From the moment we become parents, the thing that we want most is for our children to be happy and successful. Everything we do for them is focused on achieving this goal, in the immediate and long term. We feed them the healthiest foods, look for the cutest outfits and keep up with the latest trends. We learn all about ‘organic’ and ‘non-organic’, memorise milestones and study the meaning and impact of IQ versus EQ. We become chemists, biologists and psychologists in our own right.
All this for individuals that God has clearly told us are a blessing, yes, but also a test. The reminder that children are a means of the trial is often repeated throughout the Qur’an and in supplications. Islam acknowledges the amazing miracle that is parenthood but with a caveat.
However, despite all this advice, most of us find ourselves falling into the age-old trap of preparing our children for this world and not the next. One might argue that we do teach them about God, how to pray and to recite the Qur’an. We send them to madrasah as well as school and take pride in their achievements in both areas.
But does this help them build the relationships they will need to succeed in life? Have we done enough if our children memorise chapters and know their fiqh rules? If they know how to act, but do not understand the essential principles that are the foundations of those actions? How can we teach our children not just the right answers, but also the correct questions to ask? Perhaps the best place to start is with a change in our perception of the parent-child relationship.
Don’t Take It Personally
“To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you means you’ve done your job.” – Anon.
The hardest thing to do as a parent is to learn how to distance yourself from your child(ren). We have such anticipation for their coming and such hopes once they are with us, that we choose to ignore the fact that they are separate entities who belong to God and are only entrusted in our care.
We bring them up to love us, to build a strong bond with us, to emulate us and consider our approval as their guiding standard. In doing so, we set them (and ourselves!) up for inevitable disappointment.
There can only be one true, strong relationship and that is with God. It is the role of parents to facilitate this bonding and everything we do should be geared towards achieving this.
Love For His Sake
“Because our mothers love us, we learn, or more accurately remember, that God also loves us” – M. Russell Ballard
We all know that everything we have is from God. That He is the Essence and Source of all that is within and around us. But how many of us remember this constantly? And if we do, how often do we express it?
Our children need to hear from the moment of their birth that our love for them knows no bounds, but that His Love for them is much more than that. Every time they feel comfortable, safe, happy, loved and trusted, we have to remind them that we are simply a reflection of His Love and Faith in them. Every time they turn their faces towards us, we must gently turn their focus towards God. As long as we love God enough ourselves, our children will have no option but to follow suit.
Don’t Teach Faith, Share it
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats
In England, a parent is usually given a checklist of milestones that their child should achieve throughout the first year of life. As parents, this makes us think that progress should be measured by can’s and cannot’s. A child should know their colours by a certain age, recognise words by a certain age and start counting at a certain age. Because of this, we tend to set up timelines for religious learning as well.
Is it really important that are our children are reciting the Qur’an by rote at a certain age or that they are they forming a connection with it as well? Have we taught them just how to pray or have we taught them the sweetness of turning to prayer when in need? Are their manners a superficial facade that dissolves when faced with confrontation, or does their akhlaq stem from unshakeable traits embedded in their character?
As the essential question asks: Is it possible to teach your child what honey tastes like, or must you simply guide them to it and allow them to experience the taste for themselves just as you did?
“All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants” – J.W. Gardner
Our children are not an opportunity for us to relive our youth or to make different decisions. They are not our dreams to make come true. They do not even belong to us. Children are as independent as we ourselves are. Bound by biology and emotion, but distinct and unique unto themselves. They come to us from God and are headed – hopefully with our aid – back towards Him. We are simply guides and carriers, passing on a message that was entrusted to us.
The important thing is that we have to pass on this message in a way that will ensure our children learn it and embody it so that they are in turn equipped to pass it on for generations to come. Some of the wisest words on parenting are those from Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet’.He writes:
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
This paragraph embodies what Islam expects from the parent-child relationship. Children need to be allowed to be flexible, free, and experimental. Parents need to be the steady foundation they can turn to whenever they experience doubt or confusion.
It is a huge challenge in a society so focused on relationships that are limited to this dimension, to be able to step outside expectations and be a multi-faceted parent; one who can care deeply, but also one who can care enough to make tough choices when required. Yet, without adopting this kind of parenting, we may never be able to touch the souls of our children and make them aware of their Creator. Which is really the reason why He gave them to us, to test our introduction skills?