Disclaimer: This article may contain potentially distressing material
There are many things we take for granted about the design of this world which has a deep significance that we don’t seek to understand, because we cannot imagine it could be any other way. The family is one such element; we don’t meditate on the fact that we are born from the union of mother and father, the fact that we are born completely dependent and helpless without the care and protection of others, and the fact that we have been designed to, in turn, hope to form our own family when we have matured. The family is a social institution that varies in definition from one culture to another, but one that can be found in every society. Far from simply being a convenient social construction, the ideal family can be a means of good. Its importance places a huge responsibility on everyone since, whilst all of us have our own struggles and our own bad traits, we can cause the greatest harm to others in our families. Similarly, our good traits and the kindness that we show to our families are the greatest gifts we can give. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said that,
“The best of you are the best to their families, and I am the best to my family”,
meaning our treatment of our families can be indicative of the state of our souls.
There are issues and tensions within every family and it is our responsibility to reflect on ourselves and consider how we act to protect those around us and maintain healthy and loving relationships. Whilst children are still young this responsibility is mostly upon the parents. It must be one of the hardest, and yet most rewarding, positions. As a parent, every action is being watched by a vulnerable young being who is eager to learn from and copy you. Parental attention and affection is their greatest desire whereas anger or disappointment: the most devastating things. The gravity of a role as a parent can’t be underestimated. Your view of yourself and your self-esteem will inform your child’s view of themselves and their self-esteem. The way that you react to your child’s bad behaviour will inform the way they treat themselves after making a mistake. The way you deal with stresses, difficult emotions and hard times informs the way they may deal with the same things later. Being human, in that position we will all falter at points. But with good intentions and constantly seeking guidance from Allah SWT, parents can teach their children some of the most beautiful lessons there are to learn: the existence of Allah SWT and His guidance He has given us through the Quran and the prophets, the guidance necessary to help their children form their own moral conscience which will inform so many important decisions in their lives, and what it is to really love and care for someone.
It is related by ‘Aisha radiAllahu ‘anha: Some desert Arabs came to him one day and asked: ‘Do you kiss your children?’ He answered: ‘Yes.’ They said: ‘We never kiss them.’ The Prophet (ﷺ) said: ‘What can I do if your hearts have been stripped of compassion?’
The level of affection and responsiveness parents show to their children can impact children’s ability to later form other relationships with others. The better the relationship is between parent and child, the higher the chance their relationships with others including friends and their future wife/ husband will be similarly supportive, loving, trusting and consistent.
As for the effect that parents have on the development of a child’s moral conscience and character, the state of a mother and father’s soul impacts the state of their child’s so much. For those who are extremely fortunate to have been born into a secure, stable and supportive family (which has given them many virtuous gifts), it is easy to take for granted the situation you were born into and you may even be quick to judge others who weren’t so fortunate. However for those who may be reading this with a heavy heart, aware of the dysfunction in your own family and the negative effect it has had on you, it is important now to take care of your own soul. If there is anyone in your life, family or not, who is hurting your heart so much that you feel your heart is becoming harder and even, God forbid, you are beginning to think badly of Allah SWT and forgetting His Mercy and Compassion, finding a way to distance yourself from these people is important. Before anyone and anything else our relationship with Allah SWT is the most important, and constantly staying in the presence of those who have a negative impact on our hearts is not ideal. Whilst this is admittedly very easy to say and much harder to actually do, bid them peace and place the necessary barriers to protect your soul from harm, in a safe and secure manner.
Family can thus be one of the best blessings we have, or be the source of the most difficult trials. The ideal family in Islam is one that protects your soul, enjoins righteousness and forbids evil, and yet for some this is unfortunately not a reality.