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My Parents Don’t Understand Me, What Should I Do?

Questioner

S (17-female-US)

Reply Date

Feb 23, 2018

Question

As-salamu `alaikum, I need your advice, I’m not a parent, I’m 17 years old, but I have a big problem with my parents, I feel that they can’t understand me, they always criticize my actions and I keep trying to explain my rationale but they never get that. I don’t know how to make them understand that the young people have a different way of thinking than theirs. Please advice.

Counselor

Answer


Parents

As-Salaamu ‘alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhum,

 

Bless your heart for writing! I am sorry that your parents “can’t understand” you and “ always criticize your actions”! That is an unproductive relationship with one’s parents, which is sad because you lose what you need to have in a relationship with your parents—the benefit from the relationship that Allah Made in His Creation of the relationship.

I am going to try to help BUT, you, and I, and everyone, cannot control other people’s behavior, let alone their thinking. So, all any of us can ever do when it comes to something that someone else does is control our own behavior and thinking and hope that it has an effect on them such that they change. If they do not, then at least you have done your best—and then you have to figure out the answer to a different problem: how to survive their treatment that won’t change.

That means that all we can do here is figure out how you can change your interactions with them in order to try to affect a change in their behavior. How can you change your outlook, your approach, your ideas, etc., so that you get a different response – don’t panic, I am not going to take their part and criticize you and tell you to do their bidding.

First, I want to distinguish between their deductions and their thought process. Your parents are coming up with different deductions from your own, but their actual “way of thinking” is not “different” from yours—if we are talking about their way of “processing information”. All brains work the same; they use conscious and subconscious “material (thoughts and feelings)” to induce and deduce “decisions”, some of which are conscious and some of which are subconscious. What is different between your parents’ thinking and yours is not their decision-making process but their deductions.

Why is this distinction important? Since they think the same way you do, you can give them “grist for the mill”. That means, you can give them your reasons for for your deductions so that they can come up with the same deductions. Now, it won’t work if you are not playing in the same ballpark (another euphemism which means, if your are playing football and they are playing baseball, you will never be able to understand each other, let along play together because you are playing by two different sets of rules on two playing fields that are laid out completely differently). Another term for this is “context”. If I say the Shahada when I become Muslim, I am Muslim. If a non-Muslim school teacher says it when they are teaching it to their class, it does not make them Muslim. Context means everything!

So, the way to reach your parents is to find out what playing field they are on and what game they are playing—of course, they are not playing any “game”; they are dead serious, but, you get my point. Then, meet them were they are at. For example, they want you to wear hijab and you don’t want to. They say, “Allah Says to wear it; don’t you want to go to Janna?” You say, “Yes, of course I want to go to Janna but I won’t have any friends if I wear hijab because everyone thinks Muslims are terrorists and I hate people thinking I am a terrorist”.

I don’t know if that is anything like what you are experiencing, but whatever you are experiencing, the principle is the same: both parties in the discussion have to be talking about the same thing and in the same context. In that example their context is the next life and the other person’s is this one. So, the way that conversation might play out is: The parents would then say, “Oh, I get it, but Allah is more important”. And, then the child will say, “That is easy for you to say; you don’t have to deal with everyone in school hating you and treating you like you are a freak or dangerous.” Then, they might say, Oh, okay… I see your point and then they might let you not wear hijab. Or, better yet, the two of you (or three of you if it both parents) could come up with a solution, with the Help of Allah, that is a compromise—and Allah Knows your struggles and Is Forgiving and Merciful – but Allah is also Helpful and can make things turn out differently from your fears- but you have to take the risk first to find that out, inShaAllah.

Anyway, do you get my point? Find out what they are thinking and where they are coming from and point out to them how the place that you are coming from is different and they need to address that – or vice versa.

If you can get them to see what you are dealing with and where you are coming from—and vice versa—then you should be able to have a productive conversation, inShaAllah. Allah says in Suratul-‘Aasur to join together in a MUTUAL EXCHANGE BACK AND FORTH in search of truth, and to do that with patience and constancy – don’t give up and do it regularly and be patient with the process- it is not magic and does not happen instantly – it takes a step by step process of sorting out all the info so you can get on the same page (another way of saying the same thing) and be talking about the same stuff… then, you when you find out what they are thinking, you can destroy their argument, or not—they may win the argument. But, at least it was a fair fight, not a power-play based on their authority as your parents up against your right as an adult—who, by the way, is new to the process–to make your own decisions, inShaAllah.

Suratul ‘Aasur makes sense because there is a lot much going on in every “decision” we make, stuff that we are not even aware of. We have to be patient in order to find out all that “stuff”. That “stuff” in our decisions is a combination of our conscious and subconscious minds. Our subconscious mind is our fitra and our programming. Our fitra/nature is our needs Created in us by Allah when He Created us. Our “programming” or “imprinting” is what we got from our parents and culture as we were growing up.

Our programming often feels like our fitra but it is not (e.g., when we get angry, we usually follow the pattern of behavior modeled for us by our parents and/or society throughout their childhood, e.g., if your parents or culture yelled when angry, the children of those parents and culture usually yell too). Then there is our conscious mind, which is the logic we can track, i.e., the thinking process I described above in my role-playing scenario. Then there are universal principles of philosophy, and logic, and emotional intelligence–the things we want which we know are not good for us, or we desire to have when it would be better to wait, etc.

And, don’t forget, even if you disagree with your parents, you are still supposed to treat them with respect –don’t even say “uuf” to them, while you firmly say that you cannot do such and such. Let them down gently, please. We suffer a lot as parents, for years and years and years. But, when our children grow up, it seems like it happens all in one day, and they are gone, leaving us alone. So, please have mercy on us.

 

And Allah Make it Easy for you!  


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About Nasira S. Abdul-Aleem

Nasira S. Abdul-Aleem, an American, has a BA in English from UC Berkeley and is about to receive an MS degree in counseling psychology (Marriage and Family Therapy - MFT) from the Western Institute for Social Research. For over ten years, Nasira worked as a psychotherapist with the general public and in addiction recovery. For the last few years, she has been a life coach specializing in interpersonal relations. Nasira also consults with her many family members who studied Islam overseas and returned to America to be Imams and teachers of Islam. Muslims often ask Nasira what psychology has to do with Islam. To this, she replies that Islam is the manifestation of a correct understanding of our psychology. Therapists and life coaches help clients figure out how to traverse the path of life as a Believer, i.e., "from darkness into light", based on Islam and given that that path is an obstacle course, according to Allah.

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