but if a child can acknowledge that they have done something wrong and offer an apology, then as parents we should welcome that apology wholeheartedly. Don’t ever say to the child, well, you should have never done the misdeed to begin with. One of the most beautiful aspects of our relationship with Allah is that we can seek repentance and ask for our forgiveness. How can we deny this to our children? Similarly as parents we make mistakes all the time. Stressful days at work combined with a lack of sleep can lead to errors in judgment on how to best deal with a scenario. In our household, it’s those rare moments when I completely lose it and spank a child. On such an occasion I feel so much remorse. I immediately realize that there was probably a calmer and less volatile way to deal with the situation. I will usually seek the child out and apologize for losing my self-control. I will not make excuses for my behavior and I promise to try and be more patient. I don’t look at it like I have lowered myself in front of my child. I want him to know that I am only human, and that I too make mistakes for which I must seek forgiveness from him and Allah. Believe it or not, apologizing to your child can be a very powerful lesson for both parties involved and will serve to strengthen the love between you.
Fifth, makes lots of dua. Because no matter how much research you do on the best parenting techniques, how your children end up is based entirely on Allah’s Mercy and Blessings. Make dua daily that your children, grow, live and die as Muslims, striving to achieve His Pleasure and His rewards in this Life and the Hereafter. There is only so much we can do to give our children the foundation of knowledge and good manners, based on the Quran and Sunnah, which will serve them well in life. After that we all must raise our hands to the All-Mighty and ask Him to always guide our children on the straight path. Teach your children to seek His protection when they leave the house every day. Remind them to say their morning and evening athkar. Pray in Jamaa' in your homes. Model for them the best of what our religion has to offer and they will soak it up like sponges. Keep it simple, keep it sincere, and keep them close. I am sure many of you reading this are going to think I have left a lot of things out of the list. Things you might have seen in previous articles on parenting like limit TV, ban video games, or no Facebook. Being a good parent is so much more than a list of do’s and don’ts. Being a good parent is part blood, part sweat, part tears, and part miracle from Allah. I hope and pray that I am able to help a few and inspire a few more. Don’t forget, we are all in this together. May Allah guide us all to do what is best for our children, May He guide all parents and children alike to seek His Pleasure in everything that we do.