Wise Counsel

Wise counsel can only be of any benefit if one is receptive to the virtues contained in its message and does not focus so much on the messenger. With that mindset, my sons and I strive to continue working as a team, inshaAllah.

If asked who we would turn to for wholesome advice and trustworthy opinions, a few examples of people might come to mind: mother, father, grandparents, teachers, counsellors, religious figures and perhaps older people generally. Most of them having lived longer than us, they possess a greater breadth and depth of life experiences. Arguably, for that reason, they command respect.

Age is often synonymous with wisdom.

I’m sure most people would agree with the above statement. However, stubbornly subscribing to this notion and claiming it to be invariably true can be problematic. First of all, age does not always bring with it wisdom. There are usually anomalies to a general rule. In every community, we find examples of older people who are shockingly irresponsible and erratic despite the number of years they have spent on this earth. Turning to such people for advice would be considered insane. Yet, at the other end of the scale, young people can sometimes unexpectedly surprise us with their maturity. They are able to offer advice with rational thoughts. Wise counsel might therefore be found in the places we least expect.

This is the premise of my writing. I have met young people in their teens or younger years who’ve had exposure to things which are out of the ordinary. From living in abject poverty, suffering a family breakdown or being a carer for a dependent relative, all these kinds of atypical experiences have fast-tracked them through the maturing process of life unlike many of their peers. It’s no surprise then that they have a perspective on the world which is well ahead of their tender years.

I also cite my own experience with my sons. Being witnesses to the divorce of their parents was a harbinger of immense change and catapulted them into adulthood much faster than they would have wanted. Overnight, the stability which they once knew was disrupted. The dynamics of our family were irreversibly changed. Not only did we have to relocate home but we also had to relocate countries. Our lives had to be rebuilt all over again at a time of great emotional trauma. Alhamdulillah, the boys pulled through it all with a quiet dignity and determination despite the turmoil and setbacks.

In the years since then, I inherited the onerous task of managing a home and family on my own. I’ve had many conversations with my sons where I seek their opinion or advice especially on matters to do with the family. This hasn’t stemmed from a lack of leadership on my part. On the contrary, I made a very conscious decision early on that I wanted my boys to feel valued – that, as their mother, I was not going to be casually dismissive of them because of their young age. I was also afraid that the divorce would have negatively impacted their idea of self-worth so I wanted them to know their input was important. Sometimes our opinions corroborated and, at other times, we agreed to disagree. The discussions were not always incidental; on many occasions they were planned gatherings since the topics were themselves of the kind that needed serious deliberation. Whether it was deciding on how to deal with mental wellbeing or how best to retreat from a toxic friendship, I’ve sat with them to hear their views as much as give my own. For the most part, all this was – and still is – my way of acknowledging the boys’ personal dealings with the world and their transition into adults. What has pleasantly surprised me is that they’ve also offered valuable and impartial advice to me regarding my own issues. Where I’ve not been able to be objective, they have been the voice of reason. I’ve always believed it’s important to give them the right to have a voice even if the conversations may have been difficult or awkward.

Through all of this, I’ve been taking mental notes and learning too. What has become very clear is that I can’t always project my understanding of the world onto my children. They are the product of the 21st century and, as such, I’ve had to accept that their own encounters in the wider world and views on things are going to be shaped by their unique and individual experiences. That’s not to say that being of different generations we are necessarily at loggerheads. What it means is that I’ve had to sometimes listen and accept that my take on things might be skewed or even outdated.  I know, as a parent, it’s OK to be wrong sometimes and accept the wisdom from my own children. I’ve learnt to eat humble pie. That doesn’t make me flawed. It makes me human.

Some might argue that my approach to parenthood is a bit risky or even irresponsible. Why would a mother need to seek opinions or advice from her own children? Is she incapable of making independent decisions? These are valid questions. However, it’s important to remember that giving and receiving advice must always be done with an Islamic reference point. At least, this has always been the necessary foundation upon which any deep discussions in our household are based. To consider only the secular perspective will never be enough. Therefore, for an argument or opinion to be credible, it doesn’t depend on the age or status of the person making the point. Rather, it has everything to do with whether that person can validate their position through an Islamic lens – and that is a competency not limited to adults or parents. To the best of our abilities, both their father and I have consciously instilled these values in our children so much so that today, I feel they are often old heads on young shoulders.

I’m sure that nobody would deny that parenting is a lifelong training programme with no foolproof handbook. To be clear, my thought process has always been more than simply trying to be fair and inclusive just for the sake of it. In trying to refine my parenting skills, I remind myself of incidents from the biography or seerah of the Prophet ﷺ. There are anecdotes from his life that I try to mirror into my own life for certainly he was an example to us all. In the seerah, we see that the prophet would seek counsel from those around him irrespective of age. Indeed, the Quran reveals this in Surat Al-Imran: “It is out of Allah’s mercy that you ˹O Prophet˺ have been lenient with them. Had you been cruel or hard-hearted, they would have certainly abandoned you. So pardon them, ask Allah’s forgiveness for them, and consult with them in ˹conducting˺ matters. Once you make a decision, put your trust in Allah. Surely Allah loves those who trust in Him.” (3:159)

As a Prophet with divine inspiration, he did not need the approval of anyone. Yet, it was an intelligent and tactical move to foster inclusion and he achieved far more than was apparent to the eye. It is this kind of prophetic wisdom which inspires my own style of parenting.

In my own life, it might seem that I have motherhood worked out perfectly. Far from it. As the boys have evolved from children to young men, so too have their personalities been formed and reformed. I’ve tried to stay prepared in that process but the reality is that it’s impossible to pre-empt every situation. Over time though, we have all fallen into a healthy codependency, Alhamdulillah. It’s been years of stressful work and many challenging episodes of teenage tantrums and mother’s sombre moods. To say we have all found our own niches effortlessly would be disingenuous. Yet, I can claim that my sons – these young men -have supported me immensely at my lowest points. They have offered advice or comfort at times when I needed to be placated or could not think clearly. Even though I have tried to spare them from witnessing my worries, they’ve been perceptive enough to know when Mother is not her normal self. So, despite the upheaval we experienced in the aftermath of divorce, a solid silver lining has beautified our cloud, Alhamdulillah. Today, I see a maturity in them which has occurred through facing challenges together as a family and consciously working hard to keep within Islamic boundaries.

When I started this new phase of life as a single mother, I recall a close friend advised me to stay strong. I wasn’t even sure what ‘being strong’ was supposed to look like. However, I never forgot her words and years later, they still resonate in my mind. I now understand that being a strong mother is not about being a heroine and carrying the burdens of the family on my shoulders only. Of course, the boys have needed to see a mother who is bold and determined – a trait which they could also emulate. InshaAllah, their observations have fed into their own perceptions of what women can do. However, strength is also acknowledging one’s weaknesses. I now sometimes call upon my sons for advice and practical help and am not plagued by guilt or a feeling of incompetency. Handing them the baton of responsibility on occasions has been deliberate and now they have learnt to stand tall with confidence in their own choices. They feel secure that they have the right to be heard and be counted.

The long-term future of my relationship with my sons is something I’ve always had my eye on. It’s important that we continue to function as a family even if it’s not the archetypal kind. Our baseline is that advice and constructive criticism will always be considered where the niyyah (intention) involves the surrendering of the nafs (ego) and ultimately the betterment of the spiritual self. Most importantly, we aim to listen and not simply hear. We aim to build one another up and not drag one another down. Wise counsel can only be of any benefit if one is receptive to the virtues contained in its message and does not focus so much on the messenger. With that mindset, my sons and I strive to continue working as a team, inshaAllah. The goals we each score belong to us all.

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