One of the most unpredictable things about becoming and being a parent is the things you learn about yourself in the process. Before kids, I used to think of myself as a selfless, nurturing, and thoroughly patient person. After I had kids, I realized none of this is true.
My first-born used to wake up frequently during the night for absolutely no reason that either myself or his doctors could ever figure out. By his fourth or fifth awakening on any given night I would be the exact opposite of the loving mother I pictured in my mind, sweetly smiling down at his face while quietly lulling him back to sleep. I would poke my husband to attend to him, no matter how early I knew his work meeting was the next morning. Sometimes my husband would help, and sometimes he would ignore my pokes, even leaving the room, much to my bitter disappointment. When my son would somehow wake up bright and early, completely refreshed and ready to play, I would feel physically exhausted and emotionally depleted. It would take a few hours of trudging around half-responsive before I would snap out of it and start being a proper mother. Some days I never snapped out of it.
More recently, I had to travel alone with my children, a preschooler and a toddler, both very active boys, on a flight from Toronto to Singapore with a stop-over in Hong Kong. When we reached Hong Kong after 17 hours, we had missed the connecting flight and had to spend the night at a hotel. After the airline transported us to the hotel, I was greeted by a ridiculously long line of passengers who had also missed flights and were also waiting for rooms. Only two people were working at a counter trying to serve about 200 or so passengers. After waiting in line for about an hour, both my boys were going berserk. Not only were they were overtired and underfed, the freedom of finally being off the plane had given them a sudden spurt of unbridled energy. And disregard for my disapproving looks. I felt myself begin to unravel. Though I managed to stay composed until we got to our room, the minute we were alone I yelled at my kids with my fullest fury. I still vividly remember how they both cried. I still remember the gnawing awareness at the back of my mind that I was over-reacting–but yelling at them anyway. After they fell asleep that night, I sobbed uncontrollably, thinking what an awful parent I was.
We don’t often think of our children as tests. They’re blessings of course. We have never loved anyone the way we love them. Their presence enriches our lives infinitely and we couldn’t imagine our days without them.
But they are tests. As Allah (swt) Reminds us in the Qur’an:
“…Your children may be but a trial: but in the Presence of Allah, is the highest, Reward.” (64:15).
Few things in life will ever test us as our children do. After all, we have such a deep emotional investment in them. But despite our sincere love and best intentions, we cannot go it alone. If we were suddenly stricken by a serious illness, or financial ruin or some kind of natural disaster, we would not hesitate to turn to Allah (swt). We would acknowledge our shortcomings, beg Allah (swt) for His assistance, rely on Him for strength and turn to him often in repentance whenever we erred.
We need to bring the same attitude to parenting. Parenting effectively might not seem like a test along the lines of the calamities described above, but it is. The only difference is, it occurs in slow-motion. Many people can be patient in the face of a sudden, short-lived trial. But what is your conduct with your children on a day-to-day basis? Because the truth is, it is all being recorded, each and every minute of it. Kids are an enormous blessing but proper parenting is an equally enormous challenge, insurmountable actually without the constant help and guidance of God.
We are human and we will mess up. We will yell at our kids, even spank them, without a suitable reason. We will ignore them when they need us most. We will put our own emotional needs ahead of theirs. We will fail time and time again to give them the unconditional love and attention they deserve. We must repent, move forward from these setbacks, learn from them and grow from them.
Therefore the first, most crucial step to effective parenting is to understand and accept our frailties, indeed our utter incompetence for the job, and to supplicate often for Allah (swt)’s Help. After all, each and every thing is in His Hands.
“…He who relies on Allah, Allah is enough for him” (65:3)
So go ahead and ask. Even trivial things: perhaps one child is a picky eater. Perhaps another is aggressive towards his playmates. Maybe one is struggling academically while another does not help with household chores. Have you tried asking Allah (swt) for help? No prayer is too small for Allah (swt). And as we know, the parent’s prayer for their child has a special status in the sight of God. As reported by Abu Hurairah:
“Three types of supplications are answered (without doubt); the supplication of the oppressed, the supplication of the traveller and the supplication of the parent for his child.” [Prophet Muhammad (sas), Al-Albanee)
When we stop relying on our limited internal deposits of love, emotional intelligence or patience to get us through, and allow the power of Dua (supplication) to feed and nurture our actions, we start enjoying a whole new world of truly connected and effective parenting. And while certainly your children and your relationship with them will benefit from this strategy, no one will benefit from it as much as you.
May Allah (swt) assist each and every one of us on our parenting journey, protect our children and make them the joy of our hearts and the pleasure of our eyes. Ameen.