Muzemmal was very concerned about his preteen daughter Sara. She was always so obedient and thoughtful and sweet. But he had attended a lecture at the mosque about raising children in America and the lecturer had told stories about wild parties hosted by children from the mosque. He had said some of the least suspicious children were actually some of the wildest. And Muzemmal had felt like the lecturer had been looking straight at him, personally, when he said that.
Muzemmal had tried to talk to Sara about the stories he'd heard, and she had responded properly, modestly looking down at the ground and denying having heard about any such activity. But he still felt uneasy. So he called Tara's house the next evening, where she had said she was going to work on a project for school. Tara's mom said she wasn't there but Tara was, and he got really worried.
About 8 pm Sara came home. When he confronted her, she said she had gone to the library to do research for the project. Hadn't she told mom her change of plans before leaving? Mom said she hadn't. Sara apologized very sweetly. His daughter was so beautiful. Muzemmal felt very concerned about his preteen daughter. Where could he go for help?
Mariam attended a lecture on how to discipline her children and came home all pumped to implement some new strategies. She'd train her younger child to do 'time out' and her older two to face consequences for their misdeeds. She had the literature passed out at the lecture and felt a glow of optimism.
But she came home to kids used to her usual behavior and she fell right back into the patterns of life she so strongly wanted to change. Bedtime chaos reigned as usual with her 6 year old coming out of his room umteen times, each time with a different excuse, and her older two ignoring her reminders that "It's time for bed" until she screamed, turned off the TV herself, and stood waving her arms wildly at them to get them out of the living room and off to their bedrooms. She tried the time out thing with her 6 year old the next day and he wouldn't stay. He thought it was a game. After she tried it three times she gave up in despair. Where could Mariam go for support?
Everyone needs help in raising their children. A one hour lecture or reading one advise book is not enough. How many people with little cooking experience can read a recipe and make it turn out right the first time? How many people grew up seeing Mom or Dad making that special dish the whole family loves, and could make it themselves perfectly the first time they tried it on their own? Raising children is much harder than cooking. There are more variables. Each child has a unique personality. We often live in very different environments than our parents and we are responding to different pressures. There are different expectations.
Our first step, of course, should be to call on Allah for guidance. His help is the most important. Then we look around and see what comes our way that might be guidance. Look for people, either mentors or supporters. One place to look should be to our spouses, parents and our family members. Our spouses should be working with us on our parenting issues but they usually aren't more expert than we are ourselves, and they may have a very different perspective. Often one parent leaves most of the parenting to the other. Working in consultation, supporting each other, is very important to the well being of the children.
Who might be a mentor, an experienced wise person to give advice? If you have someone, great. That is a blessing. Our mentors in the States are usually incomplete. We need someone who has experience in this country, in this environment where we live, where our children live and we need someone knowledgeable about Islam. Finding one person to guide you with both is difficult. Don't give up on any source of help. They may well be the answer to your prayers. But be aware of the possible limitations of your source and keep your options open to combine advise from more than one source.
"Let there arise out of you a group enjoining what is good and forbidding what is wrong." Start a support group, or join one. Americans have a tradition for doing this. The new frontier nature of creating this country separated families and communities, and people had to find new ways of getting the neighborly help most of us need. This system works in places where mature stable communities don't exist.
Talk to some other people of similar situation, family members, friends, or people who look like they might be interested in your project. Three is probably the minimum number and you don't want so many that hosting becomes difficult. The smaller the group, the more informal and less structured you can be. Invite them over for an evening to discuss structure and agree on how to organize. Meet once a month or once a week? It depends on people's schedule. You're not an expert on parenting? You aren't supposed to be. But you will become an expert over time.
In a support group, everyone is admitting in advance that they aren't perfect but they want to do better. And everyone is accepting to help each other do better. Each person in the group will have some strengths and some weaknesses. As a whole the group should have enough variety that the sum of the group's strengths helps everyone benefit. When you meet with the sincere intention to please Allah in raising your children, you can avoid being judgmental of others in your group. Accept that you will have disagreements so do that respectfully. Listen to each person and be thoughtful of each other. Within the limits imposed by Allah there are many ways to raise a child. Each person will have some suggestions for at least one practical method that will work for someone else. Brainstorming together gives all participants more options of things to do. But don't just rely on your own knowledge.
There is a great deal of scientific material available that can be used to focus the group on normal child development. There is as much or more information on how to teach your children. And there is some inspirational work available about the Islamic perspective. Some groups arrange to have guest speakers come, from time to time.
If you know how to organize a house and keep your family on schedule, you can organize a support group. Get someone to volunteer to keep a few notes for the group and send reminders to everyone before meetings. Lead a discussion about what topics people want to work on. Get volunteers to find material on each topic and write up a schedule. Or get one book that focuses on most of what people are interested in, have everyone buy a copy, (or borrow from the library) and then schedule discussions on the different chapters. People will add their own personal observations and ideas during the discussion.
One possible structure: every other Friday meet at 7:00 at a different person's house. Open with dua, asking for guidance. Read a selection from the Quran, then a hadith. Ask someone to summarize the evening topic in about 10-15 minutes. (This isn't rocket science or a doctoral thesis. Keep topics short and simple.) Open up group discussion. What does this mean for me? How do I implement this in my situation? After about 30 minutes the hostess or host starts serving refreshments and someone closes with a dua. Discussion becomes more informal. By 8:30-9:00 pm it's done and people go home, think about things, try things with their kids, and prepare for the next meeting. Before starting the evening topic you might add a few minutes to ask people for follow up on the last meeting's topic. Does it need more study? Any success stories from anyone?
If you can't find supporting people in your community, perhaps you need to think about where you live. A child's fitra (basic nature from Allah (SWT)) is to model himself after his parents, but as the child grows and starts to observe people outside of home, he starts to observe the differences between home and the rest of the world. Another aspect of the child's fitra is a desire to fit in with the community around him. We need a community around us that reflects our values.