It’s a known fact that parenting does not come with its own handbook. There are no hard and fast rules about how to raise your children. There is also no single approach to this daunting task and that’s true whether you are working from within cultural, societal or religious boundaries or not. For the most part, it occurs ad hoc and along the way parents learn as much about themselves as they do about their own children.
The one thing I have discovered over the years is that parenting will never be a success story if it is only ever concerned with setting down rigid rules and regulations for children. Discipline must be complimented with fun and laughter. I also believe that, in most families, the father figure represents the former whilst the mother embodies the latter. Nothing wrong in that. It is what comes naturally to each parent in keeping with the fitra (the innate disposition of humans). Of course, there will always be fluidity between those self-assumed roles and no parent can say, or should say, they have only ever been one of those things and not the other. Somewhere between these two behavioural parameters, harmony in the home will be found, insha’Allah.
In my own personal experience of marriage, I believe my ex-husband and I represented the archetypal situation described above. The problem was, once I was left to take charge of my brood, I had to suddenly become all those things – disciplinarian and friend – all at once. Whilst that is a formula that most parents should aim for anyway, the difficult thing for me was to find my own particular brand and replace the vacuum which my ex-husband had created. Initially, I found myself trying to imitate the version of authority he had advocated. However, it wasn’t long before I realised I had set myself an unrealistic and unyielding proposition. I was not him and accepted I should not even try to be. Besides, given my disappointment with him and now that I was in full control of my life, I was free to create my own version of familial harmony. I had to trust myself with my own ideas and methods.
Arguably, one of the most crucial things I learnt was that I had to be in tune with my own children’s emotions. Not only were they also coming to terms with our new-found situation, but I couldn’t ignore that they were simultaneously going through their teen years where hormones were pirouetting and skydiving within. Enforcing lofty expectations for my sons would have produced catastrophic results. My situation was compounded by the fact that I was also returning to the UK from Saudi Arabia so that in itself required some major adjustments to all our lives. Against that backdrop, I knew that I needed to be prepared for seriously wobbly moments both in my own parenting skills and in my children’s responses. There were often times I had to resist calling them out on things which did not meet my expectations. This could have been on matters related to their studies, behaviour or even connection to their religion.
Alhamdulillah, my sons have never exhibited any major deviations from the life of a Muslim to the extent where I have been irrevocably concerned but I have learnt how to walk a fine line between finding compassion and being resolute in my parental dealings with them. I have tried my best to avoid any potential ruin where they would blame Islam for dealing them the wrong cards. My knowledge of my faith teaches me that life will always present challenges which are there to constantly create better versions of ourselves. Whilst I know that truth for myself, I had to allow my sons time to figure it out for themselves. Meanwhile, I had to adopt a revised approach to parenting which would find me filling in the shoes of both mother and father…
At times, being at the helm of a family on your own feels like trying to walk through cobwebs without damaging their form. It’s a tricky and very delicate situation. However, I have always tried to empathise with my sons before I tackle an issue like a bull in a china shop. Essentially, I am afraid of something I call “The Catapult Effect” – a situation where placing harsh restrictions on someone will cause them to break and simply rebound in the opposite direction with even more devastating consequences. I have seen The Catapult Effect in all its ugliness in so many different families, observing it both as a child and later as an adult. Somewhere along the way, some parents forget what it means to be young and confused and afraid. It isn’t realistic to impose our understanding of the world onto our children when so many other different variables are at play. No one life is identical to another.
So, in fumbling through my own journey as a parent, and especially on my own for that matter, I have actually discovered that Allah has given me the highest honour in raising my children singlehandedly and thereby potentially accruing more reward for this onerous task, insha’Allah. Should I not be grateful for that unusual privilege? Of course, it hasn’t been easy and I doubt it ever will be. As they get older, I will simply swap old concerns for new. However, I have never needed the catapult to enforce my principles or to protect them, Alhamdulillah. Arguably, their father would have been more ready to use it than I. As it is, the five of us have come together to function as normally as possible without a father/husband in our midst. Most importantly for me, by being more empathetic with their emotions and struggles, we have found a middle ground to work on where they do not compromise nor question their own Islamic identity.
Anomalies don’t necessarily make for deficiencies. They are simply a variant way of existing or doing things. Insha’Allah, I hope I have proven to my own sons that, even with the voluntary departure of their father, their lives have not been wanting of anything which has caused irreparable damage to their future. If anything, the last few years have revealed lots of hidden potential in each of us and something we will continue to develop with whatever time we have still, insha’Allah.