Tuesday 29 April 2008

Zen Parenting: Naughty Step or Chappal?

It’s very in vogue now to say that we won’t smack our children; this is probably a good thing. In the UK there have been attempts by various groups to bring laws into effect that ban smacking, although they have been defeated by the Peers in the House of Lords.

My parents and grandparents grew in Pakistan where it was the norm to be smacked by your parents, extended relations and anyone else that happened to be around and in a bad mood. It was also okay to be given a smack round the head for doing something you shouldn’t have, for watching someone else doing it, maybe for not stopping them or maybe again because someone was in a bad mood. In contrast, my parent’s generation has not quite realized that simply transferring the parenting methods of rural Punjab/Gujerat/Dhaka/Sylhett to East London might not be sufficient to bring up your child in the best possible manor – although this is not for want of trying (I have so many happy memories of being chased by my mum flip-flop held aloft).

There is also the thinking that a good child is an obedient child, smacked and yelled into submission to a parent who knows best. How do you tell that parent’s about feeling left out because you dress different, weighing up the way you feel about clothes, boys, life in general as a teenager with the need to please your parents and be a good Muslim? Who do you talk to about peer pressure, or bullying or all the other things that confuse kids?

This is not to denigrate my parents or all the others out there who have struggled to reconcile two cultures, their faith, modern life and all of the issues that face immigrants, with bringing up their child in the best way that they could. At the same time they have also had to try and square Western and Eastern concepts of what a well-brought up person is supposed to be like. Is it any wonder that they and we were so confused?

What we have to keep in mind though is whether the absence of smacking has left a vacuum with respect to disciplining our children. If we don’t smack, how do we get our children to listen to and respect us?

I love the Islamic concept that when we do things with the aim of pleasing Allah (SWT) we engage in ibadah (worship), even if they are just everyday actions. So cooking a meal is a chore, but cooking with the aim of pleasing Allah by feeding his creation and eating to take care of the body he gave you as an Amanah (trust) becomes an act of worship.

Similarly childrearing can be hard work, but when engaged in with the intention of pleasing Allah and carrying out the work he has assigned to us, it becomes an act of worship from beginning to end. The waking in the night, the cleaning of stuff that makes other people leave the room, the difficulties of breast-feeding, the tiredness, the duty to be mindful of what you say and do, having to constantly watch your little ones – living, breathing, walking, waking worship. Through our words, our soothing, our chores, all of the small kindnesses of a mother, Allah (SWT) elicits from us worship and forgives sins. With this thinking in mind, it becomes much harder to smack a child and much easier to take a breath and act rationally.

I also like the idea of peaceful parenting, less friction, more kindness. I like Sandra Dodd’s idea that it’s okay to indulge your children sometimes and say yes to them. We don’t have to behave like tyrants, its okay for the house to be a mess, for your kids not to be reading Shakespeare by six and joining Mensa by eight, its ok not to be perfect. Motherhood is a learning process; we are scared because we only get one chance with each of our children. But I realized sometime ago, thanks to Little Lady, that when we make a mistake, we can stop, apologise and agree to try again, that every day is a new day and a new chance at doing things in the best way we can.

So when we need to discipline our children, we could hit them, but how would it feel to make a mistake or disagree with our employers or spouse and be smacked for it? How do we prefer to be told? Discreetly, gently, with patience surely.

My parenting style? Like my parents, a little confused. When I ask nicely, explain and let things go, my sisters call me English mum, when I lose it and shout and issue orders, they call me Punjabi mum. I guess I am still learning.

Abu Salmah (RA) narrated that Abu Hurayrah (RA) said, "The Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) kissed Hasan ibn 'Ali while Aqra' ibn Habis was sitting nearby. Aqra' said, 'I have ten children and have never kissed one of them.' The Prophet (Peace be upon him) looked at him and said, 'Those who show no mercy will be shown no mercy.'" ~Bukhari (No. 91) and Muslim

Narrated A’isha (RA) the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to me, "O A'isha, be gentle, for gentleness has never been used in anything without beautifying it; and it has never been removed from something without debasing it." ~ Abu Dawood

“Instead of saying "Come on, let's go!" maybe you could have picked him up and twirled him around and said something sweet and by the time he knows it he's fifty yards from there, but happy to be with his happy mom.” ~ Sandra Dodd

“What would be a better gift to our kids,...the aching urge to break free from the nest because theyr'e so confined and disciplined at home, or lots of freedom NOW so that that home is not something they want to push away. I don't know about all of you, but I want my kids to take their time leaving...my rejection of another hateful cliché that kids should be pushed out on their 18th birthday...phooey”. ~ Nancy (CelticFrau)

“We were all born with a drive to learn that is more compelling than almost any other instinct. If we step back from the power struggles we can be allies with our children in learning, solving problems and creating what John Holt called ‘a life worth living and work worth doing.’ Unschooling is deprogramming, healing, regenerating. It is remembering to relax and trust our own and our children's innate ability to choose ideas and activities that promote lifelong learning and growth.” ~ Luz Shosie


  1. oh boy do I relate to this. I am naturally Punjabi Mum (although I'm caucasian!) because that is what I learned to do from my Mum, I want to be nice mum who listens and explains! My husband is gentle every now and then whack em out of the blue Lebanese Dad, authority is everything. So, so hard to find common ground in parenting styles.

  2. everyone gets parental beats regardless of wat background they are from (probably different types of smacks too) but it should give u the courage to be the kind of parent you would like your kids to have. love the quote by nancy, how true! (btw your kids dnt get nearly half as much smacks as you probly did, this generation is a soft touch in comparison to our parents..u know they wudnt have thought twice b4 a wallop round ur head or clip on the ear...lucky ones) ;o)

  3. Assalam-alaikam Saha,
    I agree we tend to do what we learned from our parents, almost on auto-pilot, its a big struggle to stop and do things your own way.

    Hey fs,
    now that you're a teacher lady (well nearly)you can help me to learn about thr right way to discipline my kids (when you're not prepping them for 11+ that is)

  4. Salaamz sis Masha'Allah nice blog.. and I love your jewellery. take care w.salaamz

    1. Walaikam-assalam Sis and Jazakh'Allah khairun

  5. Thank you for this....its really wonderful to hear from other Mama's who are just trying to do the best for their little ones - but are finding that its a learning, growing experience for all. I'm not a smacker (more of a twiller!) - but am constantly wracked by how to maintain balance - saying no, saying yes...one's cultural, social identity (my daughter's father is Brazilian and I'm English) - one's faith (particularly as I'm not a practicing CofE and her Brazilian family are candomble) - I think of all the incredible structure and love that I had to ground me as a child, and I just so want her to experience those joys (and make up for where I feel my parents made mistakes) - but essentially, my daughter is a child of the world, a child of God (as are all of us) and I just have to trust, that we are both being guided and loved in the most perfect way, that I suppose, is right for us. x

  6. Thank you so much so such for this work. You are bringin a peace into my heart. I am thankfull for this.

  7. JazakAllah Khayr for this.

    My boys get the slipper if they neglect their salah, but other than that I try to avoid it and would only really use it for serious things like inappropriate gender interaction, istimna or laziness in their study.

    1. Assalam-alaikam Sister Umm Shaareef,
      I think you're right to avoid it for most things. Alhamdulillh, I think you are right to be strict about not missing salah, I wish more parents cared enough about this.

    2. Wa alaykum as salaam wa rahmatullahi Sister,
      Yes, I do think that guiding our kids to regular salah is amongst our greatest duties as parents and a responsibility that we must take very seriously. I try to remind my kids every day of the importance of salah - how it is our chance to show our gratitude to Allah swt, how it separates us from the disbelievers and how it will ultimately save us from the Fires. One of the things I am very strict about is correct recitation in salah - any errors or sloppiness invalidates the prayer and will be punished in our house.

    3. Assalam aleikum,
      Yep, my son knows that salah is non-negotiable and any lateness or carelessness in recitation will have consequences.