By Jerrmein Abu Shahba
There is no easy job or perfect performance to any type of job that exists in life. Whether it is a medical or engineering position or an IT or business assignment, it is normal for there to be challenges depending on various factors such as prior experience, personal attributes, or the circumstances of the challenge. Often times these challenges are shared among people of the same profession or who perform the same task, and thus solutions are typically sought from those who have landed on successful stories to resolve their challenges.
Parenting is no different from any other task or job that one undertakes. Challenges of parenting come in different colors and flavors, depending on the type of child being raised, their genetic tendencies, the circumstances and culture of that family, and other socio and behavioral factors, etc. However, some challenges have to do with the outlook and mentality of the parent themselves, independent of the child’s behavior or tendencies. Sometimes we are influenced by cultural bias and ways which in turn affect our children’s present and future. This article intends to address some of these common pitfalls that we can fall in during our journey of parenting.
First Born First:
It’s no news that many or most parents give their foremost attention and focus on their firstborn child and invest all their energy in raising them. As new parents, it’s a new experience with the ups and downs and it’s also an exciting journey as a couple explores the journey of parenting, something which no enjoyment can replace. In some cases, the first child gets the most love and attention, their 1st birthday party is a greater deal than the 1st birthday of the siblings who come after, even after they grow up and move on to their teens, their accomplishments are seen in a different light and extra special compared to their siblings after. This is especially true if the firstborn is a boy. This can unfortunately sometimes lead to sensitivity and unpleasant feelings with the other siblings when they witness favorable treatment with the first child.
The first child on the other hand gains the privilege of being the first to capture the love and attention of their parents. But they also bear the responsibility of being examples and a good role model for their siblings. Therefore, it is imperative that parents invest very well in their firstborn in the right direction bearing in mind that they are likely to be emulated by their brother or sisters. Some parents, unfortunately, spoil their firstborn leading them to become rebellious, and thus the siblings follow the example of their eldest.
Last Child Syndrome:
For families who are blessed with multiple children, at least five or more, it is common that parental attention is diluted for each subsequent child and not necessarily distributed equally. And the last child in the chain of children is often treated differently or given preferential treatment compared to the rest of the older siblings. Even after they grow older and enter their teens, still they are treated and smothered like babies. Furthermore, if it’s a boy after a series of sisters, the boy is treated like a king and the girls are trained to serve and pamper the boy at all times regardless. This is partly due to the fact that by the time the parents have their last child, they have less energy compared to when they had their first and second, and their patience has diminished with time. Or they’re too happy that they have a male child that they’re not invested in the quality of their children. They don’t put much time in disciplining their last child, and so their last may easily turn out to be spoiled or taking their parents or many aspects of their life for granted. Parents are tired of saying no so they give in to that child, and in some other cases, they feel a soft spot for their last baby and that is reflected in their favorable treatment that can easily exceed the acceptable boundaries to the point that they may accept rude behavior from their last child but not any of their siblings.
But from the child’s perspective, they neither planned or chose to be the first, middle, or last child and they are entitled to receive as much teaching, fair treatment, disciplining, attention and love as any of their siblings. This is one of the pitfalls that parents have to be careful not to fall in and plan wisely how to parent a large family with mixed gender and varying ages in various circumstances. Dedicating one-on-one time regularly with each of our children is imperative to create a personal connection and an open-door policy, even if just to listen to them talk about something that may not peak our interest.
Middle Children Neglect:
We all hear about the middle child syndrome where a child feels lonely and sad that their parents’ attention has shifted to the next child, the new baby of the family and they no longer receive the attention and care that they previously enjoyed. In some ways, the middle child or children who fall between the first and last child receive the least attention compared to the first and last child who typically gain the most attention by their parents, regardless of its type. Sometimes parents lose track of time and forget that their middle child or children are growing up quickly and they too need to be given age-appropriate attention and achieve the learning milestones that is particular to their age. We focus much on teaching our first child how to recite the Holy Quran and to read and write in our mother tongue language, but we don’t push that enough when it comes to our children that follow after. Almost as if achieving excellence with the first child, in particular, is enough of an accomplishment. Parents should make consistent time and effort in the daily calendar to give due attention in the right time, otherwise lost attention during the important years of a kid’s life may be difficult to compensate later in life.
We have a great example in the family of Imam Husain; he had multiple gems in his lap, Ali al Akbar, Imam Sajjad, and Ali Asghar. All of them would ideally deserve favoritism due to their excellence across the board, however, Imam Husain (AS) gave each one their due love and attention.
It is very common especially in the Middle East and Asian countries for parents to be biased towards their son, and especially the eldest son. In some cultures, the parent is referred to as ‘Abu’ of their first male child which further demonstrates this preference. Often times, unfortunately, male children get away with a whole lot of misbehavior while girls are reprimanded harshly. The rules of discipline are not implemented fairly and therefore the result is spoiled boys and this carries itself in their adult life when they get married and build future families. The result is a weak fabric of society that is caused by the captains of ships who are insecure, immature, or unwise in their leadership role. It is a disservice that parents do to their male children that is very difficult to correct later on in life. We have a great example in female personalities such as Lady Maryam and Lady Fatima al Zahra whose birth proved to be worth much more than many male children in their own families. We should reflect on the holy verse of the Quran where Allah (SWT) questioned, وإذا الموؤدة سؤلت بأي ذنب قُتلت. And when the female infant buried alive is asked, for what sin was she killed.” 81:8-9]
One of the pitfalls that parents may fall in is to openly display favoritism to a particular child for any reason such as their profession or physical appeal, or accomplishments in life. It is not uncommon for a parent to give preference to their child who is a medical doctor or a daughter who is more beautiful than her sisters, or a child who resembles their own parent. Such bias regardless of the reason leads to negative feelings harbored by other siblings who observe this bias in actions. They may not express it but it is a seed planted in their hearts that manifest itself later in life. They end up being jealous and envious of that preferred child and resentful to the parent who is biased. This environment of negative feelings and resentment does not allow for the child to fully focus and attain benefit from the teaching and disciplining during the most sensitive time of their life since their focus is elsewhere and not towards the development of his own self as a human being. As Allah (SWT) advised in Surat Al-Maaida, اعدلوا هو اقرب للتقوى “Be just, for that is nearer to piety” [5:8]
Late Diagnosis & Treatment:
Doctors always advise us to attend our routine health checkups regularly so that we detect any illness or disease at an early stage. Early detection could save lives and minimize health complications later on in life. The opposite of that is neglect or ignoring of symptoms which may lead an underlying syndrome or disease to exacerbate with time and cause irreversible damage in the human body. Likewise, early detection of unhealthy habits, vices, misbehavior, and ill tendencies is imperative when it comes to raising our kids, especially during the early years of their life. This requires continuous observation and regular ‘check-ups’ so that we address any behavioral, academic, social or other issues that may surface early on and treat it early while the child is resilient and obedient and while the least amount of hurt is inflicted. Every year in age makes a difference and time is of the essence. In this day of time, there’s so much secrecy and unknown that can take place out there especially with the world of device and technology that we must pay closer attention and not be naïve in doing so.
Blind Eye Barrier:
We as parents all love our children dearly, but love has to be translated through practical care and discipline that would turn them into behaved and morally-groomed individuals and great examples for others to emulate. Overly defending a child and not admitting and acknowledging the shortcomings or weaknesses of our children is often the roadblock to our children’s success. Whenever a parent is confronted with their son or daughter getting in trouble in school, for example, many jump immediately to defend their child and attack those who have complained about their child without listening to the full story of what happened and instead of addressing the root cause of the problem with their child and taking the necessary actions for discipline. Children are not naïve and when they watch their parents covering for them at all costs, they also learn how to ignore their shortcomings and become arrogant to admit their mistakes, address them, or apologize for them.
Too Little Too Young:
When we are used to changing our kids diapers and feeding them the bottle and watching them crawl as toddlers, it does take a long time for us to fathom our children as young adults who are now responsible for their own decisions. Some of us parents, unfortunately, get stuck on this point; we don’t allow them to grow and be responsible for their actions, and when they reach that sensitive age where they are ready to receive more, we don’t give them the knowledge with the mindset that they are still young to absorb it. Yet they are more ready than any other age to receive with full absorption and implementation. We should with our kids early before they are no longer interested and preoccupied with the ornaments of this life.
In addition, it is an observed phenomenon some parents invest in themselves spiritually and are involved in religious activities. But when it comes to our own kids, we don’t follow suit in raising them to be Muslims whose way of life is Islam. Mothers wear the hijab but our daughters don’t, fathers attend Majales and religious programs but our sons don’t, and the list goes on.
When one teacher tells you an instruction, it carries the strength of one teacher. And when two teachers convey the same instruction, it carries a stronger message. It is very important for parents to be united in their approach of parenting, their rules and red lines, and to be consistent and supportive of each other. Children are smart and if they notice disagreement among the parents, they spring on that opportunity to rebel. In the current world of today, the strength of two parents is barely enough to discipline a child, let alone one.
Teach by Example:
There is no parent who doesn’t aim for their child to be the best among their peers, in all aspects of their life, namely, education, career, and social standing. But they’re Not going to be Number 1 or Number 3 if we ourselves are Number 50 and far off from being a role model for them in these aspects. If we want them to be goal-oriented and learn how to be responsible, we have to demonstrate to them by our own actions how to take responsibility in our daily affairs. If we want them to attain high levels of spirituality, they also have to witness in us that Islam is our way of life and they have to observe our obedience to Allah (SWT) and our passion to serve Him and prioritize Him in all cases. If we want them to be caring and giving to their siblings, we also have to demonstrate that with our own siblings whom they observe as their aunts and uncles. If we want them to pray on time, then we have to take the lead and pray on time even if it means stopping the car on a road trip and setting time and space for prayer. We can’t expect them to be admitting to their faults and mistakes if we ourselves refuse to acknowledge our own mishaps or apologize if we made a mistake. Allah (SWT) reminds us, “O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is man and stones.” [ 66:6]