Being a parent is perhaps the most complex job in the world. It can be a challenging yet joyful experience. Nowadays, parents are surrounded by multiple questions regarding their children’s everyday life, health, education, and future. Should parents control their children’s use of technology? How can parents give due time and attention to their children while life pressures increase each day? How can parents set clear limits for their children with empathy and respect?

On many occasions, Mawlana Hazar Imam has suggested that the best way for the Jamat to prepare for unpredictability and change is to prioritise education. During a speech in Kenya in 2007 he said, “We sometimes give too little attention to the schools which prepare young children for life itself - in all of its holistic dimensions. And yet the evidence accumulates steadily showing that an investment made in the earliest, pre-school years can bring enormous dividends as a child proceeds from one level of education to another.” 

Scientific research has demonstrated the highly positive long-term impact of a quality early childhood experience in ensuring better opportunities throughout children's lives. This has an effect on future employment opportunities, the relationships they form with others, their personalities, and values.

Worldwide, parents are expected to support their children to surf on the highest waves of societal change; to help them be autonomous; happy; responsible; confident, and altruistic. Many parents feel that they have to be perfect at all times. And yet the only training parents receive is to either replicate what they have learned from their own parents — even though they had often made the promise to do the opposite — or to respond intuitively to the unpredictable challenges of everyday life, challenges that did not exist when they were children themselves.  

On the Parenting Journey (OPJ) is a programme developed by parents for parents, covering all stages of a child’s development, from early childhood through to the teenage years. It is tailored to meet the needs of today’s parents and offers a safe and confidential environment where parents can share, explore and discover new ways to respond to the challenges encountered along the parental journey. The programme was developed in the UK more than 30 years ago, and has since positively impacted thousands of families around the world. It has been offered in the UK, France, Cotê d’Ivoire, Tajikistan, and more recently, in Portugal.

The goals of the programme are manifold, and include an aim to educate and support parents and grandparents to raise children in emotionally healthy ways, enabling them to thrive in all aspects of their lives. This includes sharing the information and skills to help build healthy relationships, managing conflicts peacefully, and discovering children’s unique competencies, values, and aspirations.

The programme’s trainer, Rahman Michel Rener, an educational-psychologist, father, grandfather, teacher and mediator trainer, has been developing leadership and personal development programmes for teenagers and adults for the last 30 years in Europe, Africa, and Central Asia. He is passionate about OPJ, saying, “It’s not just a programme where we learn skills about how to deal with difficult behaviours, or manage challenging situations at home, but parents also become much more aware of their own feelings, and they can start responding to that in a very conscious way, rather than reacting to what happened in an action/reaction way, which is not useful. Then parents can help the children become more responsible and aware of the consequences of their actions, and therefore integrate the values that our faith promotes.“

In Portugal, the programme was spread across three episodes, and feedback from participants was heart-warming. Mother of two Soraia Jamal, who helped to organise the project  said, “It was a  tool that helped me acknowledge both mine and my children’s needs, emotions and behaviours. OPJ is not about learning a set of tools, changing children or developing my skills as a mother. It goes deeper than that. It has to do with a vision about children, parents and their relationship. It unfolds parenting as a magic, authentic journey in life.”

Over the course of three weekends in Lisbon, parents had the chance to explore 12 different topics covering themes such as expectations and anxieties, the role of communication, reflecting listening and feelings, appreciating ourselves and our feelings, being firm, gentle and congruent, amongst others.

Parent of two young boys, Farzana Carmali described the programme as “more than a parenting course. It is related to a bigger vision of the human being, which is deeply connected to the values of respect, love, honesty, and pluralism, which are fundamental in our faith. Participating in this programme gave me an opportunity to develop myself as a human being and to look at my children and the challenges of motherhood with a different lens. This is not a set of instructions to solve different situations, it’s a process - it unfolds and evolves everyday with every situation we encounter.”

Zaitun Hussaine, mother of four, thanked the organisers, the group, and her family that joined her on the journey, since it was one of greatest experiences she had recently, and a journey that resulted in happiness and growth. “It has created awareness about many issues surrounding me that I would not be aware of because we simply just don’t stop and take time to reflect.”