Last week, I published a post about consonantal roots in Arabic and how those could give us clues and insights into what types of parents we should strive to be. In this post, I’ll elaborate a bit more about parenting styles and how these styles are aligned with our expectations as parents in Islam.
The Best Example
The Prophet (pbuh) was never known to be cruel to children. He never spanked or even raised his voice to a child, and even gave children allowances during prayer. There is a Hadith which talks about the Prophet (pbuh) shortening his prayer upon hearing a baby crying, knowing that the crying would distress both mother and child. He often had his own grandchildren with him during prayers. In one Hadith, he was praying with one of his grandsons present. While he prostrated, his grandson climbed on top of him. He remained this way for a long time, so much so that those that were praying with him thought he might have received some revelation. But the Prophet (pbuh), in his mercy and kindness, replied:
Nothing happened, but my son was riding on my back and I did not want to hurry him up until he had had enough.
There are four major styles of parenting: neglectful, permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative. Each parenting style is categorised two criteria: responsiveness and demandingness. Responsiveness applies to how quickly and positively we respond to our children’s needs. These include physical and emotional needs. It is what we as parents are giving our children. Demandingness refers to our expectations from our children. It is what they are giving back to us in a sense.
We can all agree that neglectful parenting, which is unresponsive and and unresponsive parenting, is definitely not part of the sunnah. However, you will find that some people use other parenting styles, either because they don’t know any better or because they genuinely feel that parenting in their way is best for the child.
This is the parenting style of many of our own parents. Authoritarian parenting is a parent-led style where the parent is obeyed without question or explanation. There is a lot of mention of respect with this style of parenting, but only towards the adult. An authoritarian parent does not believe that the parent/child relationship is reciprocal. Children obey and parents give orders, without question. Authoritarian parents fear their children will try to manipulate them at the first opportunity, and will avoid “bending” to their child’s will. As such, there is not much responsiveness or compassion on the part of the parents.
The expectations of a child with authoritarian parents is often high and does not take into account age appropriate behaviour. Despite expressing that they know best and that children should obey, they seem to believe that their children can cope in ways that even many adults cannot. They don’t encourage free expression, free thought, assertion of self. Everything that the child does has to have the parent in mind. How the parent will feel or react. It is a parenting style driven by ego and control.
Children of authoritarian parents often grow up to be very good at following rules, but tend to have issues with self-esteem, self-assertion, and responsible risk taking.
Permissive parenting is a child-led style which is the opposite of authoritarian parenting. Children are left to their own devices with little to no guidance. This is not due to neglect, but a fear of upsetting the child. Although the parents tend to be warm and nurturing, they do not provide direction or set expectations for their children. They will often give in to their child’s wants in order to not upset them, even against their better judgement. They use rewards and bribery in an attempt to get the child to behave. Again, this is not in line with the age appropriate or developmental capabilities of the child.
The lack of guidance and natural consequences means that these children often under-perform their peers. And more importantly, the constant rewards, bribery and distraction techniques meant they often have issues regulating their emotions as adults.
Authoritative parenting is the healthy medium between authoritarian and permissive parenting. Although the parent is in charge, they understand the limitations of their child and have age appropriate expectations of behaviour. Rather than taking a permissive or an authoritarian role, the parent is there to guide the child, respond to their needs, and help them navigate through their emotions. There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” behaviour. All behaviour is a form of communication, and therefore what would normally be deemed “negative” behaviour is the result of an unmet need. Rather than punishing the child, it is the parent’s job to explore that unmet need in order to change the behaviour. Consequences for actions are natural rather than forced.
An authoritative parent is warm and caring, but consistent. Children are given freedom of expression. When something is not possible or behaviour isn’t appropriate, this is explained in clear language that the child will understand. Authoritative parents don’t seek to fix issues with the child, but to understand the underlying cause. They grow and change with their child, and see the parent/child relationship as reciprocal. And although they are the ones that guide, they allow flexibility. Their goal in parenting is to raise empathetic, compassionate, driven children with a growth mindset.
Children of authoritative parents tend to be independent, confident, responsible risk takers. There is a combination of compassion and guidance in authoritative parenting.
Parents in the Qur’an & Sunnah
And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination.
Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.
There is undoubtedly a high regard for parents in Islam. Allah (swt) tells us to be kind and to care for our parents. Allah (swt) also tells parents to be kind and compassionate to the children he has entrusted into their care. The Qur’an also says that we shouldn’t get annoyed with our parents, even if they are senile or old:
And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, “My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.”
It is clear from the Qur’an that the relationship of parent and child is not one of control and obedience, but of mutual respect and love. Of care, compassion and guidance. A relationship built on mutual trust. Rahma, barakah, amanah.
As a matter of fact, in researching for this blog, I couldn’t find even one verse in the Qur’an which referred to obedience to parents. The language of the Qur’an is deliberate, rich and purposeful. It is clear that authoritative parenting was the style of the Prophet (pbuh), and what we should strive for.
I will write more digestible pieces on authoritative parenting and breaking down barriers to overcome and unlearn parenting techniques that are holding us and our children back. In the meantime, I highly recommend Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s book, Gentle Parenting.
All behaviour is communication. Are you listening?