بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Misunderstood. Put on the spot. Challenged. Quizzed in public.
That is how I find myself feeling more and more often as an
homeschooling unschooling parent, now that my children are older and meeting more people in social settings.
People are usually all praise for their demeanor and behavior, until the bomb drops.
What? They don’t go to school?!
By now, I have the sequence of questions that follows this opening one, along with the accompanying aghast and scandalized facial expressions, practiced and etched in my memory down to a tee.
It is always the same sequence of questions and exclamations, give or take a few exceptions. It seems that by choosing to unschool my children, I am not just consciously challenging other parents’ choice to send their children to school, but also choosing to be judged and labelled as a certified “crazy” parent in our ‘tolerant’ and ‘broadminded’ Pakistani society (sarcasm intended).
So be it. Every rose has it’s thorns.
By the end of these unwanted, unwelcome “interviews” of sorts (which feel more like an interrogation or inquiry by police officers, for a crime that I am supposedly committing, according to their perception), I am left quietened by the questioners’ passive-aggressive remarks and half-accusatory stares of disbelief at what they have judged and passed off to be a totally ‘crazy’ decision as a parent.
What are you doing with your children!?
The older the female interrogator (I do not usually talk long enough to men for them to quiz me about my children, thankfully), the more quickly the accusations come my way, and the more quickly I become quiet.
I think I have mentioned before that I dislike engaging in arguments, defensive discussions, and debates with anyone – but especially so with opinionated, older Pakistani “aunties” (i.e. any lady whose oldest child is above 20 years old).
Truth be told, I consciously try to make myself ignore what they think of my parenting choices at this stage, in order to go on trying to raise my children with a healthy dose of positive enthusiasm that remains unmarred by the skepticism of critics.
However, my mental battle with their imposed negativity sometimes goes on for more than a few hours, before which I can declare complete victory, bi’idhnillah, and continue unschooling without a million “What if’s?” clouding my better judgment.
They will curse you after growing up for what you did to them!
It’s not like I was ever like the mainstream majority anyway. Ever.
Not when I was a child in school. Not when I was an unmarried girl (e.g. I chose not to go to a beauty salon for my bridal makeup – can any girl be weirder than that?). Not when I was a young married woman with small babies, and certainly not now, when I am the mother of growing children, two of whom will be at the threshold of teenage in a few short years, insha’Allah.
They can turn back their attention to saucy, superficial Pakistani dramas, curry recipes, and Masala morning TV shows.
To each their own.
Being Different – The Road Less Traveled
This feeling – that I am different from others, to the point of being outright ‘weird’ – is nothing new for me.
From as far back in life as I can recall, I was always different from the mainstream, both in thought as well as action.
I still remember walking up to my Science teacher in 8th grade (Science was my favorite subject, which I usually excelled in grade-wise), to hand her back my marked/checked midterm examination that carried the score of 48/50 – the highest marks in class – and tell her, my lip quivering, that I had answered one question, carrying 7 marks, entirely wrong.
Flabbergasted more at the fact that I had actually pointed out my undeserved extra marks, than at how she had corrected what was an obviously wrong answer (it entailed describing a test tube experiment), I watched as she regretfully crossed out the 48 to make it 41, which ended up lowering my marks not just in Science, but also my overall position/rank in the class results that term.
I remember going back to my seat and crying my eyes out, as the other girls in class attempted to comfort me. The whole classroom was one giant face of pity.
So why did I do it?
No one had coerced me. It was completely my decision. And not an easy one.
I had done it due to the same reason because of which I have always felt very different from others: the moment I realized, with a sick feeling in my stomach, that I had answered that question completely wrong, but that the Science teacher, who was used to me getting good grades in her subject, had inadvertently marked it right, I just knew that I had to tell her.
I wouldn’t have been able to live with the guilt of dishonesty; of knowing that I got a rank that I did not deserve; of knowing that I kept quiet and did not do the right thing.
My ‘morals’ have actually always made me take many difficult steps in life, such as in the incident above, which happened when I was only 12.
My penchant for taking the higher road has also brought me considerable pain and hurt, truth be told, and mostly from other people; especially those who don’t appreciate or uphold 100% honesty in their own lives.
As I said, I am outright ‘weird’.
It is Never Easy to Consistently
We decided to homeschool our children based on a sincere desire to provide them with the best Islamic upbringing, combined with the home-based application of those modern-day learning methodologies that encourage and facilitate natural knowledge-seeking based on fueling the God-given, innate flame of exuberant curiosity, unrestricted creativity, and the incessant drive to know more and to seek answers, which burns with ferocity inside all small children, before the early schooling system pats it down and fizzles it out forever.
I openly admit that this homeschooling decision was initiated by me, and is, by and large being sustained up till now as my choice (more than my husband’s).
When I mentioned above that my morals have always coerced me to take the high road, do the right thing, give the best due of any responsibility, and to tell the truth even if it causes me loss, etc., well, it was the same sense of morality that made me opt for homeschooling, rather reluctantly at first.
When my oldest was in school from the age of 2.5 to age 5, I came face-to-face with the grave realities and shortcomings of the contemporary schooling system firsthand, and there was an increasing number of things that I started to have major issues with, as a parent.
However, even though the thought of homeschooling made it’s way into my mind again and again, I kept repelling it, thinking that I didn’t have the guts to take the plunge.
However, a point came when I could just not take it any more. That is, my inner struggle with what I thought was best for my (Muslim) child(ren), as opposed to what was done as the norm by parents all over the world, would just not let my mind rest.
Correlating the present-day incidents that my oldest child went through during her short time at school, with my vivid memory-flashbacks of incidents that occurred at school during my own childhood, I just knew, as I did istikharah after istikharah — turning to Allah in an absolutely torn state of mind about what to do to raise my children ideally during the short time that I had with them before they became adults –, that homeschooling was something that I absolutely owed to my children.
This realization tied in well especially with my beliefs and thoughts about how a Muslim mother should parent her little children, which had formed in the light of the comprehensive study of the Qur’an that I underwent at Al-Huda (as a Diploma course), at the age of 21-22.
Would you believe, today, that I tried my best to resist the idea of homeschooling my children, before I actually took the plunge? For months, I ignored the recurring thoughts that Allah placed in my mind about how this was in their best interest as Muslims. I repelled those thoughts with, “But I cant do it! It is just too difficult! I am not patient enough. It won’t succeed. Everyone sends their children to school, how can I not?” etc.
But my penchant for taking the high road ruled. The nagging feeling of doing the right thing kept returning. The pinching guilt, that I was settling for second-best for them; that I was delegating my primary responsibility as a Muslim parent, of teaching/training/nurturing/facilitating the early education of my blood offspring (who are priceless gifts and trusts from Allah) during their early years of life to absolute strangers, just wouldn’t go away, even though I tried to repel/ignore it.
So anyway, I took the plunge by Allah’s will, knowing that there was no looking back, backtracking, or retracting after such a huge decision. Sort of like when I started hijab. Heh.
And I already knew that it would definitely not be easy. Nothing that is based on morality, truth and sincerity ever is. I anticipated many hurdles in my unschooling journey, but they were mostly related to my children’s “socialization with peers”.
How naive of me. :) Little did I know what lay stealthily in wait.
Being Questioned About My Parenting Choices
Almost 5 years down the road from that point in time, I definitely did not expect to find myself the target of awkward interrogative sessions and indirect, passive-aggressive accusations from other mothers.
My older children seem to be doing quite alright in the social arena; in fact, I think that my 9 year old daughter is actually more confident in social gatherings than I was at her age (and I was a school-goer), especially when she is interacting with adults.
My older two children, aged 9 and 7 right now, actually prefer the company and conversations of adults, over that of children their age. And I am happy with that. That is actually what I want, because children their age are playing games and watching entertainment programs on screens that my children know nothing whatsoever about!
However, what I am finding increasingly disconcerting is how and why sisters (that is, other adult women) think it is perfectly alright to subject me to a barrage of questions about my choice to not put my children in school, whenever they meet me?
I know that our choice is a very different one, one that they know absolutely nothing about; perhaps even a weird one (wasn’t I always weird?! Heh!) and that is why they ask me these questions.
But why do they consider it alright to do that?
Why would any parent, myself included, think it okay to put another parent on the spot about the choices they are making regarding their children? And that, too, in random social situations where talking in detail about deep concepts such as children’s education is not possible or easy, such as during chance run-in’s at the mall, or at a noisy wedding.
All parents make individual, personalized choices regarding their children, whether by allowing them to do something, or by disallowing them from doing something. Each parent makes that choice.
Are we parents open to judge others’ choices? Are we? I ask this question because I see it happening all the time.
And sometimes I am tempted to return the favor. ;)
The only apparent exception is perhaps that of younger parents (of today) judging the parenting decisions, styles and choices of the older generation (the parents of yesteryear – who had children 30/40 years ago). Judging their choices doesn’t occur, for some reason, perhaps due to a commendable respect of elders.
Anyhow, while we are riding the “judging other parents’ choices” bandwagon, there is one particular issue that I have been confused about since the past 14 years. Perhaps I should talk about it now, since other mothers consider it perfectly alright to talk about my parenting style. Eh?
This is actually something that I have seen in quite a few religiously inclined families, which I simply do not understand to this day.
It is about the practicing Muslim mother wearing hijab and abaya (out of choice), carrying a toddler daughter to and from her Qur’an class and full-time job at the local Islamic institute/da’wah center on a weekly or even daily basis.
12 years later, the same mother, donned in the same attire (perhaps with an additional niqab), is still seen going to and fro from her Qur’an classes and/or da’wah center, accompanied by that same daughter, but this time, this daughter is wearing short shirts with skinny jeans and/or tights that outline in vivid detail every curve in the her lower body.
I mean, who is buying this daughter these clothes?
And does the daughter know how to brush her teeth?
Does she know how to do her school homework on time?
Does she know how to clip her nails?
I am asking all these seemingly unrelated questions for a reason.
You see, even though I have seen so many such examples, believe me, I am at a total loss at being able to understand or fathom just how a mother, who observes strict hijab herself since before her daughter’s birth (and obviously because she believes that it is obligatory), can force her daughter – since before she hit the age of 7, – to get up before dawn to go to school, do her daily homework, and to brush her teeth every morning, but – for some reason totally unbeknownst to me – she did not “force” that same daughter (i.e. train her, as she is obliged to) to wear the obligatory hijab at the right age i.e. between ages 7 – 10.
Yes, you heard that right. If Muslim parents can and do begin to train their children to perform the 5 obligatory prayers, observe obligatory fasts in Ramadan, and to do all other socially obligatory things during the age of 7-10, as a character-building training for their child, then the training of girls in how to observe modesty in their clothing should also be begun during the same age range.
I mean, it is as clear as the sky – at least to me.
That if hijab is obligatory, it is not like our daughters have the option to not do it once they hit puberty, just like they do not have the option of skipping any of the five daily prayers or other obligations (such as final exams at school –> which are purely academic ‘obligations’ forced on to children by society, not by Allah, yet all parents force their children to stick to them, as if their lives depended on it).
And just like we train our children to do ALL the other ‘obligations’ – social, cultural, or academic (viz. “Go and say salam to uncle”/”Go brush your teeth before you have breakfast”/”Go take a bath, you’re very dirty/”Put away your books/toys, NOW!”/”Go cut those long nails!”) – should we NOT train our daughters about the Islamic rulings of their clothing long before they hit puberty, too?
Just like we take great pains and worry about making them learn how to read and write as soon as they are able to (age 3-5 onwards)?
Or am I wrong here?
Don’t ALL mothers train their daughters in the art of removing their extra body hair by the time they are 16 (that’s quite late nowadays, I think. I’d go with a 12)?
Do they not train them in what to do when they experience menarche?
Then why not the obligatory hijab (Islamic standard of modesty in clothing)?
Just what excuses does a practicing Muslim mother make to herself when she allows her daughter, who is 10+ in age, to go out of the house wearing skinny jeans and a short shirt?
Surely these mothers are giving themselves some comforting excuses that allow them to get deluded into believing that training a young daughter in wearing the correct Islamic hijab from age 7+ – using love, wisdom, and gradual, step-by-step practical instruction – is NOT an obligation upon them, as a parent.
Even though their daughters’ daily brushing of teeth and sitting for/passing school exams IS an obligation, apparently, since long before that age.
Anyhow, rant over about my confusion. :) Now let’s get back to the point: why I am mentioning all of this.
Whenever I encounter such a mother-daughter duo, and obviously “judgmental” questions about their parenting style/choices do pop up in my head, I never corner these mothers and rudely ask them upfront questions about why they are not making their teenage daughters observe Islamic requirements of hijab, something which they obviously consider to be an obligation for themselves (since they are doing hijab and abaya since many years, and involved in Islamic da’wah work too). Heck, they are not even making their daughters wear modest clothing, let alone a head cover and an outer garment!
And even though I ‘judge’ them like this inwardly (ouch, how mean of me…what a typical, ‘judgmental’ Pakistani aunty I am becoming, eh? When in Rome….), I refrain from being rude and crossing the boundaries of social decency and maturity to ask them this question outright:
“How/why can you do this to your daughter?”
I call my lip-biting, non-intrusive stance of not asking such questions, “respect” for their parenting choices, even though I am totally bewildered by them.
And by that I do mean, really, really confused and bewildered.
Since I did the diploma course at Al-Huda, I have known and seen many such mothers raise their children, since by Allah’s grace, I started to move about more in the social circles of practicing Muslims. Many sisters who studied the entire Qur’an and started practicing hijab themselves, happened to give birth to daughters a little before, after, or during their Qur’an studies/reversion towards Islam.
However, then I started to observe this ‘hijab contradiction’ parenting phenomenon, and to this day I am confused about it.
If you know the answer to this question, i.e. why a mother who herself observes hijab and considers it to be an obligation, since before her daughter hit the age of 5-7, does not train her daughter to observe hijab at the right age i.e. between age 7 to 10, the way she trains her how to perform the 5 daily prayers, brush her teeth, and take a bath, please comment below and enlighten me.
And do let me know, while you’re at it, why she buys her those skinny jeans and short shirts too. I mean, we know that most 13 year old girls don’t yet have the money to shop for their own clothes (and branded, expensive, designer clothes at that), nor do they go out alone to do the said shopping, do they?
Please Don’t Make Me Turn this into a Two-Way Street
Now, back to the said interrogations that I am subjected to, especially by older ladies.
“How can you not send your children to school, when you went to school/college yourself?”
Well, below are examples of a few questions that I want to ask them in reply myself, but I don’t (remember the deliberate lip-biting to stop myself?):
“Why do your children talk in English only, when you have conversed in Urdu throughout your life, yourself?”
“Why don’t any of your daughters observe hijab like you do, even though you have been observing it meticulously since long before they hit puberty?”
“Why do you hastily move your child away from cigarette smoke in public places, when you smoke(d) cigarettes for years yourself?”
“Why do you let your children drive a car, when you have never driven one yourself?”
“Why doesn’t your 30+ daughter make fresh chapati‘s twice a day for her family, the way you have done for decades yourself?
“Why do you let your unmarried children travel abroad for leisure, alone, on international vacations, when you never traveled alone yourself?”
“Why do none of your sons know how to fix the plumbing in your house, when you can easily fix it dextrously and easily yourself?”
“Why do you let your teenager pose for pictures arm-in-arm with their non-mahrum cousins and school-friends, even though you avoid all physical contact with non-mahrums yourself?”
“Why aren’t your children aged 30+ getting married, even though you both got married in your early twenties yourself?”
“Why have you kept a full-time maid for your only child, even though so many mothers today are raising numerous children without one? Why can’t you care for just one child yourself?”
“Why are you working full-time even though you have small children, when you were raised by a stay-at-home mother yourself?”
“Why are you allowing your child to have his/her own tablet (iPad) and to play games on it for hours, when you grew up even without a television set, yourself?”
“Why are you raising your children in a conservative Muslim-majority country, even though you were raised in the secular West yourself?”
“Why did you send your children to University for a 4-year Bachelor’s degree, when you (and your spouse) didn’t get one yourself?”
“Why do you allow your small children to use Facebook and other social media, even though you don’t use it yourself?”
The answer to all the above questions is more or less the same, and let me give it to you all myself, sisters and brothers. The answer is:
Because, as my child’s parent in this era, and according to my personal circumstances (which are unbeknownst to others), I know what is best for my children, and I want nothing but the best for them. Whatever I have decided, is for their own best interests.
Please, my dear perplexed sisters and concerned mothers who wish to interrogate me about my decision to unschool, we are all in the same boat. We have all been tested by having children, and we all have to answer to Allah for how we raised them (especially when they little, and needed us more).
Please don’t make me turn your interrogations about my decision to not send my children to school, which are admittedly inspired just by your honest shock and wonder at this novel, unheard-of phenomenon i.e. homeschooling, into a two-way, “judge-fest”.
I don’t want to judge you, and I try hard not to.
So please do not judge me.
Can we please live and let live, as parents?
Conclusion: Degrees Don’t Guarantee Success, Divinely Inspired, Beneficial Knowledge Does
Yes, my husband and I have Bachelors and Masters degrees from accredited universities, and yet, it is possible that we might not send our children to either school or to college/university – ever.
Shocked? Please don’t be. Please take some time off from watching Pakistani dramas, sharing updates on social media, shopping, cooking, watching cheesy/idiotic movies and Geo News, to educate yourself about modern-day findings about education and schooling.
Also, do you really – honestly, and truly – idealize and epitomize the Prophets of Allah (عَلَيهِم السَّلام) and their Companions (sahabah), more than you do contemporary scholars, scientists, entrepreneurs, philosophers, thinkers, experts, millionaires, and other achievers of today?
Do you? Honestly?
When you leave your Qur’an class and come home to sit with your children, talking to them about their future over dinner, who is it that you want them to look up to? Who do you tell them to emulate? The successful, rich people today, who have professional degrees and live in huge mansions, right?
Or do you tell your children to always, always emulate Allah’s Prophets and their companions? To always idealize their way of life; their morals and values; their level of knowledge and it’s practical application?
Well, GUESS WHAT? They had NO DEGREES. None, whatsoever.
But they did have Divine, beneficial knowledge (العلم) that they sought primarily via the company of righteous scholars and through self-driven hard work.
Even if you disagree and insist that degrees are the only way to become educated, you have to admit that there is a big difference between the two kinds of knowledge: that which is structured and institutionalized, and that which is Divinely inspired.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with pursuing institutionalized education and degrees (especially for those want to become doctors and professors), acquiring these does not guarantee future success or the acquisition of beneficial knowledge.
Just look at the unemployed people in your own extended family, who have more than one ‘solid’ degree from accredited institutions under their belts, and yet, despite all efforts, they are unable to find gainful employment.
I assure you, you will not have to look far, or too long, to spot even one such individual!
No one knows yet what the future holds for our children (i.e. whether they will choose to pursue degrees or not), so we try to refrain from making any tall claims about this beforehand.
We do keenly observe our children, though. We monitor them all the time – did I mention that we have them at home, or with us, all the time, i.e. they have been raised with no maids, schools, or babysitters for the past (almost) 5 years? And yet, we sincerely seek Allah’s help in our parenting journey, today and in the future. We know that, as parents, we are merely the means, and not the source of the good that comes towards our children from Allah.
We try to keep abreast of latest beneficial trends and discoveries in the field of education, and about the changing dynamics of learning methodologies today. The Internet is an awesome source of information, you know. Perhaps you should do some similar research on education too, since you are obviously so keen and concerned about all children – including ours – going to ‘good’ schools/colleges.
So let me end by saying this:
Don’t judge and interrogate me about what I am doing with my children, and I won’t judge you for what you are doing (or have done) with yours.
*Handshake* (with sisters only)