Any parent would know that there will come a time when their children move on from uttering a string of babbling nonsense as toddlers, to the awkward phase of the monosyllabic teenage years. This is a period of pensive moods and inner transition. Watching from the outside, we have to learn to accept grunts and groans as the metaphor of our kids’ eloquence. Like most parents, I had been bracing myself for this inevitability. With four boys all in their teenage years, I had been forewarned of ample ‘lively’ domestic situations.
Alhamdulillah, with Allah’s help, I have been chaperoning my sons through the so-called ‘awkward phase’ and we haven’t had any high dramas….yet. Insha’Allah it remains that way. I do, however, have my own reasoning about why that is. It doesn’t involve any scientific research; rather, it is based on my own empirical evidence.
My belief is this: that since my boys and I have adjusted to our new lives, we have also had to redefine certain roles in our family unit. I have taken on more responsibilities within and without the home, naturally, but so too have they had to enter adulthood at a less leisurely pace than their peers. This shuffling around and new demarcations has sometimes happened by accident where we have all been fumbling our way along in life. But it has also happened by design. In other words, I pre-empted some situations where I knew I would need to have frank and honest conversations about things that concern us as a family. I would often seek their help or advice and consider a different perspective on things. Perhaps they would see something from an angle that I had not thought about. However, there were also many times I had secretly already made up my mind about something but wanted them to feel included in the process anyway. In those latter situations, I always recall the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Being the sublime character that he was, he excelled in the skill of discussing his plans with his closest companions, not to seek their approval or guidance, but for the sake of making them feel included and important. In the meetings I have had with my boys about family matters, I wanted to emulate our noble Prophet (peace be upon him). He epitomised the wonderful strategy of creating cohesion and unity amongst people and a feeling of being valued.
Too often, I have seen parents of my generation, and those before, talk at their children rather than talk with them. The abuse of power that comes with the advantage point of being a parent is lamentable. Ostensibly, some parents believe their years make them wiser and more mature. They have inalienable rights. Their voices dominate everyone else’s. It is a narrative that runs through many families. Of course, there are times when parents must – and should – have absolute say in stark matters of wrong and right, of halal vs. haram. However, there are many areas where open and frank conversations with their children would not go amiss. Not allowing young people a voice to express their emotions or thoughts is not allowing ourselves to know how to help navigate them in life. It is so wrong to expect our children to mirror our own expectations of them or to have them live out our fantasies of their lives.
Life is never smooth sailing and I have had many occasions where I have disagreed with my sons on certain matters. However, in giving them a platform to speak, I have done myself a service. How is that? I have come to understand them, as individuals, a bit better as they allow me to ramble through their minds. Had I shut down expressions of dissent or confusion, I would never have had the privilege of knowing what governs their thought processes. If I don’t give them the opportunity to share their ideas, then I need to ask myself, “Where are they going to offload? Who is providing their counsel?” I know I would much rather have them share those ideas etc. with me than anyone else. As their mother, I will always have their best interests at heart, inshaAllah.
So, it is with this attitude that over the last few months and years, I have managed to discuss some more delicate or personal issues with my sons. Typically, this would involve topics such as puberty and relationships. I take comfort in knowing that, as a parent, it is my duty to expound upon these matters as they are so central to our existence. There can be no shying away from these subjects in Islam. In fact, there is a truism that says, “there is no hayah (shame) when it comes to seeking knowledge.” In other words, we need to have conversations which may sometimes be embarrassing. However, the purpose is higher than the conversation itself. Ideally, I would have wanted my boys to have had these discussions with their father. However,Alhamdulillah, I also believe I have been blessed with this task because, over time, we already have established reasonable and respectable boundaries between us. We have tried conscientiously to approach sensitive topics with maturity and openness. As for me, I remind myself I am equipping my sons with knowledge that will serve as their tools to guide them through life.
As I often reiterate to myself and to them, our thoughts and actions must always be circumscribed by our Deen – Islam. Like two concentric circles, we are trying our best to keep the emotional circle encompassed by the larger spiritual one. If we strive to work within that framework, then differences of opinion are completely acceptable. To be honest, I would be extremely naïve to expect my boys to agree with me on everything and vice versa. Alhamdulillah, despite that fact, I reflect on how far we have traversed together these past few years. We have leaned on one another for support and I cherish their input and company. I am also mindful to give them the space to make minor mistakes as this is when real growth occurs. But when we digress or even transgress, this needs to be recognised and rectified as soon as possible. My sons have also been honest and bold enough to remind me at times when I need to be reminded. For that, I am deeply grateful. Although my gratitude lies solely with Allah, I acknowledge my sons for giving me the honour to call myself ‘mother’. They have made the experience a treasured one, Alhamdulillah. I cherish the home we have created for ourselves; not the physical space per se but, moreso, the abode where love and respect flow in all directions. It is these principles which will always remain indelible motifs on the tapestry of life.