Untangled: Empower your girls to say “No”

Most of us were raised to be obedient to our elders. I totally agree that we must be respectful of all people, with special regard to our parents and elders. However, respect does not mean obedience.

We must differentiate these two concepts for ourselves as parents. Respecting others is in the way we treat people. You can respectfully decline an offer. Obeying is following orders. You can actually obey an order with disrespect.

Obeying and respecting are different. Our Deen requires respect, not blind obedience.

Do we really want to teach our children to always obey?

What happens when you train your child their entire lives to obey? What happens when someone older or with more authority or with more confidence demands obedience in the future? What happens when the request is harmful? Or inappropriate?

We must empower our girls to say “NO” if we want them to protect themselves and honor themselves as teenagers, young ladies, and eventually adult women.

Let’s backtrack a bit. When your shy daughter does not want to hug uncle, do you push her to do so out of embarrassment? It’s a common occurrence that we hardly notice. But what message does that send to our girls? It sends this message: “Obeying my elders is more important than honoring myself and my aversion to being hugged by this person.”

Yet, we expect from this same girl to grow up saying “no” to inappropriate advances from others—peers or authority figures. Have we empowered her to do so? Or have we inadvertently been training her to always say “yes?”

Instead, I recommend we teach our daughters to honor themselves and say “no” in respectful ways. Allow them to express what they feel and want. Discuss when they should say “no.” Practice with them ways to decline offers. Train them. And as they grow into adults, even allow them the space to say “no” to you with respect and kindness. We aren’t meant to command our children forever.

As our kids grow, we should teach them that they are worthy of being asked rather than commanded. Allah SWT gave us free will and agency, why do we allow humans to take that away?

I know there may be a fear of having bratty kids who become defiant and disrespectful. That is not the case. Defiance is a symptom of not allowing your child a voice for many years, a pressure cooker releasing. Insisting on blind obedience will breed blind defiance in the future.

Honor your girl’s voice and she will honor herself in the world.

About the Author:

Maram Behairy is a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and heads the writers’ group of South Florida Muslim Federation

‘I like to understand the bigger picture, deeper reasons, and nuanced connections. I have always been more interested in the roots under the ground than the fruit above. I complicate and explore in order to find the simple, deep truths. I live those with conviction. My dream is to use my gift for words to inspire and guide others to live with purpose and greater ease. So as I experiment on myself, I will share what I learn along the way. My roles in life (by default my areas of exploration) include being a Muslim, woman, wife, mother, writer, and youth mentor.’ 

Have a question for the author or want to reach her? Email her at maram@soflomuslims.com.

Maram Behairy
Author: Maram Behairy