Fostering fatherhood

Bismillah,

I have long wanted to write about this. I must have written it at least over a dozen times when I am lying sleepless in bed, when I am putting kids to bed or when I am judging between sibling fightings and wishing for my husband to be there. This post is really close to my heart as it speaks of my own experience as a mother and the experience of countless number of mothers I speak to.

This is a message to all fathers, who want to have a long lasting and beautiful relationship with their children and age gracefully in their company. This is a message, especially from an Islamic perspective, for fathers who want to claim their share of “Sadaqa Jaariya” in raising righteous children.

It may not always be the case, but many mothers often admit one thing that frustrates them about their significant other half is they don’t give quality time to their children. It has indeed become one of the biggest challenges of this modern society we live in: Men no longer have time to parent their children (in some cases women, but that is rarely true for Muslim parents). It is a tough call the women folk have to get on with (even if they work part time or full time, the burden of childcare still falls on their shoulder).

In no way I am ignoring the fact that mother is the most influential person in any child’s life. Mothers do take the leadership when it comes to nurturing a child. It is in women’s nature to take on that role. However, parenting is a task Allah has made an obligation for men as well as women. The frustration and resentment that build up due to fathers not making time, energy or effort to spend quality time with their own children can lead to serious relationship breakdowns in marriage.

Nouman Ali Khan pointed out in one of his talks recently that Surah Yusuf highlights the love between a father and his son when Prophet Ya’qoob shows his love by being an attentive and caring listener. In Surah Al-Qasas, the mother of Prophet Musa shows her love by holding and feeding her baby. Between the two accounts, we find a complete picture of what it means to show love to children. On one hand you have got to make them so comfortable around you that they will tell you anything, even a dream. On the other hand, you have got to show them your love through physical affection by holding them and hugging them.

Dear fathers, you have to realize that the most precious gift you can give to your child is your time. So, spend quality time with them. Your presence is not making any difference if you are at home but keep browsing the net on your laptop or sorting out other paper work. Your presence is not making any difference if you take them out to play but keep staring at your phone. As Yahya Adel Ibrahim stated in one of his parenting articles “Being near your children is not good enough, you have to be with them”

Dear fathers, you have to realize that children want nothing more than your approval. So, go and initiate a conversation with them on a topic of their interest and show physical affection. Don’t wait for your children to come and hug you, rather you go up to them. You have to make the effort to show them that you care by giving your 100% attention when they are talking to you, by responding to all their questions in a respectful manner rather than dismissing them.

Dear fathers, do more connecting and less correcting with your children. Sometimes, all you have to say is “You look upset. Tell me about it” or “You are angry. Tell me what happened”. If your only line of interaction with children is around “Don’t shout at your sister”, “Don’t be rude” or “Stop whinging and crying” then you have no relationship with them. As a father, you have to acknowledge their feelings and help them regulate their emotions. Not only emotional connection benefits your children, but also it takes so much stress off mothers. And trust me, there is nothing that mothers appreciate more than fathers taking off that burden from them.

Dear fathers, you have to realize that children grow up fast and tomorrow the roles reverse. So, it will be parents who would be yearning for their child’s attention. Here goes the old saying “You reap what you sow”. So, make sure you sow plenty of love today.

Practical tips for fathers to spend time with their children.

These activities take no longer than 30 minutes a day, depending on your availability you can increase or decrease timings but aim for at least 20-30 minutes of quality time daily with your children.

  • Read Qur’an together, you can make children sit around you and listen to your recitation. Children can take turns to recite too. Turn it into a Qur’an competition and reward them with a hug and a kiss.
  • Read a story a day with a follow up discussion. You can make children sit around you and listen to the story. You can follow it up with 3-4 questions based on the story and ask children to answer your questions. Engage them in a meaningful conversation and show with facial expression how you value their opinion.
  • Put your children to bed. Really, this is the time you can most likely relate to your children as they open up and start telling you their highlights of the day
  • Play games- board games, play piggy-back or horseback, hide-and-seek or simply run and catch each other around the house.
  • Do arts+crafts. This needs some preparation so have colouring pens, pencils, paint and paint brushes, pen and paper ready and get started.
  • Teach them hadeeth a day that is most relevant to their age
  • Tell them stories of your own childhood- the events you can remember from your own childhood would capture their attention most
  • Go for a walk around the neighbourhood or pay a visit to local playground. Yes, you can do it even in winter with the right outdoor clothing
  • Take them out once a week to indoor play centre, children’s centre, theatre or museum etc.

I will just finish with this one short reminder. I hope and pray that everyone takes this message on board and start making positive changes in their parenting. May Allah rectify our affairs and help us all to fulfill each other and reach our full potential.

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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.

A moment frozen in time

Bismillah,

There is nothing more devastating to a mother than to see your child suffer from a serious disease. For every mother who has heard these words “Your child has leukaemia”, it is a moment frozen in time and life-changing event. I experienced one such frozen moment today.

My father has been in hospital with heart problems recently. I made my routine call home this morning to ask after his health. My brother picked up the phone. He clearly seemed to have something urgent- something very important to say. After a few minutes of muttering and stuttering, after I had promised that I would not tell mum and dad, he told me the news. The news that made me freeze. My sister’s one and only son was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia- a type of blood cancer where a child needs urgent Bone Marrow Transplant.

I stood speechless as my eyes welled up in tears. In an instant, the flashbacks of all his childhood memories came to me. My nephew was so chubby as a baby and we all loved him dearly. My sister lived two doors away from my parents’ so my nephew grew up in our house mostly. My sister and her husband moved to Russia in 2011, just like thousands of low-skilled migrant workers from remote villages of Uzbekistan, up and down the country. They left my nephew with my parents initially but called him over in the summer of 2013. My nephew is now 12 and my sister could never have another baby after him. And imagine how you would react if you receive the news of your one and only son having a rare type of blood cancer; Imagine the pain you would feel; just imagine to go through the torturing thought that your son leaves this world before you….

I quickly put the phone down and called my sister in Russia. I wondered how she is coping with such calamity in a country far from home, with no family or friends around her? Just imagine going through pain with no support system around you. As soon as she heard my voice my sister broke down. I only said two words “I know” and we were silently crying to each other on the phone. No words, just pain.

Then she started telling me how difficult it has been. My nephew’s nose was bleeding throughout the night on New Year ’s Eve. He had frequent nose bleedings in the past month. The hospitals were closed due to holidays and my brother-in-law was waiting for payday. As low-skilled migrant workers, they do not qualify for free health care in Russia and use private doctors when needed. They finally took their son in to a small private clinic on 6 January 2014. The doctors took blood results and diagnosed him with anaemia. But he stopped eating and he could not walk and was in constant pain. They carried more blood tests and could not identify anything. Then it was decided the next day, on 7 January 2014 that samples from bone marrow should be examined. The results were devastating.

But, you will not believe, there is something even more devastating than this. The small private clinic was unable to offer any treatment to Aplastic anaemia and transferred my nephew to Yekaterinburg Children’s hospital of Oncology and Haematology. As soon as they found out that patient was from Uzbekistan, they refused to admit him completely. My sister and brother in law were told that the treatment for Aplastic anaemia is only offered to Russian citizens and they would not be able to pay for treatment privately. Then somehow they got hold of this Tatar lady who works at this hospital as a doctor. She interfered for them on the basis that they too were a fellow Muslim. My sister was crying- “It is only because of that lady my son lived the past 4 days. And I cannot tell which is harder- enduring to see the pain on my son or enduring the dehumanizing comments of nurses here. They throw all sort of comments at me not seeing that I am already half dead.” My nephew was discharged this morning. They could no longer keep him, even if we paid for his treatments. He is diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anaemia.

They have sent me the test results from hospital. I was horrified by just looking at them. His bone marrow is not making enough blood cells for the body: red blood cells (RBC) to carry oxygen, white blood cells (WBC) to fight infection and platelets (PLT) to control bleeding. This is the result of my nephew’s blood cell count as of today:

Results Normal to have Condition
White Blood Cells 2.33 4.5 – 13.5 severe
Red Blood Cells 0.92 3.8 – 5.2 severe
Platelets 18 142 – 424 severe
Haemoglobin 34 115 – 150 severe

My sister and brother in law both left their jobs to look after my nephew. Now, my nephew continuously needs to have blood transfusion and medication until they find donor match for Bone Marrow Transplant. They urgently need money for: donor search, compatibility testing, donor harvesting, medical treatment, medication and medical supplies, my nephew’s home and day care etc. I think I have researched gazillions of websites today for help, support and funding. I am asking for donations from friends too. Please help my nephew to survive by donating via http://www.justgiving.com/nurillo

I have full faith in God that He does not burden a soul more than a soul could bear. I have full submission in whatever Allah has destined for my nephew. I also believe you can help him to live a little bit longer. So,please do not ignore this message. Whatever you give, may God accept it from you. Thank you so much for your help and support. I will keep you all updated.

Below are his full examination results including blood test and cell count results I obtained from Yekaterinburg Children’s Hospital of Oncology and Haemotology. The results confirmed that he has Severe Aplastic Animea  and urgently needs Bone Marrow Transplant.

Marriage. I found this story so touching.

When I got home that night as my wife served dinner, I held her hand and said, I’ve got something to tell you. She sat down and ate quietly. Again I observed the hurt in her eyes.

Suddenly I didn’t know how to open my mouth. But I had to let her know what I was thinking. I want a divorce. I raised the topic calmly.

She didn’t seem to be annoyed by my words, instead she asked me softly, why?
I avoided her question. This made her angry. She threw away the chopsticks and shouted at me, you are not a man! That night, we didn’t talk to each other. She was weeping. I knew she wanted to find out what had happened to our marriage. But I could hardly give her a satisfactory answer; she had lost my heart to Dew. I didn’t love her anymore. I just pitied her!

With a deep sense of guilt, I drafted a divorce agreement which stated that she could own our house, our car, and 30% stake of my company.

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