He told me that this curious daughter had asked him about how babies were made or something along those lines, and he ran – yes, he ran away from her without saying a word!
For years during the month of December, our young daughters were not allowed to play with one of their friends – strict orders of this friend’s mum. She was terrified that our daughters would spoil Christmas for her family by telling her daughter that Santa Claus wasn’t real. Imagine trying to negotiate that conversation with 3-year-old twins – first informing them that they couldn’t see their friend for a month. Next, trying to explain why. Of course, I couldn’t tell them that Santa Claus was real, which led to the inevitable question, “Why would parents lie to their kids about Santa Claus?” Being a convert helped a little with that answer, but really, I had no good answer. Then, telling them to keep quiet about it provoked a series of other hard-to-answer questions, not to mention that telling them to keep quiet about anything was risky at that age – indeed, a lot of adults can’t keep a secret! But in the end, my daughters and I “agreed” that parents have the right to decide what to tell their kids about Santa Claus, and it was not our place to mess it up. Surprisingly, perhaps shockingly, they never spilled the “jelly” beans – oh, I forgot, that’s Easter! Back to Christmas. In fact, they never mentioned anything to any of their non-Muslim friends about Santa Claus’s authenticity or not. It was not until another non-Muslim friend told them that her older brother told her that Santa Claus wasn’t real that any discussion took place – and this was at least four years later! For me, those Decembers came with much trepidation and left with much relief, as I worried that it would be my kids who ruined someone’s Christmas.
Fast forward several, but not as many as I hoped, years to the proverbial birds and bees discussion. I have one daughter who is incredibly curious about almost everything. Our troubles started in earnest with a Discovery Channel show on fish, of all things! The dreaded “s” word was mentioned – sperm – and life in our household was never the same. I think my curious daughter was maybe five years old at the time. I believe it was shortly after this show that one morning before work my husband ran into our bedroom. I asked him what had happened. He told me that this curious daughter had asked him about how babies were made or something along those lines, and he ran – yes, he ran away from her without saying a word! It was one of those marital moments that was both humorous and disturbing at the same time. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on the circumstances, another trait of my curious daughter is her tenacity, so her pursuit of knowledge of all things procreation continued. At one point, she screamed loudly and passionately, “I just want to know!”
I never lied to her about how babies are made, but I definitely withheld information, giving just enough age-appropriate facts I deemed wise at the time, hoping to slow her down, at least temporarily. At one point, I told her that I had given her all the information that was appropriate for her age, and she would just have to wait to learn more until she was older. That, remarkably, satisfied her for almost a year. Eventually, though, and the circumstances aren’t important here, she learned the “yucky” truth about baby-making, significantly earlier than any of her friends, and unfortunately so did her twin, who really didn’t want to know anything in the first place. Again, we had the conversation that we had about Santa Claus years earlier: parents have the right to decide what to tell their kids about sex (cross out ‘Santa Claus”) and it was not our place to mess it up. My girls once again never said a word, mentioning it only when a couple of friends shared their recent and apparently traumatic (crying, screaming) how-babies-are-made discovery moment.
Then, there are the jinns. Jinns are decidedly not a discussion for non-Muslim relatives who happen to be devout atheists. Indeed, jumping into a discussion about jinns should not be one’s first attempt at da’wah. But my girls know and have known about jinns for a long time. We have the du’a of protection hanging outside of the main hallway bathroom as a reminder. But as we discovered, not all Muslims are comfortable with a jinn discussion either, giving their kids very little information about the subject. So, we were back to what seems to have become a family mantra: parents have the right to decide what to tell their kids about jinns (cross out ‘Santa Claus” and “sex”) and it was not our place to mess it up.
Sex, jinns, and Santa Claus all have one thing in common: topics that many Muslim parents discuss with their kids that their kids should not discuss with their friends (Santa Claus with non-Muslim friends), until it is clear that all parents involved are okay with those discussions. The reason, as mentioned above, is that parents should decide how these issues will be learned and discussed and in what detail and when. Children are not in a position to make this decision, and it would be difficult for them to negotiate this line – indeed parents often have difficulty doing this. Remember my husband in flee mode!
So what can we do to protect our children from talking about something with other children that they potentially shouldn’t discuss? I think it depends on the circumstances and the child. Does my child need to have this information at this time? Should she? Is this something she is able to keep to herself? Is that too much to ask of her? In general, before divulging any potentially trouble-causing information to our children, as parents we should ask ourselves a lot of poignant questions and look at the potential ramifications of doing so. And, of course, if all else fails – run!
Some people asked Allah’s Messenger (SAW), “Whose Islam is the best? i.e. (Who is a very good Muslim)?” He replied, “One who avoids harming the Muslims with his tongue and hands.” (Bukhari)
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014) and The Great Race to Sycamore Street (2013). She is currently working on sequels. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.