PARENTING IS BASED on the unequivocal truth that mother and father know best, whether it is for, or about, their children. If those who essentially bring us into this world are not endowed with that faculty, then who else could possibly be?
But parents themselves will tell you that is a contestable fact. There was a time when they too bought that. Then the principle took on the aura of a comforting lie perpetuated across generations to bolster parents, who inevitably see their little ones slipping from their own hands as they grow up.
Of course, parents are the one-stop source of information for all things children. They are privy to the smallest and ickiest details about them, which, in turn, gives them fodder to embarrass them in front of their friends. Parents know our medical history, personality type, test scores, and every distinguishing feature, however minor, that makes us unique.
But then, we grow older and our world becomes bigger. There are secrets, lies, failures, fears, privacy and trust issues, self-esteem and religion at stake. Everything becomes, cliché as it sounds, so complicated. Certainly, being absolutely in the know about a teenager is a much harder feat than knowing when junior needs to burp.
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I am not making light of our elders’ knowledge, which exceeds mine, for one, and their children’s, by far. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if parents do not, at times, deliberately keep themselves in a bubble when it comes to their now grown “li’l‘uns.” When they do discover their real afterschool activities and happen to come across their chatter on their cell phones and Facebook walls, they are in for a shocker. That is when they realize that they are clueless when it comes to their tweens and teens.
At least such parents have an ah-ha moment. Many still simply refuse to believe anything other than the image their minds have conjured of their innocent kids. They are offended, somewhat understandably, when anyone, no matter how right, paints a different picture. They argue: “I would know, I’m his parent”, and claim to conduct frank conversations with their children and check in enough on them.
But, parenting right is as hard as it gets and no matter how well parents—even the best of them—know their children, there will still be aspects of their lives they are unaware of. As individuals, we all have personal thoughts and secret feelings. Sometimes, even we ourselves try to pretend we don’t have them. How could we then blame parents for being in the dark?
Yet, it’s not about parents getting their child to confess every sentiment. It is about taking an interest in his or her life, such that they—as only a parent could—will have an idea of what’s going on. Knowing a son or daughter does not come by demanding that they bare their souls and uncover their deepest thoughts. It comes when you make sure you are there when they do, and when you imbue them with confidence that they can always turn to their parents for advice.
Our parents try so hard to make sure everything in our lives is perfect. But what we need most is for them to understand us. The perfect gift children search high and low for, is for their parents’ undivided attention. The real question is this: Do they put in as much effort to know who we are as what it is we want? Sure, in our stubborn desire to assert independence, we may balk at their attempts at that. But, deep down, we wonder why they didn’t start sooner.
So, let parents—our divinely appointed “shepherds” (Bukhari)—pledge to re-know their children, by listening to them, and putting themselves in their shoes, and seeing the world through their eyes, even for a little while. Youth must feel that their every problem, however petty it may seem or actually be, matters so much that mom and dad are there, and they noticed. The last Prophet of mankind who had the greatest of responsibilities, even took note of the sadness of the younger brother of Anas ibn Malik, Abu ‘Umayr, at the death of his pet. He then made sure to console him and ask: “O Abu ‘Umayr, what happened to the Nughayr [name of Abu ‘Umayr’s pet bird]?”
Children often brag to their friends how “my dad—or mom knows everything.” Nothing is sadder than these same kids growing up to feel that that “everything” precluded them. I don’t need to be a parent to know that is the worst thing to happen.