How to Deal with a Broken Family and Stress – Part 1

09 December, 2016
Q Alsalamu Alaikom, I have an issue regarding family matters which I'm hoping you could enlighten me on. The question is going to be a little long because of the details, but please bare with me. For as long as I could recall, my parents had a terrible and abusive relationship, which ended in a divorce after 24 years of marriage. My father was always hostile towards my mother which made me lack respect towards him (between me and myself, I have never raised my voice at him) and he would always travel out of the country for business ventures, so I never really felt like I had a father. Because of her unhealthy relationship with my father, my mother was psychologically distressed which caused an alteration in her character. After being submissive, she became aggressive and it also made her an authoritarian figure (she often tells my younger sister that she's the only one who should have a personality in the house). As years went by, she became more and more intolerant of anyone who disagreed with her and anytime I try to negotiate or disagree with her, she prays that I would lead a sorrowful life in this world and the next. I swear by Allah that I'm not disrespectful to her, she's just intolerant when I formulate my opinion. Going back to her issue with my father, I believe that they have destroyed us. I have an older sister who has become an awful person to the extent that she curses out my parents as she has no respect for neither of them. My other two younger siblings are never get along, as I was with my sister, and I don't even talk to my older sister anymore. Sometimes I feel like moving to another state, but at the same time I don't want to leave my mother by herself, but I just can't handle the stress on myself anymore. I'm a premedical student and I feel that my performance in school has deteriorated from the distress that I'm witnessing everyday and I really don't know what to do anymore. Please advise me on what you think is the best solution in this case. Also, would Allah be displeased with me because of my mother? I swear by Him that I didn't do anything wrong such as talking back or raising my voice at my mother. She has just become intolerant of everything. Now, my finals are around the corner and I can't fully concentrate on my work and of course she's supplicating that I would fail my exams which causes me more distress. Other than the fact that my family structure is completely destroyed and all of my family members despise one another, I often have a sense of despair because of her supplications. I tried my best to be an obedient son, but nothing is working. I'm sorry for the lengthy question, but I really didn't feel like talking to anyone personally about this.

Answer

Walaikum Asalam Brother,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Please find below the first part of your answer, while the second and last part is posted at this linkFirst of all, we’d like to thank you for putting your trust in us regarding your personal family matter. 

Secondly, you have to be commended for restraining your tongue and not raising your voice in front of both your parents, despite being so severely tested by Allah in their behavior towards you.

May Allah reward you manifold for your kind treatment to your parents, especially your mother, and continue to keep you steadfast on the path of righteousness. Ameen.

The mother in Islam: her rights vs. adult offspring’s independence

I’d like to reiterate what I am sure you already know: that your mother has the greatest rights upon you regarding kind treatment. What this practically translates to, is that you must always behave well with her, no matter what she does to you.

This means, never raising your voice at her, obeying her as much as you can, meeting her with a pleasant face, helping her when she needs it, giving her gifts, and providing for her financially if she is needy.

Now, as to the practical realities that we all face, as fallible human beings, the fact is that some mothers with Allah-fearing offspring, especially those who are not religiously inclined nor practice Islam, can behave in a cruel and harsh manner towards their children, and even commit evil acts that are flagrant transgressions of Allah’s commands.

So what should an adult man or woman do in case his or her mother becomes unjust, oppressive, and unduly harsh towards them; especially in the use of her tongue?

Stress: fight or flight response

The first reaction of any individual in any highly stressful situation, is that of “fight or flight”. You mentioned moving to another state, which is the flight response. While moving might reduce the severity of the stress that you are feeling right now, by bringing a physical separation between you and your mother/siblings, it will not solve the core problem in your family.

This problem is the immensely negative after-effects of your father’s abuse/mistreatment of your mother and his children, and the psychological suffering that your mother is going through as a result of her divorce i.e. having to live with not just the painful memories of how she was mistreated/neglected in her marriage for over two decades, but also the knowledge that she is now alone in life, burdened with the responsibilities of her children (their education, marriage, etc.) without a loving husband by her side.

Your future role in the family

Brother, as a son, the responsibility is on your shoulders because Allah has made you the caretaker and provider of your future family (i.e. your wife and children). You will have to learn to practically balance your responsibilities towards both your parents in their old age, primarily your mother, with your responsibilities towards your future wife and children.

This is a very critical matter that can make or break extended families. So, the role you will have to learn to play is very important.

Perhaps you are already beginning to realize the heavy responsibilities that Allah has placed upon a man’s shoulders, as the primary caretaker of a family (women and children), as you grow older and mature into a financially independent young man.

The stress that you are feeling is a result of not just your mother’s mistreatment of you, but also because you are now entering an age of physical and financial independence. She is probably becoming increasingly insecure, because she sees you imminently “flying away” from her nest. I am quite sure that she fears being abandoned by you, just as her husband abandoned her with their divorce.

The good news for you is that you can keep your future wife and children in a separate home away from your mother, as Islam allows this in order to make sure that families get along well.

However, before that happens, you have to work hard to improve your relationship with your mother.

In order to do that, I suggest the following steps:

Acknowledge that your mother is a human prone to error, just like you

When a young child is growing up, he tends to put his parents on a pedestal, expecting them to always do the right thing. However, as the child matures into an adult, he begins to recognize and identify the bad habits of his parents, as well as the mistakes and sins they committed in the past.

This realization process is very painful, and if not handled well, can allow Shaitan to plant hatred and disdain for the parents in the child’s heart.

In order to fight the feeling of hatred that you and your siblings are feeling for your parents, you have to admit to yourself first, that they are fallible human beings just like you, and that they have always been prone to error.

Acknowledge to yourself that they are probably already suffering a lot because of the bad deeds they committed in the past. And now, as an adult Muslim son, you have the responsibility of helping them repent.

Brother, the reins of control in your family are now in the process of being handed over to you (and your siblings), as the natural cycle of life goes on and adult offspring eventually become the caretaker of elderly parents.

This role reversal eventually happens in every family, and is a phase in life that needs to be handled with a lot of patience, wisdom, and discretion; especially in dysfunctional families where the parents are divorced and have detracted in fulfilling their responsibilities towards their children.

I hope this helps with your question. Please keep in touch. 

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

A Muslim Woman Shares Her Experience after Divorce

Dua to Remove Stress & Anxiety

9 Prophetic Du’as for Anxiety & Stress

Striving to Keep Family Ties, Need Help

How to Turn Suffering into Healing?