Rewriting the Muslim Parenting Manual

All of us young parents out there belong to an arrogant and elitist group who believe that OUR way is the right way to raise kids, and everyone else has gotten it wrong. From schooling choices, to matters of deen, the foods we feed them to the places we take them, and everything in between. It’s true. We’re THAT people. We’re so fixated on ‘our way’ that there’s really no wiggle room for diversity and acceptance. We’re all so strongly opinionated, so sure of ourselves, and so convinced that what we’re doing has to be the exact and only way the job can get done. And in our arrogance, we’ve already predicted the outcome of our parenting, and decided that our progeny is going to redefine Islam in the West. Because parenting as awesome as ours can only result in perfecting the ummah. Right….??

WRONG.

We know too much. We’ve over invested ourselves in trying to get it right, and the truth is we probably don’t have a clue about what we’re doing! Somewhere deep down inside, we’re scared of raising kids in North America, but we’re so obsessed with being correct that we’re even afraid to admit THAT to ourselves.

In the weeks after I wrote the Pink Day article, I realized that our parenting had a long way to go. No matter how good of a job we think we are doing, there is still a dire need to adjust as Muslim parents. This isn’t the first or the only time our parenting will be ambushed while we live and try to raise kids in the West. There will be ongoing incidents that will probably knock us off our feet again and again. We’re so fortunate that Islam is the kind of religion that can naturally adapt to changing times and still continue to uphold timeless values and principals.  But the real question is: are we capable of recognizing where we need to adapt, and where we need to stand by the values we believe in so strongly? Or are we going to close our eyes shut and blindly walk the path of parenting we had predetermined?

I need to constantly remind myself that parenting isn’t written in a manual, and I must learn to figure out a successful formula by being adaptable. In fact, I can’t even use the same kind of parenting on my three different kids. Each of them requires me to be the parent they need. My parenting strategy must be dynamic and allow me to make intelligent and spontaneous decisions keeping religion and society both in mind. I can’t be a reactive parent; those are the kinds that lose their kids quickly. Children feed off our reaction, and our reactions are sometimes borderline abusive! If we can learn to control our facial expression, our tone of voice, and our words, we’ll probably be more successful than we can imagine.

Most of the time we’re the ones who complicate parenting by putting up so many barriers of ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ in our way. In actuality, the job is quite simple. Here’s where the timelessness of Islam comes in. You’re only required to do three simple things for your children. First, give them your time, second, give them your respect, and third, give them your attention. Building a relationship with your child is the only thing you can really do to be an effective parent. It’s never going to be easy to raise kids while living in North America — truth is, it’s never going to be easy to raise kids no matter where you live. Instead of focusing your energy and attention trying to exceed unrealistic expectations, ask yourself this: Are my actions actually sabotaging the goal I set out to achieve in the first place?

Good tarbiyah requires building a strong connection with your children, and you can’t do that unless you are willing to openly be a part of their lives. Listen to them when they talk. Treat them to their intellect and engage them in conversation. Truly understand and appreciate their struggles, and be open to hearing things that make you uncomfortable. We are responsible for raising outstanding Muslim citizens, and if that means that we need to leave our comfort zone, then so be it. It’s time to put away that parenting manual, and let go of our desire to parent the way WE want. Instead, let’s parent the way they NEED us to.

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