By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
17 April 2016
There is a growing realisation today that appropriate parenting is something that has to be consciously learnt and that it isn’t something that happens automatically once you become a parent. Simply producing a child doesn’t mean that you are capable of being an appropriate parent.
A plethora of books and other easily available resources are a useful tool for parents and would-be parents today to learn about the art of appropriate parenting. Contemporary approaches to appropriate parenting are, by and large, child-centric. This is a welcome shift from a parent-centred approach to parenting that focused on seeking to make the child meet the needs and expectations of its parents.
In contemporary discussions about appropriate parenting there is much discussion about various needs of the child—physical, emotional, psychological, and intellectual—as well as the most appropriate ways in which to meet these needs. What are the most appropriate things that children of different age groups should eat? What are the most appropriate toys that children should be given? The most appropriate books for them to read? The most appropriate games for them to play with? The most appropriate television programmes for them to watch? The most appropriate colours for their bedroom walls? What is the most appropriate way for parents to express their love for their children and for children to learn to respect their elders? What is the most appropriate way to get siblings to get along well? What is the most appropriate way for parents to monitor their children, to encourage them to do the things they should and to abstain from the things they should avoid? What is the most appropriate form of schooling for contemporary kids? And so on. There’s a huge amount of debate on these matters—and it’s all to the good. Parenting ‘experts’ have opinions on every such issue.
But amidst all of this enormous amount of discussion there’s one subject that’s often conspicuous by its absence—the issue of the spiritual or religious needs of the child, the needs of the soul in other words, and of the most appropriate means to meet these needs. This is hardly surprising, though, as materialism, which has no room for the soul, rapidly occupies the place of religion in the lives of many of us, even among those of us who wouldn’t ever consider themselves atheists. In the materialist worldview, the purpose of life is the titillation of the five senses, although it may not be stated as such in so many words. “Live for today! Who knows about tomorrow? Enjoy! Be happy! Maximize your potentials! Express yourself! Freak out!”—that’s why we are here on earth, according to believers in this ‘religion’ of endless fun and consumption.
Religion teaches us that the purpose of God having created us is for us to worship Him. To worship God is why we are here on earth for. Accordingly, the cornerstone of appropriate parenting, according to the religious point of view, is to ensure that the child grows in God-consciousness, thus fulfilling the purpose for which it has been placed on earth by God. In this way, the child is also to be appropriately prepared for its life after death, which stretches till eternity.
Meeting the needs of the soul of the child, and in the most appropriate manner, is thus at the very core of spiritually-oriented appropriate parenting. To ignore this most vital need of one’s children is to destroy their lives—in this world as well as in the eternal Hereafter. If failing to meet your child’s physical or emotional or intellectual needs is bad parenting, ignoring or messing up with the needs of your child’s soul is infinitely worse.
You might provide what you think is the best home environment and school education for your child and you might give him all the material comforts you can afford, but if you fail in your responsibilities as far as his spiritual needs are concerned and ignore his need to establish a close personal relationship with the Creator, you have miserably failed as a parent and done untold harm to your little one. If your child grows up to lead a Godless life, you have to share much of the blame for his failure to fulfill the purpose for which he was created.
Parents need to be careful about the means they use to seek to meet the spiritual needs of their children. Using force, fear and coercion to try to instill faith in God in a child can be as damaging to the child’s spiritual health as ignoring the spiritual dimension of their lives altogether. Many children grow up into hardened atheists as a rebellion against their parents for seeking to force religion down their throats. As in many other things, love is the most appropriate means to help nurture a child’s spirituality.
The materialist understanding of the purpose of human life is, of course, in total contrast to the religious. And as materialism advances—it being as missionising a religion as any of the ‘traditional’ religions—it infects the ways in which appropriate parenting is seen by many, even by those who do not consider themselves atheists, because of which they pay little or no attention to the innate spiritual needs of their children. This explains why many parents who do everything they can to provide what they believe is the ‘best’ for their children—giving them the most ‘trendy’ clothes, sending them to the supposedly ‘best’ schools, arranging for them to do a whole host of courses, taking them out on exposure trips and learning expeditions, plying them with the latest toys, gadgets and ‘fancy’ food, and so on—do nothing at all to meet their children’s innate spiritual needs.
Talk of God is almost completely absent in their homes, and perhaps the only time (if at all) the family does anything ‘religious’ is on a festival once or twice a year—and that, too, as a matter of ritual and tradition and these being treated as yet another occasion for fun and frolic rather than for thanking God or thinking about Him. Many parents would spend a fortune to arrange for private mathematics or science tuitions, piano lessons or French classes for their children, but how many would bother to arrange for their children to attend religious classes after school, even if just once a week or hire someone to come home to provide their children with spiritual instruction? Many parents would gift their child an expensive encyclopedia or the latest model "smart-phone" on their birthdays, but how many would gift them a text of the scriptures or a set of CDs about spirituality?
Thankfully, though, not all parents have bought into the mesmerising logic of consumerism. There are still a significant number who continue to make arrangements to meet their children’s spiritual needs, reflecting an understanding of the purpose of human life that ought to be at the very core of visions of appropriate parenting.
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