I’ve always said that Family is of primary importance to the Arabic culture. That being said, kids, as we know, mimic their parents. And, this isn’t a lecture to parents out there but this needs to be a wakeup call to people, especially in the Arab world, that family is more than what is just ‘there’ or status. Family means a lifetime and it means commitment and sacrifice. We have a challenge with that and we need to recognise ourselves as a continually evolving culture and we need to understand the impacts our actions make on our children if we are going to impress upon the rest of the world that we are not a stereotype.
Some very good friends of ours here in Dubai had a birthday party for one of their kids last week. We happily spent our Thursday night with all of of us sitting outside, having a Bbq in the great weather that Dubai starts to offer us this time of year. The kids would run around everywhere, music playing, great food and all of us sitting and chatting. Really one of the best nights just being around people both my wife and I and our girls are close to.
As we are sitting outside, I’m watching our girls, especially the oldest, playing with their twin boys who are around a year younger than her and who she has such fun with. Our friends have one of those big, sturdy plastic outside garden playhouses with the doors and windows. The kids were playing in and out. And Saffiya announces to the boys that its time to play Mom and Dad (for the sake of names we will call him Ahmed) and our little one (Mackenzie) is going to be their baby.
“Lets do a family meeting.” “Lets bring some food and we will cook” “We need to take care of the baby now.”
She is barking orders left and right (I certainly know where she gets that from – and I apologise, in advance, to her future husband because he is going to have to be a very strong guy to deal with her) and directing the show.
I didn’t want to let her see me watching and listening but I couldn’t help but listen to this entire family dynamic being created with this 6 year old and her ‘husbands’.
Here she was, 6 years old. Here they were, 5 years old and my little one was just following whatever was going on just to be a part of the fun. All of this ‘family’ was being created and where could she have possibly been getting all of this as I continued to listen and watch.
Why do they play mom and dad? Why do they figure they have to have a baby to care for? Does this mean that their interpretation of family was happening right now? My God, what if my wife and I fought. What if I beat her (or she beat me – more than normal with the frying pan of course – ha ha – I’m joking habibty)? What if I abused her emotionally? What if we were not supportive or abusive to our own children or didn’t bother to spend time with them? What if their entire lives was spent around a nanny?
What would that family dynamic look like then? What was going to be dramatically played out in that plastic garden house? What would they be saying or doing?
It started me thinking about how I was raised, how my wife was raised and also how I have seen many friends and family treat their husbands/wives and children – especially in this part of the world.
I will admit it. We are not the most caring, hands on, family activity based kind of culture. We are not overtly affectionate. We are not public in our displays of love, praise and positivity. Much of what we go through, both negative and positive, is behind closed doors. And, I’m quite confident not every family is like this, but where we are from and living, things are just often not talked about in most households. We don’t talk about addiction, depression, suicide, domestic violence and abuse. And, it’s only in recent years that these things have started to become at a level where our culture and our governments are getting involved. Perhaps not as progressive as in the western world but the amount of focus (specifically in Dubai) on wellbeing is at such a level that a stigma is no longer there as it would have been 5 years ago. That is part of our evolution as a culture.
I fall back to what I have gone through with my youngest sister over the last year. She persevered and fought for her own independence and subsequent divorce from a husband whom she had a small son with (who is now 5) who held no regard for his family. He would rather run around town, be with friends, end up marrying on the side another woman and having 2 kids with her (without my sister being aware initially) and spent not one minute with his first son. But, as things began coming to a head, the weakness that was evident over the last year was the fighting. Not just in person but on the phone. And not just alone, but in front of their son.
I watched this unravel until I finally realised the confusion that took place on my nephews face when his mom would be on the phone having a fit with his dad. I watched him roll up into my lap and would cry constantly if I were to leave. He would ask me questions and want to just sit and talk with me because he had no one else to talk to or laugh with. And, that broke me. Because I knew that the scars that were happening because of what he was witnessing would never go away. His version of playing house was going to take on a very different scene if he were in that little garden house that night.
The conversations I had with my sister, it being a delicate situation, were strong but simple. “Do NOT have any any any any conversation in front of your son. Do NOT talk badly about his dad. Do NOT let him yell at you in any way in front of your son. Do NOT let your son see that any of this is the way a family works. Do NOT take him to the courts with you.” For many of you, this may seem like common sense. But for us, it doesn’t work like that. Its very much a kids should be seen and not heard and most certainly they don’t hear what we are saying anyway. And, another train of thought from some psychological forefront may be that children must be exposed to real life and hear these things. Well, neither of these work and most certainly not at 5 years old.
It sunk in. But, there was damage that was done. Not irreparable and so much could be salvaged but she was going to have to immediately change the way she was raising her son. She completely switched. She stopped. She thought of how her son was going to see the situation. She thought of how he was going to interpret the next thing that she said. And, she bit her tongue and gritted her teeth when his dad would show up at his school and this poor little kid would come home saying “Baba says that you are not a good mom.” no matter how painful this was.
Our kids are following us. Our children are watching every single move that we make. Even if they are playing or watching tv, they are listening. That is how they are forming what they believe to be Family. You are creating who they will be in the future. This isn’t someone else’s responsibility. And yes, they say it takes a village to raise a child. It does. But that village is creating that childs version of family no matter how big or small. As parents, our responsibility started the moment we shared DNA.
We get married in this part of the world because we are expected to. Most of the time it’s not because we have been dating and fell in love. Most of the time its someone who was ‘suggested’ for us. In a big part of the Middle East it will have to do with blood lines and class (stemming from the tribal influences). It was never about falling in love – you just got married and we all hoped that we would eventually love that person. So, we had children because it was expected and we worked and did whatever it was we were suppose to do including the never ending family obligations that continually surround our culture.
What I will say, will probably spark some criticism. But, I am of the honest belief that we are in the midst of change. Our children are more educated and progressive that at any other time of life. Our countries, in most circumstances, and our governments, are having to change because of this evolution. We are becoming more emotionally intelligent. We are understanding more of the word ‘tolerance’ but still not fast enough. We are becoming more aware and we are becoming more global (I place a lot of emphasis on Dubai because there is no country in the Middle East with a more open-minded attitude about an individuals’ existence in this world and ensuring that community, education, life and wellbeing were paramount if it were going to move forward as a power house country).
So, I will say – don’t get married if you are not committed to making it a lifetime. And for the love of everything, do NOT have children if you are not going to let them be the generation that fixes the messes that we have made – not make bigger ones.
If you have children, consider that little bubble that they live in which is you as their parents. You are their ‘village’. You are how they are forming the decisions that they make in what makes a family. You are influencing those decisions that they make when they treat other people with respect or indifference. And, if you are not going to stay together – DO NOT let that scene play out in front of, around, above your kids. Make it work positively for your children and let them see love and equality in the relationship – or get out – for their sake. We are adults, we can make it work in our way. But, our children are not and their fears and frustrations and confusions are very real because you are their entire world. If their ‘village’ cannot take care of them and foster a progressive, positive, creative, loving and open minded way of thinking, then our culture will not move forward.
Playing House is a big deal. I want my girls to repeat what they hear because then I know that what they are hearing is from a good place. And, what I hope, is that our part of the world is going to let our children Play House in a way that allows them to be social and compassionate and knowledgeable no matter what culture they are playing in or with.
27 October, 2015