From the moment our children are old enough to ask about life, we muse at their adorability in questions such as “Who made me? Where did you get me from?” Such innocence is evidence of the natural belief every child has that they have come from someone else. That child knows they belong to their parents and we instill in them that there is a greater Master to whom we all belong. A lot of how we are with our children resonates with our relationships with our own parents.
One of Allah’s (SWT) most absolute decrees, as mentioned in Surat Al-Isra, speaks of the rights of our parents. In particular Surat Al-Isra’s salient verse “wa qadha rabbuka alla ta’budu illa iyyahu wa bilwalidayni ihsana (your Lord has decreed that you worship Him alone and that you show ihsan to your parents)”. The rights of parents are second only to the rights of Allah (SWT) and this verse beautifully highlights how sacred these rights are. Why are we commanded to do good to our parents? Because they once did the same for us, on a far grander scale. Our Lord knows that when it is our turn to repay our parents, this could never be as pure or miraculous as the devotion we received from them. It is indeed a test from our Rabb and the path that may lead us to Jannah, insha Allah.
Our parents provide that base to which we float in good times and bad – often being our “rock”. But it is not always the case that we remain loyal to our parents and there is no guarantee that we will always get on or even agree with them. In the first of this two part series, I have interviewed two women who have elderly parents whom they now care for. Both these women exemplify how relationships with parents evolve and indeed take their own twists and turns as we find our way through this life.
Sadia (pen name) is a 35-year-old mother of three children. Sadia had been caring for her father, who suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years and passed away at the end of 2013. Rayhaana (pen name) is a 27-year-old singleton. She lives with and cares for her elderly parents. I am grateful to both these sisters for their honesty and willingness to be interviewed.
How would you describe your relationship with your parents?
Sadia: I have become very close to my mother in the last few years, more so since caring for my father alongside her. I was always a “daddy’s girl”. Even though he forgot me towards the end, couldn’t even recognise me anymore, I still felt that somewhere inside he knew I was his little girl.
Rayhaana: I wouldn’t say I am totally connected to my parents, but I have become closer to them since my elder two sisters married and moved away. I have definitely learnt to understand my parents more as I have got older. I still struggle to agree with some of their values and beliefs which I see as cultural rather than religious.
Were there ever difficult or strained times between you and your parents?
Sadia: Alhamdulillah I have always got on well with my parents. However, once I was married and had my own family, I guess I did become complacent in my duties towards them. I was very busy and always expected my parents to just be there really. We all like to think our parents are invincible, don’t we? So it was a wake-up call when dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Rayhaana: Strained would be an understatement! My elder sisters were the model daughters. They did the “right” course at university, they were married at the “right” age to the “right” spouse chosen by our parents. I was the black sheep. Always rebelling. I could never understand why I wasn’t allowed to make my own decisions; after all, it is my life, right? I wanted to be able to live it my way. This issue about “my rights” really became a sticking point between my parents and me.
How did you deal with the issues between you and your parents?
Sadia: I always felt guilty that I wasn’t doing enough for my parents. As dad’s health deteriorated, I had to change my priorities in life so that I could be there for him. It was tough having three young children, a husband and a home to manage. I had to put my career plans on hold. But Allah (SWT) always showed me a way through. I just put all my wishes to the side and focused my energies on making sure mum was supported and dad had the best care I could give him. Often I’d feel like I was neglecting my own children, but I knew my dad wasn’t getting better and wouldn’t always be there. That thought kept me striving harder to do the best for him. I’m not perfect and there were days when I wished I could just go on holiday or start my job again and then I’d get very sad. I just prayed so hard to Allah (SWT) to lift me up and alhamdulillah He always did.
Rayhaana: My rebellion against my parents reached its height when my father told me he would disown me if I married a white Muslim revert whom I had chosen as a life partner. I was 21 years old. At the time I couldn’t believe my father was being so harsh with me. After months of battling, I backed down. I felt bitter that I had to sacrifice my happiness for my parent’s cultural beliefs. I became distant with the whole family, especially my father. I wouldn’t participate in any family gatherings and I hardly spoke with my parents. I threw myself into my career and actually did quite well, which kept me sane I guess.
Do you feel you could have done things differently at the time?
Sadia: I wish I’d been easier on myself at the time. The guilt of not being there enough for mum and dad, for neglecting my children, for not having enough time for my husband – it all just kept eating away at me. I then started going through days on auto-pilot and I wish I’d cherished the little things more instead of fretting about what else had to be done and how I was going to manage. Looking back now, even helping to feed and change dad was enormously rewarding for me. If only I could have captured those moments somehow.
Rayhaana: The biggest regret I have is failing to understand the reasons why my father made the decisions he did where my life was concerned. Instead of becoming bitter, I should have spoken with him. I doubt he ever would have agreed to my chosen life partner, but I should have given his views and opinions more importance than I did at the time. I prayed istikharah many times back then and I should have accepted my father’s refusal as the answer to my istikharah, because there were too many obstacles in the way of the marriage and I’m now certain that was Allah’s (SWT) way of telling me it wasn’t right for me. But hindsight is 20/20, isnt it?
So what changes in the lives of these two women and indeed their relationships with their parents that makes them come almost full circle back to those who brought them into this world? In the second part of my interview next month, we will explore the natural fitrah gifted to us by Allah (SWT) as Sadia and Rayhaana reveal their yearning to be close to their parents.
Shahin Vohra is an aspiring writer and mother of three young boys. She wishes to instill the “power of the pen” in her children and would like to help other women to reflect within themselves through the written word.