Out of all the hi-fi, over-hyped, glamorized, overpaid and stereotyped careers that make news today, peppered with extensive media attention such as red-carpet awards, talk-shows, exclusive interviews and photo-shoots, the single most important and pivotal occupation a person – especially a woman – can have, is that of being a parent.
It is this behind-the-scenes, get-down-and-dirty, round-the-clock job that very few people can do well, and majority of those who do, receive little credit for. Parenting is the most exhausting, fulfilling, demanding and satisfying role, responsibility and full-time job anyone can ever have. Whoever has become a parent would testify to its heady highs and, sadly, sometimes mortifying lows. The moment one sets eyes and holds in one's arms a new life – a gift from Allāh that is sent so miraculously, after months of excitement and anticipation – one changes forever. The joy one feels holds no bounds. This new 'baby' life gives rise to new adjustments in all existing relationships, which change in order to accommodate the new arrival. As many people will tell you, they also change once they have a baby.
However, after a few years pass, there are some typical statements that parents of any age can be heard making: “Kids nowadays are so ungrateful….”, “In our time, we were much more disciplined and obedient…”, “We never shouted at our parents the way kids answer us back nowadays….”, and of course, the ever-present “Because I said so!” Etc. I have hardly ever come across a parent who openly admits to having made a parenting mistake e.g. saying something like, “Had I not been lax about my daily prayers when my children were young, perhaps they too, would be more regular in their prayers today,” or “I should not have scolded my daughter in front of her friends. I think she deserves an apology,” More often than not, we find parents acting holier-than-thou and judgmental in front of their children, discussing their children's weaknesses before friends and relatives, and detailing how difficult their children can make life for them. However, how often do we come across a parent who would readily apologize to their children for mistreating them? Or admit to being wrong in front of them?
On the contrary, parents hardly ever publicly admit to making mistakes in their children's upbringing – at least, that is my experience. Once a young person becomes a parent, it's all about enforcing rules, dictating orders, and establishing discipline, which is admittedly a necessary part of good parenting, but you have to have some leeway thrown in too. The young parent forgets what it was like as a child, to be caught red-handed, or worse, to be scolded or punished. It seems as if, now that a couple has become parents, they can get away with treating their children however they like. The moment the effect of their parenting mistakes manifests itself in their young children's negative behavior, the latter are ceremoniously lectured or reprimanded. However, do the parents pause and reflect about which actions of theirs might have been the cause of that behavior?
When I became a parent, I realized just how prone I was to making parenting mistakes. For one thing, there are as many parenting styles as there are children. For another, you do not know which style will definitely work, until your child develops his or her own personality. Thirdly, you keep going through phases in your own life which keep changing your attitude and parenting style i.e. it's a constant learning process for you as well – you keep making mistakes, and learning from them. It's a trial-and-error methodology. Both parent and child keep going through these transitions, and adjusting their relationship according to them. To say the least, being a parent is a position of extreme responsibility and accountability before Allāh – one for which one can be called severely to reprimand, if one takes it lightly. And here is why. Below are some ways parents are always at an advantage over their children, especially when the latter are minors:
Physical and financial authority:
Parents control their children's movement within and outside the house. They control what they eat, what they wear, where they go, who they mingle with and what toys or accessories they buy. This makes a parent very strong as opposed to their child, in the first 2 decades of the latter's life. Plus, children depend on their parents for money. They do not, and can not, earn money. Therefore, parents have almost complete control over how they bring up their children.
Having your own childhood buried in obscurity from your children:
Whether you were the nastiest kid in your class, getting regular detention; or you intermittently broke windows of every house in the neighborhood during 'ball practice', trashed your mother's dresser every week, stole money from your father's wallet, drove his car without his knowledge as a 16-year-old, applied Mom's makeup when she was napping, prank-called strangers on the phone at night, or lied about your tryst at some mall with a “friend” – everything seedy or shady about your own youth gets hidden behind the hijab of time when you become a parent yourself. You get rid of all incriminating photographs, correspondence and videos. You don't speak freely to your old friends in front of your teenagers. No one tells your teenager that you did not pray all the five prayers, wear the headscarf, or go to the mosque. No one tells them that you danced to loud music in your room and lied about your clandestine phone calls (“I was discussing my project with [best friend]!”) when Mom walked into the room.
However, if you are an Allāh-fearing parent, have you really forgotten all those misdeeds?
The gift of forgetfulness (nisyaan) from Allāh, that wipes out your early mistakes from your children's memories:
Whether it was a nasty diaper-rash that made your infant scream in agony – one that was caused by your negligence in changing her diaper on time – (“Well, I was tired, so I fell asleep and forgot to change her diaper! I am her mother. Jannah lies at my feet. Lay off!”), or whether it was that tight slap on the cheek of your 'terrible-two' toddler when he yanked a food-laden plate off the dining table onto your lap – one that left him bawling; or the time when you didn't wash your 3-year-old's plates properly and she fell ill with diarrhea for a week; no one will be able to tell your children whether you were a lousy parent when they were babies, or an efficient one. Allāh hides all your mistakes – whether unintentional or deliberate – behind the veil of the past. Your toddlers and minors are too young to remember when they were spanked without reason, humiliated or scolded for no fault of theirs [they were scapegoats to the mood swings or stress-highs you suffered as a result of your demanding job], or when their mattress stank because you didn't bother washing their leaked excreta off it ["I'll just throw it away and get a new one! What's the big deal?"].
As a parent, you will always have the upper hand with your children, because Allāh will hide your mistakes and misdeeds from them, keeping up your impression of faultlessness before them, making you their role-model – an ideal person free of human errors or weaknesses.
Having the Islamic injunctions regarding kind treatment of parents on your side as a perpetual trump-card in any argument:
The greatest “advantage” Muslim parents have over their children is the existence of Quranic ayaat and Prophetic ahadeeth that remind the latter of how their parents are the most deserving of good treatment from them. Sadly, however, sometimes parents use this as the most effective way of – excuse the terms I will use – emotionally blackmailing or manipulating their children to achieve their own desires and whims.
To the boy who refuses to marry the fashionista, insisting that he wants a hijab-and-abaya-wearing wife:
“Is this how you repay your mother, after all the years I have taken care of you? What will my relatives say, when they see this pardah-clad girl as my daughter-in-law?”
To the boy who refuses to pursue a job dealing directly with riba:
“Had you listened to me, you would not be sitting jobless today. Why not take up that bank job, albeit with dislike in your heart? At least you'll get the perks. You have to support us both financially now that I have retired. It is your Islamic obligation.” [Notwithstanding the hefty retirement provident fund invested in a riba-based bank, which gets monthly "returns"!]
To the girl who insists on considering proposals only from men who are regular in prayers, who earn halal income and who will let her do hijab:
“You will then get proposals only from “mullah” families, who are not very educated or well-established in society.”
A parent who really and truly fears Allāh will usually be a believer who focuses on giving others their rights instead of demanding their own. Hence, just because Islam has exhorted Muslims to be kind to their parents, doesn't mean that parents use these injunctions to unjustly demand favors and servitude from their children. Rather, the Quranic verses and Prophetic narrations reminding Muslims about their parents' great rights upon them are to be read and heeded more by children who have parents; not by parents who have children!
There are parents who, when they do not get along with their daughter-in-law, otherwise a good girl whom their son is pleased with, use the “proof” of the Prophet Ibrahim [علیہ السلام] and Caliph Umar [رضی اللّٰہُ عنہ] telling their sons to divorce their wives, in order to twist their son's arm to do the same. There are parents who are insecure in their old age and whenever a visitor comes to see them, complain about how their offspring with their spouses fall short in fulfilling their rights. There are parents who are adamant that spanking is a very effective disciplinary method for minors, being fully aware that the Prophet Muḥammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] never struck a child (he was father of 7) – “I do not know of any mother who doesn't spank her child.” Birds of a feather flock together. Please look beyond your circle, Ma'am. :-)
Here are a few tips that might help Muslim parents in general.
Apologize when you hurt them: Saying sorry for your mistakes will exalt your ranks, and teach your children to do the same. For example, saying to your toddler: “I'm sorry I yanked your arm so hard on the road. I was afraid of the cars passing by you and was just being careful. I did not mean to be so harsh, beta,” would take a load off your back and make you feel better yourself.
Admit it to your child when you're wrong and they are right: Children can help their parents a lot, especially when the parents are over fifty. The former are in touch with the latest trends and news. If the parent has a humble attitude instead of a “know-it-all” one, they can pave the way for positive learning on both sides.
More importantly, though, winning an argument should never be your goal just because you have rights over your children. Say “You are right” to them when they are. That way, you will be teaching them by example to give you the respect which you supposedly deserve as well.
Remember every day that you will be called to account for even the slightest discrepancy left in giving them their dues (“dhulm”): Just like all other relations in this world, children have rights upon parents, which they will be asked about. Just being conscious of this impending reality will enable parents to forego their children's mistakes and shortcomings, and focus instead on their own method of upbringing their children – whether it will be accepted by Allāh or not.
Seek forgiveness from Allāh daily for your shortcomings as a parent: In Islam, any position of authority is a position of accountability before Allāh, including parenthood. The more pious a person is, the more he fears Allāh regarding the high positions he occupies in this world. That is why our pious predecessors would – literally – run away from the posts of judges and kings that were offered to them. Similarly, a Muslim parent keeps track of their shortcomings as a human being, and seeks Allāh's forgiveness for their mistakes.
It is obvious that – after having gone through the pains and strains of raising young children – parents are entitled to high rights over the former. This is Allāh's own compensation method of providing worldly “perks” for this tough job. However, focusing on what rights of yours others have to give to you, instead of what rights of others you have to give to them, is not the way of the earnest believing Muslim. If your children respect you, obey you and eventually, take care of you in your old age, they are doing themselves a favor. You, on the other hand, should not consider them an 'investment' for this world – desiring sons more than daughters because they earn money; making them marry into affluent families and pushing them into high-flying careers so that you get to choose which “big house” with the most servants to reside in, in your old age. Rather, you should consider your children an investment just for your own Akhirah. By that, I mean that you should just do your job in instilling Islamic values in them, by imparting Islamic knowledge to them and making them live an Islamic life. After that, what they do is between them and Allāh and you are essentially a valued consultant in their lives.
I once heard a very pious and honorable Muslim advise us: “From birth to age 13, be strict in disciplining them; from 14 to 20, be their friend; after they are 21, let them go.”
Wise words, indeed.
Allāh knows best and is the source of all strength.