Parenthood: A Mutualistic Relationship of Learning and Growth

The journey of parenthood is always changing, growing and evolving.

When my daughter was very young, I was given two pieces of advice that caused a complete paradigm shift in the way I thought about and approached my new role as “Mummy”.

The first was “This child wasn’t given to you for you to teach, she was given to you to learn from”; and the second was “Whatever you know, it is her right that you give it to her”. (Incidentally, both came from the same very wise source, and on the same day! My mind was blown.)

Our child as our teacher

Before my eyes were opened to this new perspective, my mind was always working on, “How do I teach her x? How do I show her y? How do I make her understand z?”. The funny thing is, this way of thinking leads us to believe that we are now the finished product. We’ve reached a place where now the student has become the teacher and it’s up to us to impart our wisdom to the next generation. This could not be farther from the truth.

As human beings, we are constantly in a state of flux, constantly moving and growing and changing. In fact, the entire goal of our life is to reach the potential within us, which requires growth and change. Stagnation is not an option. God has designed us, our every experience including the people we come across at different stages of our lives, in order for us to continue moving towards that goal – and parenthood is no different.

Babies come into the world completely untainted by any sort of bias or social conditioning. They are closest to their fitrah at the time of birth and each moment in this world takes them ever so slightly away from it. And so if we just observe rather than rush to condition them, we can almost see what nature really intended, and learn lessons we can take into our own lives as well. As an example, the present moment is all a young infant knows. They don’t have the concept of past or future yet – they live totally for the here and now. If we allow them to, they find wonder in every tiny thing they see around them. They take in the world, revelling in the things we find mundane (just try giving a baby a piece of tissue paper and see how they are totally transfixed by it!) They express any emotion when they feel it, without holding back or suppressing it. Imagine if we could learn to do the same!

Physically, we are so worried about making sure they reach their milestones, learn to sit, stand, walk when they “should”. We can sometimes push these things onto them before they are ready, rather than simply watching and observing the natural progression they make all out on their own. There are so many things we can learn just from this. We can marvel at the perfection of His creation, and also appreciate how much wisdom He has given to them. Extrapolating to our own lives, if He gave us the capacity to figure out how to get from our backs to our bums to our feet in the first months of our lives, how could He not give us the capacity to figure out how to get out of any bind that we are in? (Also, I could definitely have learned a thing or two about posture from my 9-month-old!)

There are countless examples – and this mentality applies to every single aspect of our lives. Everything we experience is intended to push us towards our ultimate goal. Everyone knows that parenthood changes a person, but if we very deliberately look at our child as our teacher, that change can be even more beneficial, inshaAllah. We are given the exact child to push those buttons, heal from those traumas, break those cycles and grow into the best versions of ourselves.

Our children as motivators to keep learning

Isaac Newton has a famous quote – “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” – and the second piece of advice I got that day was essentially the same concept. If there is something I know, I must give her at least that so that she has a head start and can reach further heights than I have. They are given to us as complete blank slates – and for at least the first few months or years of their life we almost have a monopoly on what those slates get filled with. This is an enormous privilege that we have been given! Their brains in the early years are sponges, so whatever we fill them with will stick. With great privilege comes great responsibility – it is up to us to fill these sponges with good, and to do this we need to be well equipped with enough knowledge to do so. Seeking knowledge is an integral part of our faith – there are several indications to this in the Qur’an:

  • The literal first word revealed from Allah to His Messenger was “Read” (96:1)
  • Say, “Are those who know and those who do not know alike?..” (39:9)

and these traditions attributed to RasulAllah (SAW):

  • “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”
  • “Seek knowledge, even if it be in China“
  • “Scholars are the heirs of the prophets.”

among many others. This knowledge, I feel, takes many forms, and not all of them are your traditional knowledge – Islamic or otherwise! Yet all are important and have their place.

We need to learn how to parent.

“The child is the master for seven years; and a slave for seven years and an advisor for seven years; so if he/she grows into a good character within 21 years, well and good; otherwise leave him/her alone because you have discharged your responsibility before Allah.”

This famous hadith from RasulAllah (SAW) gives us a framework to work towards when it comes to bringing up our child. Beyond this, there are a plethora of books, courses and more full of advice to help build on this hadith so we can come up with the parenting approach that works best for us and our family. It is on us to read, heed the advice, and understand our children and what they are most receptive to so that we can become the ones they turn to when things get tough.

We need to understand our unique amaanah

Every individual is so unique and deserves to be understood as such, even from a young age. How do they learn best? What do they enjoy? What do they not like so much? Do they thrive on routine and structure, or do they find that suffocating? Do they prefer being home or being out? Do they enjoy company or being on their own? Each individual is so different across all of these axes, and as parents, it is so important to take the time and try to understand what makes our children them so that we can give them the best environment for them to thrive. A great way to do this is by letting them lead you when spending time with them, rather than the other way around. Things like the MBTI personality test may also help give an insight into their heads – particularly for older children. Importantly, they need to know and feel that we love them for whoever they are – they do not need to be a certain way to “earn” that love.

We need to understand ourselves

Many of us weren’t given the privilege of having someone understand us until much later in life (if at all!), and our children can often cause us to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and bring things up for us that were long buried. We need to find out what our triggers are – what things our children do that, through no fault of their own, result in us reacting disproportionately and losing that connection with them at that moment. Getting to know ourselves is an oft-forgotten form of worship, but we know that, “Whoever knows themselves knows their Lord”.

We need to (re)learn Islam

Home needs to be a fun and Islamic environment that our children love and thrive in. Islam should be presented with positive associations – and for this to be the case it needs to have positive associations for us as well! It is not enough for us to try and teach them something we don’t genuinely feel ourselves. As authentic beings, they will definitely recognise when we are not being authentic ourselves. This may require us to revisit things and relearn them, re-evaluate our relationship with the Almighty and fall in love with Him all over again. The best way to teach our children Islam is to live it ourselves.

Within this relearning, we should be able to answer their questions in an age-appropriate way and that can be tough if our own understanding is not solid. The beauty of having a child is that we can take them along on our relearning journey, where we study new things together and cultivate the love for learning within them from whatever age they are! We don’t need to have all the answers – sometimes we can look for them together and understand things from a totally new perspective.

We need to learn about their world

We must know what is relevant for them, what challenges they are facing and what things they are consuming from the outside world. The world today already looks very different to the world we grew up in. The advances in technology have brought benefits as well as massive challenges to our children (just this week we visited a primary school in which they were teaching online safety to children as young as 4!) We absolutely must understand these challenges, so that when they are going through them they turn to us to help them through, rather than feeling as though we are irrelevant and taking advice from peers who may not always have their best intentions at heart.

We need to learn to let go

From the hadith mentioned above:

“…if he/she grows into a good character within 21 years, well and good; otherwise leave him/her alone because you have discharged your responsibility before Allah.”

Ultimately, they are on their own journey to their Lord, just as we are. We can nurture, guide and supplement but in the same way, as we have been given free will, so have they. As long as we have done right by them to the best of our abilities and resources, in the end, they are responsible for their own akhirah. As they grow up we must let go and see them as equals, capable and responsible enough to make their own decisions and, importantly, their own mistakes. They should know by this stage that we will be there to catch them if they fall, and to pray for them as they figure out their own weird and wonderful path through life.

The journey of parenthood is always changing, growing and evolving, and it can be so hard to change, grow and evolve in line with it! More than anything, we need to learn to forgive ourselves when we fall short and to stop expecting perfection from ourselves. There is only One Being capable of being perfect. We pray to Him to give us the strength, ability and tawfeeq to become who we are meant to be. May our children give us the motivation to continue learning, and may we allow ourselves to learn the lessons God intended for us from them.

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