Growing up in a large household with eight children running around was lots of fun, but how was it to parent such a large number of kids?
Among the many happy memories growing up, I also have vivid memories of contrasting treatment towards certain siblings and I grew up surrounded by feelings of difference. It wasn’t an obvious “favoritism”, however over the years it became more apparent and I came to realise that my emotions of low confidence growing up, was a reflection of feeling “not good enough” to the ones that mattered the most in my life…my parents.
When talking about this to my parents recently, I realised that they really had no idea that they were treating us differently at all. With so many mouths to feed, they just never thought about feeding our hearts and our minds fairly at the same time! Alhamdulillah our faith tells us exactly how we should treat all our children, and the answer is simply “justly”.
“Be just: that is nearer to piety; and fear Allah.”
(Qur’an al-Maa’idah ayat 8)
The beautiful teaching and manners of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is also a clear example of how we should treat our children.
“My father gave me some of his wealth, and my mother ‘Amrah bint Rawaahah said: ‘I will not accept this until you ask the Messenger of Allah (SAW) to bear witness to it.’ So my father went to the Prophet (SAW) to ask him to bear witness to the gift he had given me. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said to him, ‘Have you done this for all your children?’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Fear Allah and treat all your children fairly.’ So my father came back and took back his gift.” (Narrated by Muslim)
Another narration of this hadith is:
“Do not ask me to bear witness to this, for I will not bear witness to injustice.” (Narrated Muslim)
This hadith emphasises that we should be fair in our “giving” as well as our “nurturing”. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same for each child but needs to hold the same value dependent on the ages of the child.
When praising a child in the presence of another, simply praise the other one too on something else that they have achieved. It makes so much difference. Many parents criticise their kids, especially in front of others, hoping that it will make them stronger. This action actually has the opposite effect and can cause more harm than good. These behaviors can make children feel ashamed and humiliated about their failures and instill a disastrous belief of “I can’t do it”.
The confidence we get from our parents, family and upbringing is absolutely crucial to the person we become. Many of us go through life not even knowing that there is an underlying problem with our self-belief and confidence and a lot of it is because of how you were treated as a child. These characters can manifest in so many ways and unless we “realise and admit it” we can never work on resolving our issues.
As a parent myself, I have found just how difficult it is to be fair! Some kids are just more “easy” than others so it doesn’t seem like you are treating them differently, when in fact you are! On one occasion I remember smiling back at my son who was smiling at me. The other one said “how come you don’t smile at me Mummy? My heart sank! My other son doesn’t naturally smile and can be quite “whiny” so of course it didn’t come naturally to smile at him at that moment, it was not intentional. I understood how he must have felt a little “unloved” because he didn’t get the same smile, so I beamed a smile and told them that I loved them both sooo much! I saw the faith restored in his eyes, Subhan Allah!
The simple understanding that all your children should be treated fairly and with respect can save so much unnecessary heartache and feelings of jealousy and resentment. It may seem so childish but it affects your child deeply and contributes to the person they become.
I pray that Allah (SWT) blesses us all with strength and ability to treat our kids with lots of love and justice and I pray that our children grow up to be strong, confident and “just” Muslims, Ameen.