The Middle Ground

It’s hard being a parent. I think it always has been hard being a parent. Even with the village. Sometimes because of the village.

These days it’s hard because mostly, parents have to wade that ocean of raising their children alone. Inevitably, we look to the “golden olden” days where babies were passed from mother, to father, to grandmother/father, to aunt/uncle, to a friend to be raised. Where the burden of responsibility for caring for, raising, nourishing, loving this child did not fall solely on two people, or mainly, one person. Throw on top of this the expectation that mother/father must have a successful career, a perfect home that is always perfectly clean and feed their children perfectly healthy food and dress them perfectly.

All. The. Time.

Or we look to tribal communities in the Amazon forest where children are passed from one member of the tribe to another, raised by a whole community, breastfed by any obliging mother with milk, and we think, oh gosh, how nice would it be to have such an insular, secure village to raise our children in? What is wrong with us today that we are so alone in raising our children and fiercely adamant to do it this way?

I’m somewhat cynical? realistic? about the whole village ideal. I’m pretty sure judgement, wrong decisions, parenting/village fails, destructive slander and so on did occur in such societies with some messed up adults coming out of them too. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is important for a village system to exist, as children need extended family. No one person can offer a child everything in terms of their growth. Mum can’t and shouldn’t be everything for their children. Children will learn unique lessons from every individual who plays a part in their upbringing.

The point is, there is no perfect system, and there is no perfect way to raise our children. We simply have to do our best.

But do we actually take a step back, as parents, and ask ourselves if we ARE doing our best?

I feel like we’ve reached this point of “political correctness”, or more correctly a lack of courage in actually making judgements for the sake of “safety and improvement” (as a friend of mine recently pointed out) that parents are given this free pass when it comes to the decisions that they make for their children. Or in the way they raise their children.

Parents these days seem to be constantly on the defensive. Absolutely no one can look at someone’s parenting and say, “hey, maybe you could be doing *so and so better” because they will essentially be faced with the equivalent of a lioness protecting her kill. She will tear you up man.

“I am doing my absolute best!” 

“I am the parent here, and you don’t even have kids, so you have NO RIGHT to give me ANY ADVICE!”

“I work full time and I am SO TIRED, don’t judge me for giving them McDonalds for dinner!!”

“I am JUST TRYING TO SURVIVE and that’s why I just give them the iPad.”

“I need some PEACE.”

“I need me-time.” 

“I need…”

“I…” 

Look, I am a parent. I have used more than one of the above lines numerous times. But what I am realising four and a half years into this gig is that usually, I use those excuses when I feel that my ego has been bruised, or to excuse my laziness, or simply as an instinctive defence mechanism without giving myself a second to think about what the person is suggesting, a person like my mum.

And the parent/grandparent battle is unlike any other that exists. Especially with ethnic parents/grandparents. Oh. My. God. SO MUCH SENSITIVITY. From both parties.

The parents just want to do everything differently to the way they were raised, and grandparents, well, grandparents will shoot back with, “well I raised you and you turned out fine so…” Coupled with the ethnic mentality that parents OWN their children and therefore their children literally never grow up in their eyes and they don’t see them as separate, thinking adults who can make their own decisions, and raise their own children. Oh and throw in the fierce and entirely crazy love that they have for the long-awaited GRAND CHILD and you get some messed up issues between parents and grandparents.

Issues like grandparents not respecting the rules that parents put down for their children, not being able to handle the way that the grandchildren are disciplined, going so far as to undercut a parent IN FRONT of the child when discipline is being meted out… Spoiling the children with things they know have been banned or not allowed by the parents…

It is damn difficult for parents to deal with these things, especially since they actually shouldn’t have to deal with behaviour like this. From the grandparents…

At the same time, what we as parents absolutely must uphold and model for our own children is how to respect our elders, especially our own parents and in-laws.

When I gave birth to my first child, it was such a tentative time in my consolidation of what it even meant to be a parent. For me to figure out what it meant for me to be a mother, and in trying to figure out what type of mother I was. For me to form a bond and relationship with my daughter. I was also fiercely protective over my daughter and our budding relationship. And whilst I was trying to figure this all out I had to face the questions, the “suggestions”, the advice from everyone around me. It’s like I was under a magnifying glass for everyone to look through and make an observation.

And I struggled. I’d burst into tears for seemingly no reason. I was VERY defensive and sensitive. I couldn’t handle the slightest observation that my daughter was VERY skinny and didn’t seem to be thriving, so maybe you should just give her some formula as well? Or give her JUST formula, it won’t hurt. You don’t REALLY NEED to breastfeed.

Now that I am two children down with another one on the way (due December. I know right? CRAZY!) I know I can handle the “suggestions” during the newborn phase better. But I still struggle with taking on board advice as my daughters grow. I’m still defensive.

That newborn phase is a good time to reflect on and to inform the nature of the parent/grandparent relationship. Parents need support, no doubt. They need to be surrounded by a community of loving, caring and helpful people. Because no, we can’t do it alone. At the same time, it needs to be a community that is respectful and prudent in knowing when to say what and how to deliver it, when to give parents space and when to be all in.

At the same time, we parents need to, simply put, get over ourselves. Guess what? Just because we became parents, it does not mean that we suddenly know everything. We need to toughen up and take on some advice, take on board some (constructive) criticism. And even if/when some advice/suggestions are plain stupid or delivered in a judgemental and negative manner, we need to develop the skills to respond appropriately and respectfully.

Because hey, isn’t this how we’d want our own children to be? Is it not our duty to positively and constructively advise, reprimand and teach our own children as they navigate their way through this world? Will we not offer them our own experience of parenting when they become parents? Do we want them to tell us to just “butt out”, that it’s “none of our business” that they are just “DOING THEIR BEST” (when it comes to anything they attempt to do in life, not just parenting), when maybe, just maybe, they actually aren’t?

What I am essentially saying is that parents and grandparents (along with other family/community members and friends) must work together to meet somewhere in the middle of this whole raising children thing. Essentially, all parties have the same intentions, to contribute to the raising of good, beautiful, strong charactered children who will be positive and constructive members of society, and ultimately, devout servants of Allah.

No one person can claim to have ALL THE KNOWLEDGE considering that there are unique challenges in our modern day that, say, the grandparents did not have to face. But parents must also recognise, accept and embrace the fact that wisdom, true wisdom is not subject to the times. They endure. And hey, the grandparents do have wisdom.

Mostly 😀

What experiences have you had with all the “parenting advice”? How do you navigate the relationship with grandparents?

Featured image via Modern Hepburn.

Great kid’s book

There are a plethora of kid’s books out there, though not all are equal. Here on The Modest Life we’ll be sharing our favourites for children (and adults as well), in terms of educational value, pure enjoyment, endearing qualities and beautiful illustrations.

Our first book in the series fulfils all of the above criteria and more. Written by T. J Winter (otherwise known as Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad) and illustrated beautifully in a style that is rare these days by Anne Yvonne Gilbert, this ‘Book of Rhymes’ is an incredible collection of seemingly nonsensical, humorous, moral and didactic rhymes and stories. IMG_2665IMG_2650 copy

There are rhymes that instruct children on vices that they should watch out for, such as greed and disobedience while simultaneously providing inspiration, relief and guidance. As it is in a nursery rhyme form, the lyrical quality of each rhyme is guaranteed to be met with enjoyment by younger children, and be memorised by older children.

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Reading it with my eldest has been very effective, as we discuss the meaning and lesson of each didactic rhyme, with their exaggerated, fantastical quality combined with beautiful illustrations. She has internalised these lessons and frequently refers back to them when the occasion arises, such as when she feels the need to down one sweet after another.

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I would say that this book is an absolute must for every children’s growing library. It is available here.

Reflections

I have always been insecure about my appearance.

Being of Uyghur/Uzbek descent, culturally Turkic groups located in Central Asia wedged between China and Russia, my features are decidedly ‘Asian’. I carry my ethnicity on my face, for all the world to see, to puzzle over, or to label prematurely, ignorantly.

I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s.

The stock standard ideal of beauty was colored, wide eyes framed with long lashes, luscious hair and perfect skin. We idolized Britney Spears in her early, innocent, breakthrough years, the Spice Girls, Disney Princesses and Barbie was the doll of choice. Diversity was not really there.

Growing up in an Anglo society I was surrounded by people who mirrored the idols we looked up to.

All green and blue shades of wide eyes, set in white skin.

I have small brown eyes, with even smaller eye-lids, two front teeth that jut out slightly, beauty spots dust my face.

My excruciatingly shy self coupled with crushing insecurities and a need for approval by friends was a formula bent for a disastrous teenager who was riddled with self-hate based purely on what I looked like, or what I didn’t look like. These issues were to plague me well into adulthood.

I don’t think I need to talk about the culture entirely based on worship of the body and appearance that I was surrounded by as a teenager. It still is a culture based on worship of the body. Even despite all the attempts to appreciate diversity lately, the fact remains that the ideal of beauty held by most of society is very much stock standard.

It wasn’t until I had my daughter, my beautiful daughter, a creation that I could not have even dreamt up, a combination of my husband and I, a reflection of both of us, somehow perfectly crafted in one little being, that I came to a realisation.

One day in the not so distant future when she was a teen, or even younger, would she come to me dissatisfied with her appearance? With her dark eyes that hinted at her Asian ancestry, and even darker silky straight hair that only reinforced her heritage? Would she not see the beauty in the way her Creator had crafted her? How utterly heartbreaking would it be for me to hear the words,  “I think I am ugly” coming from her mouth, when I can only see the wit, the sheer intelligence and vibrant personality that abounds from her very being? Would she be able to recognise her incredible ability to understand good manners, to distinguish right and wrong, her patience, her strength, to listen with comprehension to our attempts to explain this world to a barely 5 year old?

Her essence is pure light, and as she navigates her way through this world, she is much, much more than her appearance. Would she fall into the trap that the world tells her that her appearance is her foremost quality?

As I thought about this, I realised that I myself had been, and was, guilty of falling into this trap. I had once been a teenager, sitting at the kitchen bench, crying to my  mum, hands pulling at my face, crying that I hated myself, I hated my face, that I was ugly. High school had not been particularly kind to me, and my weak character could not cope.  My mother who had carried me in her tummy, who had birthed me and loved me and thought I  was beautiful from the day I was born and every day thereafter, listened with utter heartbreak at the words coming out of her first born’s mouth. That the child crafted as a reflection of herself, hated her own image.

Indeed, how could I hate my own appearance when my daughter’s face, created as a reflection of my own, was beautiful? More importantly, how could I hate myself so when my daughter was created as a reflection and combination of my personality imbued with her own unique self?

More important than any of this however, was my horror in realising (along my path of seeking knowledge) that I had essentially been unhappy with the decree of Allah, with His creation. That my emphatic hatred of my appearance was in fact a reflection of my unhappiness with Allah’s decree. I thought that I knew better.

My dissatisfaction with my appearance reflected my selfish state, concerned only with myself, seeing the world through the paradigm of what others thought of me, of how others saw me, when the reality is that people do not spend their time thinking about me, they are caught up in their own insecurities, their own lives, their own problems. My selfish thought process prevented me from connecting genuinely with others, from seeing their own pain and their own struggles, and thus possibly trying to help them, to lend an ear to listen to them. 

Would my daughter also have the same thought  processes? Would she see the world through the paradigm of the self, dissatisfied with what Allah had decreed for her, influenced by the corrupted ideals of the world around her?

They say that when you have children, they teach you about the realities and truths of life.

In so many instances has this been proven true. When it came to my preoccupation and dissatisfaction with my appearance, having my daughter ultimately made me face the utter ridiculousness and destructiveness of my thoughts.

The beauty of this world is in its very diversity, but more important than beauty, is knowing Allah, and learning to be content with His Decree.

In a world that worships physical beauty and pushes this onto our children (both boys and girls) from a very young age, teaching our children the opposite is a monumental task. Teaching our children that the most important value of this life does not lie in physical appearance, but in our striving to be true servants of our Creator, and that this entails living not from the paradigm of the self, but the selfless. That yes we recognize and love the beauty (even of the human body) created in this world as an affirmation of the existence and qualities of our Creator, but this value of beauty is not the guiding compass, the ultimate end of this life.

To be able to teach my daughter that her looks should not be her ultimate concern, I know that I need to think, act and live this way. Because the best method for teaching is modeling values for our children. Our children can pick up hypocrisy from a mile away, and if I myself don’t espouse certain principles starting from my very thoughts, I know that she will pick up on it.

I’m being honest. I STILL have these struggles regarding my appearance. Old habits and old ways of thinking can be hard to destroy. But, along the path of seeking knowledge, along the path of being a parent to two little girls, I am trying to change. To learn to accept, contentedly, wholly and with certitude, the Decree of Allah, starting from my own face.

The problem with ‘Frozen’

Yes, I went there.

I know that this Disney film has taken on a status as a movie phenomenon mainly due to its song “Let it go” and Queen Elsa’s characterisation as endowed with magical powers that allow her to create sparkly ice/snow. And yes, given the hype of it all, when it came out on DVD I sat and watched it with my (at the time) 3.5 year old daughter, J. After watching it, I admit, I sat in wonderment, enthralled by this simple tale that placed the love between two sisters at its centre (rather than a princess in love with a prince as is so often the case). And of course, the song! I was singing it for days.

And then J requested we watch it every time we went to her grandmother’s house. I left the DVD there, not wanting to bring it home.

After about the second time my English teacher skills of analysis started kicking in, and by the seventh time that we’d been forced to watch it, I was convinced that I needed to ban  it.

For those who have been living under a rock, or don’t have children, ‘Frozen’ is a film that follows two sisters who are princesses. The eldest has magical powers where she can shoot snow and ice from her fingertips, and the second daughter Ana is, well, normal. One day when they are smaller, they spend the night rebelliously playing rather than sleeping, with Elsa creating a magical snow playground for her sister. Things get out of hand and she injures her sister. The parents rush to some magical trolls for advice, who tell them that Elsa’s powers must be controlled, as they will only get stronger as she gets older, and also advise to wipe Ana’s memory of her sisters powers.

The parents taking the troll’s advice literally, by isolating Elsa from her sister Ana, and basically the rest of society, to cover up her secret powers. Elsa, inevitably, grows up feeling very alone, and unable to “be her true self”. The parents die in a shipwreck and the daughters, rather than grow close as a result, are even further isolated.

Elsa is eventually crowned queen, and on her coronation day Ana meets a charming prince from another country and of course, falls in love with him. She rushes to her sister (that evening mind you) to tell her that she is engaged to this prince, upon which Elsa replies, “you cannot fall in love with someone you just met”, essentially turning Disney on itself for the first time. Arguing ensues between the sisters, Elsa loses her temper and shoots icy shards from her fingertips creating a physical barrier between herself and everyone else. Her secret revealed, Elsa flees and Ana is left in shock.

From here, Elsa flees up a snowy mountain and sings her iconic “Let it Go” song. It’s the scene that convinces me more than any other element of the film that this is a problematic movie. She goes from being a prim, proper, closed off Queen, dressed literally up to her neck and to her fingertips (she wears gloves), to an “empowered” woman who casts off her cape, her crown, and re-dresses herself in an undeniably sexy, glittering gown complete with off the shoulder sheer neckline, a thigh-high split, high heels and makeup that would rival a beauty Instagrammer’s before and after shots.

Before… demure, hair up, covered up Queen.

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After… Sexy, makeup, hair loose, wearing sheer clothing with THAT split= EMPOWERED WOMAN

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Oh and here are some of the lyrics to that song that all our children are repeatedly singing:

“don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know
Well now they know

“It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free!

“Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway”

“Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone”

Basically she’s telling children to disregard rules and limits, to “break free” from them and be who they really want to be. That there is “no right and no wrong”.

Is that really what we want our children to be repeating in their minds? To be singing over and over, day in day out?

I’m pretty sure that as parents, our responsibility is to teach our children that there is a right and there is a wrong. Such as in the way that we treat our elders, our siblings, our parents and our friends. In how we choose to clothe ourselves, the type of food we should be eating, how to treat the environment, in not choosing to become murderers, FOR EXAMPLE.

‘Let it go’ literally sounds like something a teenager would scream to her parents in the height of her angsty phase when they just want to do what they want to do, to “be” who they want to be, and damn, these parents just keep enforcing rules and limits.

Look, forget the weird plot line, and the strange snowman who comes to life, the strange relationship with the parents and the bad parenting tactics, the crux of the problem with ‘Frozen’ is that it is teaching our children that they can “be anything they want to be”, and that they should “disregard rules and established norms” just to get there. It creates a character who was essentially sheltered from society because her parents were “ashamed” of her powers, they were afraid that she could hurt people. And Elsa, frustrated by this, when given the chance, feels the need to break free of everything.

I do not subscribe to this notion that we can “be anything we want to be.” It sets up our children for disappointment that hey, no, you can’t be a fairy or a princess when you grow up. IT’S JUST NOT POSSIBLE. Well, a princess maybe. A fairy? No.

Our children these days suffer from a sense of entitlement, as we parents and teachers have constantly told them that they can be whoever they want to be, and do whatever they want to do, without actually giving them a dose of reality and grounding them to seek careers that reflect their skills, their characters, that will make them useful people. To actually prioritise the development of their characters.

Our children are suffering from the freedom of choice. They have so much to choose from that they ultimately don’t know what to do with themselves. They haven’t experienced hardship or discipline to be real with themselves, to appreciate what they do have to funnel that into a useful role in society for themselves.

I have banned my kids from watching ‘Frozen’, and I’m not apologising for it. I do not want my daughters to be subliminally told that they need to ‘break free of rules’, that they can be who they want to be, and yet what this ultimately looks like is a skinny, blond-haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned girl with tons of makeup in a sheer, sexy gown.

Thanks, but no thanks Disney.

Another issue I have with ‘Frozen’? The scary way that children, boys and girls, become addicted to this film, the way in which they idolise the characters, particularly Elsa, and the ensuing madness of purchasing merchandise with anything ‘Frozen’ slapped onto it. Go to the playground and you will see both boys and girls wearing t-shirts, shoes, dresses, hats, bags with Elsa’s face across it. I think it conditions children to idolise ‘celebrity’ figures. Today it’s Elsa, tomorrow its Miley Cyrus.

I do not want my daughter to idolise a Disney character. I do not want her self to be shaped by this character. I want her mind to be stimulated by intelligent and strong women of all backgrounds,  women who contribute to society, who dedicate themselves to serving the less fortunate, women who prioritise their intellect, their firmness, their character above their appearance. Women who strive to nurture their relationship with their Creator.

Not Elsa.

No thanks.

 

My co-sleeping experience

Parenting is one of those things that can spectacularly divide people, like Pokemon Go, or the colour of some dress.

Ok, maybe the parenting divides can be a bit weightier than those.

The nature of parenting is so personal that the moment you begin to discuss some aspect of it, such as food, or television, or discipline, or breastfeeding, people become immediately emotional, even if they themselves are not parents.

Co-sleeping is one of those things. In a country like Australia, it is not accepted practice, what with all those warnings by doctors, midwives, nurses, hospitals, government sponsored ads and so on about SIDs.

So when people start to ask me about my own children, and how they sleep, and where they sleep, I take a minute to decide whether I should bother being truthful, or if I should just answer with a simple, “they sleep well”, or “they don’t sleep very well”, depending on how the month of sleeping has gone with them. (Every month, hell every week, every night, can be different before kids finally settle into a set sleeping pattern. Don’t ask me at what age this happens. It’s different with every kid.)

With my eldest, of course I tried resolutely, at first, then desperately as the weeks of disrupted sleep become months, to force her into her bassinet next to my bed. I didn’t even consider putting her in a separate room. That seemed totally unnatural to me.

The first night we brought her home from the hospital was sheer hell, where she slept for ten minute intervals, then would wake up screaming for what I assumed was a feed (I was breastfeeding her) then she’d promptly fall asleep within a minute and I’d painstakingly put her back in the bassinet.

Fifteen minutes later, as my husband and I began to drift off to sleep, she’d wake up screaming again.

It was torture. We woke up like zombies the next morning. We swore at 3am that we’d never have any more children, and wondered why ANYBODY had more than one child. Surely you had to be insane to put yourself through this all over again right?

RIGHT?

Fast forward 2-3 months and I was still battling to put J back in her bassinet. Often I simply could not stay awake while feeding her, and when I got the whole side-lying and feeding down pat, and Bob’s your uncle, she’d fall asleep next to me, I’d fall asleep next to her, and she STAYED ASLEEP for more than 30 minutes. Then more than an hour, then we had two hour stretches which felt like heaven. And slowly she started to sleep for longer periods at a time.

The reality, although it took me about 6 months to accept it, was that having her lie next to me was the easiest way to keep her sleeping, and therefore I could sleep. My husband could sleep. EVERYONE WAS SLEEPING.

J slept in our bed for almost 3 years. Throughout this time I attempted to move her into the cot by trying the ‘cry it out’ method (when she was around 1 years old), which was, well, not my finest parenting moment. I persevered for FIVE WHOLE DAYS, by which time she’d cry for shorter periods and eventually fall asleep. Then she hit a round of teething and everything went out the window. She was back in my bed.

An important lesson that I learnt in hindsight, which was applicable to weaning and toilet training as well, was that I could not push her to do something if she was not ready. And she showed that she wasn’t ready by resisting. And I’d keep pushing. And we’d all end up in a puddle of tears and guilt.

But when she was ready, it was easy. At 18  months I weaned her. Easy. At 2 years old I stopped giving her a bottle before sleeping so I could toilet train her (so she wouldn’t need a nappy at night). Easy. When she conquered this, I started to toilet train her. Which had its challenges, but again, she proved she was ready for it, and within a week she understood the concept of using the toilet. To be balanced though, this was all done with strategy and firmness on my behalf. And she proved she was ready by responding.

By 3, she literally told me one night that she was going to sleep in her own room, in her own bed, on her own. No need for me to sit by her, or read her a story, or snuggle her. As I was preparing to lie next to her to snuggle her to sleep (which is how we’d been putting her to sleep) she literally asked me, “Mum, what are you doing here? I’m going to go to sleep on my own.”

Of course, I should have been celebrating the fact that my daughter had just chosen to put herself to sleep, instead I was crying because she no longer needed me to put her to sleep, which meant she was growing up.

With my second daughter, I didn’t even bother trying to put her in a cot. She slept in my bed from day one. In fact she forced the nurses at the hospital (who insisted that she not co-sleep) to let her sleep with me because every time they tried to put her down into the bassinet, she’d wake up screaming. For reals.

The thing about co-sleeping is that it is so innately natural that it is just weird that it has been so stigmatised to be seen as something unnatural. When I tell people that both my children slept in my bed they respond with shock. With fear. They ask me all the questions about where my husband sleeps, or doesn’t the baby get squashed, or suffocate, or they tell me that I’m raising children who will become overly attached, and that they’ll never leave my bed etc. etc.

The fact of the matter is, this is what works for our family. Baby is happy because her natural instinct is to stay close to mum. Maybe its because she spent the first ten months of her life baking away INSIDE her mother’s body, and the only thing she knew was the sound of her heart beat, the smell of her skin, the sound of her blood rushing around her.

When a baby comes screaming into the world, crying, the moment they are placed in their mother’s arms, they stop. They stop crying. They stop screaming. They rest their fragile selves against their equally fragile vessels and they settle.

They settle because they are home. They are back with the only thing that they have ever known. They are safe.

And instead of rushing to cut this bond as early as possible because “we need to have our own space”, I see co-sleeping as allowing a child to cement their bond with their mother. To instil in them a sense of safety, of trust. A way of saying, “I will hold your hand until you are ready to let go.” 

And they will let go. And it will be all too soon, relative to the span of an entire lifetime. And when they do, you will feel grief, and sadness over the separation, but also pride and  confidence that your child is taking steps on their own. Steps that are taken gently, steps that borne out of love, not forced detachment.

To read a more scholarly article by actual professionals on co-sleeping, take read of this.

Featured image source.

How much TV do you let your kids watch?

Before I became a mother, I was one of those people who emphatically claimed that my children would NEVER watch TV.

Well, two babies later the reality of how ridiculous that claim was made itself painfully apparent.

When it was just one child, sure, it was easier to avoid the TV. But even then, as my eldest grew older she wanted me to play with her, just around the time that dinner needed to be started, or that mountain of laundry that had been building for days needed to be tackled. Although she was a good independent player, these moments were rarer than when she wanted me to do an activity with her.

Then I became pregnant with Z (baby no. 2), and as the weeks progressed and I became heavier, then eventually gave birth, the struggle to watch minimal tv gave way to all out TV marathons ALL DAY because my newborn insisted on feeding constantly, and refused to sleep anywhere other than on top of me.

Which of course meant that I couldn’t do anything with my eldest, let alone prepare a meal, clean the house, take a shower, go to the toilet… you get the drift.

Did I feel guilty? Yes of course I did.

Did I try to set up ‘activity zones’ for my eldest to keep her occupied while I breastfed my newborn for the Nth time that day? Yes. Guess what? She INSISTED that I do the activity with her. So thanks, but no thanks for the advice Baby Centre.

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Now, my daughters are 4 and 1.5 years old and yes, I am ashamed to admit it, but TV is a normal part of our daily routine.

It usually starts with Play School at 9:30am, then rounds off with Bananas in Pyjamas at around 10:15am.

This is the time I try to get some blogging done, because trying to get things done when the kids have gone to sleep has proven to be a sheer impossibility. I’m either dead tired from my day, or up until very recently, Z would actually constantly wake up until I gave in and fell asleep next to her.

Then the next TV session is somewhere around 3:30 pm (for the next Play School session. Yay!) till 4:30pm while I try to cook dinner. So that’s around 1.5 hours a day.

Yes. BAD PARENTING on full show here.

And no. I’m not going to deny that it is bad/lazy/do whatever works style of parenting. Because that is essentially why it happens. After a full day of activities, playing outside, pulling out toys and disseminating them around the house, ‘helping’ mummy clean, reading books, negotiating fights over toys, eating, snacking, etc etc, by the time 4pm comes around, I’ve run out of mummy steam. Poof. Energy, patience, it’s all gone.

I made the choice to be a stay-at-home mum, and also, to not send my kids to daycare, and in the future, to possibly homeschool them. It is damn hard to do this 24/7. Those times that they watch TV are short windows (can I emphasise ‘short’) of time for me to get sh*! done. Not sit and have a cup of tea. God forbid I take a break or a moment out to just calm my mind lol.

Do I feel guilty about it? Do I question my ability to parent these kids? Do I wonder if I’m just lazy and wish I could be more ‘active’ and ‘organised’?

ALL. THE. TIME.

I do however have strict parameters around what they are/aren’t allowed to watch. ‘Frozen’ is completely banned. More on that another day. Disney movies in general are banned, although the eldest has watched a few of them at least once. ‘The Gruffalo’ is a big favourite in our house. And I also allow them to watch a Turkish kid’s cartoon just to expose them to the language (their father is Turkish) to alleviate the guilt I feel in not speaking enough of their mother tongue with them (MORE guilt).

What do you think about kids and TV? Do you allow your kids to watch TV? How much do they watch? Do you feel guilty about it? And if you are a stay-at-home mother who doesn’t allow their kids to watch TV and has successfully maintained this rule, PLEASE reach out to me and tell me HOW DO YOU DO IT?

Source of Pictures.

A momentary connection

When I woke up I knew it was going to be one of those days. I felt unsettled. On edge. In fact I’d been struggling with these feelings for a few days. I was feeling that constant niggling frustration that comes from being a stay-at-home mum, by dealing with two highly illogical mini-humans with strong opinions about everything, and a house that was ALWAYS ALWAYS messy and the cycle of cleaning, cooking, and trying to do things separate from the children to supposedly be a constructive member of society, but at the end of it all, feeling like everything was half-done. Half-baked. Nothing really achieved.

It was a Wednesday, and my eldest has swimming at 9:45 am, at a swim-school around 20 minutes away from home. Trying to get two kids under 4 out of the house by at least 9:15am is no easy task.

On top of that, there were still the remnants of the destruction wreaked on the house by the kids from the day before. Plus dinner dishes not done because well, life.

So I dragged myself out of bed, the kids in tow and proceeded to get them dressed, fight about whether it was “dress day” or “pants day” ( a rule I instituted with my eldest- let’s call her J- because, left to her, she’d wear dresses every. Single. Day), wrestle my 18month old- let’s call her Z- out of her nappy into a new one, and out of her pyjamas into clothes and so on and so forth.

I quickly settled the kids onto the table with some breakfast of Weetbix with blueberries, honey water and nuts, while I frantically tried to restore some semblance of cleanliness to my house. Of course what ended up happening was that breakfast was abandoned by the kids for a staring/giggling competition.

This happens A LOT. And most days, I can cope. I can come up with some creative way to get the breakfast into them. Such as read a book, or sing a song, or do handstands or whatever. You know, anything that works.

Today, I was at the end of my rope. I started stern, threatening them with the ‘thinking chair’ (more on this another day) and I ended with yelling and table banging, which just left my palms stinging in pain.

By 8:30 I was sitting on the couch crying into the phone to my husband about how “I JUST CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!” with my kids hanging uncertainly around me, wondering why mum was acting so strange.

Somehow we made it to swimming on time. And Z sat in the pram for the whole lesson (she never sits in the pram. In fact she hates sitting in general. She’s more of a walker/adventurer/curiouser and curiouser) eating breadstick after breadstick.

After the lesson I just couldn’t bear to go home, so we went to a park down the road.

When we got to the playground the girls went straight for the swings. As I pushed them, an older man strolled over with his granddaughter and sat her in the remaining swing. After a minute or so he looked up at me and said,

“Assalamu Alaikum! How are you?”

I was surprised of course, because I didn’t know that he was Muslim. I wear a hijab so, yeh, it’s obvious that I’m one.

“I’m good. How are you?” I responded. I wasn’t really in the mood for talking.

“Alhamdulillah!” was his cheery response.

Out of politeness and respect  for his seniority, I asked about how many grandchildren he had.

Not only did he answer my simple question, but with sincere concern in his voice, he went onto share with me his worries about raising children in this day and age, the prevalence of mothers who went back to work so soon after having children, the lack of connection to a community or to each other, the isolated state that everyone was living in, and also lamenting the state of our hearts in relation to its connectedness (or lack thereof) to Allah (swt) and Islam.

I simply listened.

I observed his remarkably white hair and neatly trimmed beard.

I watched his gestures, and looked at his beautiful granddaughter observing me with shy curiosity.

When talking about his grandchildren, he said, “mothers should look after and care for their children. Their husbands should provide everything for them.”

Indeed. I myself struggle with being a stay-at-home mother or the need to go out and “contribute to society”, which is, you know, more of an achievement than raising children.

At one point, he put his hand over his heart and he said emphatically,

“I love Allah swt. I love learning about Islam and spirituality. We must all try our best to do good to others.”

He then made a series of duas (prayers) for me and my children, and left.

I turned to my children, overwhelmed. When I turned back to see where he’d gone, they’d disappeared.

I literally sank to the ground and cried.

In the middle of a playground that was suddenly empty.

It was so simple. Things that we had been taught over and over again.

But on that day, in that moment, it was exactly what I needed to hear. And I was crying because I knew that Allah swt had just given me what I needed most.

A reminder. A reminder that:

  1. Your role as a mother is the most important role that you can fulfil. You shouldn’t feel guilty about not doing more, or contributing more, or running a business on the side (which are all great things to do IF you can manage it with two young kids). That your responsibility to your children trumps EVERYTHING else. That through your struggle to raise righteous children, your reward lies with Allah swt.
  2. STOP overthinking! Keep it simple! And all it really takes, is to learn. To gain knowledge.
  3. Love with your heart. To start with the heart. The heart of all things, all actions, all endeavours, all successes and all paths.

I walked away from that park less burdened by the anxieties that plagued me just a few short hours ago.

I acknowledged that yes, it was damn difficult to be on the merry-go-round that is being a stay-at-home mum, but also to be thankful for being entrusted with two beings of sheer purity and light. For being entrusted with the responsibility to aid in moulding them, in nurturing them and in teaching them to know and love their Creator.

 

 

The ‘P’ in ‘Parenting’ is for Perseverance

My daughter is not what you’d call a “good eater”. In fact, the year she turned two, I don’t think she ate much at all. The. Whole. Year. My parents would berate me about it every time we went over for dinner. And over the phone in between visits. Although my daughter was a chubby little infant with splendidly round cheeks, chunky thighs and pot belly due to the copious amounts of broccoli, brown rice, corn, pasta, soups, etc etc she was happy for me to shovel down her throat, by the time she was 2.5, she had become all bones, and rib cages, with long gangly legs. Splendidly round cheeks (to our delight), remained.

So what happened? I got this question a lot. By said grandparents. And friends. And strangers.

My answer often sounded like this:

“Ummm, she turned TWO.”

And to the question, “how long has this been going on?”

“Uh, about a year.”

The fact is, her less than impressive eating habits were causing me much anxiety about her health (although she rarely fell sick now that I think about it), my perceived view that she had sallow face and sunken eyes as a result of a lack of nutrition, and of course, my parenting, or lack thereof.

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When she hit 3, her ‘attitude’ was steeled by her innate stubbornness of character combined with the courage to lash out with epic meltdowns every meal time. Meltdowns that consisted of kicking, screaming, and ultimately writhing on the floor like an eel topped off by a puddly mess of tears and wild hair.

Not pretty.

And not exactly what a mother could deal with. Especially one who recently had another baby (why oh why!!!) who refused to accept that she had exited the womb and now had to exist separately from the being who owned the womb and therefore stubbornly insisted on being held by said being. All. The. Time.

Now, my eldest is bordering on age 4 and things have started to change. She eats her food. She eats EVERYTHING on the plate. Not without consternation of course. But at least she doesn’t merely LOOK at it and turn away. She eats the green lentil soup loaded with veggies. She eats the pizza. With the topping. She has become more courageous in trying what’s on her plate as opposed to down right rejecting it.

And it has given me an opportunity to reflect on why. On what we (my husband and I) actually did right for this transformation to occur. Because I have come to accept that maybe, just maybe, we did SOMETHING right.

So here goes:

We continued to offer her the vegetables. We didn’t stop giving her veggies just because we “knew” that she didn’t like it. I once read about how the French teach their children table manners, and one of the ideals that struck me was that they kept offering a child the same food over and over, because apparently, a child has to try something at least SEVEN times before they can decide whether they like it or not.

Giving your child the ‘easier’ but deep-fried, processed food because “at least they are eating something” might work for you in the short term, but it will set them up for bad eating habits, weight gain and behavioural issues.

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I know the desperation a mother feels when their stubborn child refuses to eat the organic, steamed vegetables arranged as a spaceship on the child’s plate. Especially a mother who has not slept properly because of a little baby who is teething, with stacks of laundry, stumbling on food particles and toys that send shockwaves up the body, who has to make it to work and drop a child off at childcare.

I know. I have been there. I have felt the acute tiredness and restlessness and utter helplessness that a mother feels in those moments. To then have your child not eat the nutritious food that you spent hours preparing is basically the last straw. And you want to throw your hands up and say, “that’s it. I’m over it. HAVE THE DAMN CHIPS.”

But a lesson that I have faced over and over again in the past four years of my parenting career is perseverance. If there were ever a test of your character, of your selflessness, it is trying to raise a child. Because over and over again you have to make the choice between what is best for them, or what is easier for you now.

In those moments of sheer exhaustion and that sense that you are overcome by the mountain of your responsibilities, such that you actually lose part of your sanity, know that if you make the conscious decision to persevere and make the right choice, your child will be a better person, and so will you.

We have to fully understand that we have a responsibility over our children to protect them, nurture them, and raise them in the best possible manner. And what this means is that sometimes, we have to be the ‘bogeyman’. We have to be that figure of authority in our children’s lives that delivers truth to them. The truth of the cost of making bad food decisions. Because when they are teenagers, or adults, after a lifetime of making bad food choices, they will wonder why their parents did not teach them that this was wrong.

Of course we must discipline and raise our children with kindness, gentleness and love. But at the same time, we must be stern when we have to be.

We must be authoritative.

Not authoritarian.

So many times over a battle at meal time did I hear relatives say to me, “just let her have the cake!”, “just let her eat what she wants!”, or “She’s just a child!”

And in those moments I felt the guilt, I felt that questioning voice of whether I was being too stern on my daughter. Questioning whether it would be easier to just let her do as she pleased, to eat what she wanted.

But you know what? I didn’t give in. Because as a parent, my ultimate concern is not what is easier for us now, but what will make a better person in the future.

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The other day my husband took the girls grocery shopping.

When he got back my husband related this incident to me…

We were at the grocery store. The new one that I haven’t been to yet. I happened to wander into the confectionary aisle lined with chocolate and lollies. J (my eldest daughter) didn’t say a word until we had made it towards the middle of the aisle. She turned to me and said, “Baba, why are you in this aisle? Don’t you know that lollies and chocolate are bad for you?”

When he told me, I cried. Literally.

Perseverance paid off.

And believe me when I tell you dear fellow parent, that you are capable of persevering through those excruciatingly difficult moments when you are faced with a choice. A choice between allowing your child who has not even been in the world for five years and therefore knows nothing about it, to do as they please, or making the right choice for them because you are the adult, you know better, you want what is best for them, because YOU are the Parent.

What are some ways that you have navigated the dietary demands of your children?

It’s not going to get any easier

I’ve been a mother of two little girls under the age of 4 for around nine months now. I always knew I wanted children close in age so, hopefully, they would be good friends as they grew older. I myself have a sister two years younger than me and she is basically my best friend. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Of course, the reality of having two children under the age of 4 was not something that I could have ever truly understood. No amount of reading books, blog posts, forums or even asking other mothers with multiple children close in age could have prepared me.

If I thought I was exhausted raising one child, I was dead wrong.

If I thought disciplining her was tough, I had no idea of the struggles that were coming.

Every single struggle I had with one child is only amplified ten times over when I have a screaming baby in one arm and a bored toddler in another.

When my little one was born, and we brought her home, I felt confident having done the whole newborn thing before. We settled into sleep easier, not because she was a better sleeper, but because I knew that having a 45 minute, one hour or two hour stretch of sleep before she woke for a feed was normal. So basically my expectations were significantly less than with my first.

I revelled in beautiful baby toes, and wrinkly skin, and rolls of chub, delicious naps in the sunlit afternoon while my husband and mum, who had both taken the week off work, took care of the house, the cooking, and my 2. 5 year old.

Well, that ‘baby moon’ was blissful while it lasted. By the end of the first week, mum and the hubby both had to go back to work and I faced the daunting task of being at home by myself with these two babies.

A distinct memory I have of that first day is when, for God knows what reason, my eldest threw a tantrum and she was hanging off my legs, while my one week old who desperately needed to sleep was screaming in my arms. I was in a narrow corridor of my house with two screaming children hanging off me. Did I laugh out of sheer disbelief or did I cry along with them, accepting this as my fate henceforth?

I don’t actually remember. Or I subconsciously wiped my memory of how I dealt with it.

Or maybe the nine months since have been a brutal “one step forward, TEN steps back” dance that has permanently addled my memory. I like to call it “momnesia”. It’s my excuse for having slips in memory lately.

The struggle these past few months has actually been unlike anything I have experienced as a mother thus far. My little one, although starting off as a ‘model’ newborn (i.e. eating, sleeping well), a few weeks in we hit some serious struggles with feeding and sleeping. She became incredibly difficult to settle, and would, days in a row, scream for two hours or so, for reasons I still can’t fathom.

By the end of her screaming fits I would sit with her lying on the bed next to me because my arms could no longer carry her, numb to her crying. Numb to the world around me. Numb to the three year old girl who was becoming so intelligent, beautiful, inquisitive, patient…and bored because her mother wasn’t there to play with her. I kept telling myself that ‘this too shall pass’. I sought medical advice. I sought grandmother advice. My husband was supportive. Nothing helped.

What I remember holding onto though was this idea that ‘things HAVE to get better.’ That there will be an easier phase. That time will magically solve all problems.

I think I understand now though that this just isn’t going to happen. I speak to older mothers with older children who tell me to “just appreciate babies because it gets so tough later”. I really want to tell them that at least they get to sleep, or have time to themselves, but what I realise is that it is just NEVER going to get easier.

That might sound pessimistic. But actually it’s not. This epiphany helped me to simply accept my reality for what it was, and to not keep desperately hoping for some distant time in the future that just HAD to be better, but I had no guarantee of.

It made me simply appreciate and to be content with my present, with all of its flaws, and struggles, and challenges, and highs, and lows, and tears, and laughter, and hours of bubbles, of colouring, of reading books, of changing nappy after nappy, of the miracle of nursing a baby and sustaining her life just with my body, of having two pairs of eyes following everything I do and taking it in, and learning from it but most of all, of the incredible love that emanates and fills every single day that I spend with these two little humans.

So no, this mothering job might not necessarily get any easier, but I know without a doubt that it will get better as we grow together, and learn together, and face every phase that life brings and that this wonderful, crazy, achingly difficult role I have as a mother will be the most fulfilling I’ll ever have.

What I’ve learnt (so far) about Motherhood

  1. Giving birth is utterly heart breaking… Yes birth is all kinds of crazy/incredible yet simultaneously it can be totally heart breaking. When I came home from the hospital, I’d sometimes find myself in tears for (seemingly) no reason. I simply couldn’t cope with the enormity of what my body had just been through and the fact that she was now out in the world, and therefore vulnerable and exposed to it was pretty damn heartbreaking.
  2. You need your space… Having a good support system is crucial to recovery. But what is also crucial is having some time away from everyone who just wants to ‘help’. While their intentions are sincere, as a first time mother what you need is some space to nurture your connection with your baby. It doesn’t help to have people hovering around constantly and (more than likely), judging. First time mothers need an atmosphere that is reassuring and supportive, with the right balance of advice/care but also knowing when to step back and letting the new mother do her thing.
  3. Trust your instincts...In a world of Dr. Google and online forums, it’s really hard not to jump on the net for everything and diagnose your child with a life-threatening disease. Raising a baby has a lot to do with trusting your instincts. You need to understand that EVERY baby is different and what may work for one mother and baby, may not work for you.
  4. Life goes on… It’s very easy to get caught up in baby and soon everything you do is overtaken by this tiny being. All your energy, time and brain power suddenly get directed into keeping this baby alive… All the things that you wanted to do before baby somehow take a back seat. To ensure baby is healthy and happy, you need to be healthy and happy. And for that to happen, you need time out to focus on your physical and spiritual health. Rely on the people around you. You need to find time to focus on yourself, to engage in activities outside of caring for the baby. You, and your children, will thank you for it later.
  5. Knowing Allah… From pregnancy, to the birth, and witnessing my daughter grow, I felt like I was privy to Allah’s sheer mercy, compassion and beauty. I caught a glimpse of what patience means. At the same time, I understood that there was an ocean of things about this life, and therefore about Allah (swt) that I didn’t know. My daughter never ceases to surprise me, and stir emotions I didn’t know existed, and to show me how to appreciate the beauty and simple things in this world that she is captivated by. In a time of such disturbance to the human soul and spirit, being given the opportunity to bring life into this world gave me the chance to reconnect, reflect and ultimately, to be in awe of the Creator of all things.