Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil reflects on her role as a parent, and how to deal with mistakes and stress on your parenting journey.
I thought I was a kind and patient person. And then I had children.
It is easy to be patient when everything is in harmony. It’s harder to be patient when there is one crying baby. It is even harder when there are two. This reminds me of the Prophetic narration:
Narrated Anas Ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him): The Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace said, “The real patience is at the first stroke of a calamity.” [Bukhari]
There have been many, many tiny catastrophes that come with parenting young children. Some days end up with a visit to the emergency ward, like when my eldest daughter fell off a chair on Eid and broke her wrist. Others days end up with me craving the comfort of instant noodles, after a stressful day.
Motherhood has made me a creative problem-solving ninja. Motherhood has also made me feel moments of rage.
I can tell you, objectively, that anger is a secondary emotion. Beneath the waterline, the iceberg of anger is full of other emotions like shame, fear, sadness, insecurity, and so on.
Now I can also tell you about my all-encompassing feelings of despair, when I realised that I cannot comprehend why my 3 year old would hit her baby sister, or refuse to use the toilet when she clearly has to go. And following hot on that heels my helplessness is rage. And with that rage, comes an old childhood default of yelling.
How To Cope With Anger
Shouting when I’m out of my mind with anger feels temporarily good – but then that dissolves into shame, when I realise I’ve lost control of myself. And after my own shame and regret, I hugged my daughter. I told her I’m sorry I shouted at her. And then she hugged me and said, “I’m sorry I shouted at you.”
I realised something else after that. These mistakes all give me opportunities for growth. Repair attempts bring me closer to my daughter, as well as my husband. Every relationship is fraught with the potential for conflict, and conflict, when harnessed well, can help bring us closer. My daughter is also a preschooler with a developing frontal lobe. I’m the adult. It’s my responsibility to model calm. I don’t want my daughter to learn that it’s OK to yell, threaten and emotionally blackmail until you get your way. I want her to learn that it’s important to keep her cool most of the time, but when she inevitably slips up, it’s imperative for her to make it right. She needs to say sorry, and make it up to the other person. What I do to her speaks louder than what I say to her.
A compassionate friend with five children of her own comforted me, after what felt like the worst parenting day of my life. My 7 month old baby, new to solids, had indigestion and woke every 1-2 hours at night. I woke up absolutely shattered, and my preschooler felt especially challenging as a result. The day did not go well, suffice to say.
My friend gently reminded me that I am doing my best and that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Neither is there a perfect child, spouse, or friend. She also made the point to emphasise that my own childhood difficulties have gifted me with a commitment to be a more conscious parent – most of the time.
Sometimes, that’s all an exhausted mother needs. Reassurance.
Children break our attachment to things. Sometimes, they literally break things. Other times, it’s even basic ‘needs’, like 8 hours of sleep, or using the toiler without interruption. Maybe even having a sit-down meal or a hot cup of tea. These are the small blessings that I took for granted, until I had my first child. Now that I have two little ones, I am even more grateful for these blessings.
There is still the ‘old school’ voice in my head that thinks that sometimes, maybe what my daughter needs is a healthy dose of fear. She doesn’t need to get physically disciplined, but a bit of shouting and intimidation might do the trick. Then I catch myself, breathe, and find my centre. I know what happens when children get yelled at, maybe even hit – when they get old enough, some run away, and never come back.
It doesn’t have to be a dramatic fall out. Adult children who feel disconnected from their parents can very easily find ways to move far away. It is a huge earth, after all, with many opportunities. And as years go by, this continental drift can grow further and further apart. Spouses, children and loving and accepting in-laws can feel like far kinder oases of affection, instead of parents who continue to hurt and disappoint.
I think of this, when I look at my daughters. Right now, I am the centre of their universe. It is hard to imagine a time when they will no longer look for me. I am not only their In Case of Emergency contact, I am their everything-I-want-to-contact.
Until then, breathing helps. Pausing. Choosing to respond from a space of calm, instead of anger. It’s better for me to tell my daughter, “I’m walking away to take a break,” instead of lashing out at her. Articles like this help me realise that there are far better ways of dealing with challenges, better ways to set limits, and better ways to calm myself. I know this too – when my daughter feels connected to me, she is much more likely to cooperate.
Why Not Physical Discipline?
I realise that as I write this and put it out there into the world, I invite criticism. I’m too soft. I need to be firmer. I’m spoiling her. And so on. What’s wrong with a bit of physical discipline? How will children learn without punishment? Read more here, if you need more evidence that hitting children in anger isn’t even effective.
I don’t want to be a mother who screams at or beats her children to get them in line. In the long-run, I’ve witnessed so many examples of how that stops working. I want to be a mother who knows how to keep calm, set firm limits, and be there for her children. I know I struggle with keeping calm and setting limits because of my own childhood, but my children are my greatest teachers. Every day, they give me plenty of opportunities to practice.
`Abd Allah b. Mughaffal reported the Messenger of Allah (upon him be blessings and peace) as saying : “Allah is gentle, likes gentleness, and gives for gentleness what he does not give for harshness.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]
I think often about the gentleness of the Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace). I tell my daughter stories of how he let his grandchildren ride his back while he prayed. He was gentle, but he also knew how to be firm. There is something in that for me to learn, and practice.
There is something tremendous about bringing new life into this world. And the sunnah of this world is to expect hardship with blessings. O Allah, help all parents respond from a place of calm. Forgive us for our shortcomings, and help our children forgive us.
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 through Qibla Academy and SeekersHub Global. She also graduated with a Psychology and English degree from University of New South Wales.
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