On most days, my three year old son doesn’t share his toys with his younger sister, he resists nap times, he still hasn’t given up his dummy and dislikes putting his toys away. Many of our days consists of battling with him to get him to do what he doesn’t want to do. Most days I triumph and some days, I’m too tired to fight and I let him be.
However, he doesn’t weaken my resolve and every day is a new day to help, guide, nurture and educate him.
I heard a scholar once say, that when children are young, their nafs (self/ego), is at it’s strongest. So, negative characteristics such as anger, pride, greed, envy and being egotistical is at it’s peak. This is why, one of the main role of parents is to guide their children. To encourage good behaviour, lead by example, use positive reinforcement and when appropriate, use gentle force to get them to be the best possible versions of themselves.
I seem to spend a lot of my time upsetting my child by not giving him what he wants. Making him do what he doesn’t want to do. And ignoring the tantrums that usually follow. All because, he’s still a child and I’m his mother and as a mother. I know what is best for him.
However, the same rules don’t seem to apply to me. I also have issues with my Nafs. I feel greed when I frequent certain places, I feel pride when my children can do something others can’t do and I feel jealousy when I see those who are of similar age as myself but more accomplished than me. There are many vices that I battle with, however I do not have my mother chasing after me correcting my faults. If anything, by being a ‘grown up’, living and managing my own home, raising two small children, living as an expat for 7plus years has given me a stronger ego.
I think I know it all. But I don’t. I think I’m in control of my nafs (ego/self). But I’m not.
Part of being a ‘grown up’ is to manage your own vices. Controlling your own negative thoughts and behaviour. Being the bigger person. Overlooking and forgiving. Being good to those who have wronged you. Visiting those in need who didn’t visit you when you were in need. Picking up the phone and calling those who don’t call you. Celebrating the blessings of those who have what you don’t have. Responding with good words to those who put you down. And above all, doing all of the above without any sense of moral or religious superiority over others.
Being a ‘grown up’ also means that we should have honest dialogues with ourselves where we recognise our shortcomings. Admit to ourselves that it’s wrong to feel the way we do and then work hard to correct it. This does not mean that we do not need a religious mentor. But because most of us have trouble accessing one, we should at least recognise that we have flaws within us and work hard at correcting them ourselves.
Rumi said, your worst enemy is hiding within you and that enemy is your Nafs.
We can only fight the enemy that we know and recognise.
This self correction may be in the form of timeouts for reflection, ignoring the internal tantrums when things don’t go our way and refusing to self indulge in every whim in order to appreciate what we already have. Sometimes we may upset ourselves when we don’t get what we want. Sometimes we may have to make ourselves do what we don’t want to do. And sometimes we may have to ignore the internal tantrums that will follow.
If we did this, we would at least be on the path to self improvement, as this is what being a ‘grown up’ truly means.