Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
When his homework is your homework
I was helping my son with his annual ‘solar system’ project, and by annual I mean he does this every year without fail. This usually starts with a frantic search for the rubric and a deadline we are about to miss. It’s always the same thing. “Make a model of the solar system… blah blah blah.”
I was starting to question what the point of school was exactly. As a mother of a bright young boy, with a penchant for technology – I can understand his lack of enthusiasm for educational pursuits. While I was here painting the planet Earth, he was checking out what Bitcoin was trading for. Sure, I wanted him to grow up to be successful and well educated, but I wasn’t not sure which way I had to to go to achieve that. What I was sure about was that me going back to finger-painting was not it.
Finding a teachable moment
Should I stop him from using technology to learn the things that I know will be in his future or should I make him tow the line with the drab and dreary things he has to get done in school? It was a dilemma. Should he skip these painful exercises (painful for parents) where we end up doing all the work and they end up getting all the credit, I mean what was he really learning here? I thought about it for a while and then I decided not to help him.
Needless to say, he was very upset about the whole thing. “All the other children’s parents help them with their projects”, he lamented. “They are all going to get 100% and I won’t.” “You mean their parents are all going to get 100%?” I asked. He wasn’t happy, but I was going to be firm about this. It was about more than getting a good grade for some meaningless project.
Setting them up for success
We had already discussed our ideas, the materials and the steps needed to complete the project. He was all set. All he had to do was just put in some effort and do it. I had to be okay with him not getting the best grades in the class. It was not a competition with the other students even though that’s what most people think school is about these days. I had to keep reminding myself that this was about him learning something. I decided I wanted to be a conscious parent. Right now, I was consciously helping him by not helping him.
The night started off with some being grumpy, some fussing, and some complaining. “It’s okay”, I told myself. “One day he will thank you for it.” I had to convince myself of this over and over again, because right now, he wasn’t thanking me for it, he was hating me for it.
Sit back and watch them figure it out
The teacher told them that they could hand it in any day before Friday. It was Wednesday afternoon when he came home with some decorated Christmas tree ornaments from his friends at school (why Muslim kids have Christmas ornaments I don’t know) that resembled some of the planets. He was hyped up about some of the other projects that were handed in that day. He talked about the fancy features, the LED lights, the spinning motors and some other interesting stuff his friends had done with their projects. I just smiled and nodded.
He was so determined that he could do the same or even better. He was brimming with ideas. He wanted to add this and that, mix and match. I encouraged him to be creative. I let him explore. I didn’t want to interfere too much. I took out some of his old broken toys and race-cars and said he could use any parts he thought might help to make it spin. He needed to learn how to take his ideas and make them real. He needed to learn how to figure things out. He spent all afternoon digging in his cupboards to find other useful odds and ends.
Eventually I could see he was making some progress. The house was a mess, but he was making some progress. He was upset that one of the planets was not to scale. I said, “It’s okay, nobody will notice.” He insisted he had to redo it. He wanted it to be perfect, and he wanted to do it by himself. He didn’t want me to ruin it. He spent the whole afternoon and part of the night figuring out how to design, decorate and arrange the model in an impressive way so he could take it to class the next day.
The more effort he put into it, the more excited he got about accomplishing something he did all by himself. Whatever he managed to put together, I knew I would be proud of him because he did it on his own. He was learning to be an independent, creative, capable thinker and that was really what educating him was about.
Some hadith for conscious parenting
As parents, we tend to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of managing our kids lives so that they can have everything we never had. We tend to pamper them and never let them feel an ounce of difficulty and discomfort. We feel like we are good parents if our children never have to endure any hardships in life. We take pride in making them look and act perfect for the rest of society to see. Unfortunately, things don’t turn out the way we plan. The more we do for them, they less they will be able to do for themselves one day.
The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi va sallam) said: “Allah (SWT) will ask every caretaker about the people under his care, and the man will be asked about the people of his household”. If our kids turn out to be entitled, privileged useless and arrogant people, we will be answerable for it. We need to take heed of the small opportunities for teaching the right values. We are responsible for enabling our children to grow up and become self-sufficient, independent, righteous and productive members of the Ummah.
The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi va sallam) said, “The best gift to children from parents is their correct training” (Tirmizi). As Muslim parents, the best gift that we can provide to our children is training that can help them live as responsible Muslim adults, fulfilling the rights of Allah and others, which can lead to success in their hereafter as well. We want them to be able to provide for themselves and live with Islamic values that they can impart to future generations. The only way we can instil values in them is to let them experience it for themselves.
Jumay ibn Umair reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was asked, “What is the most virtuous earning?” The Prophet said, “It is an honest sale or a man’s work with his hands.” Let your children learn to do things for themselves and learn to work with their own hands. We might pride ourselves in being able to do everything for our children, and by doing that we disable them. Take pride in knowing that your child is capable of doing more than you ever thought possible and let them take pride in finding out that they are capable of more than they ever imagined.
Tips for teaching self-sufficiency:
- Let your kids make their own snacks (with supervision of course)
- Allow them to pick up after themselves
- Let them clean their own rooms
- Make them do their own projects and homework
- Give them a chance to help others with fixer upper projects at home
- Give them opportunities to explore their own ways of figuring things out and only help by giving them a push in the right direction when you see they are really struggling