Alternative Stories / Interview

Ozlem Parlak, Muslim parent

This interview is among those I’ve recorded that are categorized as “alternative stories,” meaning stories of families who have found ways to side-step popular culture, at least in their homes.  We need these stories to offset the narrative of the “media-saturated world” and remind us that we do have some leverage.

Ozlem Parlak, who is originally from Turkey, lives in a Boston suburb with her husband and 10 year old twin sons.

What tradition or traditions influence your life and your parenting?

I was brought up in a Muslim community but my parents didn’t practice Islam though

I decided to practice Islam when I went to a boarding high school at the age 14 when I met some senior students who were very much into reading about Islam and practicing it.  They and the books that they gave me influenced me a lot.  I have been along the same path since then.  My husband has the same religious background, almost, so we decided to be modern, open minded ,yet conservative parents and have been raising our kids as we’ve learned Islamic life style through books and the young Muslim Turkish community around us.

Do your children attend a public school or one within the Muslim community?

They are currently attending a public school.

Young people often also influence each other in positive ways, as in your case.

Sure.  I wouldn’t have known the value of my religion if it were not for those senior girls in my high school.

What would you say are the challenges and helps in bringing up your children the way you wish? I was so lucky in that my kids are so mature for their age, and i didn’t have to do anything special except for reasoning with them. I think one thing that differs most of parents in my community (Muslim-Turkish) from other parents here is that we become parents at a very young age compared to most Americans. This is very useful because I get to enjoy most things that they enjoy and I think we are energetic enough to keep up with them. There are some programs that are offered in my community but my kids do not enjoy them a lot and I don’t force them to go.   I believe home is the most important place to learn your values.  There are several published books that are about raising a Muslim child. We read them and listened  to conferences and recorded sermons before we got married and as we were raising our kids. I think our parents’ parenting has taught us a lot, too.

Other Muslims I’ve spoken with have said that they feel the intergenerational aspects of some of your customs are very helpful in fostering familial ties and respect that is helpful in developing children spiritually. Do you find that?

What I find most useful in our tradition is the importance of respect that you have for your parents and just believing them when they say that something is harmful.  But, of course, that was not enough.  We had to tell them all the harm that video games and things that are advertised on TV.  We had to be scientific and convince them that the things that are being bombarded on them through TV and other media is to make money off kids and will eventually be harmful.  In Islam, any form of wasting is condemned and we used that as well.

Yes, that is an important point about waste.  Not just waste of personal resources and time, attention, energy but that of the society and planet as well.

Some people do experience a kind of split that happens, where children engage in activities at others’ homes that they are not allowed themselves.  Has that appeared for you? if so, how have you handled it? How do you speak with other parents, especially those who do not share your faith about these things when your children visit their homes?

I make sure that the kids that they play with have also good home lives. Now that they are not teenagers yet I kind of think I have control over who they can see in after school hours. They usually play computer games (which I allow them to play on the weekends) or Playstation (which we don’t have at our house). I can’t say that I know what they do every minute. but I try to talk with them about their choices when we are not around. For example Muslims can’t eat so many things that are child snacks everywhere because they are not Halal. But we try to tell them that they have to be responsible for their eating choices both religions-wise and health-wise. They have been to so many birthday parties where they refused to eat anything because they didn’t know if they were Halal.  I always ask what they did, what games they played without giving away that I’m checking.  I think how dearly you hold your values yourself tells  alot to kids. They believe that you are not just trying to make them suffer.  Spending as much time as possible with your kids is crucial. For example I learned to roller skate after the age of 30 so that I could skate with them.  Those kinds of things that are permitted and not harmful will prevent them from trying the impermissible things.

Thanks…a great point to end on: kids need to risk and overcome things. If we don’t allow that, they’ll find a way to take those risks.


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