By Suzy Ismail
It’s impossible to fix what is broken if we won’t acknowledge the damage
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, reminds us that “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family.” How many of us can say that we truly live our lives in emulation of the Prophet? How many of us can honestly say that our nicest smile is saved for our children? That our sweetest voice is saved for our spouse? That our kindest compliments are given to our parents? Unfortunately, in the concern about how we present ourselves to the world, caring so much about our reputations, many of us have strayed from keeping the best part of our selves for our families. Instead, where we try the least is in our own homes. Once we stop trying to be the best to our families, all that is best within our families begins dying.
Many of us wonder sometimes, how did it happen? How did I lose that connection with my family? The breakdown doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an insidious process of loss and pain. And Satan is able to break into the bonds of family life in small steps when we are steeped in filial security and feel most confident and comfortable in our connections. Sowing the seeds of personal discord in family life is among that which gives Satan the most pleasure. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Iblis (Satan) places his throne upon water; he then sends detachments [for creating dissension between people]; the nearer to him in rank are those who are most notorious in creating dissension. One of them comes and says: I did so and so. And he [Iblis] says: You have done nothing. Then one amongst them comes and says: I did not spare so-and-so, until I sowed the seed of discord between a husband and a wife. Satan goes near him and says: You have done well. He then embraces him.”
Cherish your family members, open your heart to them, and enjoy every moment you have together
How can we guard against this assault on family life? How can we protect ourselves and the sanctity of our family connections when God tells us in the Quran: “(Satan) said: ‘Because You have sent me astray, surely, I will sit in wait against them [human beings] on Your straight path. Then I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left, and You will not find most of them as thankful ones’ [i.e. they will not be dutiful to You]” (7: 16-17).
Satan does not approach a family all at once but slowly and when the family members feel most comfortable, content, and secure in their own surroundings. It might begin with an increased attachment to the cell phone, like a mother who checks her phone for texts, emails, and Facebook posts repeatedly, at dinner, at soccer games, at family gatherings. Then, the family dissolution might move to the father spending late nights in seclusion on the laptop, the children constantly connected to the iPad, the teenagers glued to the Internet, video games, and the TV. Soon, the entire family is connected only to gadgets and technology and not to one another.
The next step in the family breakdown might be an increasing lack of communication. Slowly, the parents stop talking to each other except in shouting matches, or even worse… they simply stop talking. The children might no longer have anything they want to share with the parents since they’d rather share with friends. Before anyone realizes what is happening, the adults in the family stop talking to their own parents or siblings because of the burden that “real” relationships represent. It doesn’t happen overnight, yet we’re shocked when it happens to us. We might find ourselves moving away from our connections and blaming it on work, busy schedules, lack of time, and a million other excuses that Shaytan conveniently supplies. Before you know it, you wake up and the realization hits you hard…you’ve lost your sense of family. And then we wonder why? Where did our families go? How can we fix it? Is it too late?
Alhamdulillah, God in His infinite Mercy provides opportunities for us to always better ourselves and to better our family lives. It’s never too late for us to fix what is broken. It’s never too late to pick up the pieces and build again. Here are some practical steps that can help us in rebuilding our families:
Force yourself to disconnect from the technology that pervades our lives. We cannot have meaningful connections with our families if we are always turning to our devices and gadgets to connect with others. Make an agreement among family members to daily observe a downtime when no one will use the laptop, computer, phone, or any other device. It can be for a time after dinner or before bed. This can be a valuable time for family members to talk, play games, pray together, and just enjoy one another’s company.
Schedule regular “talking time.” This is very important for the well-being of the parents’ relationship and for the children to know that they always have a parent to talk to. A typical day often consists of multiple siblings bumbling into the car at school pick-up time talking over each other, vying for parental attention, with the parent juggling phone calls with dinner and bedtime routines, and a general rush-rush feel of trying to get everything in after the school day. Following that kind of craziness, everyone in the family needs and deserves some appointed connecting time. Try using an egg timer and set it for five minutes. Enter each child’s room before bedtime and appropriate five minutes of dedicated time where your child can tell you anything that is on his/her mind. Or you and your child can just have a simple, pleasant conversation. Your spouse can do the same. Then do the same with your spouse and spend 10-15 minutes (or longer if needed or wanted). The kids will love their “five-minute” dedicated parent time, and you and your spouse will find yourselves looking forward to your together-time as well.
Build respect in the companionship and camaraderie between you and your spouse, you and your parents, and you and your children. Spouses should commit to being on the same page, always displaying a united, cooperative, mutually respectful front in dealing with and/or disciplining the children. Don’t let your children see you divided. Your marriage should be a place of trust, rest, tranquility, care, and mercy. If you can’t find that in your marriage, you won’t be able to provide that to your children. For single parents and blended families, the task is often even greater in establishing the family connection. Regardless of the situation, respect in the family begins with self-respect. It’s easy sometimes to fall into the trap of self-recriminations and feeling like you’ve fallen short in some aspect of family life. Don’t get sucked into that downward spiral. Respect starts from within and radiates outward.
Recognize that no one exists in a bubble. As a family, you must provide the emotional as well as physical and spiritual support for one another. Institute an environment of safety and security. Avoid frequent criticism of your children or your spouse. Nagging never yields anything but hurt feelings and bruised emotions. Find family activities like biking, hiking, walking, or even reading together — anything that strengthens the bonds of affection and mutual encouragement and appreciation, and commit to the activity on a regular basis.
Don’t lead completely separate lives. Yes, it is important to nurture your own interests and pursue self-enriching activities. However, it’s equally important to always come back to home-base and to recognize the role of the family in your life and to enjoy the blessings of being with people who truly care for you. Find yourself, but also find each other and do things together. Our time on earth is limited and the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Get hold of five things before five things happen: your youth before old age, your health before sickness, your riches before poverty, your leisure before business, and your life before death.” Recognize what is most important and reprioritize. Ask yourself how you are using your youth, your health, your wealth, and your time to enrich your own life and your family’s life in this world.
Foster a sense of responsibility in all family members, including children and both spouses. What are the rights and responsibilities in a family? How can everyone be a part of fulfilling those? The Quran mandates the importance of being good to our parents. Be an example to your own children by not neglecting your responsibilities to your own parents. “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that [you show] kindness to parents. Should one or both of them attain to old age with you, say not any word of contempt unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word. And lower unto them the wing of mercy and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little. Your Lord is best aware of what is in yourselves. If you are righteous, then lo! He was ever forgiving unto those who turn unto Him” (Quran, 17:23-25).
Mend What’s Broken
Acknowledge and fix whatever has gone wrong in your family. Have a serious heart-to-heart with your spouse and with your children about why you feel that your family is not living up to its potential. Don’t approach it as a time for blame but as a time for honesty and recommitment. The family must work together to improve the dynamic and to strengthen the bonds between family members. Make sure that each member realizes the importance of family ties and that Islam warns us of the consequences of breaking family relations. Jaabir ibn Muntam (RA) narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The person who breaks family ties will not enter Jannah.”
Be the change you want to see. Set a good example and make changes in your own behavior as a motivation for other family members. Family is about cooperation. Initiate and follow through. Don’t think or convey that your spouse/parent/child is solely responsible for the discord or estrangement within the family. Be the one who searches for solutions, suggests creative ideas, initiates positive change, and demonstrates the attitude and perception of family as a blessing from God. Be the first one to convey in large and small ways that you appreciate the family as having the potential to be a strong, united team; and the home as a place meant to provide happiness and peace.
Expect the Unexpected
Learn to roll with the punches. Establish a core of unshakeable trust in God’s plan and full reliance on Him rooted in God-consciousness. Family life is not all smooth sailing. Family members are the mates on your ship as you navigate the rough seas. God tells us in the Quran, “Verily, with every difficulty there is relief” (94:6). Let the beauty of this verse permeate your life and filter through everything you experience with your family. Where there is a down, there must be an up. Recognize that regardless of what you are going through right now, this too shall pass.
Smile — Have fun with your family!
The smile is a charity to a stranger according to Islam’s teachings; so imagine what it is to your family who you are commanded to be the best to. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Do not regard any act of virtue to be insignificant even if it is meeting your brother with a smiling face.” Recognize that there should be joy in your family life. Your children should want to come home and be with you. Your spouse should be excited to see you. Be the best “you” possible for your spouse and your kids. The Prophet (pbuh) would play around, joke, and race with his wives. He would tell stories to the children to make them laugh. Don’t lose the lightheartedness of life with your family. Your family should be your source of inspiration, happiness, and joy. Accept the blessing that they truly are, and the fact that your actions with your family can lead you to the ultimate reward of being with those you love most in Paradise, God-Willing.
Finally, keep in mind that family life is a journey of discovery. Cherish your family members, open your heart to them, and enjoy every moment you have together. Family life will never be perfect, but it can be perfectly fulfilling when we realize they offer us profound and lasting love.