Q: How do you see the purpose of human life, and, in this context, what do you see as the role of parents in enabling their children fulfil the purpose of their life?
A: I believe the purpose of life is to worship and know God. I try to be a role model to my children of a person who is seeking God’s pleasure. A parent’s priority should be to raise children who seek God’s pleasure.
Q: Have you tried to explain to your children what you believe is the purpose of human life? How important do you think it is for parents to explicitly discuss this issue with their children?
A: Yes I have discussed this issue. I simply sit with my kids and have a discussion. I tell them that this life is a test and the Day of Judgment is our graduation day. This life is like one day, while the next life is eternal. Discussing the purpose of life is a parent’s most important job. True success is to gain God’s approval. But I don’t think many parents discuss this issue with their children because they only focus on this world.
Q: No parent is perfect, but how would you define a reasonably successful parent?
A: A successful parent gives their child the physical, spiritual and emotional support he/she needs. If my child feels loved and provided for, and if he/she wants to please God, then I am successful. My 12 year-old son praying regularly makes me feel like a successful parent.
Q: Could you cite some salient spiritual teachings related to parenting?
A: Guide your children to serve God. Teaching your children to serve God shows them their purpose in life.
Take the job of parenting seriously. This helps parents to self-reflect and improve their parenting.
Show love and mercy to your children. It improves their self confidence and emotional development, along with strengthening familial love.
Be patient with your children. It helps them to learn from their mistakes without feeling shamed or disrespected.
Treat your children fairly.
Be honest with your children. Being honest with your children teaches them to be honest themselves.
Play with your children. It creates joy in the home and strengthens familial relationships.
Q: Many (perhaps most) people become parents without any proper prior training for their new role. To take up any job—even a so-called unskilled one—people undergo some sort of training, but it is shocking how most people don’t undergo any training for one of the most delicate jobs: of being a vehicle to bring a child into this world and looking after it for several years. What do you feel about this?
A: I agree. It’s surprising that parenting is rarely taught in schools. Bad parenting can negatively impact a person’s entire life.
Q: Because most would-be parents don’t receive any sort of formal training for their new role as parents, their style of parenting may simply be doing what they think is right or what is convenient for them or doing what others do. Or, they may do just as their parents did when they were children, thus reproducing bad parenting practices down the generations. In all these cases, their way of parenting may not necessarily what’s best for the child.
Given this, do you think would-be parents should receive some sort of training for their new responsibilities? If so, what sort of training do you think it should be and how do you think it could be structured?
A: I agree that would-be parents should receive parenting training. Perhaps this training can be provided by hospitals, or even high schools and colleges. Religious leaders/ organizations should prioritize parenting training.
At least parents should educate themselves about proper parenting. There is a plethora of online resources for this. I did a Google search of “free parenting training” and “free online parenting classes” and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of free resources!
Q: Human beings have several types of needs: physical (including food, clothing, shelter), mental/intellectual (education etc), emotional, as well as spiritual. Could you reflect on how parents should seek to meet all these needs of their children, and in a balanced way? Also, could you reflect on the tendency in many families for parents to focus particularly on the first two types of needs and neglect the latter two?
A: All of these needs are important. Without physical needs being met a child’s mental, emotional and spiritual needs can’t be met. Mental or intellectual needs, like formal education, are important, but emotional intelligence has been found to be more important in life.
Meeting a child’s emotional needs, such as love, belonging, and self-confidence, helps a child to cope with life’s challenges. Spiritual needs are important because they give children a purpose to live, which motivates them from the inside to live a good life.
True success is earning God’s pleasure, and therefore spiritual needs should be a priority for parents. Meeting children’s spiritual needs is as simple as talking to them about God and involving them in activities such as prayer.
Many parents may focus on physical and mental needs of their children more than their spiritual because they are only thinking of this world. They want their children to be financially and physically comfortable, but they don’t realize that true happiness comes from having a positive relationship with God.
Q: In most traditional cultures, mothers, as home-makers, had a major role in the spiritual and emotional development of their children. But now many mothers work outside the home—sometimes because of what is thought of as economic necessity but also sometimes because some women don’t want to be ‘just housewives’. What impact do you think this has on the emotional and spiritual health of their children? How do you think mothers who would like to have a life beyond the home could balance this with giving proper attention to their children?
A: Every situation is different. My parents divorced when I was a child, and my mother worked full-time. But I lived with my grandparents, and that made a huge difference. My grandmother was kind of like the home mother.
My mother is a strong believer in God and made sure we received a religious education. She took us on many fun vacations and made the most of her time with us. With God’s grace, I had a great childhood with a mother who worked outside the home. I think that having relatives around helps a lot.
Now I have chosen to stay home with my children. I felt I would do a better job as a parent by staying home, and, praise be to God, I don’t need to work for a living. What matters most is whether children are receiving enough emotional support and guidance.
Some mothers might not like devoting their entire life to raising kids. They might need an outlet of some kind. The key is to listen to your heart and intuition. Being a happy mother is more important than being a stay-at-home mother.
Q: How do you think parents could enable their children to grow in faith in God and pass on spiritual/religious values and teachings to their children without indoctrinating them?
A: We should encourage our children to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings about God and faith. We should realize that belief in God is part of their nature. I love to tell my children religious stories with moral lessons. We should speak to children’s hearts.
It’s necessary to have good manners with children. If we treat children with respect and love, they are more open to getting closer to God. We should teach children to be sincere in their love of God and teach them what sincerity is.
We should teach children the beautiful aspects of God, such as His mercy, love, forgiveness, and justice. We should focus on the priorities of faith and not pressure children with too many rules. We should inspire love of God before all else.
Q: Some parents try to force their religion on their children, employing fearful images of God. As a result, children grow up thinking of God as a cruel dictator. Outwardly, they may appear ‘religious’, but this religiosity may be only out of fear of ‘God’s wrath’, not out of love for God. In this way, they become fearful people. How do you see this? How do you think parents could nourish their children’s religious/spiritual life based on an understanding of a loving God, and in this process enable them to become loving and compassionate people as well?
A: I totally agree that parents should first teach their children about God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Then children will want to have a relationship with God. God is Most Compassionate and Most Merciful. God loves us more than a mother loves her child.
We must focus on a child’s heart to build his/her faith in God. No child will love a fearful God. Parents must teach that authentic religious rules are out of God’s love and mercy for us. They must show the wisdom of these teachings and how they are for our benefit. I often ask my children what they are thankful to God for. This reminds them of God’s generosity and love for us.
Q: How do you think parents could help their children develop concern for fellow creatures? Please reflect on this based on your own example.
A: First, I teach my children that God loves for us to help others. Sometimes if we see a needy person outside, my kids hand that person a small donation. I also tell my kids stories about needy people, in order to open their hearts. Doing volunteer work together as a family is a great way to develop concern for others.
A: Sometimes parents compare their children, labelling one as smart, another as dull, etc.. Even when the kids grow up, parents think that the child who
is earning more money is a “successful” person while the one earning less is a failure. How do you look at this?
A: This can be very hurtful to children. Every person is a unique creation of God. Real success is not about having a lot of money. Success is gaining God’s approval in the next world.
Q: Could you please share some positive aspects of the way your parents parented you when you were a child that you may particular appreciate and may be grateful for?
A: I grew up with my mother, and I appreciate so many things about her. My mother discussed God and the Quran with us. I remember sitting with her as she talked about the wisdom of different verses in the Quran. She made sure that we went to a religious school on the weekend. She paid for tutors to teach us how to read the Quran in Arabic. She welcomed my questions. I remember asking her why we could not have boyfriends in Islam, and she calmly answered that it would not be fair to babies if they were born with unmarried parents. She taught us the wisdom of our faith, and not just to blindly follow rules. She sincerely loved us and took us on vacations and fun outings. She was not too strict. She was very kind, generous, and honest.
Q: In our present-day closely-interconnected world, where people from different faith and ideological backgrounds engage in close interaction, what do you think parents should do to help their children learn to get along well with people from other religious, ethnic and class backgrounds?
A: It’s important to teach kids that it’s ok to be different. Differences are the reality of life. The key is to treat everyone with respect. Also, God intended for there to be different religions. So there’s a wisdom in this. My kids have friends from different religions. I teach them about different religions and we talk about why we choose to be Muslims.
Q: The Internet and ‘social media’ have now become pervasive, and are having a major impact on people’s ways of thinking. In many cases, it is having a very negative impact on children. What advice do you have for parents in this regard?
A: It’s important to pay attention to your children’s behaviours. It’s crucial to talk to kids about social media and how it often gives a false view of reality. Discussions about the differences between the values of social media and the values of true faith are necessary. We must encourage critical thinking in our kids. We should also make religious teachings clear and simple. We must be parents who our kids feel comfortable talking to. We must spend more time with our kids so that they don’t need to turn to social media for support.
Q: One primary duty of parents is—or should be—to nurture their children in such a way that they grow up to be able to function well in the world as mature adults. This includes enabling them to meet challenges of the real world and also relating in a healthy manner to other people.
Today, educational institutions focus mainly on the intellectual training of their students—their studying different academic subjects (and even here, the focus is on cramming up mountains of information to regurgitate during examinations rather than understanding a particular subject). Relatively little attention is given in these schools to character-building of the child, including on helping the child learn how to handle real-world challenges and to relate well with others. (With regard to the latter, in fact these institutions instil fierce individualism and competition). Children may learn things like calculus and the name of the capital of some remote country but are not taught simple first-aid or how to be charitable to the poor.
Given this sort of ‘education’, children who are compelled to study in such schools may receive little input on character-building or relating harmoniously with others—two basic things for a well-functioning mature adult.
Could you please reflect on this? What suggestions might you have for parents in this regard, based on your own experience?
A: I totally agree with you. Most of what such schools teach is useless for life. The priorities are to teach character and religion/spirituality. Even though I attended sort schools as you mention as a child, I went to an Islamic school on the weekend. I am currently blessed to be able to homeschool my children and to teach them about human relations and religion. My children currently take Skype religious classes. If your children are attending what are generally considered conventional schools, it’s necessary to supplement their education with positive religious and social experiences.
Q: ‘A family that prays together stays together’: Do you agree? Do you as a family pray together? If so, how important is it for you and why do you do so? How do you think it might help keep the family together and build love and harmony? In contrast, how do you think not praying together might contribute to conflicts in the family?
A: I totally agree: praying together is a practical way to unite the family based on God. Yes, we pray together as a family, and it is the greatest joy for us. It helps us to take a break from the worldly life and remember what matters most. Remembering God together helps us to treat each other with mercy and God-consciousness. If we did not pray together, God would be on our minds less.
Q: Could you reflect on some aspects of parenting in traditional societies that you feel were particularly valuable and that are rapidly disappearing today?
A: Discipline was more important in traditional parenting that it is today. Today, many parents try to please their children too much. This creates a harmful view in children that life is all about them. Traditional societies taught children to earn things before they receive them. Today, children receive things without understanding their value. Today there seems to be less family together time due to modern life’s distractions. Also, especially in western societies today, the notion of the father as the leader of the family is disappearing. But the fact is that every organization needs a leader to function effectively, and the family is no different.
Q: Many parents today place the responsibility of their children’s development on others, especially the school. They assume that most, if not all, that the children need to learn will be provided for by the school (and then, after school hours, by tutors or by ‘experts’ in various extra-curricular activities). And so, they spare little time for and with their children, passing on what is their responsibility to schools and other service-providers, whom they pay. But of course these service-providers cannot give children the emotional nourishment that parents can.
Could you please reflect on this? How have you managed with this issue?
A: Yes, I totally agree with you. I homeschool my children. I know my children better than anyone. A teacher or service-provider can never give the same emotional nourishment as parents can. Service providers are trying to fulfil the requirements of a job, but a parent’s priority is his/her child. Service providers can’t give individual attention. It’s not realistic to expect service providers to take the place of parents in raising children.
Q: Some parents think they own their children, that their children are their property, because their children have ‘come out’ from them and because they provide for them. And so, they feel they can deal with them just as they please. From the spiritual point of view, how do you see this concept of ‘ownership’?
A: It is God Who is the true Owner of everything. In the Islamic tradition, which speaks of God’s 99 names, one of the names of God is Al-Maalik, meaning “The Owner.” God is the Owner of everything.
That means that parents do not own their children. Children are a gift and a trust from God. We will be held accountable for how we treat them.
Sheima Salam Sumer can be contacted on [email protected]