I’m The Mother Not The Circus, Right?

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Parenting Advice Gone Awry

This advice came the way these nuggets usually do, the WhatsApp group chat, via a screenshot, initially from a facebook post:

If I was to give one piece of advice to parents raising young children, I’d most likely advise that they get rid of the TV.

So far, so good. I actually agree with this, and not only with television in particular but screens in general. The evidence for minimising or eliminating screens from the lives of young children is both frightening and compelling. Let’s read on.

You need to become your child’s every source of entertainment.

I do? How did this happen? I mean, as their biological parent, I understand that I had to be their home for nine months, their primary food source for six months afterwards and from the moment I knew of their existence, their guardian, their well-wisher, their biggest worrier and greatest supporter.

I fully accept to be their playmate for the first seven years, their teacher for the next seven and, by the grace of God, their friend forevermore. But, source of entertainment? Perhaps there’s an explanation.

You need to be the reason they smile, laugh and are given happiness. They need to glue their eyes onto your face. You should be the greatest story, their favourite book, their most beloved parable.

Ah, okay, I think I understand this a bit better now but surely one person can’t be all things and in fact, the part of parenthood nobody warns you about is that these children will love you no matter what you do. It is the one responsibility you will feel most keenly and the one truth which will leave you most guilty. Even at your worst, they will always come for your best – best comfort, best love, best words, best actions. Somewhat frighteningly, you don’t have to do anything to earn this – you are their parent and for them, that is reason enough.

You need to seriously give them time. Take them to the library, make stationery beloved to them, take them on trips to the farms and to the countryside, enhance their skills in writing and learning and teach them self defence. Be fun, creative and full of surprises.

Yes. True, but only kind of. Children do need time. Not only from both parents but from an entire cohort of family and friends who love and adore them –  who revel in their daily adventures and shower them with grace. Raising children was never meant to be a solo activity.

I challenge any person to be fun, creative and full of surprises all day, every day, while at the same time living in a well-defined nuclear unit, in cities not made for easy travel – with friends and loved ones far away and the idea of a tribe perpetually just beyond reach. Heck, I challenge any person to do this even if they are fortunate enough and do have the benefit of a robust support system. It’s not very easy, in fact, it’s downright exhausting and well-near impossible.

We personally don’t own a TV and in their early years, my children had extremely limited screen time – I even avoided using mobile phones in front of them! – and despite that, I still couldn’t manage all the fun and surprises that this well-intentioned advice advocates. The fact is, life is an amazing, blessed, wondrous affair – the beauty of which is seen and felt most keenly by children.  It’s simply not necessary to manufacture diversions or morph into non-stop performers in order to keep them engaged.

The trouble is, in the past, I would have read this advice and thought it such a wonderful way forward as a parent –  without factoring in how unrealistic missives like this are. How they don’t consider a parent as a whole person or the circumstances many of us grapple with everyday, including the breakdown of close-knit communities and the lack of spiritual spaces for young families.

The reality is, rather than being empowering and inspiring, these words demotivate and demoralise the majority of parents by claiming they are the sole architects of their children’s happiness and delight. And I am so over it – parenting doesn’t happen in a vacuum and we need to stop talking about it as if it does.

Instead of giving advice that makes parents feel worse by completely disregarding their lived context, why not give advice on how to cultivate empathy between people of all ages?  Why not prioritise the creation of positive, long-term connections with each other, thereby creating environments which will uplift not only our young people and the parents who nurture them but our elderly, our teens and our middle-aged? How can we make it better for everyone without sacrificing someone? That’s the kind of thing I want to know.

Oh, and before I forget, there was one last part to this parenting advice, perhaps the only part that actually needed saying:

Nurture them (your children) upon the love of the Prophet ﷺ and just watch them change the world.

At least it ended well.



Also Things Parents Say

Image Credit: Original Illustration by Zarina Teli

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  • Reply Ayesha May 13, 2017 at 9:37 am

    You are spot on. Unsolicited advice is everywhere and in abundance. I just advice balance. If we teach our kids balance in life I think we have done a good enough job.

  • Reply Ateeka Khan May 4, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    I enjoyed this post. Well-meaning advice can be such a detriment to parents who sometimes really struggle to hold it together. I also think we do a detriment to children by not allowing them to be bored and left up to their own devices a little. Thanks for the reflection!

  • Reply Shahidaalik May 4, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    A powerful illustration.

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