In a world where the instruction manual existed you’d know exactly how to get your particularly fussy eater to eat their vegetables, and how to get your difficult sleeper to sleep through the night.
“Instruction manual needed!” Hands up those mothers amongst you who have thought these words, if not uttered them. Well, come, take my hand and travel with me on a journey of imagination and let’s explore what it might be like if children really did have a manual. Would life really be any easier if each child came with their own individual guide, complete with a troubleshooting section? You would know exactly what to do and when … right?
So let’s begin your expedition in your mind’s eye. You’ve just given birth to your beautiful baby. She is as perfect as any child could be. You are the tired happy that accompanies giving birth. However, you are also exhausted from the exertion and labour pains. Just as you are gathering yourself, a new set of contractions follow. But instead of delivering the placenta, out pops something far more useful: an instruction manual!
So what are you imagining? Is it a completely comprehensive book of encyclopaedic proportions? Or is it a pamphlet, similar to the standard ones that accompany all electrical household appliances? Perhaps in your musings, you somehow manage to get hold of ‘the manual’ as soon as you are expectant, providing ample opportunity to completely digest it from cover to cover prior to labour. Can you imagine how easy life would be? No more fussy eaters, difficult sleepers, terrible twos, potty training mishaps or nightmare teenagers! What bliss!
In a world where the instruction manual existed you’d know exactly how to get your particularly fussy eater to eat their vegetables, and how to get your difficult sleeper to sleep through the night. No more sleepless nights! Aren’t you feeling excited at the mere thought of that, and of never having to battle at mealtimes over getting your children to clean their plates? With this manual, perhaps you would know the precise moment when the tantrums will begin and how to waylay them. You would literally know the moment your child is ready for potty training so that there would be no false starts or trails of destruction for you to sanitise. Maybe it would let you have the dates and times for puberty so you could mark them in your diary, so that you could be prepared for the confusing and turbulent time that accompanies the transition from child to adulthood. You could ‘batten down the hatches’ and be organised and equipped for all the dramas you would have to face at this age.
In short, life would be perfect!
Now I’m guessing you don’t want to leave this lovely world that you’ve imagined and come back with me to reality but unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your perspective – you have to wake up from dreams. So would life be perfect if instruction manuals existed or is it more likely to be boring? If you lived in the world that you just imagined, what would happen to all those stories that you are able to compile as a consequence of all the stuff kids do during the so-called difficult stages in their growing up? Aren’t these the ‘weapons’ you will have against them when they are adults that you can embarrass them with? Won’t you lose the smiles and laughter caused by your reminiscing over these moments, which at the time had you crying if not screaming? What would happen to ‘discovery’ and the awe and amazement that usually come hand in hand with these difficult times? If you are forewarned, you are indeed forearmed, but you also lose the element of surprise. Think of the sheer joy you feel when your child, suddenly and without prior warning, takes their first steps! Or when they utter their first coherent word? What would happen to such moments if you had ‘the manual’?
I can almost hear the clamours of ‘No! Give me the manual! Please! I need it!’. I understand how vulnerable you can feel as you enter motherhood. But are the resources not available to find ways to deal with the issues as they arise? There are books galore about how to raise your kids. You have parenting courses that can be attended before your children are even a twinkle in your eyes. Some of you are blessed to still have mothers that can be turned to for advice. There are of course, parenting magazines, and those that transcend the entire familial divide such as your very own SISTERS magazine! Failing all else, there is Google. I do not think that it is a lack of information that is the cause of our insecurities as parents. It is the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ and losing children to the tempest that is the ‘dunya’.
To be honest, what is needed more than an instruction manual is faith, first and foremost in Allah I but also in yourself. It is important that you believe you have tried your best and to trust that your children will do theirs. Did someone say ‘letting go’? Did you feel a lurch in your stomach as you read those two little words? Hard thing to do, isn’t it? How do you let go of your babies? By recognising that you have never been in control. The controls have always been in the safest of hands and all the ‘difficulties’ you are facing have been promised:
“Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil); but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.” (Al Baqarah: 155)
If children aren’t ‘the fruits of our toil’ then what else, as mothers, could be viewed as the result of your hard work (labour and pregnancy being the easiest part!)?
So, why don’t kids come with instruction manuals? Quite simply, because it gives you the opportunity to get to know them, yourselves and your Creator. Questions allow you to find answers. If you have the answers already you are unlikely to search, and complacency can set in. So I say ‘throw out the manual’ and trust what you have available to you … You are never alone.
Khalida Haque is a qualified Integrative Counsellor/Psychotherapist with an independent practice, is founder of Khair and is a Counselling Services Manager. She has varied clinical experience that includes working with elders, and feels honoured and privileged to be doing the work she does. Alhamdulillah.