Do We Practice What We Preach?
Having kids is like having an akhlaq (ethics) class every day. While you run around your little ones, you’re also constantly forced to examine your own behavior. Why is he yelling like that? Why is she being so short with me? Sometimes, it can be infuriating, but I like to think of it as a chance to better ourselves.
How can we expect to raise good children when we only tell them the right things, yet fail to practice these on our own? Islam puts quite an emphasis on “faith with action.” We should want to become the adults that we want our kids to be. And there is no deadline on learning and improving. Every day is a chance to become better Muslims.
And if we continue to simply preach without practicing, we risk raising children who could deviate from the path of Islam. After all, if it’s not worth my parents’ time, why should I bother?
The other day I was short with my two younger kids, even though they were being “normal” kids and I was not having a good morning.
My 3-year-old turned to me, and said: “Would Imam Hussain be happy with you Mama?”
I was embarrassed. Here I am constantly reminding my children about the Holy Prophet and his holy family, and I am guilty of not heeding my own advice.
While a parent should not beat themselves up forever over their mistakes, moments like these serve as beautiful opportunities to help us improve ourselves.
There are a few important akhlaqi issues that often as parents we put on the back burner, thinking they are not that important. On the contrary, not focusing on these issues could lead to bigger problems in the future, if not with us, then with our children’s future spouses and families.
1. Active listening: When dealing with our children, how often do we practice active listening techniques? Does this sound familiar?
“Mama, Mama! Listen to my story!” (It’s the same one I heard about 2 minutes earlier.)
“Uh-huh. Wow. That’s so amazing.” (Is it OK to fake excitement?)
In all seriousness, when we don’t pay attention to our children like they matter, then is it any surprise when they turn around and do the same thing with us? How can we expect our children to listen to us if we haven’t taught them the proper way?
Remember to make time, make eye contact and make it matter. (Don’t fake anything; they’ll start seeing right through it. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way.)
2. Responsible behavior: This is a big one. Kids repeat what we say, and they do what they see. We must be attentive to what we say and how we say it. Do we mutter certain things when someone cuts us off in traffic? Do we use certain phrases as a joke among our friends? While it may not be a big deal for us as adults, kids are a whole other story.
How about in our worship? When we hear the adhan, do we rush to go pray? When we begin our food, do we say “Bismillah?” The way we approach our worship and connection with Allah, will leave a big mark on the way our kids will feel about acts of worship and our faith.
In addition, we must be careful to what we listen to and watch in front of our children. They might not be paying attention, but they are soaking it all in. No, you can’t protect your child from everything bad, but constantly having it accessible in the confines of your home could lead to your child becoming desensitized to un-Islamic behaviors. And if, by accident, they catch something they shouldn’t have, discuss it in the proper way, without going into every detail. Don’t just change the channel and leave it. You don’t want to leave any lingering questions in their minds.
Also, make it a point to discuss all things adult after the kids have gone to bed. This includes some political,
3. Saying “sorry”: When our children make a mistake, we are the first to demand an apology. But what if we make a mistake? Do we expect it to be ignored? While we shouldn’t grovel at our children’s feet, it is vital that we show our kids that everyone makes mistakes, and it is important to own up to it.
Instilling this value that actions have consequences, will help raise responsible children, who understand humility, and the importance of thinking before we act.
4. Respect: As parents it is easy to let the power get to our heads. After all we are the parents, and we know better. But that doesn’t mean that our kids’ opinions, fears, and thoughts don’t carry importance.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said, “Respect your children and talk to them with [good] manners and in a likable way.” Being a parent means while we hold our ground as the authority figures, we also rule with a just hand.
I like to think of it as a lesson in understanding Allah’s authority and justice. If as parents we show our children that authority figures don’t care about the “subjects” and do whatever they want, just or unjust, then they will likely transfer those feelings to Allah and His authority.
In many places in the Holy Qur’an, Allah has emphasized His love and mercy for us. (“Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” – Surah Zumar, verse 53)
Since we also play as “rabb” (lord) or caretakers of our children, who are we to act otherwise? If we continue down this path of talking down to our children or not respecting their feelings, it will only come back to haunt us.
5. An emotional connection: Our children are not only in need of food, clothing and shelter. They also need to feel loved. Telling our children we love them, embracing them, kissing them, calling them with terms of endearment, all lead to an emotionally-fulfilled child with confidence and self-respect.
A child like this will not search wildly for attention elsewhere. A child like this will not enter abusive relationships. A child like this will grow up to manage a healthy home environment.
Imam Sadiq (as) has said, “Certainly Allah (swt) shows mercy upon His servants who have strong love for their offspring.”
Likewise, after he is grown, this child will tend to you and reciprocate the same love and attention, and be capable of becoming a loving spouse and parent. And, isn’t that a beautiful thing?
Allah has entrusted us with our children, and it is imperative we consider these gifts as blessings and not waste them. May Allah help us grow stronger in faith, and in turn properly raise our children to follow the straight path.
Editor’s note: Islamic Insights is honored to host the “Raising Faith” column by esteemed guest contributor and student from Qum, Sister Samira Rizvi. Besides being a former newspaper copy editor, Rizvi is a mother of three, an author who writes for Little Muslim Books, and maintains a personal blog. Her column will focus on her experiences in tarbiyat—the upbringing of children based on Islamic values. For past articles in the column see here.