You are not bad, you are just young!!!

Bismillah,

Alhamdulillah, it feels so nice to be back here, writing about the things that have been occupying my mind for some time now. I have realized that writing truly is one of my very few passions in life. So, here I am today writing about the important attitudes and skills essential to parenting.

I have been studying and working with children for over ten years now. Although it is not a long time, due to nature of our advanced society where different child development theories come and go each year, I feel I have been through various approaches, theories, attitudes as a teacher and a mother. Again, due to the nature of education evolving and developing so rapidly, we get at least 10 new books published each year somehow related to parenting. We read and drown ourselves in pool of information; all the way from potty training to getting kids eat their vegetables; from how to stop children telling lies to how to stop yelling. Whereas, in practice, I have come to believe, there are only a handful of attitudes and skills essential to successful parenting. And these contain the most profound task we ever set for ourselves- the willingness to grow, change and mature in every single day of our lives.

Nothing in nature is more complex or mysterious than a human-being. And yet we search for easy quick-fix solutions when dealing with our children. When patience is needed, we hasten; when kindness is needed, we spank, when empathy is needed, we shut down.

Self-awareness and Self-consciousness

Although we can influence it to a great deal, we can’t always control children’s action. However, what we can control is our own reaction. I have tested it over and over again- very often our reaction is not proportionate to how badly our children behaved. Our reaction is not in proportion to how big the kid-problem we face at the time. Sometimes, they may do the smallest things in the world like shutting the door harshly or talking loudly in a room and yet we lose control and start shouting. Other times, however, they may do the worst actions (I honestly couldn’t think of what could be the worst child action at the time of writing, throwing a tantrum, sibling rivalry resorting to hitting or child refusing to eat a meal you prepared with so much love), and yet we contain ourselves. The reason behind our varying reaction is how good or positive we are feeling in ourselves at the time of an assumed “mishap”.

On this note, I urge all the mothers to raise their own self-consciousness. Keep a diary or journal to write about your “trigger” moments. Or simply do a one-off reflection where you go somewhere green (local park or woodland etc) and write down your child’s worst behavior scenarios from the past and what your reaction have been, something similar to this.

Firstly, it helps you to understand yourself better. Secondly, writing requires to activate your thought process. When you are asked to sit down and write down those “trigger moments” and your reactions, you will realize how pathetic you can become sometimes in power struggles with your little one. Thirdly, as you are more aware of yourself, you can think of alternative strategies to blowing up, screaming and yelling. Perhaps, you can think of ways to make yourself happier in those moments. Thinking positively takes a lot of energy and training. For example, we have just come back from shopping. My 8 year old wanted to help put the shopping away. Accidentally she dropped a tray of eggs on the floor and all the eggs broke. You can either spank, lash out with “You are so clumsy. You couldnt even do that. Who asked you to put the eggs away anyway?” or think to yourself “At least she was trying to help.”

Love and empathy

As human beings, we all have an emotional tank and raising children can be draining at times. However, as an adult, we have to regain our posture and keep giving love to children even at times they don’t deserve. Perhaps, more so at times they don’t deserve. Unconditional love should be the foundation of everything.

Often, we look at our children as our own extended versions, rather than acknowledging them as a separate individual. Our actions reflect on them and theirs on us. We show our love based on their performance. We reward them when they behave in desired ways and threaten and fear them when the opposite happens. Our cuddles, kisses and hugs are plentiful as long as they accomplish their chores or do their homework. We often display love that is conditional, and just can not be bothered to display empathy when things are not going our way. We fail to attempt to understand things from our a child’s perspective and totally shut down when they need us. The time your child is told off because of her misbehaviour is probably the time she needs to be hugged most. Sometimes, one hug or showing physical affection can fix lots of whining and whinges. But, rather than connecting with our child, we do more correcting “You should learn how to talk properly. Stop whinging”,  “I am not going to listen to you until you stop whining.” or “You are old enough to ask for things in proper manner.” Thus we fail to meet our children’s need for love.

The problem is that, parents have not been able to make one simple distinction children need to hear often “You are not bad. You are just young!” (Eda Leeshan) If children feel genuinely loved by their parents for who they are, they will be more responsive to our guidance. It is only when they are emotionally secure, children are willing to cooperate. The first steps towards empathy is acknowledging their feelings “I know you are upset. Tell me about it” or “I know how you feel. Arabic can be too hard sometimes”. When you acknowledge their state without blaming them for how they felt, you take your first steps towards connection.

The key ingredient here is being able to LOVE yourself. That’s right. Stop blaming yourself for every uncontrolled tantrum. Stop making yourself feel like a failure for an uncooked dinner once in awhile. Stop being control freak and analyzing everything in your head. We all have to change ourselves for the sake of our kids. Love yourself so you can give love those around you. Have some sympathy for yourself so you can empathize with your kids.

Patience is a virtue

How many times have we been ordered to remain patient as a Muslim? In Islam, patience is a multi-dimensional concept with several ranks and mentioned over 90 times in the Qur’an. If I had to choose one human attribute that is crucial to parenting, it would be patience. Because, even the simplest things may take a long time, especially when you are trying to grow human-beings who process things countless number of times in their head before it sinks in and reflects on their actions.

Parenting demands an enormous amount of patience from a person. And let me clarify as well, being patient is not remaining calm and collective because you have no other choice. Being patient is not suffering in silence. Rather, patience is acting calm and collective when you have the upper hand whilst you talk about things that have been bothering you. Patience is forcing a smile on yourself when you see your children jumping on the bed, no brushing teeth, no pajamas well past the bed time and being able to  remind them of their bed time routine without screaming. Patience is stop yelling “Hurry Up” every time you are out with four kids because they are too slow according to your standards. Patience is stop blaming everything around you but rather accept their state of being and trying to change through a gentle reminder each time. 

In a nutshell, we first need to raise ourselves in order to raise our kids. Because the moment you became a parent, God blessed you with the biggest chance to grow again. May Allah ease our hardships and make this journey easy for all parents.

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Self-development

Bismillah,

 

The girls have been going to swimming for the past two weeks. Alhamdulillah, Big S is swimming so well without armbands. I actually doubted her swimming skills since we have not been at all for the past 6 months (since the birth of baby S, that is nearly half a year subhanAllah). And even before that we were not going regularly due to pregnancy and other issue. Hence I was actually very surprised when I saw her swimming. Especially the second week, she was swimming on her back, on her front, with her head under the water and she tried sideways. So, she was basically confident enough to try out different styles of swimming.

Now middle S is a complete different story. First week we didn’t take armbands so she was constantly either clinging to me or to metal bar on the side of the pool. Second week, with armbands on, she did let the metal bar go a little and she was praising herself so much for that. This girl of mine does not like to challenge herself. SubhanAllah.

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about myself and how I am connecting to the children. Since I have come back from Saudi, I keep thinking and rethinking about our set ways of doing things and my teaching and I feel there is something missing. I am often disappointed with myself. Generally speaking, I think one feels quite disappointed to return to this “dunya” where everything revolves around worldly things and you have just been to a holy a place at a time everything revolves around Godly things. Very strange feeling.

So, I keep evaluating things at home and keep asking “What do I want to achieve out of this homeschool thing? What is it really I am striving for?” Yes I want them to be able to read and understand Qur’an. Yes I want them to learn the Arabic language proficiently. Yes I want them to excel in Math, English, Science and in all their academic subjects. Yes I want them to go to top universities and become a dentist, a doctor, an archaeologist and ocean explorer, a story writer and an illustrator. However, the bottom line is, I want them to be good MUSLIMS.  So, before anything else, I want them to have good spiritual connection with Allah the Almighty and submit completely to the will of God. I want them to have that complete tavakkul (faith) and certainty with Allah swt and live their lives according to Islam.

I think we all agree that there is really only one effective way of moulding their character in this way from young age. There is only one thing we can do and that is SELF-DEVELOPMENT. If I really want to instil Islamic values in my children so they build up an Islamic character, the way forward is to start focusing more on myself. Because children will naturally observe, imitate, copy the adults of the household. And I strongly feel that my children are educating me in so many ways. They make me so conscious of what I say, how I speak, what’s my attitude and how I react. I know they are banking all these somewhere in their brain and will have exact same attitude to most things in life later on. That is so scary for me because I know I have a lot of character traits to improve. I am constantly praying that my children will turn up as someone much better than myself. Inshalla they won’t pick up those bad characteristics. Then at night time I lay in bed thinking “You are kidding yourself. The only way forward is to change those bad bits into good bits”. That is such a struggle, to constantly battle with your own self. May Allah guide and help us all.

So I am disappointed every time I shout to discipline them. I want them to have the love of Allah, the love of the prophet saw and the love of deen. But, I am so quick to point out their mistakes and shortcomings. I am so quick to judge and preach them. I lecture them daily about how Muslims should do things in Islam. And I fear that I am doing “more correcting and less connecting”. I am not really connecting to them in a manner that brings the love of learning Islam, the love of seeking knowledge into their lives. Sometimes I hear a friend or a colleague saying “Oh I hated Maths at school” or “I remember hating this or that subject so much” and the worst thing to happen would be one of our children saying “Oh I hated doing Arabic” or “I hated reading Qur’an” or have very negative attitude towards seeking Shari’ah knowledge.

So, I have decided to focus on 3 things for myself and for my family: Love everyone for the sake of Allah (because this stops that judgemental attitude you have towards others, including one’s children), Live in the moment (focus at present, plan as if you have forever but live as if you only have today) and Share the khayr.  When it comes to children, here is my target to do lise

  • Shout less
  • Discipline less- what it really means is criticise less. praise vs criticism ratio should be 5:1
  • Fill them up with love and make them feel loved unconditionally, regardless of what they do, what they say
  • Create such an atmosphere at home where everyone feels appreciated, wanted, valued
  • Listen to them when they speak, get to their level, make eye-contact
  • Say “yes” more often then “no”
  • More connecting through fun family activities

 

Positive Islamic Parenting Reminders

Bismillah,

Alhamdulillah, we had our next Islamic Parenting class today attended by 16 mothers. It went really well mashaAllah where everyone shared their tips and experiences on how to help our children with memorizing the Qur’an. If you would like the handouts and the power point presentation from today’s session to be emailed to you please comment on this post with your email address inshaAllah. I will not stop in detail as I have posted previously here and here on hifdh.

We talked a lot about parenting through positive reinforcement today. I had a handout which summarizes ten reminders to be read each morning by parents, especially mothers who are quite busy tending to the needs of a number of children. I don’t remember where I got them originally. But I have got it printed and stuck to my fridge and read from time to time, to remind myself on positive and effective parenting. So, here goes the list.

  1. I am raising my child to be a successful khalifah of Allah, who will help create a truly Islamic World.
  2. Today I will try my best to know and understand all the influences upon my child’s development.
  3. Today I will try my best to help my child understand the power of negative influences to take him/her away from Allah, and the power of positive influences to take him/her to Allah.
  4. Today I will try my best to shield my child from the power of the negative influences.
  5. Today I will try my best to enhance/increase the power of the positive influences on my child to take him/her to Allah.
  6. Today I will try my best to notice some positive things my child does or says, and tell him/her how much those things are appreciated by me and by Allah.
  7. Today I will try my best to say nothing negative to my child. Even if I have to correct my child’s wrong behaviour I will try my best to find some positive way to do so.
  8. Today I will love my child unconditionally, but I will try my best to express that love at times which are most beneficial to my child.
  9. Today I will try my best to be an example of a good and right human being/Muslim for my child.
  10. Today I will pray for Allah’s help that I can be a good parent for my child.

How easy it sounds and how difficult to implement those things in our everyday life. For example, I really struggle to understand what motivates my 4.5 year old daughter to misbehave and I struggle to correct her wrongdoing in positive way.

How about you? Do you find you often discipline your child through negative reinforcement like commenting on their misbehaviour or wrongdoing? Do you resort to force or use physical punishment? Do we as parents put emphasis on achievement and show appreciation of their well behaviour often enough? When we keep commenting on their misbehaviour what becomes of their self-value? Do you worry that “naughty” or “troublemaker” or “loser” might become their self-perception?

 

Diseases of the heart: Symptoms and Cure

Bismillah,

MashaAllah this is another study circle a sister initiated on Sundays based on Al-Ghazalis book called Disciplining the Soul. This has worked out so nicely for me as both girls being at Arabic school, I can take this day out to work at myself, improve my own Arabic/Tajweed or increasing my knowledge inshaAllah, along with the baby, of course.

I could go on about how wonderful Ghazali’s above named book is, especially for those who are seeking to develop their own self and reach a higher level of tazkiya etc. But, instead I will just share the notes and handouts from today’s khalaqa. Each week a different sister will chose a chapter from the book, prepare the questions to be discussed and the talk to be delivered. And it was my turn today. And the topic was “An Exposition by which the diseases of the heart might be recognized and the symptoms that indicate the return to health”

First of all, let’s look at the definition of the heart. In Arabic it is the word Qalb; which can also be interpreted as soul. The meaning in Arabic is more wholesome than the meaning in English. When the prophet saw said “‘Surely there is in the body a small piece of flesh; if it is good, the whole body is good, and if it is corrupted, the whole body is corrupted, and that is surely the heart’.” He was not talking merely about an organ that pumps up blood and circulates it to the body. He referred to Qalb/soul. So, each part of the body has a function. We have eyes to see, hand to strike, feet to walk etc. And the heart/ qalb is the central organ.

And what is the function of the heart? The function of the heart is the formula below

the acquisition of knowledge –> acquisition of wisdom –> the love of God –> the love of His worship

We should note that knowledge and wisdom are two separate things. Knowledge is acquired through studying and wisdom is acquired through experiencing and implementing. There are many verses in the Qur’an that refer to the above formula. The most popular one being

[I created Jinn and mankind so that they would worship Me ] Ad-dhaariyat 51:56

I looked at tafseer ibni Katheer of the above ayah and it states the following: I, Allah, only created them so that I order them to worship Me, not that I need them.’ `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas commented on the Ayah,

[إِلاَّ لِيَعْبُدُونِ]

(…except that they should worship Me.) meaning, “So that they worship Me, willingly or unwillingly. I seek not any provision from them nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Verily, Allah is the All-Provider, Owner of power, the Most Strong.)

So, we have been commanded to worship one and only God and that should be the only function of our hearts.

What is the disease of the heart?

Al Ghazali states that “possessing a thing in the heart more dear to him than God” is ultimately a disease. He also states that every heart is sick except those whom God has saved. We should not prefer none of the things of this World over Him. And again there are many verses referring to this but one most quoted one Allah says in the Qur’an

[If your fathers, and your sons, and your brothers, and your wives, and your tribe and your wealth you have acquired and the trade you fear may not prosper, and the dwellings you desire are dearer to you than God and His Messenger and striving in His way, then wait until God brings His command to pass]

And if we ponder on this one verse, we realize why Ghazali claims every heart is sick. It is indeed very hard to implement in our daily lives to completely submit ourselves to the will of Allah, to put our ultimate trust in Him swt, not to rush about things and not to stress about worldliness. But diseases of the heart is one of a kind that remains unknown to people they afflict. Even if we become aware of it, we may find it extremely hard to treat it in a proper way. So what is the cure

What is the cure?

There is only one medicine for sickness of the heart. That medicine is very bitter. And that cure is opposing our desires. We shall persevere in the bitter medicine of opposing our desires. Some of us have been led to deny altogether the existence of such medicine, especially in today’s society. Instead we have given ourselves to worldliness. Ghazali said “A soul should return to God with a sound aspect so that it retains not a single tie with anything connected to this world, where soul will be enabled to leave this world unattached to it, paying it no heed and no longer yearning for the things which it contains”. We should hold on to the rope of Allah by being thankful to Allah, worshipping and loving Allah, becoming his Hanif and striving in His path. Impediments in holding on to Allah are pride, hypocrisy, pessimism, uncontrollable anger, abuse of the tongue and lustful sexual desires. Ghazali says that righteous acts proceed from good traits of character. Therefore we should look at our attributes and qualities and devote our energies treating them one after the other.

The hardest part…?

So we have established the function of heart is the love of God and the love of His worship. We know that in every heart there is a sickness that needs cure. And we know that cure is in opposing our nafs and desires and become unattached to worldly matters and things. Now, the most difficult part is keeping rectitude on this straight path. Or the word in Arabic is “Istiqaama” – maintaining the same level of imaan, maintaining opposing our desires and maintaining the healthy Qalb/heart/soul. Istiqaama on sirotal mustaqeem is something extremely obscure therefore we have been asked to recited Al Fatiha on every raka’h. We ask Allah Guide Us to the Straight Path 17 times a day. The prophet saw used to say “Surah Hud had turned my hair grey” and a man asked him why. He saw said “because of this statement [Practise rectitude as you have been commanded] ”. It is very hard to keep istiqama on the straight path. Nevertheless, Ghazali states if we are unable to do this properly, we must at least strive to keep in its vicinity.

And to finish off, I would like to quote from Ali r.a on the heart. He said the following which I find so true 
I am amazed at the heart of man: It possesses the substance of wisdom as well as the opposites contrary to it … for if hope arises in it, it is brought low by covetousness: and if covetousness is aroused in it, greed destroys it. If despair possesses it, self piety kills it: and if it is seized by anger, this is intensified by rage. If it is blessed with contentment, then it forgets to be careful; and if it is filled with fear, then it becomes preoccupied with being cautious. If it feels secure , then it is overcome by vain hopes; and if it is given wealth, then its independence makes it extravagant. If want strikes it, then it is smitten by anxiety. If it is weakened by hunger, then it gives way to exhaustion; and if it goes too far in satisfying its appetites, then its inner becomes clogged up. So all its shortcomings are harmful to it, and all its excesses corrupt it.
There are four things that make the heart die: wrong action followed by wrong action, playing around with foolish people, spending a lot of time with women, and sitting with the dead. Then they asked Imam Ali: ‘And who are the dead, O Commander of the believers?’ He replied: ‘Every slave who follows his desires.’
Surely want is a trial, and having sickness of the body is more difficult to bear than indigence, and having a sickness of the heart is more difficult to bear than having a sickness of the body. Surely being very wealthy is a blessing, and having a healthy body is better than being very wealthy, and having awe of Allah in your heart is better than having a healthy body.
Surely hearts have desires, and they turn towards, and they turn away … so approach them by means of what they desire and what they turn towards, for surely if the heart is forced to do something against its will, it goes blind.

So, we should train our hearts so they may conform to what Allah swt commands. We should keep opposing our desires and nafs and realize that it is a never ending task. Only after the soul leaves us we may stop because it is no longer functioning in this world. But until then we should keep striving and struggling every single day in order to maintain a healthy heart- a heart that contains no love for the things of this world for it realizes that everything is so much better and longer-lasting in Jannah. And the heart should be yearning for the pleasure of God, and worship Him out of love, yearning for the pleasures of the HereAfter by becoming totally unattached to this world.