The problem with love
Having gone to school in a community where everyone’s parents were doctors, except for mine, I grew up with a certain stigma about the medical field and occupants of it. My closest friends constantly reflected how their fathers were not involved in their lives, worked late hours often and were home at hours that were not suitable for ‘family time’. Dinners were rarely a communal meal and legitimate “family time” was usually confined to a twice-a-year vacation in California. These conversations always baffled me; my parents did not necessarily come to all my games, fundraisers, or end-of-the-year graduation parties, but they did make an attempt to spend time with my siblings and I by stressing little things like family meals and taking time to sort out immature fist-fights between us. As we grew older, our relationship with our parents grew deeper for the most part through these minor yet well- established habits. While my opinion of parents who are doctors is clearly tainted by a bias, it is also not completely unjustified; I mean, really? Do parents seriously expect a few days a year spent in a sunny state to replace what should be constant quality bonding time between them and their children?
The problem with love
As parents, whether or not you love your child is not up for debate – struggling with expressing affection or maintaining healthy communication on a consistent basis does not negate the fact that you are his/her parent, whose role encompasses an insurmountable love for your child. However, love alone cannot make or keep a relationship deep and fulfilling. As humans we all need reassurance of even the most discernible aspects of our lives from time to time. Think about things this way: if you love someone, do you not seek to spend time with them and get to know them? Do you not make sure to check on them as often as you can, to get to know what they love or hate, what they do or do not do, or how they think and act in different situations? Do you not see that, as a parent, your role is to help your children be the best version of themselves, and to be able to do this, you must know who they are first?
Also, as a parent, do you know what your child’s love language is? How does your son or daughter interpret and express his/her love? You may have been able to answer these questions back when your child was five years old, or eight years old, but do you still know now? The reason you may find yourself unable to answer this question is because back when your child was only eight, his/her attachment to you was much stronger. As children grow older, their immediate dependency on their parents lessens gradually. Likewise, and unfortunately so, your child’s bond with you will start to fade out as he/she grows older if both of you do not make an effort to prevent this from happening. And it all begins with taking the time to interact with one another. As corny as this sounds, spending quality time with your child is essential to the development of a sound relationship between you both, as well as creating a dynamic of depth for the family as a whole.
No, I am not suggesting that those of you who are doctors (or have jobs that occupy a significant portion of your time) quit your job or change it in order to develop a relationship with your child. I am, however, providing ALL parents with a few tips that, if considered with an open mind and heart, are sure to help boost the quality of your relationship with your children.
- Making Time: Seriously. Just put aside a fraction of your day or week for your family. It can be as simple as fifteen minutes of making sure your family knows that you care about them. On the ride to school or home, talk to your kid. Ask how school was, not out of parental duty (because kids can actually tell the difference between a genuine question and a forced one), but because you actually care. And you should care.
If your son/daughter is old enough or is not in need of a ride, call him/her on your way to work. Once your family realizes that you are making an attempt to reach out to them, they will reciprocate. However, this does not mean that reciprocation will come immediately and eagerly, especially if your family has grown used to the distance between parent and child. But the point is to initiate and make the intention of bridging the age, generation, and difference gap between you two…
And if your life really is that hectic, to the extent that you cannot dedicate such a small amount of time for your family, then you need to re-prioritize your life. If you put everything in your life before your family then how can you claim that they are the most important people in your life?
- Rich Dialogue: Bonding time cannot fulfill its true purpose of bringing people closer through a shallow means. It can begin that way, through sharing a meal or a family vacation, but without depth, sincerity, and rich dialogue between parent and child then the time spent is pretty much useless.
This is probably the hardest part for most families, especially those who have been distant from one another for a long time. Here I see it necessary to add my personal input from experience: as a teen, I have noticed that most adults are so eager to preach to youth at every chance possible. While my parents do have their rant-at-child/lecture-mode moments, I did notice a stark difference between the way my family interacted versus the interaction of others.
For one thing, my parents had an open-door discussion policy; in other words, we could ask them about anything and were never shoved away or scolded for being curious. I actually do remember asking my father in the fourth grade about what really happened when a woman gave birth, and he gave me a very straight-up, honest answer that was tailored to the sensitivity of my young age. Due to moments like this, when I learned something new or wondered about something, I was eager to ask my father about it. Eight years later, this characteristic still exists in my relationship with my parents, but now I have just as much of an opinion to share with them as they do with me. And that brings me to my next point.
- Balancing Respect, Age, and Opinion: While utmost respect was expected from us as children towards all adults, my parents reciprocated that respect and did not put themselves on an untouchable pedestal. They were ready to check themselves (most of the time) and valued our opinions just as they would an adult’s. They made an attempt to engage us in conversations and humor at least once a day.
Ask yourself if the child version of you would want to interact with the parent-version of you. Would you make your child smile? Would you hear them out and make them feel important in a conversation? Or would you be the person to shoot-down their opinion or be on auto-correct mode, ready to add your input and straighten out their “opinion” before hearing it?
Sometimes, I guess, people have the perception that being a parent means being a policeman. When you allow yourself to think of your relationship with your son/daughter as one similar to law enforcement, think again. Yes, you may have more experience than your son or daughter, but he or she also probably has experiences you never had, and vice versa. So why should you be of the opinion that your input is more valuable than theirs? Case in point, hear your kid out. Make them feel valuable and respected, and expect the same.
- Belonging: Making room for family time is one way to help each other feel loved, but responsibility can also do the same. Raise your child with the mentality that in a home, each and every person has a role to play. Expecting one another to contribute something to the family helps each individual understand the concepts of sacrifice, dedication, and active loving and protects against the development of a self-centered lifestyle/mentality. When all members of the family realize that they are needed in some way, they will recognize the importance of a shared responsibility within a family structure. However, it is equally important to bring about the spirit of appreciation amongst you in order that this sense of belonging is not built solely on a materialistic need for one another, but of a way to serve each other out of love.
Of course, the problem is always easier to treat before it manifests; therefore if you are a new or “young” parent, putting these tips into action will be much easier for you than they would be for a family in its later stages. If things do seem impossible, do consider family therapy, especially if the distance between you and your children has manifested itself into greater, more complex issues. Begin with the intention to better your relationship with your offspring, and inshaAllah you will be rewarded for your intentions, at the very least. Establishing these small habits will pay off in the long term, when dinner becomes something your whole family looks forward to in their day, and when they do not have to wait for an annual vacation to consider one another as family.
I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below!