The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
Everyone who tries to raise a child faces the same dilemma: should I make life as easy as possible for my kids, or, in the long run, would it be better for them to experience some hardships and difficulties?
As parents we love our children, and we want them to grow up to be strong, selfless, and self-sufficient. Since we adults have all had our share of suffering in this world, we naturally want to do what we can to spare our beloved offspring from the same kinds of tests and difficulties.
Every normal parent wants to protect their children from the pain and the perils of this plane of existence, to shield them from the woes of the world.
But the Baha’i teachings offer parents spiritual guidance for child-rearing that contravenes the conventional wisdom. Instead of protecting children from everything that might be potentially difficult for them, the Baha’i teachings give us this guidance:
While the children are yet in their infancy feed them from the breast of heavenly grace, foster them in the cradle of all excellence, rear them in the embrace of bounty. Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship.
That advice, from the writings of Abdu’l-Baha, can be interpreted many ways – but it certainly doesn’t encourage us to raise our children by coddling them or attempting to prevent them from experiencing anything difficult. Of course, that definition of hardship does not include anything potentially traumatic or terrifying for children – it simply means not shielding them from the hard work life requires.
This spiritual guidance from the Baha’i writings reveals a stark reality: struggles, tests, and difficulties inevitably come to all people. No one has ever existed in this world without experiencing suffering. That’s the basic nature of this physical stage of our existence – we can’t ever escape it. The Baha’i teachings, and the spiritual teachings of every major religion, affirm that inescapable fact.
This means we will all go through tests and trials in this life. But how do we react to those hardships – and how do we, by extension, teach our children to deal with them?
In a speech he gave in Paris, Abdu’l-Baha said:
Tests are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. …
Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit.
So just living in this cruel material world means we will be tested with all kinds of potential pain and suffering. If we accept that fact, and realize that no one escapes it, we can begin to prepare our children. When we accustom them to hardship by giving them difficult tasks, or challenging homework, or big responsibilities, we prepare them for an adult life that will throw many obstacles their way. When we accustom our children to hardship, we show them something extremely important – our belief that they can rise to those challenges and overcome any obstruction that life hands them. We show them that we believe in their resiliency, their creativity, and their ability to constructively make their way past life’s problems. That gives them the self-confidence, the spiritual tools, and the lived experience they’ll need throughout their adult lives. In a letter he wrote to an American Baha’i in 1902, Abdu’l-Baha said:
As to trials (tests in the path of God), verily, they are necessary. Hast thou not heard and read how there appeared trials from God in the day of Jesus, and thereafter, and how the whirlwind of tests became severe? Even the glorious Peter was not rescued from the flame of trials, and wavered. Then he repented and mourned the mourning of a bereaved one and his lamentations raised unto the Supreme Concourse. Is it, then, possible to be saved from the trials of God? No, verily. There is a great wisdom therein of which no one is aware save the wise and knowing. Were it not for tests, genuine gold could not be distinguished from the counterfeit. Were it not for tests, the courageous could not be known from the coward. Were it not for tests, the people of faithfulness could not be known from those of selfishness. Were it not for tests, the intellects and faculties of the scholars in the great colleges would not be developed. Were it not for tests, the sparkling gems could not be known from worthless pebbles. … These are some of the mysteries of tests which we have unfolded unto thee that thou mayest become cognizant of the mysteries of God in every cycle. Verily, I pray God to illumine the faces as pure gold in the fire of tests.
So rather than attempting to buffer and insulate our children’s’ lives from tests and trials, the Baha’i teachings encourage us to accustom them to hardship – to make the difficulties all people eventually experience a source of wisdom, resilience, and accomplishment.