“You’re right,” I told her, “It is something to cry about.”
I had just been speaking with a sister who seemed to be a single mom. She is a full time student and struggling to raise her five year old son while pursuing a degree in a hard-core major program. I asked her what her son does while she is at school, and our conversation went something like this:
“He goes to school,” she replied, “and then after that daycare. But I treat him so bad,” she admitted, almost as a passing comment. “What exactly do you mean?” I inquired. “Well, he wants to tell me about everything, everything he just wants to share it, and I don’t have time for him, I just tell him to be quiet, I have so much to study.” Allah Musta’an. She tells a five year old who wants to share his world with her to just be quiet.
I started to try and gently advise her, you know, right now, he wants to tell you about his day, but if he senses from you that that you constantly want to push him away, that you want him to be quiet, that you do not want to listen to what he wants to share, when he’s older and you wish he would tell you everything that is going on in his life- when he’s surrounded by girls, surrounded by drugs, losing his deen, he will not want to come to you. His brain has formed a cause and effect understanding of “attempting to talk to mommy means pain and neglect,” and unconsciously, from this young age, he will not want to speak with you.
“I know,” she told me, “I cry about it to my mom. I cry. But this is what I have to do. I need to work hard now so I can financially support him later. This is what Allah wants me to do; Allah will take care of it.”
Allahu Akbar. She is expecting Allah ‘Azza wa Jall, to just “take care of her son”, since she is busy trying to get her degree so that she can financially provide for him later. MashaAllah, may Allah reward her, it’s awesome that she’s making such an effort, I can’t imagine the difficulty of being a single mom and a full time student, may Allah bless her time and make it easy for her! But what I cannot understand is how she is expecting Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to just make sure her son turns out emotionally healthy and socially happy when she is constantly sending messages to him about his unimportance, whether or not she is intending that message.
Brothers and sisters, taking care of the social and emotional needs of our children from infancy- or the lack thereof- has a direct and major impact on their mental and emotional health as adults.
Harvelle Hendrix, therapist and author of Getting the Love You Want, discusses the case of a man, John, who was insanely in love with a woman named Cheryl. The problem, John confessed to Hendrix, is that Cheryl always seemed to push him away. Why was he interested in a woman who seemed like she did not want him? As a child, John confessed his mother would tune him out. John had no idea why his mother would be “frequently unavailable” to him, but this would fill John with anxiety, at which point he would “strike out at her.” His mother would “push him away and send him in his room…[or] spank him and not talk to him for hours.” Hendrix goes on to explain that John learned to “suffer in silence,” and one day, after his mother spanked him for a reason he could not remember, but remembers feeling was unjustified, he ran to his room, went into the closet, and cried. And then, as a young child, he sat there, tears streaking down his face, with the realization that “nobody care[d] that [he was] crying”, and from that day he began to cover his anger and sadness, adopting an apathetic attitude. Thus, Hendrix’s explanation for John’s craziness over Cheryl, is his attempt to fulfill his “primitive yearning for closeness that he had experienced with his mother” (Hendrix, 1988, 58-59). John was willing to begin his life with a woman who was emotionally distant from him because of her similarity to his mother, and his unconscious yearning for his mother’s love and attention.
Hendrix also discusses how the trauma he himself experienced as an infant affected his first marriage. On his honeymoon, he described sitting at the beach, his bride collecting seashells at a distance. As he looked towards her, he noticed a droop in her shoulders. Suddenly, he felt anxious, and this feeling was “followed by the sick, sinking realization that [he] had married the wrong person.” Later, when he was speaking to a therapist, the therapist put him through an exercise which took him back to his childhood. Hendrix was able to remember being as young as one or two years old, playing on the kitchen floor. He visualized his mother, with her back to him, depressed, tired, her shoulders sagging. His father had died months before this, and his mother was left to take care of a house full of children. Hendrix explained he was “flooded with the awareness that [his mother] didn’t have any physical or emotional energy for [him]…she was so wrapped up in her own worries, she could only look after [him] mechanically.” Decades later, the image of his new wife, with the same droop in her shoulders, with the same complete concentration in her own activity, signaled a mental reflection which his brain had recorded in infancy, an image which connected his feeling of abandonment, of calling out to a mother who would not answer. In that moment, he felt that his new relationship would only be a repetition of the emotional neglect he experienced in his childhood (Hendrix, 1988, 70-71). SubhanAllah, how many of us know of couples who are going through massive difficulties in their relationships? Perhaps, as we have seen demonstarted in these two cases, the issues which they are facing are not simply surface issues that have appeared in their new relationships. Rather, these are core issues which takes root from a childhood filled with an emotionally unstable parental relationship.
Brothers and sisters, emotionally being available for our children is serious business, especially when they are in their formative years. As illustrated above, the type and quality of the interaction, or lack thereof, you have with your children when they are young directly impacts the way their brains form and react to you later on in their lives, and it impacts the way they view relationships with their own spouse and children in the future. When your kid is not praying, getting into trouble, experimenting with drugs, having illicit sexual relations, experiencing depression and eating disorders, running truancies and defying your “authority”, perhaps take a moment to reflect on who might really be to blame when you feel disconnected from and far from your child’s love and social reality.
Of course, we all have individual accountability, and there is no doubt that each individual should be accountable for his or her own actions. But if you were not there for your child, if you constantly pushed your child away, called him or her names (calling your children “stupid” and “dumb” is not really the way to confirm your love for them), emotionally manipulated him or her, neglected his or her desire to be loved, whether or not you did all of this intentionally, then honestly, the person you should want to slap most is yourself. And the best way to give yourself that slap is to realize it now, turn to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, make tawbah, and immediately work to reconcile the relationship with your child, and may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala give you tawfeeq.
Your children are a trust. Your desire to financially provide for your children is honorable and praiseworthy. But realize that in the end, regardless of how much you are able to materialistically provide for them, what they would have appreciated most as a child, and what they will inshaAllah value limitlessly as an adolescent and as an adult, is their ability to connect with the father or mother who has nurtured them and showed undivided interest in them from birth. InshaAllah they will remember your words, your caresses, and your sincere care more than the amount of toys and clothes they have. What your child needs most from you is not another gadget. What your child needs is to feel your undivided love.