I had a call the other day from a woman whose 32 year old daughter had moved away from the family home for the first time, a year or two before. Her daughter had accused the mother of being too controlling (calling and texting her several times a day, telling her what she should do). She was making life choices the mother disagreed with, and she wondered if I would “straighten her daughter out” for her! She’d paid for counselling for the daughter several times before and the daughter had quit because it wasn’t working for her. She hoped that this time it would be different because I was a Bahá’í! No, no, no, and no!
The first thing she had to realize is that while parents have a great responsibility for the education of their children . . .
In this New Cycle, education and training are recorded in the Book of God as obligatory and not voluntary. That is, it is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son, to nurse them from the breast of knowledge and to rear them in the bosom of sciences and arts. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 398-399)
It’s the only place in the Writings I can find which actually refers to God as a “stern Lord”:
Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 398-399)
With that being said, the parents’ role is finished once the child reaches the age of 15.
Up to the age of 15 years, children are under the direction of their parents. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 154)
From that point on, the child is responsible to God for the choices they make.
The importance of attaining spiritual maturity at the age of fifteen is that it marks that point in life at which the believer takes firmly into his own hands the responsibility for his spiritual destiny. (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 426.2)
We might think that our 15 year old child is not mature enough to assume this responsibility, but Shoghi Effendi tells us:
It matters not whether they mature later in one country than in another. The command of Bahá’u’lláh is universal, irrespective of any variance in the age of maturity in different countries and among different peoples. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 233)
The House of Justice gives further guidance:
As important as it is for parents to exercise their moral authority in assisting the youth not to make unwise decisions, it is also incumbent on the parents as Bahá’ís to give due consideration to the significance of the spiritual impact of the Faith upon the youth and recognize that the youth must have some latitude to respond to the stirring of their hearts and souls, since they, beginning at the age of 15, must assume serious spiritual obligations and duties and are themselves alone ultimately responsible to God for the progress of their own souls. The capacity for mature thinking on the part of youth differs from one to the other and according to age; some attain this ability earlier than others; for some it is delayed. Parents are generally in a position to judge these matters more accurately than others and must consider them in their attempt to guide the youth in their families, but the parents must strive to do so in such a way as not to stifle their children’s sense of spiritual responsibility. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Oct 28, Manner of Appealing to Youth)
There’s only one parental role after the age of 15, and that’s of giving consent to marriage.
It hath been laid down in the Bayan that marriage is dependent upon the consent of both parties. Desiring to establish love, unity and harmony amidst Our servants, We have conditioned it, once the couple’s wish is known, upon the permission of their parents, lest enmity and rancour should arise amongst them. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 42)
Even then, the parent can’t interfere until the formal request for consent is given.
As to the question of marriage, according to the law of God: First you must select one, and then it depends on the consent of the father and mother. Before your selection they have no right of interference. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 372)
The second thing she needed to realize is that the tension between parents and children is often the catalyst the adult-child needs to break free and start their own lives. Hopefully, they will continue to make good choices after they leave home; but if the parent is too controlling, the adult-child needs to push back in order to assume their autonomy. Sometimes this can take the form of acting out – the pendulum of behavior swings from one extreme to another, before coming back to centre, several years later. It’s an important part of our spiritual growth, as the House explains, so we don’t need to be alarmed by it:
A titanic, a spiritual struggle, unparalleled in its magnitude yet unspeakably glorious in its ultimate consequences, is being waged as a result of these opposing tendencies, in this age of transition through which the organized community of the followers of Bahá’u’lláh and mankind as a whole are passing. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 193)
We need to understand that:
Many will be the setbacks, the shocks and the disturbances, which the commotions of a convulsive age must produce; yet no force, however violent and world-wide in its range and catastrophic in its immediate consequences, can either halt these processes or deflect their appointed course. (Shoghi Effendi, Chronology of Major Letters of the Guardian)
And take comfort in the fact that it’s a privilege to guard them:
How great, then, the privilege, and how staggering the responsibility, of those who are destined to guard over them and to bring them eventually to full fruition. (Shoghi Effendi, Chronology of Major Letters of the Guardian)
And the only way we can do it, is to focus on our own development, and align ourselves with the Will of God:
Nothing short of utter, of continuous consecration to His Will and Purpose can enable them to fulfil their high destiny. (Shoghi Effendi, Chronology of Major Letters of the Guardian)
However, this can be a heartbreaking time for a parent, especially a Bahá’í parent, if we see our children doing things so far removed from the Teachings. But there is absolutely nothing we can do except pray for them, imploring God to intercede and to protect them from violent tests. Here is a prayer we can say:
O Lord! Make this youth radiant, and confer Thy bounty upon this poor creature. Bestow upon him knowledge, grant him added strength at the break of every morn and guard him within the shelter of Thy protection so that he may be freed from error, may devote himself to the service of Thy Cause, may guide the wayward, lead the hapless, free the captives and awaken the heedless, that all may be blessed with Thy remembrance and praise. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 37-38)
And then we have to be patient! This is a time in our lives when we develop patience and long-suffering! Reading books about the Greatest Holy Leaf might be helpful, since she was a real role model for a life of long-suffering!
The vesture that best befits us in this world is the vesture of patience and submission, and the most meritorious of all deeds is to commit our affairs into His hands and to surrender ourselves to His Will. Therefore, it behoves that leaf to take fast hold on the handle of resignation and radiant acquiescence and to strictly adhere to the cord of patience and long-suffering. (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 97)
We must struggle with such promptings from within, setting our sights on the lofty example set by the Greatest Holy Leaf who, throughout a life replete with severe tests, chose not to take offence at the actions or lack of actions of other souls and, with full and radiant heart, continued to bestow on them love and encouragement. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
Everything happens in its own proper time.
There is one season to harrow the ground, another season to scatter the seeds, still another season to irrigate the fields and still another to harvest the crop. We must attend to these various kinds of activities in their proper seasons in order to become successful. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Consultation, p. 7.)
I met a second-generation Bahá’í man at a conference one time. He was in his late 60’s. He told me that when he left home, he broke all the Bahá’í laws. He became an alcoholic, drug dealer, gambler and sex-addict. He spent over 40 years breaking his mother’s heart before he finally “hit bottom”. But he had his Bahá’í background to come back to. When he finally got clean and sober, he turned back to Baha’u’llah, and of course, was forgiven his sins, and he became an active Bahá’í from that point forward.
This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
A father and mother endure the greatest troubles and hardships for their children; and often when the children have reached the age of maturity, the parents pass on to the other world. Rarely does it happen that a father and mother in this world see the reward of the care and trouble they have undergone for their children. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 329)
The problem is compounded when children grow up in a culture different from their parents (due to immigration or pioneering). These children assimilate the values of the new culture and in fact become “a new race”. In these cases, parents must have a hundred times more consideration of the needs of their children, as Shoghi Effendi tells us:
It is difficult for the friends always to remember that in matter[s] where race enters, a hundred times more consideration and wisdom in handling situations is necessary than when an issue is not complicated by this factor. (Shoghi Effendi, Pupil of the Eye, p. 87).
As the following quote suggests, the age of maturity is highly significant:
The significance of the age of maturity, however, goes far beyond the fulfilment of responsibilities. The following extract from a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá links the attainment of maturity with the deepening of one’s understanding and comprehension of the realities of life, and the enhancement of one’s very capacity for understanding:
Know thou that before maturity man liveth from day to day and comprehendeth only such matters as are superficial and outwardly obvious. However, when he cometh of age he understandeth the realities of things and the inner truths. Indeed, in his comprehension, his feelings, his deductions and his discoveries, every day of his life after maturity is equal to a year before it. (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 426.3-3a)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a “rite of passage” for our children at age 15? When we formally pass off the baton of responsibility?
I wanted to create a “baton passing” activity for my son when he turned 15. During his childhood, whenever he questioned the laws, or the way I interpreted them in my parenting, I told him that it was my job to make the decisions till he reached 15 and after that it was his job. He took that comment seriously, and at age 15 he not only rejected my idea of doing something formal, he also refused to sign his card. I knew that he hadn’t connected to Baha’u’llah on his own, no matter how erudite and convincing his consultations were, so I couldn’t have accepted his card even if he had signed it. His reason was that he wasn’t ready to obey the laws. He didn’t necessarily intend to break them, but he knew he wasn’t ready to be bound by them either. And over time, he did go astray, further from the Faith than this mother would have wanted for him. And of course, I blamed myself (it’s always the mother’s fault, right?!)
In accepting the membership card, the youth affirms his belief in Bahá’u’lláh. It is important to emphasize that a Bahá’í child is not compelled to become a Bahá’í and is free to leave the Faith at any time. “If any Bahá’í finds that he does not believe in the Faith,” the Universal House of Justice has stated, “he is free to leave it . . . , and no stigma at all attaches to such an action.” (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
I had to accept that the choices our children make, are not a reflection of bad parenting. Remember that most of Baha’u’llah’s and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s children became Covenant Breakers!
Baha’u’llah had 14 children: at least 7 of whom became Covenant Breakers. (See God Passes By, chapter 15.)
Of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s 9 children, only 4 daughters survived to adulthood and three of them became covenant breakers. (Moojan Momen, Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: Chapter 31 of Some Answered Questions, p. 285)
And even they were assured that God would forgive them if they repented.
It is important to note that should a Covenant-breaker recognize his mistakes, become conscious of his transgressions against the Cause of God and find the urge to repent, the Centre of the Cause, when satisfied he is sincerely repentant, will forgive his past deeds and restore his credibility and status as a Bahá’í in good standing in the community. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 240)
Another thing I told this mother was that her job was to detach from her daughter’s life and focus all of her energy on her own spiritual development.
Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being ‘perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect’ and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will- power and energy. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
I told her about the importance of turning her attention away from what her daughter was doing wrong, and concentrating all of her energy on “plowing her own field”:
If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
Finally I reminded her that her daughter would eventually marry and go through all the worlds of God with their husbands, so she should likewise focus her energy on her relationship with her husband, so that he too will be with her, through all the worlds of God.
In a true Bahá’í marriage the two parties must become fully united both spiritually and physically, so that they may attain eternal union throughout all the worlds of God, and improve the spiritual life of each other. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 372)
I ended the session with walking her through the 5 Steps of Prayer for Solving Problems, which focused on the question: What can I do to focus on my own problems instead of my daughter’s? You can find the 5 Steps of Prayer at: https://susangammage.com/thebahaiprayers/quotepage.php?Prayers%2F5+Steps+for+Solving+Problems
While she was meditating on this question, I recited a prayer revealed by Baha’u’llah in Arabic for Jinab-i-Samandar (Shaykh Kazim Samandar), the father of the Hand of the Cause of God Tarazu’llah Samandari, to assist him in making a difficult decision. If you find yourself in need of this prayer, you might want to use it too.
In regard to his affairs, let him repeat nineteen times:
O my God! Thou seest me detached from everything save Thee, clinging to Thee, to guide me in my doings in that which benefits me for the Glory of Thy Cause and the Loftiness of the state of Thy servants.
Let him then reflect upon the matter and undertake whatever cometh to mind. This vehement opposition … will indeed give way to supreme prosperity. (source unknown)
It isn’t easy to let our children go. Certainly nothing in my life prepared me for the wrenching away of my son, but the rewards of detachment are great:
Could ye apprehend with what wonders of My munificence and bounty I have willed to entrust your souls, ye would, of a truth, rid yourselves of attachment to all created things, and would gain a true knowledge of your own selves — a knowledge which is the same as the comprehension of Mine own Being. Ye would find yourselves independent of all else but Me, and would perceive, with your inner and outer eye, and as manifest as the revelation of My effulgent Name, the seas of My loving-kindness and bounty moving within you. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 326-327)
I ask God that it may become realized, and day by day, thou mayest walk more and more in the path of the Kingdom, in order that thou mayest be freed from the strangers and friends, be disengaged from attachment to the material world and be attached wholly to the divine Kingdom. At that time thou wilt behold the lights of the most great gift. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 545)
I’d like to end with a prayer to help detach from your children:
O my God, my Lord and my Master! I have detached myself from my kindred and have sought through Thee to become independent of all that dwell on earth and ever ready to receive that which is praiseworthy in Thy sight. Bestow on me such good as will make me independent of aught else but Thee, and grant me an ampler share of Thy boundless favors. Verily, Thou art the Lord of grace abounding. (The Báb, Baha’i Prayers, p. 21)
What has helped you let go of your children? Post your comments here: