I am sure you have heard these phrases often enough and usually when you are in the middle of something you cannot turn away from: talking on the phone, frying dinner, or taking that much needed shower. If you are like me, you probably respond with:
“I’ll be done in five minutes.”
“Be there in a minute.”
“Give me a second.”
Then you desperately try to finish your work within the next ten minutes and make a mad dash to see, what your little one’s emergency is (usually a squashed bug, a request for a cup of water, or a need for changing shirt because of a spilt cup of water).
This seemed like the usual scheme of things for me, until Mr. Suleman Ahmer (“Timelenders”) stated the obvious: one never completes a shower in five minutes. This seemingly small statement, amongst many words of wisdom and stories of experience (which you can enjoy by attending Mr. Ahmer’s “Strategic Time Management Training Course”), was a splash of cold water in my face. I came to realize, how carelessly we use words, and why our children do not take us seriously.
It all begins with a simple concept: keep your word – all the time, every time. Whenever we say we are going to do something, we are making a promise, without actually saying the word ‘promise’. If we say we are going to finish our work in a minute, it means we will stop our work in a minute. Otherwise, we will break our promise – hence, we should be more realistic regarding the time we need for completing our tasks.
Parents are practical examples that children learn from. They watch us go through our usual mundane routines, adopting things we never give much notice to. Imagine a child, who tosses his book bag on the floor and calls out, “Honey I’m home! What’s for dinner?” Thus, when we break our word, we teach our children several things:
1. Time (especially yours) has no value: Have you ever wondered, why it takes so long for your child to come to you, when you have been yelling: “Come here right now!” for at least five times?
2. You are not to be taken seriously: How many times have our children promised to do (or not to do) something and then done exactly the opposite?
3. You are not to be trusted: Every time you tell your child you will get him something and you do not, you tell her that you cannot be trusted. Do not most children insist that the grown-ups say ‘promise’ in answer to their requests?
4. Allah’s name is to be taken lightly: We use the term ‘Insha’Allah’ to buy time. A familiar scene: at the supermarket, a child is screaming for a toy, and the harassed parent promises to buy it later, Insha’Allah. No longer is such a promise acceptable – the child will yell: “Don’t say Insha’Allah, say yes!”
Breaking promises and teaching our children to do so is not taken lightly by Allah:
“…And fulfil (every) covenant. Verily! the covenant, will be questioned about.” (Al-Isra 17:34)
Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “The signs of a hypocrite are three: whenever he speaks, he lies; whenever he is entrusted, he proves to be dishonest; whenever he promises, he breaks his promise.” (Bukhari)
Just as dishonesty and lying are major sins, breaking promises falls into the category of a sin, which will be forgiven only on the following conditions:
- Ask forgiveness from the person to whom you made the promise,
- Ask Allah to forgive you (make Taubah).
This seems easy enough, but before you go and ask your 4-year-old to forgive you, keep in mind that his statement will not be considered valid, till he reaches the age of puberty.
The Prophet (sa) said: “There are three (persons) whose actions are not recorded: a sleeper till he awakes, a boy till he reaches puberty, and a lunatic till he comes to reason.” (Abu Dawood)
A child below puberty is innocent, which is why he may forget the promises you made (though Allah still remembers them). Because of this, we have to wait till his puberty age, before making our apologies.
This puts most of us in a dilemma – if our children are very young, we may have to wait a while before we can speak to them about our broken promises. A brother suggested writing our apologies in our wills, since we cannot predict, if we will still be around, when our children are old enough for forgiving us. Another brother, understanding the gravity of this sin, went to his parents and forgave them for the promises they had broken to him, Subhan’Allah.
Now, that I understand the weight my words hold, I no longer use such phrases as “in a minute” or “give me a second.” I take myself more seriously and make Dua that my children will too. May Allah (swt) help us make realistic promises, keep our word, and teach our children to keep their promises as well. Ameen.
Remember – Promises are meant to be kept.