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Changing the way we parent children is one of the distinguishing features of the Bahá’í Faith; and another way we work towards peace.  But just what are the expectations of parents?  Let’s have a look at what the Bahá’í Writings have to tell us!

Pre-Natal

A mother’s attitude, prayers, what she eats and her physical condition have a great influence on the child when it is still in womb:

The great importance attached to the mother’s role derives from the fact that she is the first educator of the child. Her attitude, her prayers, even what she eats and her physical condition have a great influence on the child when it is still in womb.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

Even before they are born, God gave us eyes to watch over them, and hearts to love them:

Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother’s womb, I destined for thee . . . eyes to watch over thee, and hearts to love thee.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 29)

Financial Security

The primary responsibility for supporting the family financially is placed upon the husband:

Similarly, although the primary responsibility for supporting the family financially is placed upon the husband, this does not by any means imply that the place of woman is confined to the home.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

These functions are not inflexibly fixed and can be changed and adjusted to suit particular family situations:

With regard to your question whether mothers should work outside the home, it is helpful to consider the matter from the perspective of the concept of a Bahá’í family. This concept is based on the principle that the man has primary responsibility for the financial support of the family, and the woman is the chief and primary educator of the children. This by no means implies that these functions are inflexibly fixed and cannot be changed and adjusted to suit particular family situations, nor does it mean that the place of the woman is confined to the home. Rather, while primary responsibility is assigned, it is anticipated that fathers would play a significant role in the education of the children and women could also be breadwinners. As you rightly indicated, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged women to ‘participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world’.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

Stay at Home Mothers

It would seem preferable that children should receive their first training at home at the hand of their mother, rather than be sent to a nursery:

With reference to the question of the training of children; given the emphasis placed by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the necessity for the parents to train their children while still in their tender age, it would seem preferable that they should receive their first training at home at the hand of their mother, rather than be sent to a nursery. Should circumstances, however, compel a Bahá’í mother to adopt the latter course, there can be no objection.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 149-150)

The task of bringing up a Bahá’í child, as emphasized time and again in Bahá’í writings, is the chief responsibility of the mother:

The task of bringing up a Bahá’í child, as emphasized time and again in Bahá’í writings, is the chief responsibility of the mother, whose unique privilege is indeed to create in her home such conditions as would be most conducive to both his material and spiritual welfare and advancement. The training which the child first receives through his mother constitutes the strongest foundation for his future development.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 148)

This is a high and exalted position, and we are not allowed to slacken in our responsibility:

It is incumbent upon to train the children from their earliest babyhood!… It is incumbent upon you to attend to them under all aspects and circumstances, inasmuch as God-glorified and exalted is He!-hath ordained mothers to be the primary trainers of children and infants. This is a great and important affair and a high and exalted position, and it is not allowable to slacken therein at all!”  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Vol. III, p. 606)

The time for pursuing a career is in the future, where there is no area or instance where they will lag behind; they have equal rights with men, and will enter into all branches of the administration of society:

In the Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh, women are advancing side by side with men. There is no area or instance where they will lag behind: they have equal rights with men, and will enter, in the future, into all branches of the administration of society. Such will be their elevation that, in every area of endeavor, they will occupy the highest levels in the human world.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

For more information, please see:  Should Bahá’í Mothers Stay at Home? 

Breast-Feeding

God destined “two founts of gleaming milk” for us:

Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother’s womb, I destined for thee two founts of gleaming milk . . .  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 29)

Babies have been endowed by God with the milk which is the first food designed for it:

When the child is born, it is she who has been endowed by God with the milk which is the first food designed for it, and it is intended that, if possible, she should be with the baby to train and nurture it in its earliest days and months. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

Blessed is the mother who suckles the child:

Blessed is the mother who bore thee and the breast whose milk suckled thee and the bosom wherein thou  wert nurtured . . . Then thank thy Lord, the Merciful, the Clement, for this great salvation and exceeding grace!  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 114-115)

Here is a prayer we can say when our babies are nursing:

O Thou peerless Lord! Let this suckling babe be nursed from the breast of Thy loving-kindness, guard it within the cradle of Thy safety and protection and grant that it be reared in the arms of Thy tender affection.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 33)

Role Model

Young minds are affected by the choices parents make, particularly by condoning the passions of the world:

What needs to be appreciated in this respect is the extent to which young minds are affected by the choices parents make for their own lives, when, no matter how unintentionally, no matter how innocently, such choices condone the passions of the world—its admiration for power, its adoration of status, its love of luxuries, its attachment to frivolous pursuits, its glorification of violence, and its obsession with self-gratification. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 28 Dec. 2010)

Health

If a child is not properly cared for in the beginning of life, so that he develops a sound body and his constitution flourishes, his body will remain feeble, and whatever is done afterward will take little effect:

Unless the child, in his earliest years, be carefully tended, whether in a material or a spiritual sense, whether as to his physical health or his education, it will prove extremely difficult to effect later on. For example, if a child is not properly cared for in the beginning of life, so that he doth not develop a sound body and his constitution doth not flourish as it ought, his body will remain feeble, and whatever is done afterward will take little effect.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 293)

Protecting the health of the child is essential, because sound health leads to insights, sense perceptions and the development of powers:

This matter of protecting the health of the child is essential, for sound health leadeth to insights and sense perceptions, and then the child, as he learneth sciences, arts, skills, and the civilities of life, will duly develop his powers.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 293)

Physical Affection

Parents are expected to hug their children:

Embrace twice thy children.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 359)

Consultation and Decision Making

One of the keys to the strengthening of unity is loving consultation:

The relationship between husband and wife must be viewed in the context of the Bahá’í ideal of family life. Bahá’u’lláh came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, one must believe that the Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it, and one of the keys to the strengthening of unity is loving consultation. The atmosphere within a Bahá’í family as within the community as a whole should express “the keynote of the Cause of God” which, the beloved Guardian has stated, “is not dictatorial authority, but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation.       (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

There are times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other:

In any group, however loving the consultation, there are nevertheless points on which, from time to time, agreement cannot be reached. In a Spiritual Assembly this dilemma is resolved by a majority vote. There can, however, be no majority where only two parties are involved, as in the case of a husband and wife. There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other. In short, the relationship between husband and wife should be as held forth in the prayer revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which is often read at Bahá’í weddings: “Verily, they are married in obedience to Thy command. Cause them to become the signs of harmony and unity until the end of time.”  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

Children should be given the privilege and opportunity to participate in the decisions about what services their parents are able to offer:

It is suggested that the children should be made to feel that they are given the privilege and opportunity of participating in the decisions as to the services their parents are able to offer, thus making their own conscious decision to accept those services with consequence for their own lives. Indeed, the children can be led to realize that it is the earnest wish of their parents to undertake such services with their children’s whole-hearted support.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 231-232)

Equality 

Specific areas of the relationship between men and women should be considered in the light of the general principle of equality between the sexes:

The House of Justice suggests that all statements in the Holy Writings concerning specific areas of the relationship between men and women should be considered in the light of the general principle of equality between the sexes that has been authoritatively and repeatedly enunciated in the Sacred Texts. In one of His Tablets ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asserts: “In this divine age the bounties of God have encompassed the world of women. Equality of men and women, except in some negligible instances, has been fully and categorically announced. Distinctions have been utterly removed.” That men and women differ from one another in certain characteristics and functions is an inescapable fact of nature; the important thing is that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regards such inequalities as remain as being “negligible.”  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

 Unity

Bahá’u’lláh came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family:

The relationship between husband and wife must be viewed in the context of the Bahá’í ideal of family life. Bahá’u’lláh came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, one must believe that the Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

Where unity exists in a family, there is progress; prosperity; their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquility, they are secure, their position is assured, and they come to be envied by all:

Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquility, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 278)

Education

Education and training of children are recorded in the Book of God as obligatory and not voluntary, for both the father and mother:

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)

Mothers are supposed to make the child’s education as their first importance:

Let the mothers consider that whatever concerneth the education of children is of the first importance. Let them put forth every effort in this regard, for when the bough is green and tender it will grow in whatever way ye train it.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 289-290)

This responsibility for the education of children is so weighty that failure to exercise it is an unpardonable sin, for which parents will be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord:

Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord. This is a sin unpardonable.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 398-399)

They could even lose the rights of parenthood:

This responsibility is so weighty that Bahá’u’lláh has stated that a father who fails to exercise it forfeits his rights of fatherhood.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

For more information on this topic please see:  Baha’i Education of Children  

Spiritual Training

Children, right from the beginning, must receive spiritual training directly from their mothers:

Thou didst ask as to the education of children. Those children who, sheltered by the Blessed Tree, have set foot upon the world, those who are cradled in the Faith and are nurtured at the breast of grace—such must from the beginning receive spiritual training directly from their mothers. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 280-282)

Parents are in a critical position to shape the spiritual development of their children:

Independent of the level of their education, parents are in a critical position to shape the spiritual development of their children. They should not ever underestimate their capacity to mold their children’s moral character. For they exercise indispensable influence through the home environment they consciously create by their love of God, their striving to adhere to His laws, their spirit of service to His Cause, their lack of fanaticism, and their freedom from the corrosive effects of backbiting. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 157, 2000, p. 9)

Obedience

Children must be taught to fear God:

That which is of paramount importance for the children, that which must precede all else, is to teach them the oneness of God and the Laws of God. For lacking this, the fear of God cannot be inculcated, and lacking the fear of God an infinity of odious and abominable actions will spring up, and sentiments will be uttered that trans­gress all bounds. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 6)

Training children to obey their parents is a precursor to teaching them to obey God:

Parents must exert every effort to rear their offspring to be religious, for should the children not attain this greatest of adornments, they will not obey their parents, which in a certain sense means that they will not obey God. Indeed, such children will show no consider­ation to anyone, and will do exactly as they please.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 6)

Parents have the responsibility to conduct themselves in such a way as to elicit the spontaneous obedience of children:

Every parent who is a believer in the Blessed Beauty has the responsibility to conduct herself or himself in such a way as to elicit the spontaneous obedience to parents to which the Teachings attach so high a value.   (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 157, 2000, p. 9)

For more information, please see The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient  

Protection

True parenthood and parental mercy requires us to most carefully watch over and protect our children:

Children must be most carefully watched over, protected and trained; in such consisteth true parenthood and parental mercy.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 263)

Children have a right to be surrounded by a loving and caring community, protected from the misbehavior of others:

They have a right to be protected from the misbehavior of others. Children and youth should be enabled to initiate intervention for their own protection and should feel that they are surrounded by a loving and caring Bahá’í community. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 138.)

Children should learn that it is important for them to tell any responsible older person when someone has done something that feels wrong or frightens them; and that this is not tattling, backbiting or gossiping:

As part of the education of children and youth, they should learn that it is important for them to tell any responsible older person when someone has done something that feels wrong or frightens them, that such telling is not tattling, backbiting or gossiping. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 138)

If the mother of a child becomes aware that she is going to die, she will entrust her infant to the care of a reliable person, to look after and protect him until he is able to stand on his own feet:

One may observe that if the mother of a child becomes aware that she is going to die, she will entrust her infant to the care of a trustworthy nurse or other reliable person, to look after and protect him until he becomes older and able to stand on his own feet and become self-supporting. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 381)

 Discipline and Punishment

Discipline of some sort, whether physical, moral or intellectual, is indispensable, and no training can be said to be complete and fruitful without it:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá could have never meant that a child should be left to himself, entirely free. In fact Bahá’í education, just like any other system of education is based on the assumption that there are certain natural deficiencies in every child, no matter how gifted, which his educators, whether his parents, school masters, or his spiritual guides and preceptors should endeavour to remedy. Discipline of some sort, whether physical, moral or intellectual, is indeed indispensable, and no training can be said to be complete and fruitful if it disregards this element.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 152)

It is not permissible to strike a child, or vilify him:

It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child’s character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 289-290)

Instead, whenever a mother sees that her child has done well, let her praise and applaud him and cheer his heart:

Whensoever a mother seeth that her child hath done well, let her praise and applaud him and cheer his heart.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 289-290)

Physical discipline of children is an acceptable part of their education and training when it is carried out ‘gently and patiently’ and with “loving care”, far removed from the anger and violence with which children are beaten and abused in some parts of the world:

While the physical discipline of children is an acceptable part of their education and training, such actions are to be carried out ‘gently and patiently’ and with “loving care”, far removed from the anger and violence with which children are beaten and abused in some parts of the world. To treat children in such an abhorrent manner is a denial of their human rights, and a betrayal of the trust which the weak should have in the strong in a Bahá’í community.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 4 August, 1996)

For more information see How Do Bahá’ís Discipline Children?

Children’s Classes

In addition to the efforts made at home, the parents should support Bahá’í children’s classes:

Of course, in addition to the efforts made at home, the parents should support Bahá’í children’s classes provided by the community. It must be borne in mind, too, that children live in a world that informs them of harsh realities through direct experience with the horrors already described or through the unavoidable outpourings of the mass media. Many of them are thereby forced to mature prematurely, and among these are those who look for standards and discipline by which to guide their lives. Against this gloomy backdrop of a decadent society, Bahá’í children should shine as the emblems of a better future.  (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 157, 2000, p. 9)

Let all the lesson be entirely devoted to the acquisitions of human perfections:

The subjects to be taught in children’s schools are many, and for lack of time We can touch on only a few: First and most important is training in behavior and  good character; the rectification of qualities; arousing the desire to become accomplished and acquire perfections, and to cleave unto the religion of God and stand firm in His Laws: to accord total obedience to every just government, to show forth loyalty and trustworthiness to the ruler of the time, to be well wishers of mankind, to be kind to all.  And further, as well as in the ideals of character, instruction in such arts and sciences as are benefit, and in foreign tongues. Also, the repeating of prayers for the well-being of ruler and ruled; and the avoidance of materialistic works that are current among those who see only natural causation, and tales of love, and books that arouse the passions.  To sum up, let all the lesson be entirely devoted to the acquisitions of human perfections.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Lights of Guidance, p. 147)

Attendance at Bahá’í Gatherings 

Parents are responsible for their children and should make them behave when they attend Bahá’í meetings:

In any case, the House of Justice Points out that parents are responsible for their children and should make them behave when they attend Bahá’í meetings.   (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 151)

If children create a disturbance they should be taken out of the meeting, as an aspect of the training in courtesy, consideration for others, reverence, and obedience to their parents:

If children persist in creating a disturbance they should be taken out of the meeting. This is not merely necessary to ensure the properly dignified conduct of Bahá’í meeting but is an aspect of the training of children in courtesy, consideration for others, reverence, and obedience to their parents.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 151)

One of the parents may have to miss part of the meeting in order to care for the child:

The House of Justice has instructed us to say that children should be trained to understand the spiritual significance of the gatherings of the followers of the Blessed Beauty, and to appreciate the honour and bounty of being able to take part in them, whatever their outward form may be. It is realized that some Bahá’í observances are lengthy and it is difficult for very small children to remain quiet for so long. In such cases one or other of the parents may have to miss part of the meeting in order to care for the child.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 151)

The Spiritual Assembly can help the parents by providing for a children’s observance, in a separate room:

The Spiritual Assembly can also perhaps help the parents by providing for a children’s observance, suited to their capacities, in a separate room during part of the community’s observance.   (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 151)

Children should be trained to understand the spiritual significance of the gatherings and appreciate the honour and bounty of being able to take part in them:

Children should be trained to understand the spiritual significance of the gatherings of the followers of the Blessed Beauty, and to appreciate the honour and bounty of being able to take part in them, whatever their outward form may be.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 150)

Attendance at the whole of the adult celebration is a sign of growing maturity and a distinction to be earned by good behaviour:

Attendance at the whole of the adult celebration thus becomes a sign of growing maturity and a distinction to be earned by good behavior.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 151)

Reasons for This Kind of Parenting

With this kind of training, we’d have been safe from all tests:

If such be their training, they will remain safe from every test.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 274-275)

Without this kind of childhood, our bodies are feeble and we don’t flourish:

For example, if a child is not properly cared for in the beginning of life, so that he doth not develop a sound body and his constitution doth not flourish as it ought, his body will remain feeble, and whatever is done afterward will take little effect. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 293)

Without this kind of childhood, we become afflicted with innumerable defects:

Truly, if a babe did not live at all it were better than to let it grow ignorant, for that innocent babe, in later life, would become afflicted with innumerable defects, responsible to and questioned by God, reproached and rejected by the people. What a sin this would be and what an omission!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 398-399)

Without this kind of childhood, we’d be better off dead:

. . . they have made that poor babe a wanderer in the Sahara of ignorance, unfortunate and tormented; to remain during a lifetime a captive of ignorance and pride, negligent and without discernment. Verily, if that babe depart from this world at the age of infancy, it is sweeter and better. In this sense, death is better than life; deprivation than salvation; non-existence lovelier than existence; the grave better than the palace; and the narrow, dingy tomb better than the spacious, regal home; for in the sight of mankind that child is abased and degraded and in the sight of God weak and defective. In gatherings it is ashamed and humiliated and in the arena of examination subdued and defeated by young and old. What a mistake is this! What an everlasting humiliation!

Have I missed anything?  Post your comments below: