As we begin the calendar year of 2014, many of us will reflect on the previous year and contemplate ways to enrich our lives. Among the most common resolutions made around this time are those directly related to self-improvement such as weight loss, exercise and healthier eating, knowledge seeking, career and academic success, and spiritual renewal. While these are all noteworthy goals to work towards, one of the areas of improvement that is often neglected is reconnecting with our family and ensuring that we spend both the quantity and quality of time required to foster a healthy family life.
In trying to balance the demands of our lives and juggle our time efficiently, one of the greatest sacrifices often lies in letting go of our family bonds or in falsely believing that the amount of time spent with family is not as important as the quality of that time, or vice versa. Regardless of the stage of life we are currently in, no one can deny that we live in a time where being “busy” is the catch phrase of the century. Whether speaking to a stay-at-home mother of two, a corporate working father, a third year college student, a newly married couple, or a single parent juggling work and children, we often hear “I’d love to spend more time with my family, but I’m just so busy.” Although one person’s purported busyness may be another’s leisure, the reality is that what we deem as important in our lives often shifts the puzzle pieces of balance and winds up severely cutting into the time that should be spent on family and faith building.
Faith & Family First
When the hectic nature of life tends to overwhelm us, an important point to remember is beautifully expressed in this ayah from Surat Al-Baqarah: “On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray :) "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith." (Qur'an, 2:286)
The beauty of this ayah is often neglected as we struggle to balance what we perceive as priorities. While every person carries specific burdens and defines his or her burden differently, in the end, it is important to remember that Allah (swt) will never weigh us down with something we cannot handle. Sacrificing family time or cutting back on being with our family members is not the answer to better time management How often have you been stretched to the limit and then find that there is more you can handle by the grace of Allah (swt)?
A simple comparison of the era of the Prophet ﷺ to our current lives of ease and technology makes it abundantly clear that what we complain about as “having no time” to spend with family or on matters of faith is really just a case of a misappropriation of time. The hours of the day have not been shortened in the years that have passed, but the barakah in the way we use that time has greatly decreased. Unfortunately, in attempting to fulfill our work, leisure, and family roles and our desires to self-gratify and self-entertain, the major sacrifice that is often made is in the deduction of time given to our children, our parents, our siblings, our communities and most of all to our deen.
Rebuilding the Broken
Admitting that we are broken is the first step towards rebuilding. And we are broken; not necessarily as individuals, but as a collective whole. We cannot deny that what has suffered most today is the family dynamic. In breaking the mawaddah within our families, we’ve succeeded in breaking the connection with our communities and the connection with each other in the greater realm of the ummah. How we interact with others often forms the cornerstone of our taqwa in action. How we interact with our family forms the foundation of that cornerstone.
The Rasool ﷺ reminds us that “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family.” (Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 3252) How many of us can say that we live our lives in emulation of the Rasoolﷺ? How many of us can honestly say that our nicest smile is saved for our children? That our softest voice is saved for our spouse? That our kindest compliments are reserved for our parents? Unfortunately, in the name of comfort, familiarity, and ease, many of us have strayed from keeping the best part of ourselves for our families. Instead, where we try the least is in our own homes. Once we stop trying to be the best to our families, all that is best within our families begins dying.
Alhamdulillah, Allah (swt) in His Infinite Mercy provides opportunities for us to always better ourselves and to better our family life. It’s never too late for us to fix what is broken. It’s never too late to pick up the pieces and build again. Here are some practical steps that can help us in rebuilding the bonds of our families:
Unplug- Force yourself to disconnect from the technology that pervades our lives. We cannot have meaningful connections with our families if we are always turning to our devices and gadgets to connect with others. Give yourself and your family downtime where no one will use the laptop, computer, phone, or any other device. Implement a screen-free time every day with your family; whether it is over dinner or before bed. Make time for each other to simply practice the lost art of talking, playing, praying, and sitting in the company of one another.
Communicate- Schedule “talking time.” This is very important for the well-being of the parents’ relationship and for the children in learning how to connect with others. After a long day at school, at work, or at home, everyone in the family needs and deserves some appointed connecting time. Try using an egg timer and set it for five minutes. Enter each child’s room before bedtime and appropriate five minutes of dedicated time where your child can tell you anything that is on his/her mind. Repeat for each of your children and have your spouse do the same. Then, repeat with your spouse (you might want to sneak in an extra minute or two for spouse time). The kids will love their “five-minute” dedicated parent time and you and your spouse will find yourselves looking forward to your together time as well.
Respect- Build respect, companionship, and camaraderie between you and your spouse, you and your parents, and you and your children. Try to always be on the same page as husband and wife while raising your children. Don’t let your children see you divided. Your marriage should be a place of trust, rest, tranquility, care, and mercy. If you can’t find that in your marriage, you won’t be able to provide that to your children. For single parents and blended families, the task is often even greater in establishing the family connection. Regardless of the situation, respect in the family begins with self-respect. It’s easy sometimes to fall into the trap of self-recriminations and feeling like you’ve fallen short in some aspect of family life. Don’t get sucked into that downward spiral. Respect starts from within and radiates outwards.
Support- Recognize that no one exists in a bubble. As a family, you must provide the emotional as well as physical and financial support for one another from the oldest to the youngest. Find interests that work for everyone. Avoid constant criticism of your children or your spouse. Nagging never yields anything but hurt feelings and bruised emotions. Find a family activity like biking, hiking, walking, or reading and commit to the activity on a regular basis. Seek support from your community. Be friends with the parents of your children’s friends. Reach out to your parents’ friends as well. Build that center of support and accept that you were never meant to do it all alone.
Connect- Don’t lead separate lives. Yes, it is important to nurture your own interests and pursue self-enriching activities. However, it’s equally important to always come back to home-base and to recognize the role of the family in your life and enjoy the blessings of being with people who truly care for you. Find yourself but also find each other and do things together. Our time on earth is limited and the Rasool ﷺ tells us: “Get hold of 5 things before 5 things happen: your youth before old age, your health before sickness, your riches before poverty, your leisure before business and your life before death.” (Tirmidhi) Recognize what is most important and reprioritize. Ask yourself how you are using your youth, your health, your wealth, and your time to enrich your own life and your family’s life in this duniyah and in the akhirah.
Be Responsible- Foster a sense of responsibility in your children and in your spouse. What are the rights and responsibilities in a family? How can everyone take part in fulfilling those? The Qur’an stresses the importance of being good to parents. Be an example for your children by not neglecting your responsibilities to your family as well. "Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that (you show) kindness to parents. Should one or both of them attain to old age with you, Say not "Uff'' unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word. And lower unto them the wing of submission through mercy and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they did care for me when I was little. Your Lord is best aware of what is in yourselves. If you are righteous, then Lo! He was ever forgiving unto those who turn unto Him" (17: 23-25).
Un-break and Re-make- Acknowledge and work towards fixing whatever has gone wrong in your family. Have a serious heart to heart with your spouse and with your children about why you feel that your family might be falling apart. Don’t absolve yourself from the blame. The family must work together like cogs in a well-oiled machine. If one part of the machine isn’t working correctly, the other parts must pull together to make it work. Jaabir ibn Muntam (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Rasool ﷺ said, “The person who breaks family ties will not enter Jannah.” (Bukhari and Muslim) Don’t persist in the path towards breaking the family connection.
Be Proactive- Be the change you want to see. Don’t expect one person to fix all the problems. Family is about cooperation. Initiate and follow through. Don’t assume that your spouse/parent/child should be solely responsible for the well-being and happiness of your family. Through good and bad, through thick and thin, your family has been provided to you as a blessing from Allah (swt). Don’t neglect that blessing or search for enjoyment, happiness, or tranquility elsewhere. You can find all that and more in your own home if you make the choice to appreciate your family interactions.
Expect the Unexpected- Learn to roll with the punches. Establish a core of unshakeable tawakul rooted in taqwa where you rely upon Allah (swt) alone in good and bad. Family life is not all about smooth sailing. It is about having the right mates on your ship as you navigate the rough seas. Allah (swt) tells us in the Quran that “Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.” [94:6] Let the beauty of this ayah permeate your life and filter through everything you experience with your family. Where there is a down there must be an up. Recognize that regardless of what you are going through right now, this too shall pass.
- Smile- Have fun with your family! The smile is a sadaqah to a stranger; so imagine what it is to your family who you are commanded to be the best to. Rasool Allah ﷺ said, “Do not regard any act of virtue to be insignificant even if it is meeting your brother with a smiling face.” Recognize that there should be joy in your family life. Your children should want to come home and be with you. Your spouse should be excited to see you. Be the best “you” possible for your spouse and your kids. The Rasool ﷺ would play around, joke, and race with his wives. He would tell stories to the children to make them laugh. Don’t lose the lightheartedness of life with your family. Your family should be your source of inspiration, happiness, and joy. Accept the blessing that they are and the fact that your actions with your family can lead you to the ultimate reward of being with those you love most in Jannah insha’Allah.
Family life is about both the journey and the destination. Enjoy every moment and recognize that life is not always going to be perfect, but it’s perfectly imperfect just the way it is. This year, we can all begin a new page by reprioritizing and truly dedicating ourselves to our families. The puzzle pieces of life don’t always come together flawlessly or to our liking. But by building our faith first and integrating that faith into our family life, we will create a much stronger foundation upon which to connect. Begin with yourself, strengthen your iman, and reevaluate your own concept of time and then move outwardly to influence your family, your friends, and your community. The resulting ripple effect is bound to help keep others from disconnecting as well. Renew your intentions and realize that even if a few pieces of family life don’t unite as perfectly as you imagined this year, you can always pick up the pieces and reconnect again.
By Suzy Ismail , 06 Jan 2014