GIF via Andy Kennedy
I grew up listening to my parents, aunts and uncles recall fond memories of being chased by their mom, flip-flop held aloft. Apparently, it was the norm to receive a smack ’round their heads or bottoms with an iloshifathi in order to “discipline” them of their quirks. My parents, however, kept their hands and slippers to themselves while I was growing up, leaving me with no such memories to recall or write in this article.
Unfortunately, some parents from the said generation did in fact transfer the archaic methods of upbringing they acquired in the good ol’ days onto their children, without realising that they were setting these children up for a great deal of confusion, hardships and of course, trauma. They were so accustomed and familiar with how they were nurtured; they did not hesitate to wield the same methods on their own children.
At present, things need to change. Us admitting that is not picking on the faults of the previous generations, nor is it belittling or disrespecting the effort they poured into their children. Rather, it is merely understanding that times have changed. A shift in the family and social paradigms has guided today’s parents to be hands-on (or not, pun-intended) while raising their children by taking a more emotional and intimate approach.
“Do not raise your children the way your parents raised you, they were born for a different time.” – Ali Bin Abi Thalib
Nevertheless, the material and physical aspects of this aside, I would like to discuss a parenting mindset that is widespread in our culture even now. When a child shows emotion and poses as sensitive, most of the parents think this is tantamount to being weak, and displaying a part of the child which can be exploited. I see children being coached to hold back their tears when they fall down and scrape their knees, or when they drop their ice creams on the sidewalk. Instead of letting them embrace their emotions as they come, these parents are teaching them to suck it up. This may be because back in the days, children were left to feed and fend themselves, owing to the fact that our grandparents used to pop out baby after baby. Thus, the children needed to be tough in order to survive. Consequently, these children have and will grow up to become a bunch of emotionally unavailable adults with a lot of suppressed emotions in store.
In order to toughen the children up, parents are also training their children to be overly and negatively critical of themselves. Despite coming from a place of love and worry, teaching a child to be hypercritical of one’s self goes hand in hand with low self esteem, and lack of self love. Moreover, bullying one’s self emotionally and mentally instills anxiety, depression and hopelessness within the child. These parents may harbour this mindset due to the competitiveness that still exists in our society and because they want the best of opportunities for their children, since there is not enough to go around.
Even though the anxious and worrisome nature of these parents can be sympathised with, we must acknowledge that the children who were raised by parents with a frame of mind like these are afraid of failure, fixated only on their flaws, and struggle to accept and love themselves entirely because (as imperfect humans, which we all are) they will never truly be the best. At least, not at everything. Criticism, when constructive and gentle, is care. It is a necessary step towards growth, but once the criticism starts to overwhelm the child, it runs the risk of over saturating him/her in it.
I am pretty convinced that my generation is quiet concerned about being good (or the best of) parents. Hence, as a parent, check in with yourself before you check in with your children, because everything you have learnt in school will get thrown of out the window the moment your five year old refuses to let you bathe her while your one year old screams for his pacifier. You may have come from a home which was bleak and deserted in terms of emotions, or you may have unresolved stings in your past that makes it difficult for you to connect emotionally and mentally with your children. Thus, how can you expect your children to respond properly and well to the arrays of emotions they experience if you have cultivated damaging and unhealthy patterns of coping? You can only lead your children where you have gone, and your children will mirror what they see and experience from you.
The Prophet is a classical masterpiece of our time; a book of fables I very much admire which was written by the world renowned Lebanese-American poet and writer Kahlil Gibran. In the fourth chapter of this book he talks about children; their identity and independence. Here is an excerpt from it:
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”
And he said:
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
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.
When all is said and done, remind yourself that your child’s taqdeer lies in the hands of Allah. Should you feel anxious, turn to Him and release your fears and qualms rather than venting at your child. It is okay for your child not to have memorised thirty eight surahs of the Qur’an by the age of six, or learnt five qira’ats by the age of eight. Parenting is a learning process, and you will get several chances with your child as long as you apologies when you make a mistake, and promise to try again. Your sun sets to raise again, and every day is a new day and a new chance to make things right, if not perfect.
Our children come to us as beloved and precious gifts from Allah سبحانه و تعالى. As reminiscents of everything that is priceless, there are things that we need to do to ensure we do not hurt or scar them, like re-examining your approach to parenting ever so often to see whether they are still the best way forward. 🙂
“Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous.” – Surah Al-Furqan