Try as much as we like, sometimes it’s just not possible to convince our children to see eye to eye with us, their parents.
I use the word ‘children’ in its loose sense. My sons are more young adults. They don’t see the world as I do and whilst I know it’s foolish to impose my interpretation of things onto them, it’s equally frustrating that they sometimes consider my insight into things as outdated or not applicable to today’s world. As a mother, I try to give them the benefit of my own experiences in life to save them the hassle – or even trauma – of having to go through a scenario for themselves. But, I realise now that that form of parenting, for all intents and purposes, can be non-productive. It may even be counter-productive. So, even though I ask them to wear my old shoes and have a walk around in them, metaphorically speaking, I know they will be an ill fit in many cases.
What I am beginning to realise is that I’ve entered a different phase of motherhood. I am now dealing with adults who have increasingly independent lives and increasingly independent minds. Alhamdulillah, those minds still have Islam as their reference point. However, because Islam isn’t the narrow straitjacket that many people erroneously think it is, there is plenty of scope for interpretations. There is also plenty of scope to do things in a way which may not meet the expectations or standards of people but still be able to please Allah. This is the reality I’m beginning to learn to deal with. I have to concede that, for years, I myself wrestled with societal expectations vs. Islamic principles. Now I’m having to take a long hard look at myself and question what I expect of my sons vis-a-vis what roles they have fulfilled as Muslims.
No parent in their right mind would want their child to make a mistake, be it in academic matters, career choice or marriage plans. We would do all we can to help them avoid the pitfalls ahead. However, we also have to accept that these big life decisions are going to be informed by the personalities behind them. So, what may seem a sensible choice in my opinion as a parent, might seem inconceivable to my sons simply because we are not the same person, nor the same generation. In those cases, me laying out the pros and cons of a potential situation might give them something to ruminate over but there is no guarantee they will tow my line. I have to remind myself that there cannot be any compulsion in these momentous choices in life; just guidance on my part. After all, I don’t want to be accused of being that pushy Asian stereotypical parent whose sole goal is to use their children to accumulate self-adulatory trophies.
And yet here’s the contradiction….
My rational self tells me to let them decide for themselves on what they want to do in their long-term future. It would be unfair to impose my version of good choices on them. Yet my emotional self wants to see them go through life without making avoidable mistakes. But that’s not realistic. It’s not even healthy. Sometimes, mistakes are our best teachers. Of course, I wouldn’t sit casually back and watch them make irreversibly devastating choices. I hope they’d have the mind not to venture down that road anyway. Perhaps the best solution in all of this is for us all to meet halfway. We need to be open to ideas from the other side of the fence. We all have to respect that there is wisdom to be found in alternative viewpoints.
I, for one, know that I have listened and not simply heard. I am attentive to the ambitions that my sons claim for themselves and consider those ideas against the reality within which they are living. As long as those ideas are Islamically compatible, I don’t resist too much even if they may not have been my personal preferences. But I know my position of defence would be like standing on quicksand. So, I put my trust in Allah and let the rest take care of itself.
On the other extreme however, I don’t appreciate younger people generally these days making the automatic assumption that their elders “simply wouldn’t understand.” An ironic statement since older people are often accused of saying the very same thing. So, wrong assumptions exist on all sides. The way forward is to consider the perspective and value system that the other person is speaking from. It isn’t the same as necessarily having to agree but just to understand. And as biased as this seems, I still believe parents make the greater effort in that exercise. That’s because our rational selves tell us that there is more at stake than just appeasing our kids. Saying ‘yes’ to their ideas is not a reluctant capitulation. At least I don’t see myself in that situation all the time. I actually believe that I am protecting something far greater and that is the trust and confidence my sons will have to confide in me and know I only wish the best for them in this duniya (world) and Akhirah (the Hereafter).
Perhaps my metaphoric shoes might not be the best fit for anyone else. I wouldn’t expect my sons to be in them for long anyway. But daring to give them a try might reveal some hidden truths about the journeys I have been on and the uphill climbs I’ve overcome. Having that appreciation is what I would hope for at the very least.