Qasim Choudhary, Missionary Austin, Texas
“And those who say, ‘Our Lord, grant us of our wives and children the delight of our eyes, and make us a model for the righteous.” (Surah al-Furqan, Ch.25: V.75)
If you find yourself navigating the uncharted territories of parenthood or simply striving to equip yourself with the right guidelines for raising children, don’t worry; you are not alone. With a wealth of child-rearing content available, it can be a confusing process to decide which advice to follow and which to avoid. As one parenting expert rightfully points out, “Parenting experts often contradict each other and even themselves.” (Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children, Ann Hulbert, 2004, ebook, p. 22)
So, how should we proceed with shaping the future generation?
As I embarked on a quest for answers, I discovered a remarkable book that resonated with my beliefs about nurturing kids. In her critically acclaimed work, Gentle Discipline, Sarah Ockwell-Smith shares insights on raising confident and capable children through emotional connection. As I delved into this book, the parenting style of the Promised Messiahas flashed before my eyes.
Fortunately for us, our beloved spiritual leaders have imparted practical and reliable guidelines for the multifaceted responsibility of morally upbringing children. In fact, many of today’s child-rearing experts are only now catching up to the advice and model exhibited by our spiritual guides. Let us examine some of the tips presented by modern-day experts and see how they compare to the counsel provided by our spiritual guides.
What is discipline?
When we hear the word “discipline,” our minds often gravitate towards the concepts of punishment, strictness, and an unyielding approach. However, it is important to note that the term “discipline” is derived from “disciple,” which signifies a student or learner. In other words, effective discipline centres on teaching and learning rather than punitive measures. (Gentle Discipline, Sarah Ockwell-Smith pp. 20-21, TarcherPerigee )
The most exemplary teacher-disciple relationships can be found among the Prophets and their companions. Whether it was Prophet Jesusas or the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa their relationships with their disciples were characterized by gentleness. In fact, the Holy Quran instructed the Holy Prophetsa to adopt a kind and compassionate approach with his companions. (Surah Aal-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.160)
Similarly, if we wish for our children to confide in us and be receptive to the lessons we aim to impart to them, our disciplinary approach must be gentle and compassionate.
This is the approach adopted by parents who struggle with enforcing boundaries, often resulting in children “getting away with it.” Permissive parents typically maintain low expectations for their child’s behaviour and frequently make excuses for their unruly behaviour. Smith explains that this approach often arises from parents being afraid of hurting their child’s feelings and a desire not to upset them. (Gentle Discipline, Sarah Ockwell-Smith p. 23, TarcherPerigee )
The Promised Messiahas, commenting on the perils of such a parenting style, elucidates, “There are many parents who instil bad habits in their children. Initially, when these bad habits take root, they are not admonished, causing the child to become increasingly brazen and bold with each passing day.” (Tafsir Hazrat Masih-e-Maudas, Vol. 6, p. 192)
In line with this, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra explains that if a child is caught stealing, it is not sufficient for parents to merely tell the child that stealing is wrong. Instead, parents must actively work to eradicate this bad habit from the child. He further emphasises, “Parents do not exist merely to offer verbal advice, but are commissioned to impart etiquette and inspire spiritual poise. It is incumbent upon them to be stern but remain supportive.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 9, pp. 28-29)
Although excessive leniency may momentarily keep our children content, in the long term, it may hinder their development.
According to Smith, the most prevalent discipline methods used today are authoritarian and include physical punishment, confiscating possessions, and shaming. In such an approach, the parent maintains full control and expects the child to behave perfectly in an adult-like manner. (Gentle Discipline, Sarah Ockwell-Smith p. 20, TarcherPerigee )
On one occasion, someone physically reprimanded his child. Deeply affected by this, the Promised Messiahas called the individual and delivered a heart-wrenching address. The Promised Messiahas stated, “In my view, to strike a child in this manner is equivalent to associating partners with God. For the ill-natured perpetrator who hits a child arrogates themselves to a position of granting guidance, a position only held by God and seeks to partake of God’s station of providence.” (Life of the Promised Messiah , Hazrat Maulvi Abdul Karimra Sialkoti, p. 60)
Furthermore, the Promised Messiahas explains that parents do have the right to punish and reprimand children on appropriate occasions. However, it should be done only by those who are patient, tolerant, forbearing, calm, and composed. Those who are short-tempered, intolerant, and unreasonable are unsuitable for the task of training children. (Ibid.)
The authoritative approach, or gentle discipline, represents a balanced approach between parental control and child autonomy. Adults guide the child but, when appropriate, allow the child to take the reins. As Sarah Ockwell-Smith elaborates, “Expectations of behaviour are set realistically, not too high and not too low. Discipline is administered with respect and compassion.” (Gentle Discipline, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, p. 21, TarcherPerigee )
Considering that every child has unique abilities and development, it is important to be mindful of their individual limits and capacities. Imagine being punished for something beyond your control; this can have a detrimental effect on a child’s self-esteem. Research indicates that low self-esteem is often at the root of many behavioural issues. (Gentle Discipline, Sarah Ockwell-Smith p. 14, TarcherPerigee )
In line with this perspective, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, while discussing the moral upbringing of children, explained that forcing a person with a debilitating injury to walk would be futile. Even if you persuade them to try, they won’t be capable. Instead, it’s necessary to support and assist them until they are able to walk. Similarly, parents must provide support and understand their child’s abilities. (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 9, p. 29)
The Promised Messiah’sas own conduct with his children was characterised by balance, support, and trust. He wrote, “I pray for my children, and see to it that they follow broad principles, etiquette and teachings; this is all, nothing more. Then, I place my entire trust in Allah the Exalted. The seed of goodness that is present in each of them, according to their nature, will flourish when the time comes.” (Life of the Promised Messiahas, pp. 60-62)
As parents, it is easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging and constantly reprimanding our children, which can ultimately push them away from us. The Promised Messiahas always recognised that the true guide and protector of his progeny was none other than God Almighty. Thus, his parental advice is beautifully summarised in the following words:
“Alas! If only parents would spend as much effort in prayer as they do in seeking to punish their children, and if only they made it a constant practice to supplicate for them with a burning heart. Indeed, the prayers of parents for their children are blessed with special acceptance.” (Ibid.)
In this tumultuous world hurtling towards uncertainty and mounting unrest, let us entrust the noble torchbearers we raise and send into society to become the radiant beacons of hope and the healing elixir that our world so profoundly craves. These virtuous progeny of today may very well hold the key to unlocking the peaceful doorways of our uncertain future.