TALK SO THEY CAN LISTEN – LISTEN SO THEY CAN TALK
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
By: Raya Shokatfard
The gap between parents and kids, especially as they grow older is getting bigger.
Some frustrated parents have given up hope to ever reaching their kids and live in peace with them. Is there any hope?
Yes! Please read on.
An incredible success story of 15-years of staled relationship between a middle eastern mother, American father and U.S. born kids proves that when there is a will, there is a way!
The mother who was a secular for many years, returned to Islam when the children were quite young. Her marriage had already ended in divorce and she was a single mom raising two kids.
The first problem she faced was her desire to be a full time mom and give all the attention she could to her kids. But unless she worked, she would not be able to support her family.
So, she chose the safest option available. She worked from home.
In her search for peace and serenity and true God, she had already joined various religions and the last one was Christianity while the kids were 2 and 4 years old.
Her long journey finally brought her back to Islam and she was determined to impart the best possible morals and Islamic teachings to her kids.
The mother married the 2nd time to a religious Middle Eastern man who was able to spend time with his new family only occasionally as he had to travel often for Islamic lectures and also spend time with his other family abroad. She thought this would be a good idea to have a practicing step-father as a role model for the kids. It turned out that he not only was not able to spend much time with the kids, but bringing his Islamic practice suitable for Saudi Arabia to California did not fit well with the kids at all. In fact, it drove them farther away from Islam.
In the meantime, the mother, with the best of intention and with the kids’ agreement, pulled them out of the secular school system and began to home-school them with a hired teacher and she covered Islamic studies. She struggled for years on the Islamic studies with the kids till she finally gave up. They were resisting and fighting every minute of it.
The mother became more religious and her kids became more secular.
It was in later years that they shared why they dislike to study Islam. The American public school system uses innovative ways to teach kids, using colors, sounds, music, play and hands-on learning projects. When families take on home-schooling the kids who have already tasted the entertaining nature of public schooling soon lose interest and will try their best to run away from what they call, “the boring Islamic studies”. A lesson well learned, but years later.
The daughter started misbehaving so badly that at the age of 15, she moved out to live with her secular father and later on to the other side of the country with a female roommate she met online. The son, moved to the next town to go to university. And soon, he would stay as far away from his mother as possible, but some communication still existed as the mother was still supporting him financially. He later admitted that he did not waste any time to get into anything that looked like fun without any concern about the Islamic restrictions. He had felt deprived during the years at home.
Years went by and the relationship only got worse. The mother became more religious and her kids became more secular and as far away from the religion as they could get. She tried very hard to re-establish communication with the daughter, but by then, the daughter was heavily influenced by her new world of secular friends who saw her mother’s imparting Islamic teaching, asking her to wear hijab and not allowing dating as a gross abuse.
The more influence her friends exerted upon her, the more distant she became from her mother to the point of not wanting to see the mother for the past 11 years and to this day. Yet the lifestyle she chose for herself was not only un-Islamic but even very odd and mostly unacceptable for the secular society.
The son, on the other hand, kept respect for his mother, saw her occasionally but he would not heed to any of her advice. He also plunged himself into several undesirable situations and bad decisions. But they both never admitted that the childhood restrictions were actually for their own protection. Taking their lives in their own hands demonstrated that they plunged themselves into many bad decisions, some of which will never be undoable.
The mother turned to God, surrendered her daughter to Him and decided to keep the connection with the daughter only by praying for her– hoping that God will bring her back one day when the time is right.
As for the son, the staled relationship kept getting only more staled as the son kept hanging on to the secular way of life and wanted to have nothing to do with Islam.
In the meantime, the mother had been very active in the US in giving lectures, classes and private lessons on Islam for many years. She further returned to University at age 56 to get bachelor’s degree in Journalism and communication, as she felt she needed more tools to make a better presentation of Islam to the public. By the time she finished her degree, she decided to do her Master’s degree in the same field but she felt it was time for her to migrate to a Muslim country, as she felt her kids had no need for her and her brothers, sister and the rest of her large relative in the U.S. had become very secular and wanted to have nothing to do with any religion.
After 36 years in U.S.— the land which the mother thought was the land of opportunities and dreams, turned to be a land that offered some good things but also took many things away from her and her family. This was no longer home for her.
Moving to Muslim Lands
In search of a new home and suitable university, the mother chose Egypt as her new home and a place to make her new life with new people of her own faith. She felt she needed this sense of belonging.
Families were very close together even if they did not agree with each other in many aspects of life.
This proved true in the very first week after her arrival. She did not mind the language barriers as she was determined to learn. Not being able to understand the label, she even drank vinegar thinking it was water till she gagged. But she welcomed all experiences good and bad as she was integrating into the society. There, she found an incredible difference between the parent/child relationship compared to the U.S.
Families were very close together even if they did not agree with each other in many aspects of life. But the majority of kids, regardless of the age, knew what their position was with their parents and where the parents stood with authority. This was unquestionable, respected and a given in most people’s life. This did not mean that parents abused their kids with their authorities, but it only meant that the kids had respect for the parents, their experiences and advice.
In many cases, the adult kids who chose a marriage partner not acceptable to the parents would end up giving up that person to search for one who was acceptable to both sides.
One has never heard a young man or woman saying, as the Western youth may say: “This is my life and I am the one who will decide who I want to marry and your vote does not count.”
Oh, how this mother wished her kids could see and live in this kind of environment. Labeling parents’ guidance toward an Islamic lifestyle was sometimes labeled abuse in the U.S, but it was the normal and acceptable way of life in Egypt and in most Muslim countries.
As the mother tried to convince her son to consider living in Egypt, he, after trying a few times, could simply not adapt. Islam not being the motivation, the competition between Egypt and the U.S. was a not win for Egypt.
As the mother felt more and more at home and integrated to the new society, the son kept distance further and further.
This realization cannot be easily ignored, that cultural gap between parents and kids are not only caused by the age factor, but by all what each side consumes from the media, music, western entertainment and society that widen the gap to the point of not leaving much in common between parent/kid generations.
It may be unreasonable for a parent who practices Islam and adheres strongly to the religion while living in the West to expect her kids to believe and behave the same way.
Parents should first blame themselves for creating the conflict by living in the West and expect the kids to behave like them. It is an unreasonable expectation…
The mother finally realized that no matter how hard she tries, she can never bridge the gap. But was she going to give up on the one kid that was still communicating with her? No way!
Bridging the Gap… Searching for Common Ground
The mother discussed with her son the possibility of moving to any country that was pleasing to both as long as it was not the US of America. The son preferred a tropical country by the ocean. The mother liked the idea, but needed it to be a Muslim country. Malaysia seemed to win the case.
For the mother to make this move, was to give up over seven years of building a new extended family and friends, studies and many activities she loved at the Islamic centers and all the new life she had established for herself. But she felt all is worth it to save the relationship.
It took her a year to make the final move to a magnificent Island in Malaysia. After visiting a couple of times, the son agreed to move his belonging to Malaysia from the U.S., and then the unexpected happened!!! He started having doubts for various reasons. The parent waited for 7 months but still no move. She realized that all her son had left in US is some summer clothes and basic things small enough to fit into a suitcase. How was he lasting in the harsh winter season and how was he supporting himself?
She noticed each time they emailed or chatted, he gently would find an excuse to delay the travel. His mother became frustrated and confused. What was she supposed to do next?
Soon, the communication turned into a very friendly chat between two friends.
Finally, a miracle happened. They both decided to communicate effectively and openly.
The mother was determined that 15 years of a tense relationship was long enough. She was determined to hear out all what her son had to say and express without defending her position. She wanted to put herself in his place and hear, hear, hear!!!
Soon, the communication turned into a very friendly chat between two friends. The mother kept reflecting on what the son was saying and repeating to make sure she heard it right and he would acknowledge in the positive.
This of course, did not mean agreeing with each other, but merely giving ears to the other and letting them know they understood where they are coming from.
Slowly the ice melted and the son expressed his openness to travel, but needed little more time to make sure he is 100% certain.
For the first time in 15 years the mother felt full peace in her heart and a rainbow at the end of the tunnel. The son likewise started to feel more peace and tranquility and freedom to choose as he saw fit.
This did not mean the son had returned to practice Islam and the mother got all that she wished for. The son felt that his freedom as a child was taken away from him by restricting his activities and who he could befriend and where he can go.
From an Islamic perspective, this is fully accurate and recommended. However raising kids in the West, one must reflect the odds of kids who are exposed to the secular society with lots of entertaining activities, will choose to practice Islam and stay away from all the temptation.
So, What Is the Solution?
Frankly, if Muslim parents choose to live in the West, there is not a 100% win/win solution.
The best scenario is when both parents are practicing Muslims and are themselves great examples for the kids to follow. They would provide healthy entertainment for the kids together with other Muslim kids. They try to hear their kids talk about their needs and wants.
This does not mean giving them all that they ask, but let them know they were heard and their requests and desires are important.
If what the kids are asking is not Islamically acceptable, parents should find a substitute rather than just saying no, this is haram (unlawful) or unacceptable or chastise them.
The 15-year staled relationship mentioned above was not solved because the son returned to practicing Islam, making the mother happy; yet it only opened doors for healthy communication, better relationship and understanding of where the other one came from.
This was only possible when the mother gave up her picture of what is right or wrong according to the religion and went steps beyond that to re-establish a trust, and desire to communicate by the son. From here, the road to return to Islam by the son may be only a matter of time, God willing.
Once again, it is worth to note that what broke the ice in the parent-kid relationship was: “Talk so they can listen – listen, so they can talk.”
Published on: Tuesday, 12 February 2013