February 3, 2014

Muslimah Musings: Healing Broken Hearts

I had a tumultuous start to the day with my four year old. Those of us with young children probably feel every day begins this way but today was one of those 'how on earth am I a mother?!' days. After some bad behavior, raised voices and a reprimanding, I needed a little distance from the culprit. By distance I mean I stood in the kitchen and he lingered in the doorway with tears and spluttery, incoherent sentences. I explained my need for a little time at which point he promptly lost all concept of that thing and reappeared in the doorway after one minute intervals or less, looking more sorry for himself and infinitely more needy.
I eventually realized that my standing like a lemon in the kitchen was not achieving anything for either of us. I definitely wasn't getting any alone time and my son was only asking for a hug at this point, and I have a total inability to refuse my children hugs.
So I walked to him with my arms out, and he jumped straight into them, wrapping his arms around my neck and his legs around my waist in that child-chimp way. He put his head down on my shoulder and the whimpers gave way to those little sharp inhales of breath until they subsided and he sighed a long, slow sigh. His mood had mellowed in a moment and there was that renewed sense of comfort but with it, came a wave of panic in my head... Was that moment of subdued quiet the sound of his heart mending... Or breaking?!
Whenever I’ve read an article about broken hearts, its usually in reference to marriage, divorce, death, separation and loss and the owners of these heart are friends, relatives, or our own selves. No doubt this a real, valid topic but alhamdulillah I have a beautiful marriage, and have never really experienced loss of any significant kind so I fall into the blissfully ignorant category of people who have never truly had a heart that needs healing. But this morning, it dawned on me, what if I’m the one breaking hearts?  And worse still, what if I’m doing it on a daily basis?
For a child to need, search and request comfort, he was clearly in discomfort to begin with.  As busy mothers juggling a hundred things at once, a quick hug, a few kind, rushed words is about all we manage before sending them on their way again.  If however, we bring an adult to tears, its a big deal.  We’ll apologize, rationalize, talk about it, probably even post on Facebook about it. Why then do we give such fleeting attention to the tender little hearts that place their entire world in our hands?   
I don’t mean to suggest that a single harsh word or those inevitable parenting mistakes will scar a child for life and create a broken adult.  We've all experienced their adept resilience against our every request and plea (getting in the car, leaving a store, bath time, mealtime, anytime) so we know too well they’re made of the tough stuff!  They may not be emotionally mature and their world experience may be limited but who's to say their hearts don’t need and are entitled to the same care and attention?
There are some scenarios that are almost synonymous with a broken heart… Neglect, emotional distance, being wronged, mistrust, abuse…  I know I am guilty of every one of these when it comes to my children - albeit on smaller scale - but when you’re dealing with smaller hearts, what’s the difference?  Being too busy to play, failing to keep a promise, shouting or misplacing anger are all those ‘small,’ accidental things that we do day in, day out and theres no denying there must be an impact on those fragile hearts.
The topic of ‘the heart’ in Islam is an intricate one.  For starters, its status is superior to our common understanding of it.  Its not the sort of thing that should be relegated to agony aunts, Oprah and self help books.  I wouldn’t trust a stranger with my purse, so why give them my heart?
Allah swt refers to the heart with three different words in the Quran (you gotta love Arabic), ‘Qalb,’ ‘Fu’aad’ and ‘Sadr’ and each carries its own nuanced description of the different characters of the heart;  It’s changing nature, it’s susceptibility to become engrossed by emotion and the ‘chest’ that holds secrets.  Given its complicated nature, its almost shocking that we treat it only as the thing that can love or hate.  Its no wonder people struggle to mend that the precious part of themselves.
So how to mend the broken hearts, whether they be our own or those of our children?  The obvious course of action is dua and entrusting Allah swt with all affairs, having firm belief that He (swt) will only give us the khayr.  As with anything broken however, the mending process takes some physical action on our part and this becomes more true when dealing with children.
My daughter looks just like me, has the same happy face, cross face, sad face, same hair, same dimple, same everything.  My son has my husband’s mannerisms, our sense of humour and becomes frustrated by the same things as us.  In short, they are slowly becoming us and as shocking and scary as that is, it also carries it’s blessing.
After my morning panic of whether I’m the cause of multiple broken hearts, I realised that the ‘fix’ is not so impossible.  If my children look, speak, laugh and think like me, there is hope that they will have a heart like me.  Not that I’m claiming to have a perfect heart, far from it, but in trying to perfect my heart, inshaAllah I can mend theirs.
Given that children learn from imitation and direct experience, we have to ensure our physical actions that show the condition of our heart, are in accordance with Islam.  We must strive to make the changing nature of our hearts, turn only to Allah, to not allow ourselves to become engrossed by emotion and anger, to protect our chests from those external whispers.

My action started with an apology, recognition of my wrongdoing and my accountability before Allah.  I didn’t force an apology back and my still whimpering four year old gave little acknowledgment of the whole affair, aside from a few nods but I felt accomplished.  I had straightened out my own heart, corrected the person I see him becoming and renewed my intentions to mend, guide and nurture his heart through focussing more on my own.


  1. Assalamualikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. MashaAllah a great article..can totally relate to it..deal with the same situations everyday..glad i came across it...Jazakillah khair for sharing ur insights :) In sha Allah may Allah make us better Muslims n mothers..aameen

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