Thursday, April 24, 2014

Finding the right balance

With a 3 year old son who's newly graduated from toddlerhood to potty trained preschooler (he's still at home for now), I've found us in a situation most parents can relate to. How to discipline your child. In my struggle, a topic has been on my mind a lot lately. The balance between love and fear. I searched quite a bit about the relationship of love and fear. Many hold the view that love and fear cannot coexist together, that love is a part of our higher self while fear is from our lower self which prevents us from reaching further.

It's a pretty basic concept and it does make sense to a degree. Our fears usually are what transcend into hatred/prejudice and often they hold us back from doing things we may have aspired to achieve. Love, on the other hand is seen as the good guy, the one that allows us to be open minded, to take risks, and to move beyond all the struggle. As a parent, I do want to teach my son love; kind generous love, unconditional love, all sorts of love. But at the same time, I'm not totally bought over about making fear into a bad guy.

Afterall, in the Quran the image of a Fearful God is presented just as much as a Loving God. It's weird though, isn't it? How can we fear someone we love? I think that's the tricky part. Finding the right balance. If we did not have fear, we would commit actions with reckless abandon. A part of human nature needs to have inhibitions in order to maintain some sort of order. Fear gives us structure, guidelines. I tell Ali the stove is extremely hot and not only should he be afraid of the injury it can cause, but also he will be severely punished if he does not obey my rules to stay away from it. I take his safety seriously, even if he is too young to understand that concept yet. It's the same with humans, religion (God, essentially) warns us of punishments for  our actions in order to protect our well being even if we may not always understand it. Too much of fear is what becomes the problem. If all we do is fear God without learning to love him then he becomes a tyrannical monster so controlling that it terrorizes our sense of self and leads people to shy away from religion. Similarly, parents who are too strict often have children who rebel from authority. If they don't rebel then they become so fearful of their actions that they aren't able to make strong, bold decisions on their own. Because, they're too focused on pleasing someone else all the time (someone else being their parents in most cases). Balance. That's what it all comes down to.

Even with love, we need a balance. Every parent does love his or her children unconditionally, nearly all our actions are motivated by our endless love for these tiny beings. Tiny beings who will one day become big beings, even if that day seems so far away. If we only teach them love then we're depriving them of skills they will desperately need to lead a successful life. Every parent wants to be the good guy, they want to be their child's best friend and to have a close bond. No one needs to be told how to love, it's pretty self explanatory. But the thing is, as a parent if I give into every whim and want of my child out of my love for him I'm enabling a self indulgent, egotistical person. Up until his toddler years, yes it makes sense to indulge in the needs/wants of a child because they are solely dependent on you to provide for them. But, once they reach the age of talking, walking and self expression their personality is forming the foundation of the adult they will one day become. I just don't agree with the notion that I should let him be independent, carefree and behave however he wishes to encourage his growth. Kids need to know that you are the parent and they are the child, this early understanding of roles is crucial. I'm not saying that children should not be given responsibilities or allowed to explore with their own self expression. But kids just like adults, need boundaries. The sooner we learn to accept boundaries the simpler life becomes. Myself included, we all struggle with self control. Self control is a trait which if mastered can make a person highly successful and satisfied in life. So why not try and feed our children little bites of self control instead of self indulgence?

For example, teaching him that he needs to be patient. Teaching this to a 3 year old is probably the hardest task ever. And it inevitably happens that your child will nag you about something most passionately when you are at the end of your rope. This is generally the moment where you are most likely to give in. But what does your child learn from that situation if you do? They learn how to manipulate people who love them to give into their demands. It seems so minor now when all the kid wants is a lollipop. But before you know it that same 3 year old turns into a 30 year old who never learned that life is not always going to go how they want it when they want it. Or it could be, if they keep using love as a way to manipulate others. And that is the biggest misuse of love I could ever imagine.

Check out this article by Times and the famous Marshmallow test to see research on Self Control.

Love and Fear, like day and night, yin and yang. We spend our lives trying to balance them. And perhaps, all those philosophers are probably right. Love is truly the higher self, the part of our being we hope to one day achieve. But we cannot make it up that staircase without a little fear, we must accept that part of our self too. To use it when it's necessary. 
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