It’s often not so easy for parents to accept changes in their child. Meaghan Brittini shares her encouraging experiences.
My biological parents have been divorced (and coupled up with my stepparents) for as far back as I can remember. This means my official Muslim ‘coming out’ story had to happen twice.
Consequently, I get to tell two stories in one because of it.
I’ve always been the kid that stood out a little bit from the crowd. By the time of my shahada, I was already known for my shocking antics.
You could say I had perhaps spent the past two decades of my life prepping them to be ready to expect anything from me. And considering that I had recently toured two Muslim countries and had just started a bachelor degree in religion, the news was perhaps less shocking for them than it could have been.
But for some reason, this time around I felt less confident about approaching them and more nervous than I had ever been about coming forth about my major life decisions. After all, I was all too familiar with the stereotypes and portrayals of Muslims on the evening news, and was expecting the worst.
But here’s how it all so easily went down:
Parental Case #1
I sent these parents a long detailed email, justifying and explaining my decisions. Even though my family wasn’t a member of any religious community that I was leaving behind, I still wanted to reassure them that I had made this decision with as much thought and contemplation as I should have.
Their reaction to my emotionally drawn-out email was simply: “Okay!”
But their gestures in the following months spoke much louder than their initial reaction.
During my first Christmas as a Muslim, I was welcomed with gingerbread hijabis (a creative little twist to the typically decorated gingerbread people). When I began experimenting with hijab, they gifted me pretty scarves they found in shopping centres. They sent me cards on Eid. They would have panic attacks when they accidently used the same spatula for my veggie burger and their pork chops.
And when I stayed over at their place, they effectively became my religious police by questioning me suspiciously when it seemed like I hadn’t prayed in awhile. (Parents will be parents, after all!)
Parental Case #2
On the other hand, my other parent just wouldn’t get off my back.
It seemed like every conversation was an opportunity to grill me about my “wrong” choice, from what I felt about my newly chosen destiny of becoming someone’s fourth wife, to why I would support atrocities like stoning – all the typical misconceptions. Of course, I was also the first to get a look that demanded an explanation when the evening news headline featured a recent honour killing crime.
But then on one roadtrip back home, we happened to be driving around town on a Friday morning. I convinced them to head to the mosque together for jum’ah prayers, just so they could see one for themselves.
Perhaps this was a bit of a risk, seeing how I already had listened to my own share of bad sermons in my short time as a Muslim (30-minute lectures on “the fitna of women”, anyone?).
However, the imam in my small, not-so-diverse and terribly non-multicultural hometown perhaps won over this parent with a compelling talk on the importance of being environmentally conscious. At least, the topic put a halt to all the provoking questions about my personal choice of religion.
So looking back, in the end both sets of parents behaved just like they always had been: warm, understanding and accommodating. Allowing me to define myself in my own way instead of merely in the way they expected me to, has been the greatest blessing they have given to me.
Admittedly, I felt a bit selfish, as all of my worries about coming out were purely concerned with how their reactions would affect me. Instead, I should have been more concerned not only about how my decision may have affected them, but how I could be more accommodating to their needs and concerns as well.
For example, when walking with me through our small town during the period when I wore hijab, my parents were faced with many awkward stares and racist comments from strangers. They endured invasive questions about their “strange” daughter and sometimes had to stand up for me. They navigated my new taboos and dietary laws, in addition to reconciling what they saw in me with what they saw on the news. There were many things to overcome on their end, too, even if they didn’t show it.
I think these sensitivities are something important to keep in mind when we need to communicate our life changes to our parents, or when we are suporting converts who are facing this dilemma. A successful “coming out” cannot rely solely on their accepting us, but our willingness to accommodate their feelings as well.