“The day when a man shall flee from his brother, his mother, his father, his spouse, and his children, each one of them on that day will have a concern which will occupy him.” (The Holy Qur’an, 80:34-37)
Having a child enriches your life in many ways: you see the same old things with fresh eyes, rediscovering the world as they explore it for the first time, you begin to understand that words like ‘priority’ and ‘important’ actually apply to very different things than you had assumed, you smile more, you cry more, you feel more. However, children also take away some things. Mostly, it’s unimportant things you didn’t really need like sleep, time, energy, attention… but one of the most profound things that you find yourself searching for in the months after you first embrace parenthood – motherhood especially – is your identity. It is a subtle, gradual loss and perhaps that is why it is not given the same focus and emphasis that the biological and emotional changes that come with parenthood are. There are plenty of tips on how to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ or make sure you get some ‘me-time’, but less emphasis given to the feeling of loss and emptiness you feel when you realise that you are no longer able to do the things that you thought were a part of who you were. It could be simple things like having to sacrifice foods you like because they don’t work for your baby or not having those ten precious minutes to have a shower/comb your hair/find clean clothes, or it could be bigger things like not being able to get back to work with the same proficiency as before or simply not having the mental energy to work at your usual capacity even when you do find the time. In whatever form or shape these losses occur, they slowly build up day by day until suddenly you wake up one day and feel a nostalgia for the past, a sense of hostility towards the present and a sort of resistance to what the future will continue to demand from you. A rebellion grows within you, except that you don’t know exactly what it is that you are rebelling against. You yearn for a sense of accomplishment and in the moments when you find a gap of time to yourself, you feel the emptiness left behind by the ghost of who you were and the knowledge that you can never truly, completely be that person again. Accepting the reality that your life will now always be entwined with that of your children, never free of thoughts, concerns and worries about them is a process that seems simultaneously natural and alien. The source of these feelings could be the fact that you have now become an extension of another person, that your ego is no longer in charge of itself and will have to battle for your attention for the rest of your life. We consider this blending of our identities with those of our offspring the ultimate honourable sacrifice, but is this truly the case? Who Owns You? The ego was created to be sacrificed only at the altar of submission to its Creator. We were never meant to love others so much that we would give up our purpose of life for theirs. This is true especially of parents and children, for how is a parent without purpose supposed to bring up children who will be aware of theirs? The home truth that we must all realise voluntarily in this life – or have it thrust onto us forcibly in the next – is that the people we make the strongest bonds with might turn out to be the people who abandon us when we expect the most from them. This is not because they don’t love us or because of a flaw in their character, rather it is the nature of humanity and how people behave when faced with circumstances beyond their imagination or understanding. The Qur’an succinctly describes the true transitory nature of all relationships in the following verse: “The guilty one will wish he could ransom himself from the punishment of that day at the price of his children, his spouse and his brother, his kin which had sheltered him, and all those who are upon the earth, if that might deliver him.”(70:11-14) While we place our hope in the Mercy of our Creator, we also balance this out with a healthy sense of awe with regard to His Justice, and thus we assume that we will more likely have some guilt to shoulder on the Day of Accountability. Will we then become people who turn on our family? Or will they turn on us? And how will we deal with this kind of abandonment and betrayal? The kind of relationship we have with our children and the kind of bonds we teach them to build with others establishes both our and their understanding of what a true relationship should be like. If we teach them that loving is about the strength of emotion we have for the other person, then they will become individuals who concentrate on simply feeling. It is imperative that we encourage the basis of feelings to be on a foundation of conscious thought. We must teach our children that knowledge and intellect should guide us in deciding who deserves our respect and affection. We have to show them how to chose friends and base their relationships on a mutual attachment to noble qualities and a will to strive towards submission to God. Such relationships allow people to walk down their own individual paths and yet lead them towards the same goal – their Creator. This last is the most important lesson for parents and children. We tend to dream of bringing up sons and daughters who will be what we could not be, or pushing them to achieve heights of success that we did not reach. We want our children to be good people, to have virtuous qualities, but we inculcate these traits into their personalities as separate habits, not as life skills that should be a part – if not the core – of their very nature. Our greatest responsibility is to learn how to distance ourselves enough from our children to be able to see what is good or bad for them from a third-person perspective. The aim of bringing up children is only – and only – to introduce them sufficiently to God, His Message and His Messengers in order for them to set off on their own personal journey towards discovering their purpose in Life. All the other pleasures that come with watching them grow and thrive are simply the gift of a Merciful Creator Who rewards our efforts in guiding new souls towards Him by giving us a taste of the pleasure He has when He see us grow towards spiritual adulthood. In essence, parenthood is a beautiful symbiotic relationship in which two sets of individuals nurture each other’s growth to their full potential.
Batool Haydar is a wordsmith who has written many articles and blogs