No matter how we think about our roles as parents and caretakers, there is no arguing that two parents working hand in hand raise a successful family. Now while the definition of who does what has changed a bit over the years, there is a still a clear understanding of the importance of parents who fulfill their responsibilities accordingly.
Debating why only women have to bear the physical tasks of pregnancy and childbearing is a waste of time. Debating why men don’t just stay home and take care of the home/children is also a waste of time. Statistics show that women working longer hours increase their chances of heart disease and cancer compared to men, who according to the study, actually had better health even while working longer hours.
This is not about why women work, naturally there is nothing against Islam about a woman working outside the home. It is the feeling that women today have to work to have any value in today’s society. And therefore, thanks to rising childcare costs and new trends in our culture, forcing fathers to stay at home. According to one study, men who stay at home and women who work face higher risk of depression.
Essentially we have forced the reversal of gender roles and forced men and women to take on roles that are not what they’re wired to do. So you have women who are getting stressed faster, because they are being forced to deal with an environment not meant for their physiology. And men getting depressed because they are fighting with a culture not used to them being caretakers.
Now before I continue, let me be clear. There are exceptions. There are families where the roles are reversed and that’s what works for them. And, yes, there are families where mothers have worked and raised successful families. And, yes, fathers being caretakers is not wrong. I am not talking about the exceptions here.
I am talking about the norm. I am talking about families where instead of focusing on what really matters, we are focusing on what society tells us to care about. Our capitalistic society tells us that to have a successful life we must work like robots all week long outside the home, send our children to be reared outside the home, find happiness in eating outside the home, be entertained outside the home…. Wait a minute.
So essentially there is no “home.”
Home is where we are supposed to find comfort. Home is where our children grow. Home is a safe space to enjoy our families. Home is where you create lasting memories. Home is where you invite guests who bring blessings. Home is warmth, love, kindness, joy and peace.
Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Khamenei has reiterated the importance of men and women working together to create a happy home environment.
“In all circumstances and situations, take care of each other. Help each other. Be a helping hand to each other. Especially in the way of Allah and fulfilling your responsibilities. By help it doesn’t mean just washing the dishes, although that is helpful. But what I mean is spiritual help. Help each other be steadfast in the way of Islam. Remind each other about God-consciousness and patience. Advise each other about being religious. Help each other maintain modesty and advise each other with being content in a simple life. Work with each other, and InshAllah you will be able to lead the best life.” (From his sermons during marriage ceremonies made in 1996 and 1998)
The beauty of the Islamic way of raising a family is that it includes cooperation from both men and women. If only we Muslims really understood that, so we could propagate it. Our Islamic role models practiced the same cooperation. Imam Ali (as) would help Lady Fatima Zahra (sa) in the home on his own, because he felt ownership of creating a good home environment as well. Lady Fatima Zahra would help Imam Ali by making sure the home was a peaceful space. Imam Ali (as) has said: “By Allah, I never angered her nor forced her to do something (unwillingly) until Allah took her to a better world. She also never angered me nor did she disobey me in anything at all. When I looked at her my grief and sorrow was relieved.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 43, pg. 133, quoted from Amali at-Toosi)
Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini would never start eating unless his wife was seated as well. He would make sure to let her rest and he appreciated her for all her work in maintaining the home.
Have we as Muslims ever thought of these role models and concepts when we try to emulate Western culture and norms? I’ve seen husbands told to take care of their children, and wives told to go outside and find work. I’ve seen parenting and household duties divided like a “job.” Why aren’t we doing these tasks because we want to? Because we feel a need to help?
“I’ve washed the dishes, so now you must dry them.”
“I’ve bathed the baby, so now you must change its diaper.”
“I’ve taken care of our son for four hours now. So now you must also take care of our son for four hours.”
Do we really think this behavior will help create a stable, healthy family environment? Why don’t we find joy in having a clean home? Why don’t we find pleasure in raising our children? Given everyone needs a break, and yes, raising children is a very tough job, but I am talking about attitude. Our attitude needs to change if we really want a happy home.
There is nothing wrong with a Muslim woman working outside the home, and there is nothing wrong with a Muslim man helping take care of his family at home. But are we exchanging a peaceful life to fit into cultural expectations not based on building a family?
Marriage is give and take. Parenting is give and take. There is no clocking in or clocking out. It is helping each other, building each other up, filling in the gaps, using our strengths to help where the other is weak. And doing this every day for the sake of Almighty Allah. Because He said to take care of our responsibilities.
Without the right attitude, there is resentment. Without the right attitude, there is frustration and negativity. But with just a tweak in our attitude and intention, we can make a world of difference. We can raise a happier Muslim family. And it won’t cost a single penny. Instead it requires hard work, love, compassion, kindness, generosity and sacrifice.
May Allah the Almighty give us all the opportunity to help us have the right attitudes and raise our families the Islamic way.
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.