Author: Abu Sahla
Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”
Children are special. They are a gift that Allah bestows upon whomsoever He wants, and withholds from whomsoever He wants. They are the repositories of our hopes and dreams. The guarantee that some, small part of us will linger on, on this tiny, blue, ball of rock – a link to the future. There is nothing quite like the sensation of falling in love at the first sight of your child emerging small, and wrinkled, reaching out to the bright, noisy, new world that it has just entered. How do you describe the tightness in your chest as your heart expands to bursting, seeing that tiny, delicate, precious form; a spark of life from Allah that has been clothed with your blood and your bones?
“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you will be asked about this flock” (Bukhari and Muslim)
The Prophet (SAW) said that Allah did not send any messenger except that he made them a shepherd for a time. Have we not seen that a shepherd will watch over his flock and guide them? He will remove the stones from their hooves, and clean the mud and faeces from their coats. He will dock their tails and lance the boils from their flesh. He will protect them when they are in danger, and care for them when they are ill. He knows the weaknesses and strengths of each animal, as their survival, and his own prosperity, depends upon this. His pride in his care and concern for them is such that he will deprive himself of sleep and rest in order to discharge his duty.
This is the shepherd fulfilling his duty towards an animal that will neither acknowledge him, nor remember him. What then of we fathers, who expect the love and respect of our children? We, who expect to be honoured and obeyed in our households? What type of shepherds are we with these precious gifts from Allah? Do we assume the level of care and nurture of the shepherd as exemplified above?
Or do we permit ourselves the lazy thinking that lets us believe that taking care of children means nothing more than “putting food on the table and a roof over their heads”. Having children thus becomes a tickbox exercise that, once completed, needs no further real effort. We can sit back and watch our wives struggle and toil as they take on the Herculean task of managing everything on their own. We have forgotten, or we do not realise, what it means to be shepherds to our children (as well as protectors and maintainers of our wives).
Raising children is hard,….which is why we often tend to leave it to women! It demands time and energy, understanding and patience, strength of character and firmness of will. Above all, looking after children takes stamina….all day, every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The father that hopes for the love and respect of his child, when he is old, needs to remember that this love and respect is the harvest of what he sowed when the child was young: the result of the hard work that he put into raising that child. The thing that makes the champion sprinter special is not the fact of running the 100m in under 10seconds, nor is the accomplishment of the Olympic powerlifter that he can benchpress 250kg. What makes them special is the blood, sweat, toil and tears that we know it must have taken to get them there. As it is in sport, so is it in life and especially in raising children. As the best example said, (SAW)
“The best of you is the best to his family, and I am the best of you to my family” (Tirmidhi)
A child’s love of their mother is a seed that Allah places in the heart but which has to be grown and nurtured. Children love their mothers above all other people not just because of who they are, but because of what they do.
Cause who used to hold you
and clean you and clothe you?
Who used to feed you
and always be with you?
When you were sick
Stayed up all night
Holding you tight?
That’s right no other…
When we as men leave our wives unsupported, to be stressed, tired and fed up looking after our children, we not only lose the blessings of emulating the generous spirit of the Prophet (SAW), but we also lose the opportunity to develop a relationship with our children that mirrors that shared with their mothers (and that’s not to mention the whole world of pain your wife will visit on you because she had a bad day!). Any man can father a child. But it takes a Man to be a father to a child and a proper husband to his wife.
Life is made of shared memories – memories of both the hard and the easy times. However, nobody really remembers the nights when they slept well or the times they were well rested. They remember the sleepless nights sitting up with their son with a raging fever. They remember sitting anxiously in the emergency department praying the doctor will tell them that the rash on their daughter’s back is not the first sign of meningococcal septicaemia. They remember feeding a recalcitrant toddler and spending the next hour picking rice out of their hair and clothes from the resulting tantrum. They remember endless nappy changes and dirty milk bottles. They remember frantically running around to get out of the house on time, all the while bellowing at the kids to “put on your shoes”, “stop punching your brother”, “give your little sister her toy back” and “get out of the toilet but put your trousers back on!” They remember shuttling backwards and forwards to drop the kids at football, and rugby, and swimming, and horseriding, and hockey practice, and tutoring, and French club, and scouts and so on ad infinitum.
These things are the stuff of shared memory and experience. The Prophet (SAW) tells us,
“Indeed Allah does not look at your bodies and your wealth, rather He looks at your deeds and hearts” (Bukhari)
Children do not look at our bodies and our wealth. In the end it does not matter to them what we HAVE for them, but rather what we do WITH them and FOR them. Your child will remember your sitting by them, patiently going over and over the same maths problem till, suddenly, the light of understanding shines in their eyes and turns their painful frown into the most beautiful smile (I’m still waiting for that one!). Your children will remember playing and screaming and shouting with you with joy and happiness. They will remember stories at bedtimes and hugs and kisses. They will remember you BEING THERE – it is not enough to get them presents, you need to BE present – raising children, after all, is not a spectator sport!
Of course it will be hard when they don’t let you rest after having spent the day at work. When they get you up early from your lie in after a night shift, or they insist on building their castle right in front of the television whilst you are trying to watch the FA cup final! But the difficult times are what make the memories of their childhood all the sweeter, and what will endear you to them, and them to you. In the end we must, as fathers, show our sons what type of men they should be and our daughters what type of men they should be with.
A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms, even when his hands are empty (Unknown).
….Where Practice Makes Perfect
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