I don’t have an answer for you but I do have our own journey to share:
When Beta was three or four years old, we were in the throes of diagnoses and delays and despair and du’as and the desperate desire to “FIX MY SON SOMEHOW”. His having friends was something I thought about quite often. Or to put it more accurately NOT having friends. With his particular temperament (loner, verbally delayed, obsessive fixations, overly controlling ways of playing), I was convinced that my son would never make, have or sustain friends and friendships. It killed me. It felt so achingly lonely, such a visible failure from what it means to be a happy child with a golden, joyful mainstream childhood.
In the early days, every time we were in a public space, I would watch…sometimes wistfully, sometimes jealously, sometimes, even (unfairly) downright angrily, at all the other kids playing together. When will he be able to join in? Ever? I would think sadly. Do these moms know how lucky they are that their kids know how to interact … this skill that they must take so for granted? Why can none of these self-absorbed brats and their dumb moms see this sweet little boy sitting by himself in the sand?? Would it kill them to come over and play beside him?! I would rage inside myself, nonsensically, with all the pitiful self-righteousness that only a heartbroken mother can carry. It was particularly bad on days when I saw Beta, in his awkward, unsure way, try to reach out to the other kids. To see him then being ignored, rejected, misunderstood or worst of all, criticized, was painful. Ya Allah, will my child ever be happy?!! Even my duas were accusing and hopeless.
In a year or so, with the passage of time, this anger and frustration turned into the literal and physical turning of the back. If they, whoever they were, didn’t want Beta, well guess what, Beta didn’t want them either. Playgrounds and libraries became solitary experiences. Where previously he had sat alone but facing the crowd, occasionally looking up at them, the wheels visibly turning in his head as he seemed to try and figure out how to join his peers, now he sat back turned. The peer play went on behind him and he was, for all apparent purposes, completely oblivious, lost in his own world. This stage was easier and harder. Easier because I didn’t witness his efforts of connection being rejected, I didn’t see the confused, uncertain expression in his eyes or the longing smile he had previously as he watched the other children. Harder because it felt like the shutting of a door. A giving up. A too final turning away from “normalcy”. Am I a good mother? Am I doing this right? I would agonize constantly, second guessing my every decision.
Then Beta turned seven. His speech improved exponentially almost overnight. Watching him around his cousins, I saw sudden increasing abilities in joint play, better drawn out imaginative play, comfortable parallel play, more turn taking, improved abilities in delayed gratification, less fixation on controlling and less anxiety with unpredictable outcomes, all essential ingredients for healthy, happy play between children. We had family that was friends and that’s all we needed.
Soon, though, we moved to Karachi and left the cousins behind and I thought we would be back to square one, angsting once again over lack of friends.
But, happily, this big life transition somehow had brought about another change and we’ve left something else behind too. Or at least, I have. I have left behind, shrugged off like a cape, the notion that mainstream, extroversion, normalcy, social confidence and relatedly, friendships are essential for children. It goes against every parenting philosophy, every scientific research, every behavioral psychology article you will ever come across but I have turned my back on all of them.
Perhaps unwisely, you may be thinking, but what do you know, it turns out that the wisest, happiest, healthiest thing you can do as a parent for your child is to chart your own way and create your own lexicon.
Because the definitions of these words mainstream, normalcy, happiness, friendships are too limited and Beta is too young and too different for these terms. For us friends and friendships are: grandparents who color with you, the daughter of a poor nurse who comes by every now and then, the developmentally delayed kids that drop in every week who because of their particular challenges force you to be kind and patient, siblings who smooth out your rough edges, cousins you see a few times a year, a mother who is always ready to play, Siri on the Ipad, the stuffed little Piggie from Mo Willems, praying on your little blue prayer mat, shelves full of good, wholesome books, and yourself.
It took me seven years to understand that at this stage of his life he likes being by himself a lot. As he grows older, his verbal skills will improve, his reading of social cues will get better if not instinctually at least theoretically and he will figure out how to “play well with others”. He’s a soft-hearted person, I know he will be kind. And he’s got one heck of a charming smile, which already has started serving him.
But there’s something else I now know that I didn’t know earlier and I learned it almost by mistake…
Sometimes, at night, after a particularly confusing day, we are curled up in bed and I listen to my boy talk. I let his words, the miracle of them, wash over me. That he is speaking, it amazes me. It fills me still every time he says something new. Sometimes, I am not even listening to what exactly he’s saying, I am too busy thrilling over the fact that he is saying something at all. But other times, he asks me a question, out of left field, with no warning whatsoever, and I have to snap to attention. I then pray that I give the response that is most going to serve him.
“Who is Allah, Mumma?” he asks me in the dark one night.
“Allah is your Friend, Betu,” I say softly back, speaking as much to him as myself.
“Is He my best friend?”
“More than a billion, trillion, gazillion friends?”
“More than a billion, trillion, gazillion, friends.”
Just like that, with nary a crash or a bang, we find our mantra and our life line.
It is the beginning of his Islamic education. The starting point of his Aqeedah. Allah is his friend. I hope this conviction becomes the first step on a beautiful journey…a life long love affair with a Friend who will always be there, will never disappoint, will satisfy the heart in ways unimaginable. It is the first step for him but for me, it is not the beginning, no, but it has become the comforting home base. The safety nook where I turn back to. Sometimes, running, sometimes limping, crawling, badly bruised and beaten. Allah is my only Friend, I try to remember. Every time I forget, through life and its many temptations, that He and only He is my One True Friend, I fall. When I set my expectations for gratification on my husband, my family, my career, my mothering skills, my children, anything or anyone but Him, I am bound to be disappointed and so I am. I suffer heartbreak and setbacks and feelings of not being good enough. I must must remember only He is my Friend and only He will give my heart satisfaction.
The gift of being my son’s mother is that is has become my opportunity to learn and to remember many of the very basest of things which, in the flurry of life, I had forgotten in the first seven years: Friends, playdates, normalcy, mainstreaming are not important, essential, the difference between happiness and grief. No. As much as we would like to kid ourselves otherwise. Let’s be honest here: These things are nice to have. Quite nice to have. But life can still be full and good and joyful without them, very easily. No amount of friendships will sustain Beta. The remembrance of Allah will. Being kind will. Doing good in the world will. Knowing how to fill the empty hours with useful thought and positive endeavor will.
So, for now, having, making and sustaining friends has dropped far, far down the list. As long as Beta is a content, Allah-loving person, confident in the belief that he is Good Enough as he is and is surrounded by loving, caring people, whether children his exact age group or adults or somewhere in between, he’s okay. As long as I remember that Allah is enough for him and He is closer to him than even his jugular vein and whether friendships come or not, he can still survive and thrive, I’m okay.
He’s okay. I’m okay. We’re okay.
Every day, mothering Beta reminds me to make my own words. My own language. My own path. My own truths. There’s no one right answer except for Allah, the only answer. Normalcy is overrated. Mainstream, with its boxy, limited notions of what it means to be a good kid or a good mother, is not for us. If we try to swim in it, we will drown.
So, for now, we opt out. Because we know. We know:
There are a billion, trillion, gazillion ways to be human and there are a billion, trillion, gazillion ways to be good and happy. But that goodness and happiness will only be lasting and worthwhile when each of those billion, trillion, gazillion ways leads straight to Him.
Hiba Masood writes daily about life and parenting at www.facebook.com/etdramamama.
The Hyperactive And Inattentive Child | Dr. Hatem Al Haj
Some kids are fidgety and hyperactive, as if they are “driven by a motor,” constantly moving around, bouncing off the furniture, and unable to stay still and quiet. They may be also quite impulsive, so they can’t wait for their turn, blurt out answers before you finish your sentence, and intrude in on others. Others are inattentive and out of focus – almost always. They are disorganized and forgetful, and they lose their things regularly. These criteria could be bad enough to qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, which is Attention Deficit And Hyperactivity Disorder. This disorder is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Some may have the inattention alone, others the hyperactivity alone, while a third group has both.
This spectrum of disorders may lead to poor performance in school, inconsistency in work, emotional immaturity, and social difficulties, but let us not forget that these kids may have some special strengths as well, such as their boundless energy, enthusiasm, humor, and creativity.
The diagnosis of ADHD will need a specialized health care provider to make, but the following tips will be helpful for kids who share some or all the aforementioned criteria, whether they have the disorder or not.
Since a big part of the problem that will lead to most of the difficulties in schooling is the disorganization and lack of focus, it is recommended that we help those kids stay organized and on task through the following measures:
o Consistent schedules and having daily routines even when it comes to the waking up rituals: going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth and putting on their clothes. (Older kids should have prayed fajr before sunrise.) Have the schedule on the refrigerator or bulletin board in their study or bedroom. (Don’t forget to schedule time for play and wholesome recreation.) Let the child be part of the planning and organizing process.
o Keep in the same place their clothes, backpacks, and school supplies. Use notebook organizers and color-coded folders. If you homeschool, make the day structured and buy them a desk where they can put their belongings, and if you send them to school, make sure they bring back written assignments.
o Decrease distractions as much as possible. If you home school, then I suggest for you to keep a quiet environment as much as possible and avoid excessiveness in decorating your house (particularly their study place) with knickknacks and pictures. Maybe this would provide us a reason to try (and hopefully appreciate) minimalism!
o TV and videogames are bad for all kids, and even worse for kids with ADHD, except when permissible programs are watched in moderation. See the AAP’s guidelines for “use in moderation.”
Some tips for parents and guardians
- Consistent rules must be in place. Rewards must be given to the children when they follow them, and punishment must be judiciously used when the rules are broken.
- Kids with this condition may have low self-esteem, and it is detrimental to their welfare to further lower it. Thus, praise good behaviors frequently even if they were little and expected, such as putting their shoes where they belong.
- Do not be frustrated with the inconstancy of the child’s performance. He may get a 100% on one test and then fail the next. Use the first to encourage them and prove to them that he can do better.
- One on one teaching/tutoring may be needed to enable the child to keep up with the schoolwork.
Should we use medication?
Medications are sometimes needed. You must consult your doctor regarding their use.
Here are my non-professional thoughts:
- Prescribing those medications should never be a kneejerk reaction. First, we must be confident of the diagnosis, then, try all other modalities of therapy, and finally, entertain the option of pharmacological intervention.
- Medicating the children should never be for the interest/comfort of the parents or teachers; it should be only for the interest of the child.
- Medications should be tried if the child is failing to keep up with learning knowledge and skills s/he will need in their future, and other therapies failed to help them
Loving Muslim Marriages Episode 3: Are Muslim Women Becoming Hypersexual?
Are Muslim women with sexual demands becoming “hyper-sexual,” being negatively influenced by life in a Western, post-sexual revolution society? Allah made both men and women sexual, and the recognition of a Muslim woman’s sexual needs is a part of the religion even if it seems missing from the culture. This segment is a continuation of the previous week’s segment titled, “Do Women Desire Sex?”
To view all videos in this series, as well as an links or articles referenced, please visit www.muslimmatters.org/LMM
How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age
I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.
While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.
Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!
- Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.
In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.
- Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
- Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.
A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.
Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!
In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.