By: Qays Arthur
Often we look for advice in the form of directives, what to “do” to produce good children. Yet one thing I have certainly learned so far is that the old adage “the apple never falls far from the tree” is definitely true. In many ways children are mirrors of reality. They are pure human beings, uncomplicated by those things that make us less plain and lucid as we mature. That gives them this quality of reflectiveness which may tell us a great deal more about ourselves than we may be comfortable with.
A man may go to great lengths to assume the appearance of one who lives in comfort, but if he is poor you will know from his children. A woman may go to great lengths to assume the appearance of a gracious hostess but if she is inconvenienced it will be reflected in the child- in simple, uncomplicated ways. I’ve come to appreciate that this reflective nature of the child is very much connected to the way the child learns and to the veracity of that old adage.
The simple fact is that there is very little a parent can purposely do or say to a child (outside the realm of disciplining when the child offends) that will make them better human beings than their parents. This is so because a great deal, perhaps most, of what a child learns between zero and ten is learned purely by imitation. Sometimes parents are puzzled by children’s ability to detect hypocrisy or injustice even though they may be quite easily duped by what adults would recognize as obvious lies.
As far as I can tell this is the result of the fact that children learn and, in their early years, think in terms of actions and situations as opposed to ideas expressed as words. So when a parent is being hypocritical, i.e. is behaving hypocritically in a situation, the child senses it immediately whereas the parent may say something hypocritical or even untrue and it may very well evade the child altogether. What this means is that how a parent is has a far, far more profound effect on a child than what the parent says or even does in isolated situations.
So a parent who is concerned with cultivating good character in private for themselves as well as in public (as opposed to in public only for others to see) is much more likely to raise children of good character. For we are seldom aware when our children are absorbing our states from our actions, words, and reactions in the home. Children first internalize our natural unguarded natures that come out in comments we make thinking they are in their room when they are in fact in the hall. They see what disgusts us and what we laugh at. They note our priorities from our decisions and actions more than our words.
They look at our expressions when we talk about white people, or black people, or rich people, or poor people and they learn. So that when the children do or say some objectionable thing, that we scarcely realize was merely copied from our own ways, and we launch grand sanctimonious lectures (perhaps to be triumphantly recounted later to our friends) they will know what is real from what is mere pretense. And we are left wondering what it was that so soundly convinced them to the contrary of our high-minded words.
One could therefore say that arguably the most important rule of parenting has nothing at all to do with the child. And that rule is what was mentioned by Imam Abi Abdillah Al-Muhasibi (Allah shower him in mercy) when he said:
Know, may God grant you mercy, that trueness (sidq-الصدق) and sincerity (ikhlas-الاخلاص) are the basis of every (sound) condition.
Parenthood is by no means an exception to that rule.