Written by: Kendall A. | Umm Iman
As my children get older, and I seek to be intentional about norm setting in our home, the family discussion around “rules” has begun. Having a background in education, I know that the fewer rules there are, the easier they are for children to remember and adhere to. Similarly, it’s better to think of all encompassing guidelines that everyone can feel good about in the creation of family culture, as opposed to a long list of empty, potential issues that may arise. Keeping that in mind, I thought of two simple rules to guide my family in our daily interactions.
#1: Respect yourself, others, and our environment.
#2: Obey Allah swt in His commands.
I introduced these concepts to my children during our daily homeschooling circle time as a “Grace and Courtesy” lesson. I first asked them what a rule is and why we have them. After some discussion, we agreed that a rule is a boundary or limit that is meant to keep us safe and peaceful. When we follow the rules that Allah swt has put in place for us, we can become the best versions of ourselves, ie: people who are kind, peaceful, empathetic, generous, upstanding, etc. Rules require self-discipline–we must learn to recognize when we are living within the boundaries of goodness and when we have crossed them. In an ideal world, everyone exercises self-discipline, in which case, there is no need for others to punish us. For me, as a parent, my goal in setting the rules of our home is to help my children learn to think through the consequences of their actions, and make good choices that will lead to positive outcomes, and outcomes that they can feel good about. In a hadith, the Prophet (saw) stated that: “If your good deeds make you happy and your bad deeds make you sad, then you are a believer.” This is an idea that I hope they will live by.
After coming to an understanding about the purpose of rules, it was then necessary to explain the intricacies of the rules. What does it mean to respect myself, others, and my environment? What does that look like in action? This was a beautiful introduction to the concept of self-care and its spiritual obligation upon us. Our body is an amanah–a trust from Allah swt. Respecting ourselves means taking care of ourselves–ensuring that we are getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, setting up clear boundaries with others, thinking and speaking positively to and of ourselves, and filling our spiritual cups, amongst a host of other aspects. I felt it was important to teach them that we must first respect ourselves in showing others how to respect us as well.
Once we have strengthened our core, we can then move outward in our relationships with those around us. We can respect others by practicing consent, actively listening, being thoughtful, doing acts of kindness, making dua for others, and essentially following the “Golden Rule” of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
The final piece of “respect” in our house norms, is respecting our environment–both indoors and outdoors. In following the quote, we should and aim to: “leave a place better than we found it.” Practically speaking, this looks like: cleaning up our toys and books after we finish using them and putting something away, even if we weren’t the ones using it. It is sitting at the table with our food and drinks, and cleaning up litter safely when we see it. It is practicing sustainable living measures and doing whatever small actions we can to make the world a better place.
As Muslims, our second rule of life is to obey Allah swt. To me, this is important, because I want my family to live from a place of spirituality, to recognize that our entire existence is connected to our Creator and that in order to be successful, we must follow the guidelines that our Creator has put in place for us. I want them to see and understand that our Creator has wisdom that we do not have and that the limits set by our faith are for our benefit, because our Creator loves us and has our best interests in mind. In reflection of the ayah: “I did not create jinn and humans except to worship Me” (Quran 51:56), it’s important to me that my family operates from this place–that everything we do in this life is a manifestation of our worship of our Creator. Even when we don’t understand something completely and even when we make mistakes, our desire should be to seek the pleasure of our Lord through sincere effort in following the guidelines that have been set. Islam seeks to bring excellence to society through character and connection with the spiritual self.
Now that these norms have been made more clear, it is easy to refer back to them. When I catch my daughter pouring beverages for everyone as we set the dinner table, I can acknowledge that she is respecting others. When I see my son putting away his toys without being asked, I can appreciate him for respecting and taking care of our environment. This is what I want, for them to live in the world and see it through this lens–of respect and connection.