Parenting Question of the Week

Am I Obligated to Look After My Difficult Grandchildren If I Cannot Manage?

Answered by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Question: Assalam aleykum,

My daughter is married and lives on the same street as me. I have said that I can’t look after the children whenever they have had enough, or when they want to go out child-free. Her husband forces her to send them to me when she knows that I am unable to take them. Then he badmouths me, saying that I won’t have the children. He instigates the children to go to me, so much so, that I’ve stopped going out in case I cross their path and he foists the children on me when I can’t manage. He won’t take no for an answer. Am I obliged to take the children if I can’t manage?

Answer: Assalamualaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray this finds you well. May Allah reward you for reaching out to us. Please forgive me for the delay.

Obligation

Fiqh-wise, the obligation for care of children falls solely on their parents. You are not obligated to care for them. It would be praiseworthy for you to care for your grandchildren, but only if you are able to.

Your grandchildren did not ask to be born. Your daughter and son-in-law are responsible for their care. It is deeply troubling to hear that your son-in-law would leave them all day with you if he could.

Support

Who do you have to lean on for support? You sound very alone in this struggle.

I encourage you to seek out a culturally-sensitive counsellor who can help you learn better coping strategies. She can teach you how to assert yourself and resolve conflict, for example.

It is troubling to hear that you have stopped leaving your home, out of fear of running into your daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.You need to nourish your own self, and isolating yourself in your home may lead you to feeling trapped and depressed.

Childcare

Your daughter and her husband need to come up with better solutions for childcare. It sounds like your grandchildren are craving more play, connection and boundary-setting from their parents. Children can tell when their parents are distracted and unhappy to be around them. This triggers deep feelings of insecurity, making them clingier and more challenging to be with. Foisting them on you will not fix that. This is why it is so important for you to hold your own boundary. Your daughter and son-in-law need to spend more nourishing time with their children, and not less.

As a mother of two children under the age of 3, I have found Dr Laura Markham’s Aha! Parenting and Patty Wipfler’s Hand In Hand Parenting resources to be extremely helpful. Both approaches come from a place of peaceful and deep connection between parent and child. Perhaps you can read up on these, and suggest these resources to your daughter and her husband.

In addition, I encourage you, your daughter and your son-law to enrol in SeekersHub’s Parenting in Islam: How to Raise Righteous Children.

Your daughter will probably benefit from sending her children to part-time nursery/preschool/daycare. This is obviously more expensive than sending them to you, but the routine, peer play and guidance of caring teachers may be good for them.

Change is uncomfortable for most of us, even when we need it most. As your son-in-law will not take no for answer, then you must stand up for yourself in as clear a way as possible. Again, strategise with your counsellor or life coach about how to better set this boundary.

Boundaries

MashaAllah, you have already gone through the hard years of parenting your own children. Grandparenting is an entirely different stage of your life, and it would be better if you chose to care for your grandkids willingly, from a heart free of resentment. Some space from them may be what you need.

This may sound extreme, but if they continue to disrespect your wishes, then perhaps moving further away from your daughter, at least temporarily, may be a solution. You will naturally feel guilty for moving away. Make space for these feelings of guilt, and remind yourself that your self-care comes first. You do not want to end up making dua against your daughter, her husband and her children, in a moment of deep unhappiness.

I encourage you to perform the Prayer of Need and the Prayer of Guidance about how to move forward in this trial. Watch what Allah unfolds for you. For example, if He facilitates your moving to a different location, then that is a sign for you to proceed. If He sends obstacles your way, then that is a sign for you to stay where you are and work things out.

Daughter

Motherhood, especially during the stage of small children, is relentless. I am not sure how old your grandchildren are, but if they are both under the ages of 5, then your daughter and son-in-law are probably sleep-deprived, overwhelmed and potentially depressed. Encourage your daughter, at least, to seek out professional help. Have an honest conversation with her. Find out why they are struggling so deeply to be present with their children.

It is not healthy for your son-in-law to not want to spend time with his own children. This shows to me that he may have many unresolved issues from his own childhood, as parenting can bring up old wounds. The solution is not to ignore these signals, but to use them as opportunities for growth and healing. It may be easier for him to avoid these feelings by leaving them with you, but this robs him of the gift of meaningful connection with his children. So many Muslim children grow up disconnected from their parents, starting from their early years, and it culminates in young adults who do not practice the deen, and who find comfort outside their homes.

For your daughter, especially, I recommend the book Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood In The First Three Years Matters by Erica Komisar. This groundbreaking book describes how important the early years are, and how mothers need to face and work through feelings of guilt for not being present for their children. The impact of these early years of parenting will reverberate for the rest of your grandchildren’s lives. How your grandchildren are being parented today will teach them how to parent, in the future.

I pray that Allah sends you help, heals the rifts between your hearts and blesses your grandchildren with parents who value, love and cherish them.

Please see:

Selected Prophetic Prayers for Spiritual, Physical and Emotional Wellbeing by Chaplain Ibrahim Long
A Reader on Patience and Reliance on Allah

[Ustadha] Raidah Shah Idil

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil has spent almost two years in Amman, Jordan, where she learned Shafi’i’ fiqh, Arabic, Seerah, Aqeedah, Tasawwuf, Tafsir and Tajweed. She continues to study with her Teachers in Malaysia and online through SeekersHub Global. She graduated with a Psychology and English degree from University of New South Wales, was a volunteer hospital chaplain for 5 years and has completed a Diploma of Counselling from the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. She lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with her husband, daughter, and mother-in-law.