Having school aged children in America has its own unique set of difficulties. Couple that with the onslaught of social media and technology, and you’ll find that the challenges parents face today have never been faced by prior generations.
Whether you believe that your child should only celebrate Eid Al Adha and Eid Ul Fitr and nothing else or you believe that certain holidays are ok (i.e. Thanksgiving), doesn’t mean that your goal as parents of Muslim children in America differs. We all want to raise children who are comfortable, confident, and proud of their Muslim identities.
Many of us were raised by first generation, immigrant parents who faced language barriers, cultural differences, and an all-around lack of knowledge about the melting pot of lifestyles that America consists of. We often came home with a variety of questions regarding practices that were altogether alien for our parent’s generation. “What’s Christmas got to do with trees and reindeer?” “What is trick-or-treating?” “Can we do an egg hunt on Easter?” “What is Easter?”
Not to mention that twenty years ago, there was far less politics in schools, and a lot more Christmas décor.
Most schools these days have become politically correct and have attempted to remove religious-centric activities or at least avoid labeling them as such. Nonetheless, kids discuss trick or treating and the piles of candy they managed to collect, and they discuss the presents they received for Christmas. Our children may very well go to school after Eid and discuss the money, presents, and candy they were gifted but often times have little to no corroboration from fellow students as they are the minority in their classes.
I am not a fan of finding alternative activities for our kids during holidays that we don’t partake in. Or of keeping our children home if the school will be participating in activities that may not fall in line with our beliefs. Knowledge is power and our children are like sponges and need to understand the other side before we can explain why our practices differ. How can you explain why we don’t celebrate Easter if they don’t know what to expect (egg hunts) or what Easter even entails? The more information, the better, given that it is age appropriate.
I feel that our kid’s individuality should be encouraged and that it’s healthy to let them feel and celebrate the ways they are different than their peers. After all, there will come a time when our children will need to pray in school, will need to abstain from eating during the day, wear hijab, etc. It is better for their relationships, their psyche, and the development of their characters that this Muslim identity is established early on, and firmly rooted.
My daughter has asked about Christmas and Santa Claus for some time and I don’t try to shelter her from the cartoons that air about these topics or rush her past the Santa at the Mall. Rather, we stand and watch all the children sit on Santa’s lap and she asks if she can and I tell her no and explain that he’s a stranger. I explain that we celebrate Eid and we have our holidays and different people have all sorts of different holidays and traditions. This year she looked at me and asked, “Is that a man in a costume and is there another man at other malls?” And I said, “Yes, but don’t tell the other kids in your class.”
The holiday season is not something that parents should deal with as it occurs. Rather, we should take all opportunities to prepare our children for ways they may feel ostracized.
If you have ever lived overseas in a Muslim-majority country or know someone who has, you probably know that Eid in America is much different than Eid overseas. As parents we need to take time away from work and spend time with our family and friends. Let us decorate our homes, eat together and do things that are deserving of Eid. Our children may not yet understand what exactly we are celebrating or why; but they will see the love, unity, and happiness that the three or five days of Eid brings.
Information is power; as a parent and as a Muslim we should know what our children will be encountering in general at school and with their friends. It’s our job to educate ourselves and stay up to date so that we can follow up with our children’s schools and not be left in the dark. We also have to understand that we can’t expect our kids to just take our word for why we don’t do something. They deserve logical, reasonable responses; not just “Because I said so.”
Raising children that are self-assured in their identities as Muslims cultivates a lifestyle that is reflective of that identity. You may find your children trying desperately to fit in which is not necessarily a bad thing. Much like a puzzle, all the pieces fit in next to other pieces, we just have to remember and remind our children that each of those pieces has its own unique shape, size, and color.