It’s official. I have a rebellious, independent-minded child. This is an unexpected turn of events for me. It’s not that I had expectations of a mild, obedient toddler who played by herself and cleaned up her toys after her. (Really, I didn’t.) However, all signs in the past three years pointed to a little girl who would grow up with a love for listening to stories and doing what Mummy did.
My daughter was a quiet baby. She rarely laughed out loud or giggled. In fact, the way she calmly observed our antics and attempts to crack a toothy smile out of her was unnerving. When she did start speaking just before she turned one, it was to point and name pictures in her baby books. From there, the conversations seemed to flow naturally and we indulged in wonderful ‘chats’ over almost everything from what our breakfast plate held to where her nappies went when the garbage truck passed by especially to pick them up. Life was good.
A couple of months ago, however, she suddenly regressed to baby-talk, whining and speaking in broken sentences with a squeaky voice, all with one goal in mind: to refute every single suggestion I put to her. She didn’t just say ‘no!’, she created an array of negatives and refusals to pick from. It’s just a phase, I told myself (and anyone else who was around to witness her tantrums) and I have been repeating that to myself in the hope that acknowledging that will make it pass faster.
It’s not really the baby-ness that is getting to me. She might be trying out behaviour that she never indulged in before. We all do that sometimes, right? The thing that does worry me is her rebellion against everything I try to share with her. Where Mummy was once the Source of all Answers, Mummy is now the Source of All Things To Be Rejected.
I used to be delighted by how she would come and pray next to me, or repeat verses of the Qur’an after me, inevitably mispronouncing certain words as her tongue explored new sounds. Now she not only refuses to do these things with me, but defiantly states that she does not want to pray or recite anything. The first time she said this, I felt the entire world stop and all of creation pause to glare disapprovingly at me. What had I done to create such a resistance to all that was Holy and Divine in my child? How had I failed so badly as a parent?
In the days and weeks that followed, I waited for the phase to pass and kept asking her – probably a dozen times a day – whether she wanted to repeat after Mummy or join Mummy to pray this time? Please? Why not? Pretty please? It was when I was almost tempted to bribe her that I paused to ask myself why I so badly needed a not-yet-three year old to pray with the repeated dedication that I – an adult with a lifetime of prayers behind me – still failed to observe as perfectly as I should.
This little child has a world in front of her to discover. Every day brings her something new to see, to touch, to feel, to experience. And perhaps, at this moment in time, her latest discovery is the heady feeling that the power to refuse brings with it. The understanding that she can say ‘no’ and doesn’t have to do everything she is told to. Perhaps, she is just discovering that greatest gift that God has granted us as humans: Free Will.
It is hard as a parent to accept that when other children her age are parroting rhymes and nasheeds, she is more concerned about how birds eat without hands and if the sun is sad when it says goodbye in the evening. While I watch other toddlers being praised for having learnt short chapters of the Qur’an or daily supplications by heart, she is insistent she will recite her own gibberish versions of everything, creating new names for chapters and insisting on mixing up verses of two or more. Actually, it’s not hard as a parent; it’s hard on a parent’s ego.
It has taken talking to mothers more experienced and wiser than I am to start accepting that while my daughter might not be keen to gain academic knowledge just yet, she is more than willing to try and figure out the emotional complexities of the human heart. She wants to nurture others, to seek out ways to bring a smile to their faces and she is ever aware of the slightest change in mood around her.
In her defiance, she makes blasphemous statements that make me wince when I hear them, but at the same time, she is constantly aware of her own behaviour and will not only make amends, but come back and ask if you ‘are happy now?’ to confirm the success of her attempts to appease you.
Was this not what the Prophet(s) meant when he said that we should sit with children and learn from them? What can be more important that simply caring? This is what we complain the world lacks sorely and yet, we want to distract our children from learning to passionately do this by presenting them with an array of ‘data’ for them to absorb instead.
I am learning from a toddler that it’s cute if she knows the difference between turquoise and navy, but it is infinitely more important if she learns to give her friend the blue cup even though she wants to keep it, because her friend likes that colour. If her intelligence is obvious, I may be able to raise my head with a false sense of pride, but it is only at her small, simple displays of empathy that I can lower my head in prostration and thank God for instilling this quality in her.
I have a rebellious child. But as long as her rebellion is only against words and numbers, against conforming to routine and monotony, then she is safe. Understanding God requires a softness of heart, a pliability of soul and a questioning mind. These things, I believe, He gives to all healthy children in abundance. As long as we, as parents, can preserve these qualities and not allow them to be lost or overshadowed by the information the world tells us they must know, then God will be their Guide towards Himself.
Thus, the more rebellious my daughter is, the more stable I have to become in order to be able to provide an anchor for her. As she has done from the day she was born, she serves as mirror to my own flaws and a motivator for that constant struggle to improve that is the purpose of life.