The kids came home from school today with the usual Valentine’s paraphernalia. We don’t “do” the holiday at home really. (Though husband I joke back and forth about it, our latest being riffs on this picture he saw on Facebook that you see to the right. You know — things like No Valentines! Talk to the hand!) Jokes aside, figuring out what to do with the kids when it comes to non-religious “holidays” (which often stem from some religious practice centuries ago) has been a work in progress in our house.
All of our children attend secular private or public schools, and all have Valentine’s Day parties in their classrooms. The youngest, especially, has been talking about Valentine’s Day all week. And, while we aren’t encouraging him at home, we aren’t shutting him down either. Our daughter, who is now in fourth grade, is reaching that stage that I remember from public school when some boys are starting to “like” girls and vice versa – and that Freaks. Me. Out.
I have had several discussions with her about what our beliefs are, what I expect of her as well as what I know she is not responsible for, and I encourage her to be open and honest with me, insuring her that I will always have her back. I want her faith to be her comfort and her guiding principle, but I don’t want it to be rammed down her throat with a lot of “no’s” and “Muslims don’t do that” and “not allowed in Islam.”
I also believe in teaching by example – I need to be the kind of person and kind of Muslim that I want our children to be.
And so, at this point we don’t pull them out of Valentine’s celebrations in school (Halloween celebrations have become way less I’ve seen these days, replaced by “Harvest” or “Fall Festivals”) – but we don’t do special Valentine-themed activities at home either.
I wrote an article on the Muslim dilemma with non-religious holidays for Islam Online three years ago (before it became OnIslam), when Amal was attending the same private secular school where Hamza is now (she was in first grade at the time). The gist of how we deal remains the same now:
“… The fact of the matter is that when you choose to raise Muslim children in the United States, you are going to have to adapt, deal, make alternatives, and handle these situations. I feel strongly that by raising our children to be good Muslims in a non-Muslim country, we are giving them a solid foundation to not take their religion for granted. We are making a real effort to bring them back to religion, to ground them in their faith, and to show them that we can be Muslim and adapt to our surroundings without losing who we are.
My friends with children and I discuss this issue often, and we have varying opinions on how to handle these holidays. Some friends don’t sweat these holidays at all. They’ll do special Valentine’s activities; let their kids go trick-or-treating on Halloween, and so on. They say that the history of these holidays is so minor and that these holidays are basically commercial, benign ways of having fun. What’s the harm?
Two friends of mine, one whose children attends a local Islamic school (where these minor holidays are not acknowledged at all), and the other whose child is home schooled, take a no compromise approach: These minor holidays are ignored and their children, if they ask, are promptly told that Muslims do not celebrate these holidays.
… What we have decided to do is what was done with me growing up. We let some of it slide, on other parts we stand firm. We do not isolate her in school from those activities, but we totally downplay these holidays at home when they occur. At home, we have control. We occupy her with other activities, and then we rest assure in the fact that as she matures, she will inshallah lose interest in these things and they will fade away.”
Please read the rest of the article here.
As Amal and Hamza grow older, I am realizing more and more how much we are responsible for as their parents – to help them become good Muslims, good humans and productive members of society, not to mention encouraging them to have a good relationship they want to have with Lil D as they grow.
Valentine’s Day comes and goes. Let’s not sweat it so much. The real work of raising children is every day.