How Do I Prioritize Between the Needs of My Aging In-Laws and Young Children?

Answered by Ustadha Shazia Ahmad

Question

My husband and I are blessed to have recently moved near his aging parents. His father is in the beginning stages of dementia and his mother cares for him as much as she can, but has severe social anxiety and depression.

We sometimes find ourselves having to choose between prioritizing our obligations of obeying parents or doing right by our children aged 6 and 4 years old.

Islamically, does one take priority over the other in situations where their needs are in direct conflict? We try to balance but we are only human. My in-laws refuse help outside of that from my husband or me which makes this situation more difficult.

Answer

Thank you for your question. I completely empathize with your situation and I understand that the needs of both parties can often be in conflict. I pray that you can find a healthy balance without getting burnt out.

Parents

Parents are in great need of help, especially during their elder years, and it is obligatory for the son to see that they are taken care of. Please see those details here:
Care of Elderly Parents is a Blessing & Opportunity to Earn Paradise
Fiqh of Financially Supporting one’s Parents and Relatives

Children

Children are a trust of Allah Most High and one is responsible for their Islamic upbringing and for teaching them their worldly and spiritual obligations.

Please see those details here:
On Parents Showing Righteousness to Children – Muwasala
Rights of Children in Detail

Balance

This question has no black and white answer. One is not expected to give so much attention to one’s children that the parents are neglected nor vice versa. Rather, one must try to use one’s resources, siblings, finances, and limited energy in providing for both. If there was an issue of direct conflict, the parents would take precedence, as serving them is the key to Paradise, while the young children are better off being a little inconvenienced.

Lesson

Showing the children the importance of serving grandparents will stay with them forever, and in sha Allah, they will also give you priority when they face the conflict between caring for you when you are old and their children. It is better for the Muslim ummah if this is the cycle of care that is seen, taught, and repeated.

Please see this link as well:
Parents Matter More Than Peers – Shaykh Hamza Karamali

Contemplate this hadith. Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger, Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), said, “Let him be humbled into dust; let him be humbled into dust. It was said: ‘Allah’s Messenger, who is he?’ He said: He who sees either of his parents during their old age or he sees both of them, but he does not enter Paradise.” [Muslim]

May Allah give you the best of this world and the next.
[Ustadha] Shazia Ahmad
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadha Shazia Ahmad lived in Damascus, Syria for two years where she studied aqidah, fiqh, tajweed, tafsir, and Arabic. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her Masters in Arabic. Afterward, she moved to Amman, Jordan where she studied fiqh, Arabic, and other sciences. She later moved back to Mississauga, Canada, where she lives with her family.