I’ve posted in the past about what I call the ‘bad dawa parenting’ that our community too often commits. You know what I’m talking about… when you are sitting at a doctor’s office or in a restaurant and some little 5 year old stinker named Mohammad is running around kicking people in the knee caps, screaming and hitting his mother, with no consequences for his actions. It always makes me really proud to be Muslim at those moments, knowing that every non Muslim is also looking at me and thinking ‘so is this how they ALL parent?’
So out of a healthy dose of fear of raising my son in this most unIslamic manner, I think I’ve pressured myself into the opposite problem; not letting my son be free to be a child. For instance, we started our mum and tot musikgarten class today. There were about 10 parents and 13 kids aged two and under. My son is almost 18 months and he is full of energy and laughter. The instructor would hand out little instruments and we’d sing songs, dance and play with our kids as part of the larger group. It was an awesome class, full of creativity and happiness and my son was having the time of his life. However, he did not always want to hand in his instrument when we were done with a particular song and made a wee bit of commotion in protest. He was quick to jump up and run around laughing and having fun, which other kids were doing as well, but he was doing the most. Of course, I have become hyper sensitive to the fact that we are minorities and that we need to be on our best behaviour lest I commit the bad dawa parenting, and so kept pulling my son back to me, encouraging him to sit and be quiet (even though no other parent was doing the same for their child).
I just did not want anyone to look at me and think ‘Why don’t those people ever contain their children? Don’t they learn any manners where they come from?’ Because this is precisely what I am thinking when I encounter one of those said menaces at the doctor’s office, or at the mall, while having my toes jumped upon. At the end of the class, the instructor pulled me aside and said that my son should be free to run and play and laugh and shout in joy because that is what the class is about. She said that he should have fun and that I, too, should be having fun, so could I please relax and let him be a kid? Uh, yeah, I can do that… I think.
Have I become the parent that I always insisted I would not be? One of those hard nosed authoritarian types who don’t want their kid to be boisterous and spontaneous and creative and fun because it may offend someone? Yikes! I have very strong ideas about what a parent should be and what a parent should most definitely not be. There must be rules and guidelines and expectations for my child, but he should be free to be who he is and he must be encouraged towards creativity, freedom of expression and towards actually living his childhood fully. I abhor punitive discipline, in part because it does not work and in part because it stifles creative, individualist expression on the part of both parent and child and because it attempts to force respect from the child, even if the parent has done nothing to deserve it. It smacks of the ‘beat you into submission’ authoritarian government style that I believe to be a disease of the ummah, so why would I display that in my own home in order to oppress my child?
But what if what I am doing, with my hypersensitive approach to my son’s behaviour, is oppressive? And surely it is, because I stopped him from expressing himself in an environment where it was not only acceptable to run around and shout with glee, but was actually encouraged as part of the curriculum. All because I fear others looking at me and saying, ‘oh, those baaaaddddd Muslims, they let their kids celebrate childhood.’ I need to recalibrate my approach; when it’s appropriate for him to run around like a wild child, I must encourage this, but when it’s time for him to be quiet (like at the doctor’s office, for an ‘off the cuff’ example…) I need to reign him in and teach him how to be appropriate.
Have I ever mentioned that all mothers are working mothers? Alhamdullilah.