By J. Samia Mair
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
The answer is “yes”—a resounding “yes”. I was recently reminded of this fact when one of my twin 12-year-old daughters told someone that her idea of exercise is getting up from her bed from reading to go to the bathroom! Now, that isn’t entirely accurate, Alhamdulillah, as she is extremely coordinated and when she gets moving, she does so very well. But, given her druthers, she would stay in her PJs all day long, reading on top of her made bed, with an occasional break to write, draw, knit, do some other craft, or play some computer game, surfacing periodically to feed herself. I’m not sure if this is just the age or she really means it, but I do find myself having to open her blinds so at least some light comes in. I never thought I would have to tell her to stop reading considering she is the same daughter who has mild dyslexia and whom we thought would always have an aversion to the printed word. Her twin sister who is very different in many ways is very much the same in this respect—an avid reader who spends an inordinate amount of time on her bed reading, stopping willingly only to do her computer art and her limited time on online games. It seems like every morning I have to tell them to stop reading and start their schoolwork (we homeschool). I never thought I would say this because my husband and I are book lovers, but I often think that our kids actually read too much.
I suppose that can happen with just about anything, whether it is a sport, hobby, or other favourite pastime or pursuit, and depending on the circumstances a huge commitment might be necessary. Someone training for the Olympics can’t afford not to put the hours in, likewise for a Hifz student (who is memorizing the Qur’an). But absent some special circumstances that require a sustained commitment outside what otherwise might be deemed necessary and healthy, children, indeed everyone, need balance in their lives. Indeed, when I get in a writing mode, I zone out to just about everything else and have difficulty concentrating on other things until the creative spurt has expressed itself. But when is too much, too much, and what can be done about it?
With our daughters I began to think they were reading too much when they had less interest in other healthy pursuits—such as going outside to play. Now, granted, when it’s raining for literally weeklong or more stretches (which it has), when the heat and humidity are so high that you feel hit by a furnace as soon as you open the door (which it does), or when you’re not feeling well for an extended period of time (which just happened), most people don’t want to go outside, but that isn’t always the case. So we have to tell them to stop reading, get dressed, and leave the house. But we also realize that we had a lot to do with it. For a variety of reasons—none of them good in hindsight—my husband and I had stopped planning our regular outdoor family adventures. We had gotten into a rut of work, always trying to catch up with keeping-the-house-running chores and stressing over “there is so much to do”. In short, we hadn’t been very good role models for balancing life.
Experience has shown me repeatedly that once I think I have some aspect of parenting down right, there is yet another challenge that pops up to remind me that I have a lot to learn. With each new age and stage in our children’s lives, new challenges arise, some expected and some hitting us from the so-called blindside. I am continually amazed that I am actually surprised when this happens since by now I should be expecting the unexpected. And perhaps if I read more parenting books, I would be more prepared, but there are so many variables, each family’s, each child’s experience even in that family is so unique that no amount of preparation can prepare a parent for everything. So many of us “wing it” at times, praying for the best for our children and asking Allah (swt) to protect them against the worst. Balancing seems to be our challenge now.
Regrets? Yes, of course, there are always regrets in parenting. But recently our imam said something that has really stayed with me. He said that everyone has three days: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Yesterday is gone so there is no use grieving about it—it was qadr (predestination), always going to happen. And tomorrow, well, we are not even promised the next moment—no use worrying about tomorrow. But today, this present moment, we have. This is space in which to live, to obey our Creator, and to do what we are created to do. So while you learn from your past mistakes and plan for the future, you are present in the present.
So, what’s the solution? I think it is monitoring where everyone is in your family on a regular basis. When was the last family hike or bike ride? Did the girls exercise today? How long have they been in their rooms reading? It is also planning. Plan a variety of activities and experiences for your children because they might not like something until they try it. Without a conscious effort it is too easy to get into a comfortable routine that may not be the best all around.
If history is any indication, I will soon hear my daughters stirring and if I look in their rooms, they will be reading, Alhamdulillah, but that doesn’t have to last the whole day!
Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014). She is currently working on a sequel to Zak and His Good Intentions. 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.
© IIPH 2015