What is love: Belonging (Part 3)

Jul 02, 2022
What is love: Belonging

This might seem a bit confusing at first because we think, don’t our kids belongl to us? Why on earth would they think or feel that they don’t? 

Well, apparently lots of kids do lose their sense of belonging. Brene Brown talks about her research findings on 5th graders across the U.S. who say it sucks to not belong at school but nothing is as bad as not belonging at home. 

When I was trying to think of the best way to explain this concept, Eisa (my 7yo son) saved the day for me. Though in full disclosure, this story is not a shining example of my motherhood. I debated sharing it, but I think it’s definitely not a secret that I screw up. 

When we were on the cruise (recent vacation), every night there was a show or something interesting happening around the same time as the kids’ bed time. Our plan was to make them all nap so they could stay up late. A plan that was thwarted every day by Eisa (7yo) who not only hates napping but generally thinks sleep is a waste of time. 

So one night he got particularly agitated because we were watching a movie on the ship deck and he was super sleepy. I finally stormed out of there with him with some not-so-nice words. 

E: “That hurts my feelings, mama.” Me: “Well, it hurts mine that you didn’t nap so I could watch my movie!” (Yes, very mature ??‍♀️) E: “But I hate napping. You don’t even care.” Me: “Yes I don’t!” E: “That makes me sad.” Me: “I don’t care!” (Ouch! Who sounds like a kid here?) E: (suddenly his voice breaking) “I guess you just want me to be adopted in another family. You don’t wanna be my mom anymore.”

And with those words, my brain finally found its “lid” and I told him I was sorry for acting so badly and hurting his feelings. We repaired. We were ok. 

So even though that was a hard share for me, I’m glad that he was able to articulate his feelings so well there. Can you imagine how he’d have felt if I had always spoken to him that way? By now he wouldn’t even have had enough sense of belonging to realize when it was threatened. 

Here are a few things that can rob kids of their sense of belonging in their family:

1- Keeping family secrets (not sharing when sad/tragic things happen and they are not talked about openly and age-appropriately with kids)

2- Diminishing kids’ feelings and experiences with “koi baat nahi”, “it’s ok”, “you’re ok”, “you’re brave” etc. 

3- Making a child “the bad guy” of the family. Using labels such as “the difficult one”, “problem child”, “shaitaan” and always assuming they must’ve “started things”

4- Shaming kids for their behavior. 

5- Not setting any boundaries and being overly permissive. 

Here are some ways to foster their sense of belonging. 

1- Listening to their concerns. Even a baby can communicate that something is not ok. Even when we don’t know anything- we can validate their pain. 

2- Problem-solving through win/win conflict resolution (see unit on that) instead of pushing our own solutions on them every time. 

3- Viewing them with the lens of “you’re inherently good” (“ap fitrat pai Ho”) and so trusting them to make as many choices as possible even if they will make mistakes. 

4- Setting clear boundaries and helping them execute them in a #kindlystrict way.

5- Sharing our own real selves with them and our own vulnerabilities in an age-appropriate way. (“Gosh I had a terrible day today!” “I’m feeling sad today because I miss my parents”)

6- Talking to them about things that might seem confusing or difficult to them. 

7- Asking for their advice and help.

8- Valuing their input in home projects/chores but not demanding it or berating it as not good enough. 

Finally (respectful warning about religious content): I love that in Islam we’re constantly encouraged to foster a sense of community. Even the congregational prayers (namaz jamat) is not just to pray but to connect with others. This community-building starts at home. When our kids feel like they TRULY belong in our home and in our family, they will always feel like they have a safe haven in this world AND with this strong base, in shaa’Allah they will make better choices. (Lots of research on this phenomenon has also been done- kids that belong to safe/loving homes do well in life).