Sunday, February 21, 2010

Can We or Can't We?

Last night, H and I had dinner at one of his colleagues.' This is an unusual occurrence for us, socializing with people from his workplace, especially since we've moved to Abu Dhabi. The conversation ranged from politics to parenting to comparisons of Abu Dhabi and Pakistan, to any number of things.

The politics part I won't really get into today, other than to comment that I discovered something about myself: I used to get very frustrated when I heard people blame all or most of Pakistan's woes on "the foreign hand." Now I am amusedly exasperated. Something to discuss in more detail another day, perhaps.

The conversation on parenting is what I want to focus on. We were agreeing that too many children in Pakistan were given far too free a hand by their parents, in terms of how much money they had to spend, in particular. We talked about how a lot of drug money had flooded into the country in the 80s and how foreign remittances from expat workers created "money for free." Too many kids had fathers who were working abroad, usually in the Gulf, and sending most of their salary home. These kids never saw how hard their fathers worked, and they worked hard. At jobs that their kids would consider beneath their dignity, for long hours, in pretty nasty living conditions. All their families saw was a sudden influx of wealth. We're not talking extra pin-money here. Family incomes increased exponentially.

The point of this conversation about the Dubai-chalo (Let's go to Dubai) phenomenon was that if kids don't see any of the effort that goes into earning money, they have little respect for money. And this was where things got really interesting, from my perspective. Our host made the remark, only half-jokingly, that it was mothers who would be answerable to God for their failure to raise their children appropriately, the implication being that their moms should teach them that their dads are working hard. And our hostess added, well, of course the mothers would be responsible for the upbringing, but the fathers would be answerable as to whether their children had been brought up on halal  or haraam kamaai ('legitimate or ill-gotten earnings', but the phrase is laden with a whole constellation of connotations in Urdu).

I can't honestly say that I know enough about the Quranic view of parenting to be able to comment on whether their opinions are correct from a dogmatic point of view. I would be willing to speculate that there are probably scholars who would espouse these views. But I'm left wondering how much we can and should control our children's attitudes, in the way that our hosts seemed to think that parents should. I suppose the expat workers' wives could try to get their kids to empathize with their fathers' experiences, but I wonder how many of the mothers were able to empathize themselves. They would have little to no exposure to the reality themselves, except for what their husbands told them in the month or three they were home every two or three years. Could those moms be held responsible for their kids attitudes? Can *any* parents be held responsible for their kids' attitudes?


1 comment:

Maria Stahl said...

Ten years ago, I would have said yes. Having raised one teenager and half of another (he's 15), I have changed my opinion.

My mother once told me to quit apologizing for my children's behavior, as they were old enough to be responsible for it themselves. It took me years to start doing as she said. But I am no longer apologetic. I still sometimes allow myself to be embarrassed, but I'm working on that, too.