Literature, Existentialism, Secularism, and all that fun stuff….

The topic of secularism and kids literature is one that is near and dear to me, so this is another area I’ll be delving into…
TL;DR [too long; didn’t read]: The secret to what kids’ fights, YA literature, and the Big Questions of Life have in common (this is not really a fair tl;dr because I’m not going to give you the spoiler)
My kids AB and Z get into awful fights over the stupidest things.
AB will insist that Z has done something, she will roundly declare she hasn’t, and eventually she comes sobbing to me, saying, “He says I did this but I didn’t!” Or vice versa. Or perhaps they are dickering over the exact nature of what went down. You would think they were members of the British Parliament brawling, the way they go at it.
Invariably, I repeat a mantra over and over again: “It doesn’t matter who says what—You can’t change reality.”
I try to get Z to understand that if she really didn’t say “AB is a stupid piece of poop,” it doesn’t matter how much her brother claims she did it. “His saying so doesn’t change the reality,” I tell her.
There’s a common thread you see in children’s and young adult novels as well as movies, and that is a certain level of existential wondering. “Do you ever think about what’s out there?” characters will muse. Angsty lovelorn teenagers will theorize over what happens after death (before one of them tragically dies). The authors will somehow remind us of the mystery of it all, the randomness, often with a nihilistic and/or secular humanistic underpinning.
This thread continues into adult literature– “When Breath Becomes Air” is a bestselling book by the late Paul Kalanthi. In it, he grapples with the big questions of life and death in the face of his impending death due to cancer.
To this I say the same thing, and I endeavor to pass this message on to my children in every aspect of life: It doesn’t matter what people say, the reality does not change.
It sounds nice to pontificate over the deep, dark, existential questions (preferably lying under the stars with your crush, Young Adult novel-style). Uncertainty is sexy, whereas conviction is passe.
Except—those discussions are just words. And remember: words don’t make reality. The world will keep on turning according to a predetermined plan no matter what we say about it.
To the wanderers and questioners, I say: there is a reality out there, so look for it. Pray for it.
Because when that Day comes when the reality (al-Haaqah) arrives, all the words will cease. All the wondering and theorizing will have been for naught, because the answer and the accountability will have arrived.
Skeptics have a cartoon that they are quite proud of, because they believe that all the universe’s questions can be answered by science alone. They despise the idea of religious ideas that have no proof in the physical world. The cartoon has a beaker from a lab with legs and arms. One hand is held up, giving the middle finger. The caption reads: “Science doesn’t give a sh*t about your beliefs.”
To this I say: “Reality doesn’t give a care about your words.”
 Let me close with a verse from the Qur’an that puts words and reality into context:
“His speech is the Haqq.”
Haqq is truth and reality all rolled up into one. And it is HIS speech that is the ultimate truth. Our words will be dust in the wind, but when He speaks, He creates the true reality. And it is one which we can never escape, no matter how many words and tales we weave.

How do I validate a child’s feelings?

“Okay,” you’re asking me. “We should validate a child’s feelings, even if they seem silly to us. What does this look like in practice?”

I’m going to post some examples as a follow-up to my last post about treating a child’s feelings as valid.

Three-and-a-half years ago: Ibrahim is one, and Abdullah is 7. I’m going to be honest here. Reading this now is making me cringe because I’ve fallen way off the wagon and need a boost to become more patient and empathetic. So consider this story a lesson for me as well!–

Abdullah was laying on my lap one day when Ibrahim, tired and jealous, lunged at him. He bit Abdullah’s stomach and dug his nails into him, then swung his little hands at him in frustration. I peeled Ibrahim off of Abdullah, and Abdullah yelled out in anger, “Bad! Bad, bad Ibrahim!”

“You’re really angry at Ibrahim right now,” I said.

Abdullah continued, “He’s bad! I don’t like him!”

I told him, “I hear that you’re really angry right now. I can’t let you talk like that in front of him though because those words are hurtful. Would it help you to have a pen and paper and write out what you are feeling?”

Abdullah nodded, and I handed him a pen and paper. He poured out all kinds of angry, frustrated scrawls in the manner of a typical seven-year-old boy. To be honest, some of the things he wrote made me cringe. But then I told him that this is the thing with feelings–they feel really big and awful right now, but they are like waves: they come and go. “You feel all these things right now and these waves are crashing down on you, but they’ll wash away at some point, and this writing helps to get the feelings out.”

“They’re still there–they haven’t come out,” he muttered.

“And that’s fine, too. It takes time.”

I tried really hard in this situation to just listen–to let him express what he felt, while still holding a firm limit about his behavior (my main limit is “No hurting people or property”). This is new for me, as my response would normally have been to dismiss (“Oh, he doesn’t understand, you’re okay,”) or distract (“Hey, let’s just look at this book!”).

It was a small incident, but it sent a lot of positive messages to Abdullah:
* Sometimes I have big and wild feelings, and it’s normal
* I can’t hurt people or damage things when I feel out of control, and I can trust my mom to protect me from doing that
* I can feel safe confiding my angry thoughts to my mom.
* I know that I can use writing to help deal with my feelings.
* I know that feelings come and go, even big feelings.

You can see here that acknowledging feelings and offering constructive skills is a powerful way to help a child develop maturity, social skills, and self-regulation.

New series: respectful parenting

I am publishing some of my Facebook posts here for those who are not on there. This was a kick-off post on the topic of respectful parenting. I hope to dive more into this subject with my own musings from the last few years of my own struggles to be a respectful parent. You can follow for updates (see sidebar) if you would like to keep abreast of new posts.


Has it ever happened that something happens to you–something that, in the scheme of things is really small but it upsets you terribly? Perhaps you were working on a document for hours and then the computer freezes and you lose your work. You were tired, hungry, and the straw broke the camel’s back. You just scream, cry, curse, throw your hands up in frustration–even though you know that life will go on and there is greater suffering in the world that deserves your tears and anger. But still. It happens.

Which response would you prefer from your loved one? “Oh c’mon, get over it–people in the world are dying and you’re crying over this? First. World. Problems.” Or perhaps you’d prefer a little distraction?, “Oh, hey, just forget that, look over here at this thing on my phone.” What about this response? “Man, that’s frustrating. I’m here if you want to vent or need help.”

How about this situation? A child’s block tower or lego structure collapses. Tears and hysterics ensue. What will your response be? Sometimes we forget that their problems and their emotions are, on some primal level, a microcosm of ours. Are your tears more valid than hers? Is your frustration more acceptable? You’d prefer empathy over someone invalidating your frustration or trying to distract you. Doesn’t this child deserve the same level of respect? A simple statement that’s easy to make, “Wow, that is so frustrating. You were working so hard and it broke.” Don’t jump to fix the blocks, and don’t jump to brush away the feelings. Just be. It’s simpler for you as the parent, and more respectful and helpful for the child.