Know your Intentions: Islamic Parenting Principles
Most parenting articles depress me.
After reading about parents who apparently live in completely child-centred homes and seemingly spend 100% of their time researching and planning their child’s development, I can’t help but think I’m not doing a great job as a mother.
I do try to raise a little human being who I hope will grow up to just be the best version of herself. But I don’t bake that much, I don’t do tons of arts and crafts or DIY home projects, and don’t have a strict and intricate routine or complex system of reward stickers…
So while these things are all wonderful, over time I’ve come to realize that I am unable to relate to most parenting articles I come across because they stem from places and theories that do not value that which I value. They speak about fostering love, respect, hard work and courage in children, which (admittedly) are all incredibly valuable tools to have on this journey of life. But what is the end goal? What is the point of all of these beautiful tools if you do not understand what you are attempting to build, or where you are attempting to go?
We all know the first of the famous hadith where the Prophet (saw) said: “Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended…”
But the truth is, I don’t think we sit and think about what this hadith means when it comes to parenthood. It’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day challenges and the draining routines of being a parent that our true intentions and goals get lost along the way.
So what are our intentions when it comes to raising children?
I admit that some (if not most) of my intentions are “selfish.” I know that if I do my best in raising my daughter, I can expect the reward to come from Allah (swt), regardless of who she turns out to be. I also expect that Allah (swt) is The Generous, and when I treat my daughter with kindness or sacrifice something for her, He will reward me.
Aisha (ra) reports the following scenario that never ceases to touch me when I hear it:
“A poor woman came to me carrying her two daughters. I gave her three dates to eat. She gave each child a date, and raised the third to her own mouth to eat it. Her daughters asked her to give it to them, so she split the date that she had wanted to eat between them. I was impressed by what she had done, and told the Messenger of Allah about it. He said, ‘Allah has decreed Paradise for her because of it,’ or, ‘He has saved her from Hell because of it.’”
One simple act of kindness towards her children earned this woman the pleasure of Allah (swt). And with the numerous ahadith and verses of the Quran that speak about the high position and honour that is bestowed upon parents, “selfish” intentions of gaining the reward and pleasure of Allah (swt) are only natural! (Not to mention, a righteous child is a continuous charity for his/her parent, and thus one of the greatest investments for a believer.)
Another intention for raising righteous children is to bring benefit to the community and to the world through them. Our ultimate goal as individuals and families is to attain the pleasure and satisfaction of God by worshiping Him alone, and striving to establish what is good and beneficial on this earth while simultaneously striving to subdue that which is harmful. Parenting should fall in line with this ultimate goal. Children are a means to achieving a better world – as corny as it sounds, they are the citizens and leaders of the next generation.
I cannot judge my parenting by comparing myself to others. If I did, I would likely fall short. Islam is not a cookie-cutter that is meant to create duplicate shapes and sizes of faith in people’s hearts. It is a way of life that takes into consideration each individual’s circumstances and abilities. And Allah (swt), as Merciful of a Creator as He is, only takes us to account on what we are able to do: “On no soul doth Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear.” (2:286).
So instead of comparing myself to parents who have altogether different circumstances and abilities than me, I judge the success of my parenting on whether I am able to look at myself at the end of the day and say: I did right by my daughter today, according to the principles I hold dear from the Quran and Sunnah.
There are good and bad days. There are the days when I feel like my intentions and actions are aligned, and there are days when the frustration that often accompanies parenthood leads me to forget my intentions. But that is the nature of life – not everything can go according to plan. I ask Allah (swt) to allow me steadfastness in employing the right tools and applying the right principles to help my daughter achieve her full potential as believer and as a citizen of this earth.