Sunday, January 10, 2010

More than Shoes

So Adnan finally got to the store to get new sport shoes for his son Mahmoud, who is 12 and just entered middle school.  Dad agreed that he needs them and expected this to go as in years past, when they bought good basic sports shoes at a nearby department store with a minimum of hassle. 

But Mahmoud said EVERYONE at school buys from this sports store and he has been talking for a week or so about a particular shoe and gotten his dad to agree to see it, which Mahmoud seems to have interpreted as a promise to buy.  Some famous basketball player wears it apparently… or was it baseball?  And now Adnan is in front of the display, with a salesman hovering nearby to help, and Mahmoud has just grabbed the 'perfect shoe' that he says his best friends are wearing.  IT COSTS $120 and it doesn't even LOOK LIKE A SHOE!  It looks like some boot for a robot on a Sci-Fi film.  It is pieces of red and silver and black plastic sewn together with straps in a boxy sort of form.  Who can run with that on?

A wave of anger and frustration comes over Adnan.  He feels pressured, trapped.  Make a scene in the store?  In front of these strangers and especially in front of his son?  Some would.  Some might storm, "Over my dead body!" and march out of the store.  Or they might say, "That's a shoe?  It looks like a piece of junk!" What other embarrassing things could someone say or do to make his child squirm and vow internally never to be caught dead shopping with Dad again?  Some parents just give up. They hand the child their credit card and say, "Get anything you like under this price," and walk away.

We may think ahead and plan but our children frequently ambush us with these unexpected problems.  But how is this related to Islam? 

If we are serious about submitting to Allah, it should make a difference in our lives, not just with how we pray or fast, but with our outlook and conduct.  The Quran is guidance and the Prophet is a role model.  So what can we draw on from Quran and sunnah to deal with a situation like this?  There are probably many ways available.

Personally I regularly ask Allah for guidance and strength in my dua during prayer.  I've worked hard to control my anger over the years, because there are many hadith against it and encouraging self control.  One of the advantages of controlling anger is that I've found I can think of solutions to problems better.  Like most people, I respond better when I have time to think.  Then I hope that, because of my prayers, Allah will inspire me to a good response. 

I've made it a habit to reflect often on Surah 3 verse 159: "And by the Mercy of Allah you dealt with them gently.  And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you.  So pass over (their faults) and ask (Allah's) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs.  Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah, certainly Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)."  This verse was addressing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) concerning his leadership of his people.  Scholars have said it applies to anyone in leadership.  Many people ignore this verse and act like being the leader is a dictatorship.  But Prophet Muhammad listened to counsel and acted on advice from others, and he was always gentle and thoughtful.

Some people might say you don't consult with children.  Children don't know anything.  But think of what you get when you do.  By listening to them and discussing with them:
  • You teach them about cooperating politely and thinking constructively, important skills in today's world. 
  • You hear their concerns so you can make a better decision. 
  • They can point out facts or points of view that we haven't considered. "The word of wisdom is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it he has a better right to it" (Tirmidhi).  And Allah can send us a parable 'even of a mosquito' (2:26).  If we can learn from a mosquito, can we not learn from a child?  
  • Explaining ourselves to them forces us to clarify our own motives for action.
  • They are more likely to accept the outcome because they feel more a part of the solution. 
  • They will see how we care about them and their needs. 
  • They are more likely to come to us in the future with problems or issues, because they know we are taking their interests to heart. 
  • Parents who listen and discuss issues with their children are less likely to have problems with teenage rebellion.  It is extremely important for people raising their children in the Western educational system which encourages thinking as opposed to memorizing. 
  • We are still the adults in charge and we have the final say.
Some options for this shoe scenario might include:

  • If Adnan easily has the money, he can buy the shoe this time (if they have his son's size and it fits) and work to prepare the ground with his son so surprises like this don't happen in the future.  He should plan to discuss the purchase and create ground rules for future shopping.
  • He can work to negotiate calmly with his child in the store.  Ask if he has really explored the options available.  Get him to try on other models.  Talk about fit.  Actually, if this is a serious sports store, they probably have a fit expert on the floor.  Dad can ask for this expert and get him to talk with the two of them about the sports his son plays, the use he makes of a sport shoe, and check his feet for arch and other problems.  If he must pay top dollar for a shoe, he can try to make it a quality shoe that will fit correctly for his son's sports.  This kind of conversation can often distract a child from the glow of a celebrity endorsement.   His desired boast of having the cool shoe of some sports player is replaced by the grown-up conversation of which shoe is best for which sport.  Any technical language the fit expert uses can be very helpful for this.
  • I've personally found that if I politely manage through the situation, praying to Allah to help, sometimes things just work themselves out.  Maybe the shoe won't fit, the size won't be available, or the boy notices the price tag and, knowing family habits, backs down on his own.  If we jump to conclusions and act quickly on first impressions, we often miss letting the child redefine the situation by his actions.  Allah doesn't punish us the instant we mess up.  Give the child time and space to correct things.
How does Islam guide your life with your children?  How would you have addressed this problem of shoes?  What would be your inspiration?

1 comment:

  1. I have found it very difficult for me to think about my teenage child as a teenager rather than as a small child. I had been so used to treating him like a child that about two or three years ago, I was surprised by him acting like a man when I went with him and our relatives to a local entertainment center. That was when I realized he had grown up and I need to treat him like a man and not like a child.
    We need to be always reminded to look at our childrena fresh look every now and then to determine how should we treat them and what kind of responsibilities should we entrust them with.