I HAVE BEEN blessed to speak with young Muslim professionals, college, high school and middle school students all over the US and abroad. Amongst the most frequent questions I have been approached with are those related to parents.
I have not raised a child. I deeply respect parents and their efforts to instill in their children a loving understanding of Allah. I acknowledge that every day can be an overwhelming struggle for parents and yet they continue to try their best; God bless you all!
That being said, there are certain parental pitfalls I have seen patterned in the discussions I’ve had with young people. I am not a therapist, so these are not professional diagnoses. I hope sharing my observations will help parents in their quests to become better nurturers and open the channels of dialogue between them and their children, inshâ’Allah.
Don’t use Allah’s anger or Hell-fire as a means of control
College students often speak to me about their deep-rooted fear of Allah and His punishment. Instead of turning to Him when they make a mistake, they are, in fact, terrified by Him and what they see as His inevitable punishment. I believe this stems from many issues, but one of them is the way they were raised to see Allah. Many parents attempt to control young children with threats such as, “If you do that, Allah will be angry! Do you want to go to Hell?!” Making your child’s association with God one of anger and punishment is not only unhealthy and detrimental to their future relationship with Him, it is a grave claim in God’s sight.
Suggestion: Instead of invoking the wrath of God to instill fear in your children and attempt to “right” (in reality, control) their behavior, focus on developing parental skills tailored for different and often difficult situations. The Positive Discipline book series is an excellent resource for learning parenting strategies. The video series Positive Discipline in the Muslim Home focuses on these strategies from an Islamic perspective.
Don’t teach your children to dread mistakes instead of learning from them
How you teach your children to react to mistakes they make can affect their long-term self-esteem and decision-making process potentially well into adulthood. Mistakes are opportunities for you to teach your child better decision-making skills and also, of Allah’s love for them. If your aim is to raise children who are conscious of God even when you are not around, it’s essential to help them develop a healthy understanding of His ever care, His forgiveness, His watchfulness, His awareness, and His constant listening and seeing as both a means of protecting them, but also as a means of helping them remember to stay on the right path, especially when they stumble.
Suggestion: Use mistakes as opportunities to help your child explore better decisions and understand the process of tawba (repentance) and coming back to Allah. Invest in watching parenting videos that can help you cultivate the skills needed to inculcate this perspective in them.
Don’t expect them to obey you simply because you’re “The Parent”
Too often I have had a high school or college aged Muslim ask me something like, “My mom says I shouldn’t bother praying the five prayers because they won’t count since she’s displeased with me. Should I keep praying?” Yes, Allah has blessed you with a lofty station because you’re a parent. Parents should be honored and appreciated. But you must earn the respect of your children. Demanding “obedience,” threatening Allah’s blessings to be withheld from your children because you are not happy with their behavior, does not enhance your status in their eyes. It can cause them to resent you. Sometimes, in rebellion to you, they may rebel against Him. And that is a loss for which you might bear a part of the responsibility on the Day of Judgment, God forbid.
Suggestion: If you’re having issues with your child’s behavior or disagree with their major life decisions, work with a qualified therapist. An Imam may provide a spiritual perspective, but unless they’re a qualified counselor, they likely cannot address the psychological/emotional issues you need addressed.
Don’t take sensitive topics, like sex and depression, and make them taboo
Sexual issues: Even if your children attend an Islamic school, it is very likely they know of, have friends who, or are personally engaged in, things like sexting, pre-marital sex, oral sex, masturbation and porn addictions. Your not talking about these issues doesn’t make them go away. Instead, you take away what should be a necessary channel of asking and discussing their questions and concerns in a comfortable, non-judgmental, informed environment. And when you make these issues taboo, it also creates an unhealthy understanding of the beautiful nature of sexual relationships within the Islamically acceptable venue of marriage.
Suggestion: Begin open dialogue with your children on all types of issues they face from an early age. Encourage organic discussion. Study successful conversation methods through books like, “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk” and “How to Talk so Teens will Listen and Listen so Teens will Talk.” Let them know you will never be too angry to help them maneuver the difficulties of being a young person. This way, as they grow older and are exposed to intimate issues, they already have a relationship with you where they can approach you, Inshâ’Allah. If you’re uncomfortable with these discussions, request an extended family member, like a cool uncle or older cousin, or a local mentor, to organically provide opportunities for these discussions to take place.
Depression: This is a permeating issue with young Muslims. Countless youth have spoken to me about self-harm (like cutting their wrists) and attempted suicide—all without the knowledge of their parents, or having their parents find out once they’ve been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Some kids are afraid to tell their parents, some engage because they feel their parents drive them to it, and many feel alone, confused, and are crying out for help and attention.
Suggestion: If you notice your child going through an intensely depressive state, don’t tell them to, “Get over it.” Recognize they may need professional help and seek the guidance of a professional therapist gently and immediately.
Don’t use them as your emotional crutch
Young Muslim adults often carry an enormous amount of guilt when it comes to their relationship with their parents if their parents expect them to be their therapist, supporter and only social network. If, God forbid, there is a legitimate health or other reason they must factor in, this is a different situation. But if you are using your child as an emotional drainpipe to whom you complain to about your spouse and seek as a solution to your loneliness… then you’re likely very selfishly harming your child and they may carry this resentment into adulthood.
Suggestion: Seek your own friendships through the local masjid or community center. Find your own interests through volunteering. Join a gym. If applicable, start seeing a therapist.
Don’t demand that they marry someone whom you would marry
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is, “I want to marry someone of a different race. They have amazing character, they are strong in their din, they have a great job and education. I think we’re compatible in every way. But my parents aren’t okay with the fact that s/he is of a different race. What do I do?”
I understand parents’ concern with compatibility. Parents may worry that a language barrier or different cultural customs may negatively impact their child’s potential marriage. But also, many parents worry that they themselves won’t be able to connect to their potential son/daughter-in-law because they won’t have a shared culture and language. This not only creates incredible stress on the child, it opens more pathways to feel resentful towards parents because the child does not share in the same concerns when they feel they relate more to their likely born or raised culture than that of the parents.’
Suggestion: Parents, this is really where you need to separate your personal wants and desires with what is best for your child. If compatibility of language or culture is the actual issue you’re worried about instead of ‘race’ in and of itself, consult a pre-marital counselor. Require that the potential couple go through training with a professional to see if he would approve of their match in terms of compatibility. And if their compatibility is approved, recognize that you need to sacrifice your ‘dream’ of who they will marry.
These are just a handful of many issues. You may already be the model parent in every way, and yet you still may have issues with your kids. Even Prophet Nûh, better than all of us combined, lost his son after innumerable years of daʿwah to his family and society.
You aren’t required to be perfect. You’re just required to try your best. Make tons of duʿa’, research strategies on successful parenting, consult professionals, and put your trust in the One Who loves you and Who, inshâ’Allah, will always be there to support you in your journey of parenthood.
What are some of the issues you’ve noticed? What are ways you suggest that parents approach them?