There are many stories about the relationship between fathers and their children in our Islamic tradition, such as Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, Luqman and his son, Prophets Yaqoob and Yusuf, and Prophet Muhammad and Fatimah; may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon His prophets and may Allah be pleased with His righteous servants. These examples help guide our parental methodologies to increase the possibility that our children will lead righteous and upright lives into their adult years, inshaAllah, God willing.
We are told time and time again that our children are an amanah or trust whom we must protect from evil and danger. Allah says in the Holy Quran:
“O believers! Protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones.”
(Surah At-Tahrim, 66:6)
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, would make a specific supplication to protect his grandchildren, Al-Hussein and Al-Hassan, by reciting:
“I seek protection for you in the perfect words of Allah from every devil, and every beast, and from every evil eye.”
Our faith tells us that we are the shepherds responsible for our flock as the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of the people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family, and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and is responsible for them.”
(Bukhari and Muslim)
Just as the shepherd does his flock, our goal is to guide, direct, and show them the correct path to ensure their safety and security. As parents, we play with and teach them as infants and young children. We show them right from wrong, we express our love and affection, and we strive to be positive role models they can emulate. These parenting aspects are crucial to ensuring a nourishing and cultivating childhood.
Nevertheless, at some point in their lives, being “the shepherd or the parent” becomes difficult and does seem like it is not enough. Playing and teaching fade away as they grow older and are replaced with seclusion and a know-it-all attitude. Guiding them on the Straight Path becomes challenging as we encounter bends and turns we were not accustomed to during their younger years. Many parents may experience this stage during their children’s teenage years as they drift into independence and begin to develop their own personalities and thinking.
So, how can we continue to guide and be positive role models to our children when it seems like they no longer see us in the same way? How can we show them right from wrong when there are opposing views and conflicting personalities to contend with now, internally and externally? How do we play and teach them when there seems to be a disconnect all of a sudden? How can we open the doors to establish a relationship with our children without coming off like a scholar, imam, or shaykh?
The answer may be friendship.
What is friendship and why is it important?
The traditional definition of friendship is a state of enduring affection, esteem, intimacy, and trust between two people. It differs from the traditional definition of parenting or parenthood, promoting and supporting a child’s physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development. The key word in the definition of friendship is “between two people.” Parenting often seems so one-sided: telling, directing, ordering, suggesting, motivating, encouraging, correcting, or advising them. There is little room for mutual, reciprocating, and collective bonding. These limitations may increase depending on your upbringing and cultural influences that may factor into your parenting methods. As parents, we must step outside our comfort zone or traditions and reflect on other possibilities if we hope to remain a part of our children’s lives.
There is a famous saying attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, that forms the foundation for the suggested approach of friendship, which says:
“Play with them for the first seven years of their life; then teach them for the next seven years; then advise them for the next seven years and after that.”
According to the hadith, it is encouraged to befriend and advise them after the first fourteen years. It is essential to realize and understand that things are not so black and white anymore. Yes, no, right, wrong does not cut it. Our teens are embarking on self-discovery, formulating their thoughts, perspectives, and interpretations, and making their own decisions. We can only hope that the many lessons we shared before this stage serve as a foundation for sound thinking to help guide their choices.
Nonetheless, we still must be involved somehow, but at this stage, it is more in the role of a trusted vizier and confidant. So how can we open that door of friendship?
Nearly three years ago, I entered that teenage phase with my eldest son. I could not believe that I was a dad to a teenager and never imagined how much things would change. When I reflect on his change, it feels like night and day. One day he was my baby boy, and the next, a young man towering over me with unique thoughts, counter-arguments, inquisitive perspectives, and stern positions that no longer aligned with my own. I felt challenged and threatened. I felt like I was losing a grip on our father-son relationship, and the door was shut in my face, literally sometimes. The days of “do as I say,” “this is my house,” and “as long as you live under my roof” were no longer enough.
I reflected on the saying abovementioned and asked myself, how can I reopen the door, not as “the parent”, but as “a friend,” just as Ali ibn Abi Talib suggested.
After research and much trial and error, I formulated five ways to develop a friendship with my child that has helped me navigate through these unique years. For the record, the following points are humble recommendations to potentially adjust our parenting style with the hope of improving our relationship with our children. They are not meant to be taken as must-dos.
So, let’s take a look at the top five ways to open the door:
1. Be empathetic.
I realized, more than ever, that being in tune with my own emotions and improving my social awareness to develop a greater sense of empathy toward my child was essential. As a lecturer on Emotional Intelligence (EQ), I tell my students that we must be aware of our emotions and their triggers to have strong, positive, and lasting relationships. This point cannot be more accurate when raising a teenager. Being self-aware of our emotions and dealing with our emotions more intelligently may lead to improving our ability to feel what our children are feeling. After all, we were all young teens once. It is time to put ourselves in their shoes and realize they are learning to express emotions, developing their sense of identity, and finding their place in the world. Researchers suggest that empathetic parenting helps to develop a greater parent-child attachment (Xu, Liu, Gong, & Wu, 2022). Parent-child attachment may significantly affect the relationship between parents and children and other benefits such as emotional stability, high self-esteem, lower anxiety, and decreased depression and negative social behaviors (Shen, Liu, & Brat, 2021). So, listen, understand, and relate.
2. Be interested in their likes, not yours.
One mistake that I recognized I made was trying to force my interests on my teenager. After all, my life successes resulted from my specific choices, experiences, and interests. I concluded that the process must be a proven track or formula for success; thus, it must work for my children, right? Wrong. While many of us may want walking talking clones of ourselves to some extent, it is not entirely possible. Rather, pressing our interests on them may have an adverse effect and drive them away entirely. Trying to push my teenager toward my interests only caused tension and turmoil in our relationship. These challenges affected my emotional state, causing concern, frustration, and anger. When I stopped focusing on my likes and started focusing on his likes, our relationship changed. I began to see how truly talented he was within his interests. This realization allowed me to work and help him further develop his interest and has created an opportunity to spend quality time with him and have great conversations. So, observe their interests or hobbies and show your teen you are sincerely interested in learning and supporting them.
3. Don’t hover over them, but be sure to check in.
One of the key characteristics of friendship is trust. As a parent, you have to build trust with your teenager and sometimes that requires us to let go of the rope just enough. There is no doubt that parenting never ends and guiding them will also be essential, but sometimes we need them to decide for themselves and hope that fundamental teachings and guidance drive their decision-making. It’s important for us to be present in their lives and communicate. A smile and a hug every morning goes a long way. Stopping by their room to see how they are pays dividends (and always remember to knock!). This will allow them to know you are respecting their freedom and privacy. They may be more inclined to reach out to you when you are building trust with them.
4. Hang out with them as much as you can.
As a parent, we have so many responsibilities that we must attend to daily. We must uphold our responsibilities at home, manage our careers and professions, attend to our physical, mental, and spiritual stability, and manage our relationships outside of the home. It is a lot to deal with at once, and it is not easy. In light of this, it is essential to remember that our children will only be children for a short period. A popular quote says, “childhood is a short season.” If we reflect on our own lives, most of us only remain with our parents until our late teens and early twenties. After that, we start our own lives, careers, and families. The childhood days will eventually become a thing of the past, so take advantage of the present. After all, the present moment is all we have. Take advantage of the time and hang out with your teenager as much as you can. Show them that they have a place in your life regardless of the hustle and bustle. Let’s take heed of the Prophet Muhammad’s example, peace and blessings be upon him, who would find time to spend with his grandchildren even though he was the Prophet and Messenger of Allah and had tremendous responsibility. You do not need much to create lasting memories, but you need sincerity and attention when being with them. Do not become distracted, and do not put a time limit on it.
5. Show them you are human.
I always felt like I had to put a strong personification before my teenager. I wanted him to think of me as a strong-minded, emotionally controlled, and indestructible person. A person without flaws. However, I realized that he would only see a semi-version created to execute an authoritarian parenting style. The truth is there is nothing as perfect except for Allah. We do not have to come off as if we know it all or are perfect in all aspects. We can be vulnerable at the same time. This does not mean that our teens can exploit that vulnerability; it is still for us to control, but not to the magnitude that it removes our ability to be human and express feelings. Relate to them by sharing stories of the past. Show them that you were once a teen, not fabricated in the parent lab. Be open and honest about your challenges, wins, and failures in life. Show them that life is not about perfection but learning and growing from every experience.
Again, these suggestions should not replace or abandon parenting altogether. There will be situations when we need to be “the parent.” No doubt, parenting is difficult overall, and teenagers do not make it any easier. However, considering the above five points could make parenting less stressful and more enjoyable for both you and your teen during the teenage years. Who knows, your teenager may become your best friend, inshaAllah, God willing.
Hernán Guadalupe embraced Islam in 2001 while earning a Bachelor of Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology. He holds a Masters degree from the University of Maryland, and a Doctor of Business Administration from Walden University. Hernan has studied Islamic sciences at the American Open University, University of Mishkah, and is currently completing his Bachelors in Islamic Studies. He also completed the classical Arabic curriculum at the Fajr Center for the Arabic Language in Cairo, Egypt. He is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit outreach program dedicated to creating educational resources about Islam in Spanish. He lives in Maryland with his wife and six children.