Little Men – Sons Today, Husbands Tomorrow

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

She hurriedly sets the food on the dining table and calls out to him, “Come on, food is ready!”. She checks again to make sure everything is there: the plates, a glass of water, and cutlery. As he rushes in and takes his place at the table, he says, “Turn the TV on. The show is about to come on.”

“Alright, you please start eating.” she says, as she hurriedly grabs the  television remote and puts it on to his favorite channel.

“I want a spoon for the yogurt,” he says as he starts munching, his eyes riveted to the images on the screen. “Getting it,” she replies from the kitchen, and swoops in to plant the spoon in the yogurt dish. “Anything else I can get for you? Would you like chutney with that?”

He shakes his head, without taking his eyes off the television set. When he’s done, he stands up, pushing the chair back, and goes to wash his hands. She hurriedly comes to take a look at his plates, commenting with a frown, “Why didn’t you eat all the casserole? Was it not good?”

“It was okay,” he says distractedly, “You know I like meat, not vegetables. Make me that dessert tonight.” With that, he sprints outside the house without as much as a goodbye.

“Alright. Give me a call in an hour!” she shouts after him, as she picks up the plates laden with half-eaten food, and takes them back into the kitchen to wash.

***

The above scenario is an everyday occurrence in most households. However, the conversation that I have attempted to portray above is not that which takes place between a husband and wife, but rather, that between a loving mother and her son, from the time he is four years old and can barely seat himself properly at the dining table, to the time he is well into his twenties, thirties or even forties.

The relationship that most domesticated housewives, especially those in my home country (whom I have interacted with and observed the most), have with men in their families appears to revolve significantly around food. Be it their father, brother, husband or son, when he needs anything from the kitchen, the women of the house want and prefer that he immediately summon them into the picture. That is, it pleases them to know that their men need them as long as their stomachs keep growling.

No matter how resignedly women might undermine themselves, sigh submissively and say with melancholy, “What can we do? It is a man’s world, and we are mere women,” the fact is that a woman has the most influence over a man, especially in the relationship of mother and son. This is because when he is a small child, he keenly observes and absorbs her mannerisms and behavior – including those pertaining to himself and his father – and takes nonverbal cues from these relationships well into his manhood, to determine how he will himself treat the women in his life in the future, as an adult.

What starts off as a natural maternal instinct that makes a mother pick up her baby on its first bawl to nurse him or her, continues unabated well into a child’s adult years if not checked, especially in Eastern countries, where women seem to derive immense – and sadly, often the only – joy, satisfaction, and positive sense of self-worth, from filling the bellies of their families with fresh food.

However, whereas serving family members and catering to their gastronomical needs is a noble action, especially if it is done with the intention to please Allah, the way it is actually done is what determines whether it turns, instead, into indulgent pampering – which might not always have positive results – or whether it remains the noble service that is worthy of Divine reward.

Once the initial childhood years drift by, daughters are usually made independent in catering to their own household requirements (fetching food from the fridge, putting away the laundry, laying the table), and ushered into the kitchen as active contributors to the process of food preparation, from ages as young as 10 or 12. However, the boys transition into the VIP dining area, trained to sit and wait for the ladies to cater to their needs.

In some families, the men eat first as the women serve them, and the women eat only after the men are done – leaving behind only meagre shreds of chicken and dry roti’s, having eaten the meatiest portions and the greasy paratha’s themselves. Daughters are taught never to question this system, and hence, the belief that men are superior to women, is subconsciously ingrained into the psyches of young children. The worse part is that sons then grow up to severely undermine their mothers, especially in such sad cases where there are double standards in child upbringing, and are slowly turned into misogynistic male chauvinists, who repeat this vicious cycle with their own wives and daughters in the future.

What I find disconcerting is when even young, educationally enlightened and professionally qualified mothers of today similarly create self-indulgent, gluttonous, chauvinistic monsters out of their sweet little sons. A mother has immense power over her little boy when the latter is a child, because children are like clean slates that absorb whatever they see around themselves, and act accordingly.

Why is it then, that a thirty-something, educated, urban housewife of Pakistan turns into a pampering personal chef and valet for her minor son, catering to all his demands? Why can she not let him fetch his own plate, glass of water, and also make him wash them after he is done? Why can she not train him not to watch television as he eats, and to appreciate what he likes from the food with a simple, “This was delicious, Mama!”?

Does she not realize, that the domestic habits she is ingraining in her boy will be taken by him into his adult life, to impact his wife in the form of hard-to-fill, high expectations? Why does she not give her 8-year-old son yesterday’s chapati or paratha, or even dry bran bread, to have with his curry? Why is she making him used to the fact that each time his stomach grumbles, he has to wait for a woman to get up and prepare him fresh food at the stove, especially the piping hot, butter-laden paratha or chapati?

When we marry men whose food habits are etched in stone, we grumble about how they cannot make their own breakfast when we are sick (even something as simple as butter, toast and tea), or if we stayed up all night with a cranky baby. But when we have a son, we repeat the same mistake that our mothers have been making since decades: we pamper our little boy even after he is old enough to help us lay the table, heat food on the stove (serving him yesterday’s leftovers is not a crime, you know), wash the dishes, clean up the kitchen, and put everything back in its place!

If you ever visit a local (Pakistani) khoka (an outdoor establishment like a Soup Kitchen) or a car-repair/mechanic’s shop, please observe how boys as young as 6 or 8 run around doing errands, serving people tea, kneading the dough for the naans (flatbreads), or fixing broken appliances and automobile parts. Why do some of us then get scandalized if our sons try to wash their plate and put it back in the dish rack? Or if an adult son comes home and does not summon his mother to give him his food, but rather, saunters into the kitchen with a sense of self-confidence and helps himself to a meal?

Could it be that some mothers actually fear not being needed by their sons anymore? Maybe they think that his making his own food or doing his laundry himself, will undermine their importance in his life?

If that is sadly the case, then we must really analyze why a mother’s self-worth and self-esteem as the most worthy-of-respect, honorable woman in his life, depend upon her son’s need for food/clean clothes? Surely, a woman is important – even if the men in her family no longer need her whenever they are hungry, desire a cup of coffee/tea, or any other “personal service”?

Here are a few other maternal faux pas that some women unfortunately commit:

  1. Believing that a son will be better for her than a daughter, because he will garner her a strong standing in her in-laws, and secure her future as a financial provider. Not to mention, keep the ever-present fear inside her, of being discarded for a younger woman in case she doesn’t produce at least one male child, at bay.
    Incidentally, I know of a lady who had 4 sons, with the first baby also being a boy, but that still didn’t stop her husband from having sly extra-marital flings, nor did it stop her mother-in-law from taunting her, “Be grateful that my son married you, otherwise you’d still be single today.” Go figure!
  2. Favoring a son over a daughter in love, attention, nutrition and belongings.
  3. Believing that a son’s upbringing after the age of 10-12 is solely the father’s responsibility, and hence not stopping him from striking up friendships with girls, going out late at night for un-Islamic leisure and entertainment, or hanging out in the streets/restaurants/markets with questionable company, for no reason.
  4. Allowing the son to get his way with her, and with the other women in the house, from a very early age. “He is a boy. He will get his way. I cannot stop him.” Worse: allowing him to hit her as a child, deride her, or make fun of her in front of others.
  5. Not stopping a son from looking at women when he starts coming of age. “Men will be men. We cannot expect them to live like monks in this day and age. Its the fault of all the loose girls outside who wear revealing clothes that he stares at them, my poor shareef bacha.” [*Cough, sputter, snort*]
  6. Overlooking a son’s mistreatment of women by passing it off as machoism, manliness or praiseworthy “ghiyarah” (sense of honor).
  7. Serving and pampering a son even when he disobeys her. E.g. a few hours after he screams in her face for telling him off about not studying enough for his exams, and shuts the door to his room with a bang, she knocks to ask, “Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?”
  8. Not raising him to provide for, and be responsible for his family. This is usually done when the parents give him pocket money even when he is well over 18 years old, instead of training him to earn and manage money from an earlier age, no matter how humbly he earns it, or how little it might be.

Now that my unrestricted-by-word-limit blog post on this topic is over, I would like to share a few tips on raising young boys that I wrote as an article, which got published in this month’s issue of SISTERS Magazine:

Son Today, Husband Tomorrow

In our day-to-day interactions, when we meet someone who has exemplary habits, character or morals, we give credit to their parents for ingraining these impeccable qualities in them.

As mothers, we should realize how our home dynamics and values influence are children’s future personality. Children absorb their values and life lessons primarily from the family front. A cursory glance at the mannerisms and inter-gender attitudes of adults lends credibility to the theory that most of their perceptions regarding the other gender are based on childhood experiences.

As an example, if a Muslim woman allows her son to shout at her, hit her or deride her in any way e.g. by demanding service for little things like getting him his fork from the kitchen, or fetching fresh socks for him from the laundry – he will grow up expecting women to be perpetually subservient to his demands. These women would primarily be, of course, his sisters and then his wife and daughters.

It is quite acceptable for a mother of a 3-year-old boy to change his clothes, help him brush his teeth and lay out his food for him on the table. However, most mothers make the mistake of staying in this “indulgent Mama” mode even after their boy is well into his teens. They will make his breakfast, lay out his food for him; even pour his milk! Further, when he discards his dirty clothes on the floor of his bedroom, they pick them up without a word.

Eventually, the sisters of the “boy” – who is well into manhood – catch on to their role of providing ‘personal valet’ services to him, in case Mom is absent. Whilst they, as girls, make their beds and iron their own clothes, he will not do the same for himself. In this subtle fashion, mothers and fathers indirectly become responsible for gender stereotyping in their home – a dynamic that the “boy” takes with him into marital life.

For all mothers of boys out there, I have a few tips that might help them raise a more caring, considerate and chivalrous son, who will one day be an asset to his home as head of the family, insha’Allah:

Delegate chores to him on an equal footing with his sister(s) – whether it is washing the dishes or folding the laundry, try not to demarcate chores in your home as “women’s work” or “man’s work”, unless dictated by Islamic Shar’iah. Also, train him to cook simple food himself, such as breakfast items, sandwiches, or pasta. Please stop personally serving him his food on the table after he becomes a teenager!

Make him take on responsibilities: when your son is old enough, according to your discretion, delegate grocery shopping and other outdoor errands to him. Teach him how to manage money by encouraging him to earn his own, for example, by doing odd jobs or giving tuition. Train him to repair broken household items. Strictly discourage any extravagance or wastage of money on overpriced goods.

Teach him how to lower his gaze and help women: It is a fact that men are more physically powerful than women are. As his mother, encourage him to play outdoor sports often. You should also gently remind him to help women in laborious tasks, such carrying heavy bags or the laundry hamper, or pushing the shopping cart.

Also, before he enters teenage, train him to lower his gaze around women; yes, even around his mother’s friends who have held him as a baby. This will indoctrinate respect of women into his psyche, preventing him from thinking of them as mere objects of pleasure or servitude.

Avoid hooking him on games and films: Men are hooked on digital video games and films from an age as young as three, simply because they saw their father similarly hooked, or because their mother bought them the requisite gadgetry willingly. When we hark after our 20-year-old sons for lazing around playing games all day, we forget that we facilitated this ‘hobby’ for them ourselves! Encourage your son to build shop outside, play sports, or organize Islamic youth events in his extra time, but spare him and his future wife the misery of passive video gaming!

Finally, never allow him to demean your status as his mother: You should not allow him to shout at you or ridicule you in any way. If he will not respect his mother, the one person in his life who most deserves respect, good attitude and consideration, he will not show respect to others outside the home either.

We often tend to overlook how subtly and subconsciously we encourage gender stereotyping in our homes; even more, what impact this will have on others in the future. As a married sister once commented to me, “I have no choice about what to cook in my home. My husband’s habits had been set in stone by the time he got married.”

***

For the sake of Allah, my dear Muslim sister, if you cannot change the habits of your father, brother or husband, at least wake up and and realize that there is still ONE man in the world whom you CAN change for the better – and that is your son! 🙂

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27 thoughts on “Little Men – Sons Today, Husbands Tomorrow

  1. I dont understand for the life of me why pakistanis are into such an extreme form of male worship. I am pakistani myself by the way(i am safaa’s sister who sent u a message on facebook today 🙂 . I visited Pakistan this past summer and even though I live in egypt which isnt supposed to be like men=women either, its like centuries ahead when I compare it to pakistan.

    My mother in law (my husband is egyptian) has four sons including my husband, and subhanallah not one is spoiled May Allah protect them all. She doesn’t serve them hand and foot at all. For example, They help set the table when the cook lady is not there etc. In pakistan, ive never seen that in the homes of relatives or friends. The boys simply don’t really venture into the kitchen. They are dying for girl grandkids because my mil only had sons. She would thank me for bringing the first daughter into the family (my older is a boy) lol which i just found so hilarious.

    In pakistan during my visit, My own nani (subhaallah she’s really old now) would sometimes say stuff like why didnt my age go to my son, even though she has two daughters as well. My mom and dad (which is uncommon ) i know are staying with my grandparets(my moms parents) to help them but its almost like thats not sufficient. It must be the son and the daughter in law. I know she’s from a different era but i see major remnants in how the new mothers still think.

    I think another thing that makes change really dificult in pakistan is the whole joint family system. Yes it has its advantages as ive come to recognize but it really does take away alot of authority and privacy from people where its their haqq.

    for instance, if a mother does try to raise her boy the way she wishes and even if her husband is on her side about it, this mother will still have to deal w/ the viewpoints of several other family members who may think otherwise, who will disagree with her in front of her son, thus undermining her authority.

    1. Yes, N, I agree with you about the joint family bit. It really is difficult, if not downright impossible, for parents to bring up their children according to their principles, if there are other people always around who interject and impose their own standards or morals onto them. The only scenario when this system works is when the grandparents are more righteous than the parents of the child, and the latter accept this and hence hand over the moral upbringing of their child(ren) to the grandparents.
      As one working friend of mine who leaves her daughter in her mother-in-law’s care when she goes for work, once told me, “I love the fact that my daughter is taking good morals from my mother-in-law. I do not pray regularly, but when my mother-in-law does, my daughter goes and prays next to her.”
      I have seen that adult sons who live in joint families hardly ever do any housework, because there is always some wife/sister/sister-in-law/mother/aunt/niece/cousin to do the work for them.
      But in nuclear families, many a time a husband has to pitch in and help around the house, especially if his wife is sick.
      Allah knows best.

  2. JAK, very insightful article. Alhamdulilah, I didn’t grow up in anything like this, May Allah make it easy for all the sisters out there who have to deal with stuff like that.

    As an ummah, we need to realize the blessing it is to be raising daughters and the great responsibility because we are raising the mothers of the next generation, the prophet said,

    “Whoever takes care of two girls until they reach adulthood – he and I will come (together) on the Day of Resurrection – and he interlaced his fingers (meaning in Paradise).” (Reported by Muslim)

    and

    “Whoever has three daughters or sisters, or two daughters of two sisters, and lives along with them in a good manner, and has patience with them, and fears Allah with regard to them will enter Paradise.” (Reported by Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhee and others)

    But I think we definitely need to do a better job of teaching our kids (me!, so in my case future kids inshallah), the proper way of actually interacting with the opposite gender. Because at least I have mostly seen only two cases that boys and girls are either lovey dubby with each other or on the other extreme, avoiding the sisters like they are flesh eating zombies, running away from them, or pretending they don’t exist

    so tell me what you think, JAK for the article, May Allah Bless you and your family

    1. But I think we definitely need to do a better job of teaching our kids (me!, so in my case future kids inshallah), the proper way of actually interacting with the opposite gender.

      I agree, interacting properly with the opposite gender i.e. according to Islamic standards, is something our youth need to be trained about.
      In cases where the parents maintain the required standard of decorum when dealing with the opposite gender, there is no need to train children, as they grow up automatically emulating their parents.
      Insha’Allah, I will keep your suggestion in mind as an idea for a future post. Meanwhile, you might want to read this article of mine on MuslimMatters, which touches upon the subject of inter-gender interaction between single youths, in the light of an incident cited in the Quran.

      1. JAK for your link to your former article and the comments were pretty interesting to. This is actually one of my favorite stories in the Qur’an, thanks for bringing it to me again, it never seems to get old.

        I somewhat agree with your point above that if you are raised right it just comes naturally but even if your parents do everything properly you are still effected by the societal/community influences and their view on it.

        So the question become do you do what you think is right, in the best manner you can, even though the people around you might possibly get the wrong message from it?

      2. Yes please do write about this topic…being a university student I face so many situations that i really wish i knew the proper islamic rulings regarding them.
        You article on MM was really helpful.

        Jazak Allah

  3. Asalaam’alikum!

    Love it! You describe it how it is, I know this because I have seen it many times and even in my own family. I have brother and he was brought up like this 😦 now that I tell my mom how much it annoys me I see no point because he has grown up accustomed to this type of environment. It will usually be me or my mom who will have to do all of his kitchen work. It will always be me or my mom who will be serving him lunch/dinner, only in very very rare case he will go out his way to take out food for himself ( Iv gotten him to do that since Im kinda annoyed when he doesn’t do his own work :P) and washing his OWN dishes is not even an option for him!

    This needs to get translated and get published in the local newspapers of Pakistan 😀

  4. Assalamu alaikum Sr. Sadaf!
    This is the first time i’m reading your blog and i have to admit-it’s awesome! it’s really, really nice masha’allah and i’m surprised at how much we think alike. All the things you mentioned in this article describe my house in a way. I have 2 younger brothers, one of which is really obedient masha’allah and he listens to me like a son would. I’m really grateful for that. Hopefully i’ll be able to follow your advice on him. Jzk for writing this and May Allah reward you for your wonderful articles and blog!

    1. Wa alaikumus salam shiney,
      Glad that what I wrote was of benefit to you.
      لا حول ولا قوة الا بالله
      I am happy you stopped by and left such warm, encouraging feedback. 🙂

  5. Assalam u alaikum

    I appreciate all ur thoughts….thts a bitter fact
    Loved all ur articles
    May Allah reward you b/c ur writings might change someone’s life or perception
    Keep it up
    JazakAllah o khair
    umm subhanA

  6. I mailed this article to my friends
    One of them gave me this reply . I chose u to reply them back

    Iffat Gillani February 4 at 6:01pm
    Do you think that is fair? The balance between A and B? Seem like the two opposite ends of the spectrum to me, and one can easily see the mixing of characteristics as well….. 🙂

    Pls reply here

    M waiting

    Wassalam

    1. By A and B, I think your friend meant the Exhibits A and B in the other (Pretty Woman) post?

      I think maybe you commented under the wrong post? No problem, though.

      If so, other readers have mentioned this already, that in their opinion, Exhibits A and B are at 2 ends of a wide spectrum and that Exhibit B is “too idealistic”.

      But I disagree. I think that most men nowadays are Exhibit A’s but there are many, many quietly ignored Exhibit B’s whose wives just do not sing their praises loudly enough in public.

      The reason for this is that, in my observation, most religious people are very, very shy, private and modest when it comes to talking about their personal relationship with their spouse. Marriage is – to them – very sacred and personal; so personal that others who might not be outwardly “very religious” have no idea how good their marital relationship is. They do not even joke or flirt with their wives in front of a third party.

      I know that most readers are taken aback by my supposedly “idealistic” description of Exhibit B, but I stand by my words and insist that such men are there in large numbers; only that they are extremely quiet and as yet undiscovered, because of the high level of privacy they practice in their marital relationships.

      Allah knows best.

  7. Assalamu Alaikum!

    SubhanAllah! I feel like Allah SWT has blessed me with a treasure in the form of your blog! I’m so inspired and amazed! Keep up the great work!

  8. Salam,a very well written and totally realistic blog.I have observed the same dilemma in all household in Pakistan,including the families of my uncles and aunties and it is disheartening to see that sons are only made arrogant and rude because of the “V.I.P.” treatment by their parents:they’re not supposed to help their mother around even if she’s not feeling well,make fun of her in family gatherings and rebuke her when she expresses her personal opinion.And when the new “bahu” arrives,it is now solely “her fault” that her son behaves like this.

    1. Wa alaikumus salam,
      You are right. I have noticed this a lot too. It is very common in Pakistani households. Which is what prompted me to write this post.
      Allah knows best.

  9. Assalam o Alikum WarahmatuLLAHI wa barakatuhu!
    Thumbs up!!! greatttt mashALLAH sadaff. ALLAHUMMA zid f’zid
    . may ALLAH subhanahu wa ta’ala accept it, and give us tofeeq to bring up the new generation with the very rules.. it was good to see a niqabi profile,.
    i reached your blog through “inspiring character”, as they reblogged it there.
    i must say these are the things , these are the issues , these must be the topics to talk on, and find solutions. instead of taunting all the times our rulers. i believe that if our rulers are not good, its because we are individually corrupt. we are same, just the difference is that their “chair” is quite bigger than us. We are doing everything against shariah as the one family indoor issue you have raised.
    i must say (hr muamlay main hamari chaabi ulti chl rahi hai), then we say why is every worst thing happening with us.??
    lack of tarbiyyah, lack of respect of relations is our biggest problem.
    again jazakELLAH for the beutiful post. (im a pakistani as well):)
    our blog binatehawwa is sofar in finishing process, still welcome:)
    wassalam

  10. Asalam waliykum,

    Subhanallah, thank you for the great post. I am also a victim of this. My husband was spoiled by his mother as she is his only son, she divorced at a young age after one year of marriage. Never remarried and only has her son. So she spoiled him rotten. Now i have the difficult task of slowly slowly breaking this habit it will take years and years. But, i will not repeat this with my children Inshallah. Everything 50/50 with my kids.

    Everything you mentioned about the son and mother relationship i see in my mother in law and my husband. Its so scary to see that. Subhanallah,

  11. When my brother and I were small, I used to get the parathas, and he used to eat plain roti, because I was very skinny. One day my mother told a new maid to make one paratha along with the rotis. She made it happily but when she saw my mother put it down in front of the girl instead of the boy, she was downright flabbergasted.

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