Dreading the Sex-Ed Talk? Try this instead

#MuslimSexEd

So many parents dread “The Talk.” They will do anything to ignore it, delay it, and outsource it. I have had parents tell me, knowing that I am a teacher and rather open in the way I discuss: “Can you just explain this to my kids so I don’t have to?”

Forget the idea of “The Talk.” Think of it as “The Ongoing Conversation.” It starts at birth and continues through adulthood. It is a dialogue that is woven into everyday life as something frank, matter-of-fact, and not shameful.

It starts with respect for the body of the child in infancy. It continues into toddlerhood, when you use anatomically correct names.

It’s the matter-of-fact answer that you give to your four year old when he asks what makes his sister a girl: “She doesn’t have a penis like you do,” you say.

”Whaaaat??” he will say, “You mean everyone doesn’t have a penis? That’s crazy!” Then you think to yourself, “Freud would get a kick out of that comment.”

The conversation continues when your children don’t see their mother praying. You explain that there’s something called menstruation, and you will tie it into reproduction and tell them about how every month, there is a window of opportunity for a woman to become pregnant, and if she does not, she will shed her uterine lining during menstruation.

When your children go to the science museum and see an exhibit on skeletons, you point out that the female skeleton has wider hips to accommodate a baby during childbirth.

As your children read science books and watch documentaries, they will come to know that animals “mate” in order to have babies. They will hear about mating behaviors. My son will often point out: “See that bird? They usually fly like that when they are looking for a mate.” This is a great opportunity to talk about how animals engage in mating behaviors to attract potential mates. “Even humans use mating behaviors as well to attract others.” More conversation ensues.

These frank conversations mean that your kids don’t have a problem talking about these issues openly. My 8 year old daughter told me that her friend saw on the TV show “Anne With an E” that the girls were making fun of Anne because she was the only one who didn’t get her period. What a great conversation starter!

Another time, my son got confused and said, “Since you are not praying this week, does that mean you are having a baby?” Time for more conversation, this time explaining that no, menstruation means a woman is not pregnant.

After years of this type of frank openness, do you think it will be hard to explain the actual mechanics of reproduction? Everything ties in together, and the idea of sex is not something that exists in a vacuum–it is part of this beautiful conversation about our bodies, our feelings, gender, physiology. Honestly, after all these conversations, an astute enough child would probably intuitively figure out how humans reproduce.

All of this openness serves to create an environment that is free of shame regarding the body and sexuality. I do not mean by this that it is free of modesty–what I refer to is the toxic sense of shame in one’s body, thinking that the privates are dirty, or that sex is a crude, dirty act borne of necessity.

When children see our discomfort in talking about the body, or about sexuality, it can give them the message that these are sordid, shameful topics. They think that “good boys” and “good girls” don’t talk about these things. And in their marriages, it can lead to a relationship where sexuality is not cherished and respected.

How do you handle these conversations in your home? Do you have any advice to share regarding how to address sex ed in an open and inviting way? Please let us know in the comments.

Tarbiyah vs. Ta’leem

Sh. Salman al-Odah was asked, “How do you get your kids to love the salah?”

The first thing he said was, “Have them love you.”

Learn this life lesson: tarbiyah is founded upon relationship.

Tarbiyah is the raising up and education of a child such that she can reach her full potential as a human and a Muslim. It is different than ta’leem, which refers to fact-based education.

baby hand

We often confuse the two, giving our children ta’leem when they need tarbiyah.

Ta’leem is teaching our children the how-to of the prayer. Memorizing the duas, learning

the positions.

Tarbiyah is the cuddling after the prayer when we ask each other, “What did you ask for in sajdah?”

Ta’leem is memorizing ahadeeth and verses.

Tarbiyah is the dinner-table banter where we talk current events and other issues on our mind.

Ta’leem is studying fiqh.

Tarbiyah is the loving conversation we have about an incident that happened at school.

Ta’leem is studying seerah by memorizing dates and events or preparing for a quiz bowl.

Tarbiyah is snuggling in bed and telling stories of brave heroes of the past.

When we were at Umrah, Ustadh Abu Eesa stressed this point a great deal and it has caused a seismic shift in my own approach to teaching my children. I had asked him if he had a suggested program of study for school-aged children. He responded by saying that he was no expert on education and he would leave that to the experienced teachers to develop such a program. He directed us instead to focus our efforts on building relationships with our children as our tarbiyah.

“Tarbiyah,” he explained, “is an emotional, not a physical exercise.”

He went on to explain that in the Qur’an, we are taught the dua for the parents as follows: “O Allah, have mercy on them, as they rabbayaani when I was young.” In other words, have mercy on them because they did tarbiyah for me when I was young. It doesn’t continue the theme of mercy and say “have mercy on them as they had mercy on me,” rather, it says “have mercy on them because they did tarbiyah for me.” It is this tarbiyah that a parent does for their child that brings the mercy of Allah upon them.

Long after facts have come and gone, what a child will remember are the memories she has cuddling on the couch, laughing at stories, and warmly basking in the glow of a parent’s attention and love. This relationship is what builds the person up, not the facts and pieces of knowledge imparted.

This does not mean we do not teach facts and knowledge! Those who follow my work know that I do indeed spend time on this ta’leem. You need to discern the difference between the two themes of ta’leem and tarbiyah though, so that you give adequate time to each.
Most importantly, you must understand that you, dear parents, are indispensable. You CANNOT outsource tarbiyah. You can send your child to classes and masjid programs for ta’leem but this can never replace tarbiyah. The cuddling on the couch, the lively discussions around the table, the one-on-one chats before bed….these are the things that only a parent can do. And these are the things that build the foundation of the Islamic akhlaq and adab (morals and manners).

Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly explained the dua of mercy for the parents. The post has been updated with the correct explanation.

Qur’anic Literacy

Our Arabic teacher in Jordan used to say about our class that we had a good “thaqaafah Qur’aaniyyah,” or “Qur’anic Literacy.” In other words, when discussing an issue, we were able to pull a Qur’anic verse as reference for the subject at hand. He said that he found that this was a rare skill for Muslims from Western countries.
 
20170522_133430.jpgI’m working on this with the kids right now, and I’ll share this as an example of some of the verses we go through. I am going through notes from a class I took many years ago with a teacher where we went through basic Islamic principles with their proofs. As I go through it with the kids, I go over the Qur’anic verses associated with each concept and they copy them in their class notes.
 
Then, they copy them separately in their Arabic notebooks as copywork for several days to allow the verses to sink in.
 
So in this example, the first verse was discussed in the context of subtle forms of shirk. The second verse was when we discussed major shirk, and the third verse was in the context of love of Allah as a condition of the shahadah.
 
Children need to learn these “anchor points” for their Islamic knowledge so that they are practicing their faith based on a reference point from Allah or his Messenger (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam). It’s no longer just “this stuff my parents said,” but a living, breathing relationship with the Divine speech.
 
I cannot stress this Qur’anic literacy enough. I see so many children who have memorized pages and pages of Qur’an but you see in their eyes the complete lack of understanding when it comes to basic points of the deen. We cannot afford to have them treat the Qur’an as a mystical song with no meaning or value for their every day life.
 
If they can memorize Juz Amma, they can memorize a handful of verses that will give them a grounding in their deen. It will also serve to help them learn Arabic.
 
Adults can do this as well! I have a Qur’an commonplace book as well as a note system. I’ll be doing some videos on this soon so stay tuned. This was how I built up my own Qur’anic literacy over the years. Ramadan is a perfect time to start this. Start interacting with the text and marking important verses, and see if you too can improve your own thaqaafah Qur’aaniyyah.

Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes Part 2

These notes are the continuation of the Tarbiyah lecture by Sr. Iman Badawi. This section is much more fleshed out than the first one, because I had access to the replay and put more information in. The recording of the lecture is available at this link.

Tarbiyah Mistake #4: Making Sure that 90% of What You Say is Commands, Prohibitions, and Threats

  • We think that leadership = commands, prohibitions, threats
  • Children don’t like being ordered around all the time any more than we do
  • Imagine if our spouse or boss was constantly giving commands, prohibitions, and threats–how would we respond?
  • We have a lot of fear, stress, and we take it out on our children when we constantly snap at them
  • There are two issues involved in a child’s behavior:
    1. The child learning and knowing what to do
    2. The child having the self control to implement what they know
    • A child may, at a certain age, have the first, but not the second. They know what to do, but don’t have the self control to be able to follow through on their knowledge
    • Children learn through example and instruction–this is how we teach them the “dos” and “don’ts” so that they know what to do
    • Children develop through relationships, and that is how they develop the self control over time to regulate their behavior.
    • It is problematic when we have an eye on compliance rather than relationships

  • The real message we are sending: “if you don’t obey me, one of us is going to collapse.”
  • “I am the older one, therefore I am going to subdue you.”
  • We do these behaviors supposedly because we love them
  • So, what do we do? == Build a relationship out of love
  • If someone you love and respect asks you to do something, do they have to threaten you to do it? No, we will do it lovingly, effortlessly, voluntarily.
  • This is what Allah wants from us. “Laa ikraaha fid-deen.” There is no compulsion in religion.
  • Yet Allah gives us commands. We enter in Islam of our own free will, we obey Allah out of our own inner desire to obey him.
  • Imagine that the government/sultan put a soldier over every citizen commanding them to pray–this is not what Islam orders. We pray out of our love for him.
  • Allah is exalted over all examples, but this is what we want with our children, that they obey from a desire and love to obey him.
  • This is why the Prophet had the best tarbiyah–Allah is the one who developed his character. Hadith: “Addabanee rabbee wa ahsana ta’deebee” My Rabb taught me manners and perfected my manners.

  • We don’t want everything to be a confrontation
  • We want the obedience to come out of the love
  • Is this idealistic? We think it cannot be done but we have to change our way of thinking
  • “But it’s my right that my child obey me”
  • However, the right of the child of the parent comes before the right of the parent over the child.
  • If the parent doesn’t fulfill the child’s right, how can they expect that the child fulfill their right?
  • Tip: Quality Time
    • The best quality time is sharing a task and cooperating to complete it. This develops relationships and shows the children their dependence on the family unit.
    • The idea is not that we always have to be looking for “fun” and “entertainment.”
    • The antithesis of moral development is the child’s attitude: “I don’t need you, I can do anything I want.” This breeds arrogance and builds the confrontational attitude.
    • Sometimes we ask for it when we thrust independence on the child too early–then when they demand premature independence, we get upset.

Tarbiyah Mistake #5: Assuming Your Child Thinks Like You

  • You assume that they can maturely rationalize everything that you can maturely rationalize.
  • Ex: Father tells very young son who is bike riding, “don’t go around the corner.” When son repeatedly disobeys and finally father yells and explodes, son tearfully asks, “dad, what’s a corner?”
  • This goes back to the last point–if we are commanding all the time, where are the times where we sit down and just make them understand?
  • “I didn’t understand what you meant”– we should take the statement at face value, don’t assume child is lying to you. If you do that and assume they are a liar, they will eventually become a liar.
  • “Ok, what did you understand?” — when you ask that, it will become clear what they really understood.
  • Negative attitude–“I understood what I ordered you, if you didn’t understand it, then it’s your problem.”
  • Understand their developmental levels, and develop realistic expectations
    • Sometimes we set our children up for failure because we give overly high expectations (i.e. things that are beyond their developmental level)
    • Sometimes when we are patching up wounds of previously detrimental failure, we might want to set the bar a little lower so that we set them up for success instead of failure.
    • This relieves our own stress–because the more we are negative with our kids, the more negative we feel, and so therefore the more positive we are with our kids, the more positive we are in ourselves.
  • We sometimes end up as a blown fuse–we have no energy left, and our kid may only be five.
  • Tarbiyah has to be dynamic to fit the different stages of development.
  • e.g. responsibility is developed slowly over time, and we develop it slowly over time
  • One of those aspects of development is that attachment should be at its peak when the child is an infant.
    • e.g. Dr. Sears
    • Unfortunately, when we talk about attachment, people may think we are “hippies” but in reality the focus these days on attachment is a backlash against the previous advice
    • separation anxiety–it’s like a message to the parent, don’t push this child away, they are designed to be attached to you at this time.
    • One form of trauma occurs when there is a premature reaching of stages, so a premature detachment from parent before it is developmentally appropriate.

Up next insha Allah… Tips 6 & 7…

Coming Soon: the Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes

I just attended a fantastic halaqah… and those sisters who know me personally may feel free to email me and request that it be sent to them insha Allah, but the topic was:  Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes. Tarbiyah, as you may know, is the process of character development that we engage in with our children. So before going to the class, my thought was–Ouch!–we get to hear 2 hours of the ten biggest things we do wrong every day with our kids?

But as Allah (swt) says: “And remind, for verily, the reminder benefits the believers” (Adh-Dhariyaat: 55). Sometimes a swift kick in the proverbial arse is what we need to make a firm commitment to change, and boy was this a kick.

I really would like to take the time to type up my notes, but until then I will leave a teaser–I’ll put the ten points she mentioned, then come back with the notes as I can get them out (maybe 3-4 at a time). If you would like to get this and other blog updates straight to your inbox, feel free to add your email address in the box at the top of the right column and you will get the posts as they are published. In the future if you would like to unsubscribe, you can easily do so through the emails themselves, or just post a comment and I’ll unsub you.

Here goes, Letterman style—

The Top Ten Mistakes of Tarbiyah

  1. Choosing the wrong spouse–someone who differs with you on the fundamental issues of life and parenting.
  2. Considering tarbiyah as beginning at a later stage in life
  3. Letting the children control you and run the family
  4. Making sure that 90% of what you say is commands, prohibitions, and threats
  5. Assuming that your child thinks like you
  6. Using injurious and harmful words
  7. Never explaining anything and expecting immediate and prompt blind compliance
  8. Comparing your children to each other (in looks or behavior) and show favoritism
  9. Lying to your kids
  10. Assuming that you are the source of guidance for your children

Now…I don’t like leaving things hanging like that, because some of these are not clear in what they mean and I’m sure leaves the person scratching their head and saying, “but…”

However, the notes are long, I’d like to do them justice, so they will be back another day bi ‘idhnillah.

As a clue to some of the points of the halaqah, I’ll say that some of the topics mentioned include Steven Covey, Dr. Sears, racism, totalitarianism, family mission statements, principle-centered leadership/parenting, and punishment.

Ready? Check back soon! In the meanwhile, feel free to discuss the points so far…

Becoming a ScreamFree Mama

I want a ScreamFree life.

Funny that I was just thinking about that this weekend and today I came across this via facebook: Screamfree Muslims. In particular, the founder sr. Olivia is having a webinar course on screamFree parenting. I was just thinking to myself this weekend that me and the Man (aka Baba A to Z) need to work on cutting out the scream when it comes to the kids (sorry, Baba, I’m including you too!).

I’ll give myself some credit–I don’t justify screaming. I should say “emotional reactivity” instead, since that is the word that the ScreamFree program uses, and it’s a term that encompasses so much more than screaming. I know that it’s senseless to react, to blow up, and to say dumb and hurtful things in a moment of anger instead of logically handling a situation. But guess what…I do it anyway! I’m sure most parents do, it’s just a basic failing in human nature that we lose our temper. “Laa taghdab, laa taghdab, laa taghdab.” … “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.” We’ve heard that hadith a million times.

And seriously? We know deep down that screaming.doesn’t.work. End of story. It just becomes a crutch–child doesn’t listen until screamed at, so parent screams all the time, leading to screaming not even working, and an escalating cycle of screaming between parenting and child. It takes a big leap, however to go from the acknowledgement that something is wrong, and actually learning and applying techniques on how to fix it.

I’m not sure I’ll spring for the webinar–it’s close to a hundred dollars, and I think I can check out some books and handouts and get the gist. For me, the issue is keeping my mind focused on the goal of mindful parenting, and reading books helps me to focus on that. When I found the book Raising Your Spirited Child, it really helped me improve my parenting while I was reading it because I was suddenly more aware of what my child was like and what he needed. The reminder benefits the believers–no matter what the subject is, deen or dunya (and this is akhlaaq-related so it’s definitely deeni improvement).

My current mental exercise is–why not scream? What are the harms of screaming to one’s child? (or student, I should add, for I am also guilty of that one)

  1. Raising one’s voice is explicitly condemned in the Qur’an via the words of Luqman al-Hakeem as he advises his son: “And be moderate in your walk and lower your voice. Indeed, the harshest of voices is the voice of the donkey” (Surah Luqman: 31:19). From now on, I will tell myself–“Mama, when you scream, you sound like an ass.” And it will be true, because Sadaqa-allahul-Adheem.
  2. “Emotional reactivity”, i.e. getting angry, is explicitly condemned in the Sunnah. “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.”
  3. Getting angry is in direct contradiction to the very character of RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam.)
  4. You can’t impart something you don’t have yourself. The Arabic proverb goes: Faaqid-ush-Shay laa yu’teeh…the one devoid of something cannot give it. How do we teach good-manners if we are ill-mannered? I see my son scream at his little sister and know that my own screaming is what set the example. And God forbid that our children go on to scream at their spouses, destroying their marriages and family lives, simply because we set the wrong example from the beginning.
  5. Screaming tears apart relationships. Think about a time you have been screamed at. It doesn’t even take a full-blown scream to deeply wound a person. You know this when you are having a strained conversation with your spouse–it doesn’t take much of a raise in voice and tone from the other to feel hurt. We can only imagine the pain our own children feel. I remember reading a poignant thought by Alfie Kohn where he asked in reference to discipline–before we react to behavior that we perceive as bad, ask ourselves, “Is what we are saying/doing to our child in response worth the effect it is going to have on the relationship?”
  6. Screaming doesn’t even work in the long term. If we think of discipline as merely getting our children to do what we want in the here-and-now, then screaming occasionally works. However, if we think of discipline as raising our children to be morally upright individuals who have good character, then screaming definitely does no good towards that goal.

One of the criticisms leveled against this line of thinking is that somehow kids are different, so different standards should be applied to them, and that “you need to discipline.” ScreamFree parenting is not antithetical to discipline; in fact, it is harmonious with discipline because effective discipline does not occur in a scream-based relationship. Olivia has another great post describing this: DJ Empty Threat. We end up screaming empty threats and in the end no real discipline occurs.

So…this post has been somewhat of a personal pep-talk for myself–we’ll see how long I last sane and “ScreamFree.” And if you catch me slacking (yeah, you, Baba…) then just give me a sober look and say, “This is a ScreamFree zone, mama. Take it somewhere else, woman!”

Children are people too!

SubhanAllah, just as I was looking for some parenting inspiration (for my mental exercise called the Islamic Parenting Project), muslimmatters.org came out with an article titled: The Youth Outreach Program of Muhammad (sal-Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). I could go on and on about all of the points, but this one struck me because it is the one hadith that I constantly come back to when I think “gentle discipline” and it is the main hadith that serves to remind me that gentleness is truly the Prophetic path:

Anas was a small child when he was given as a servant to the Prophet (s). About his time there, he narrated that, I served the Prophet for ten years, and he never said to me, “Uf” (a minor harsh word denoting impatience or displeasure) and never blamed me by saying, “Why did you do so or why didn’t you do so?” (Bukhari)

The author of the article goes on to say:

SubhanAllah. This is truly amazing from a number of angles. We normally see this hadith as a testament to the truly noble character of the Prophet (saw), however, there is another perspective here. That is the lasting effects of this on a 10 year old boy for his entire life. What kind of person will he become when he was raised upon this methodology? [Radi’Allahu ‘anhu, we know what kind of great man he became] This is the lasting memory of a lifetime that this child will have. He will remember never being criticized, never scorned, and always being treated with kindness, compassion, and patience.

Anyone who has a child knows how difficult it would be to go even 10 hours (in some cases 10 minutes) much less 10 years without scolding their own child about something. What then, about someone else’s child, one whom you have even less patience to deal with? We should compare our own parenting methods, our own ways of interacting with kids in light of this example.

I take this first and foremost to my heart when I say that this truly shows that one can raise a child without harshness (I didn’t say without firmness, mind you). And I remind myself first that it shows that “children are people too.” This, along with the hadith “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry” is my mantra when I lose my patience with children, whether it be my toddling son or a student in a classroom. I know how easy it is to “lose it” and respond with scolding, threats, and anger. I’ve been there, done that, to the point that as a teacher in the classroom I became a person I did not want to be. I became a person who forgot that those children in front of me were people, with feelings and emotions just like myself.

Perhaps it is because we are older, wiser, have more experience of the world, and have experienced it ourselves, but somehow as adults we feel complete license to shame, berate, threaten, and manipulate children. Does might make right? Our authoritative position turns us into authoritarians? I may not know exactly why, but I know that the impulse is there and I have to strain mightily hard to restrain it. I often fail miserably, too.

Yet even so, even as I may fall far short of the ideal, I still maintain: there is never a need to treat children in such a way. Firmness? Yes, youth and inexperience do often need a firm hand. Yet I see nothing to indicate that this ever needs to translate into harshness. As an adult I have nothing to gain from shaming a child into obedience save the erosion of my own character, because if I need to resort to such tactics, it reflects more on my lack of creativity and kindness rather than on the child’s character.

There is a saying in Arabic: “Faaqid-ush-shay’ laa yu’teeh”…”The one who does not have something cannot give it.” I cannot possibly instill the virtues of gentleness and mercy in a child if I do not show it myself. I cannot possibly teach a child patience if I do not model it myself.

I remind myself how it would feel were my spouse to treat me as we often treat our children. I remind myself how it would feel if a friend scolded me upon making a mistake. Just as my feelings become hurt if a loved one raises their voice, scolds, or becomes harsh, so too do the hearts of our children and students ache when we, the loving role models, put them down with our harsh attitudes.

I pray that Allah heals our hearts, instills in us patience, and guides us to noble character…Aameen!