My mom often tells me that she thinks raising children is getting harder with each generation. She is horrified by how different my generation is from hers. As societies become more individualized and stress the importance of the nuclear family over collective styles of living, we face unique issues that previous generations dealt with in a different way. There are problems of drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, delinquency, and violence that plague our schools and youth today. These modern crises seem to be affecting children at a progressively younger age.
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As new Muslim parents, my husband and I often discuss the problems we will encounter when trying to raise our daughter. All of the issues of violence and the overt sexualization of youth are on our minds, yet we also face the complexity of being a minority in America; a much hated minority in many parts of the country. I personally embrace my identity as a Muslim in America, but I also acknowledge that it is becoming more difficult for Muslims to do so with every passing day. Hate crimes are on the rise in American culture and there is a pervasive feeling of Muslims being the “Other” in mainstream society.
I know my daughter right now has no way of understanding that her parents are “different”. Once she begins to realize that her Muslim identity sets her apart from her peers, what are the developmentally appropriate methods of helping her to embrace her identity from an early age? How can I teach her to be proud of who she is while still accepting other people’s life choices? How can I hold her to Islamic moral standards while helping her to understand that she can not be judgmental of others?
As Muslim parents, it seems like the choices we make raising children are more critical and have a much more lasting impact than the average American family. We can not necessarily rely on mainstream society to help us enforce values and increase self acceptance in our children. And, with families being so far apart and nuclear families being the norm, there is a lot of pressure on parents to take full responsibility in raising children by themselves. I sometimes wonder if the modern lifestyle and the mentality that we are somehow able to “have it all” just sets us up for failure.
I was once speaking to a woman from the mosque about my fears and concerns in raising children. She was a mother of three grown children, all of whom were married and happily adjusted adults who practice Islam and God-consciousness in their lives. She told me that at some point, I will have to put aside my anxiety and rely on God to help me. “It is not you who will raise and guide these children. It is only Allah.” I laughed at the paradox of my own obsession in trying to raise God-conscious children without having learned the lesson of relying on God and trusting Him to take care of them.
There are many complexities we face as Muslims in America. Somehow, these issues come to light when we become parents and are forced to transfer our values and identity to the next generation. It truly becomes a test of our own faith and our own willingness to let go of our own egos. As for the balance of trusting God to guide our children and taking full ownership of the responsibility He has given us in raising children: it seems to be an ongoing struggle in my life. This struggle extends beyond our issues of identity in America and is at the very heart of our faith. As Rumi once said: Trust in God, but tie your camel.