As I was sitting down for dinner last night with my two kids, I had my laptop on the chair next to me which reminded me of some unfinished work I needed to do, and a book next to me I wanted to finish reading. Hopes of that faded as I glanced at the counter where dishes needed to be washed, the floor which needed to be swept, the laundry in the dryer, lunches that needed to be packed, and thought of the homework my daughter had yet to do.
As I began to eat, I watched my daughter, 6 ½, and son, about to be 5 insha’Allah, immersed in a conversation about a secret world, with little creatures I can’t comprehend, but as they giggled, I found myself smiling. Yes, in between the moments of “sit down/close your mouth/stop slurping/did you say Bismillah” there are these moments at the dinner table where I find myself wondering how Allah blessed me with such sweet faces and laughter in my life. Alhamdulellah.
As I contemplated, I realized that all afternoon since they had been home from school, we hadn’t really connected with each other at all. Sure, I asked about their day, made them a snack, chatted as I cooked dinner, broke up a small argument they had over who’s idea should get played out this afternoon first, but I hadn’t really really connected with them.
I suppose I should backtrack and share the fact that I am on this mission to connect closely with my kids everyday in a way that is more than just talking (though I can’t express how crucial daily dialogue is with your kids.)
I want something more.
In the West, we are taught that eye contact is essential to solid communication. So what about with our children? How could I allow them to see into my eyes, and me into theirs to feel that connection that is made when eyes meet and really look into each other?
So I began to play a game with them a few months ago. We started out with a staring contest! You know, the one you used to play as a kid to see who can stare the longest without breaking away or laughing. It started off really silly. This got us used to looking into each other at all. And then over the weeks I added in more elements. I would ask them “see if you can guess what I’m trying to tell you with my eyes.” My 5 year old at first, didn’t get it. “Mama! Your eyes can’t talk!”
After some time, though, they started to understand. One night I was laying next to my son, and asked him to guess what I was telling him. He laughed, and said he didn’t know. I told him that I was telling him I love him. We continued to talk a bit, and then he interrupted me and said “Mama, your eyes look sad.” I was totally taken aback. I had a smile on my lips, but in truth, I did feel sad for a moment from another thought that had passed through my head. I was shocked. He had looked in my eyes, and read me.
Over the past few months, I realized how it is a habit that has to start with me first to focus on them when they speak, to look in their eyes, even if they keep looking away. I discovered how much time could slip by where I wasn’t really looking into their sweet faces, noticing their eye lashes, the small smile when they have something to share, or how their eyes really shine. In our busy rush of daily routine, so much can be lost. I had really missed focusing on their beautiful eyes like I had when they were infants who would lay in my arms staring up at me with a solid gaze. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad, was known that when others spoke, he would not only listen, but turn his body physically towards them, giving them his full focus not just mentally, but reflecting that with his physiology as well
My children are still small, so nothing is perfected yet. I can say though that if they were the ones looking at me most of the time when speaking, that I am looking back. Whoever made the change, we look at each other more when we speak, and because of that, I feel a much deeper connection with them.
Anas Ibn Maalik , who served the Prophet for ten years in his house said, “He would listen carefully and attentively to questions or requests. He shifted his focus only after the person in need directed it away or the person left his presence. He held on to the hand that greeted him and waited for the other person to withdraw first. He shook the hand of anybody who extended it.” (Abu Nu’aim)