The birth of a child is a euphoric and – for most parents – an ecstatic moment. It is a high point, a fulfilment, in one’s life journey.
A child is a fruit of love between two human beings. For people who have religious faith, such life starts from God’s love for creation. Love, kindness, compassion and harmony are at the heart of biological continuity. One of the fascinating things about humans, and even some animal species, is the immeasurable and indescribable love they have for their offspring. Man and woman are a pair in this world: the love between them is the essence of human continuity. Love is the fountain that creates passionate feelings and emotions. ‘Only from the heart can you touch the sky,’ said the famous 13th century mystic-poet, Rumi.
In my previous piece on the topic, Parenting: A Core Duty and Basic Right in a Family, I emphasised parental duties and children’s rights in a family. One school teacher, a new parent, pointed out that the title could be misconstrued by some, as parenting is beyond duties and rights. I could not agree more. In fact, that’s what I tried to say in the article. Parenting is beyond mechanical and legalistic rights and duties. In a family it is expressed and manifested through love, mercy, compassion and care from the depth of one’s heart.
The natural demand of love appears to be giving freedom to one’s child; on the other hand, the natural demand of care seems to be discipline. This love and care are as intertwined as freedom and discipline are. All this is embedded in human nature. Freedom without limits and discipline without love are detrimental to children: in fact to all of us.
That’s what makes parenting a challenging but joyful enterprise. Once a child is born, the priority and lifestyle of parents naturally change or readjust. An unquestionable sense of responsibility fills the atmosphere at home. Holding newborn babies as they make their first cry on earth is the most wonderful and radiant experience for a mother and a father. The first skin-to-skin contact with the baby can be ecstatic. The tender hug of the mother and father tells the baby ‘you are the most loved one on earth, we are there for you’.
Needless to say, parenting is undertaken for a child’s sake: from the embryonic stage in the mother’s womb, through, then development into a fully-dependent tiny human being, and on into adulthood. Parenting, in essence, is an investment for the future – a very long future indeed. “If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children”, said the Chinese thinker and social philosopher, Confucius. The Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “When a son of Adam passes away, he is cut off from his deeds except for three things: a current or perpetual charity, good knowledge that benefits someone, and a good child who makes supplication for him.” There are numerous other words of wisdom on the need for effective parenting.
Experts have talked about different styles of parenting and their impacts upon children – authoritarian, indulgent, neglectful and authoritative – and advised parents to be authoritative. Some have used the term ‘positive parenting’ or ‘rational parenting’. I consider this as ‘common sense parenting’. Children need unconditional support, guidance and positive encouragement for their potential to be unleashed. They also need to experience the realities of life, the challenges and dynamics that affect their life and place in the society. They need to develop their self-esteem and grow into their own person so that their potentials flourish. Each parent needs to build an intuitive, psychological and emotional bond with each of their children. For this, it is vital that a parent spends some quality and one-to-one time with each child regularly and consistently, at least until the child settles after the challenging phase of adolescence. This is vital in every stage of the child’s development. In a family where one parent is failing to do this – or missing altogether for some reason – the other parent should try to compensate.
It is also vital that the child becomes central to the family or extended family, where the ethos of share and care, compromise and sacrifice are practiced and promoted. No matter how busy the parents are, age-appropriate communication and continuous discussions with children in a family context are essential. Consistency in parental behaviour with the child and other members of the family is an absolute necessity: children must understand their parents and need consistency in order to develop self-confidence. Inconsistency, emotional outbursts and violence in the family destroy the innocence of a child and the future adult.
Children need structure and discipline for their balanced development in life. Parents with good routines in life help their children enormously. Of course, a family environment cannot be like a school or workplace. A flexible and agreed-upon boundary is required. Taking advantage of local resources from the neighbourhood and community is beneficial. As children grow and go to nursery or school, parental interest in their educational and social needs, especially in their early development period, is vital.
Parenting is a generational and inter-generational task for the development and sustenance of stable, peaceful and successful societies. Through positive parenting, a family plays the role of a nursery, school and university, to produce conscientious and humane generations. Parenting, unpaid and often unrecognised, is definitely a demanding task but it is one of life’s core task. It is challenging, but deeply enjoying; both rewarding and adventurous. To people of faith, parenting is ever-important for this life and the life to come, with children as ‘Amana’, meaning both ‘test’ and ‘trust’.
Parenting needs creative thinking, strategic planning, full commitment and massive compromise. As leaders, mentors and teachers of children, parents are the creator of new worlds.
* Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is a community activist, an author and a parenting consultant