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.

My accidental no make-up day

The morning of the fateful day was a hectic one for me. In fact, any day that I need to leave the house by a set time in the morning is busy. Trying to feed two girls under 5 and myself, dressing us all to look presentable to the world, packing bags with nappies and spare clothes, locating shoes, debating whether it’s “dress day” or “pants day” with my eldest, deciding which toy to take with us and so on and so forth.

That morning though I needed to be out of the house by latest 10:30am and somehow do all of the above whilst cooking a meal for a friend who had recently had an operation.

I managed to get it all done on the condition that my personal grooming time was as minimal as possible.

BUT, the only clean and comfortable shirt I had needed to be ironed. An extra 5 minutes went to that.

Then I couldn’t find Z’s (my younger daughter) shoes.

5 more minutes was wasted.

Basically it was 10:35am and I needed to be on the road but instead I was frantically throwing on clothes and packaging food with double plastic bags to avoid spillage in the car and carrying everything plus children into the car.

So I threw on my clothes and ran out.

Once in the car and finally on the road, I realised that I hadn’t put on any makeup.

Look, I am not a big make-up girl. I buy make-up once something runs out. I don’t feel the need for eyeshadow in fifty different shades (ha ha), or three different types of mascara, or even the need for primer, bronzer and blush.

My daily makeup routine consists of:

  1. Wash my face.
  2. Moisturise face.
  3. Some light brown eye shadow and eye liner.
  4. Mascara.
  5. Fill in eyebrows because I was genetically blessed with eyebrows that thin out in the middle.
  6. Face on. Ready to present myself to the world.

And this very small routine is not something I miss. I do it EVERY DAY. If I need to sit the kids in front of the television for 5 minutes, I’ll do it.

Yes. I am ashamed that I just admitted that.

On that particular day though, in the rush to just get out of the door and all the extra things I was trying to squeeze into my morning, it actually didn’t happen.

Later in the day when in the bathroom I caught a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes looked bare. My skin was dry and peeling. I looked tired.

But guess what? NO ONE CARED. And surprisingly, I didn’t even care. 

Instead I was more focussed on the things I needed to get through during the day, the struggles of the people around me, and getting home to squeeze in some rest before it started all over again.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this one accidental make-up free day is going to spark some revolution within myself (like Alicia Keys) to consciously protest make-up from now on. But I think what today did show me was that yes, me without make-up, bare face, IS presentable to the world.

It can cope with my make-up less face. No mass hysteria of people fleeing in horror at the sight of my face.

My realisation that I had no make-up on was only a slight bump in my day, a sort of after thought. Then I simply got on with it.

I think if this had happened a few years ago, I would have struggled more. I would have felt more paranoid and insecure.

But lately, call it growing up, call it growing wiser, call it seeing more of the world and the true struggle that it can mete upon people (much much more serious than make-up dramas), I have only just begun to realise truly, fully, that my self is not, and should not be the centre of my world. That sounds simple and straightforward enough, the old adage to “life selflessly” but I really don’t think it’s something that we fully internalise and comprehend what it means for how we should live.

And so, one day, or a few days, without “my face on” does not spell the end of the world.

Do you wear make-up daily? Only for occasions? How easy/difficult is it for you to leave the house without it?

Featured image is Alicia Keys, sans make-up.

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.

Best on the Net

Hi all! Here is today’s Best On The Net. From beautiful things coming out of very difficult situations to a book that teaches your little one (or you) ‘how to code,’ and something musical too. Enjoy <3

1. Strangers at Home: Uyghurs in the land of the Hui

“However, Fatima and Mohammad reflected a new kind of story, one that I hadn’t been familiar with before my journey to China. They showed me a life of a middle class, Chinese family whose home was not free and whose freedom of worship was restricted. And while they found home in their faith, because of their (Uyghur) ethnicity their faith didn’t find home where they live.”

 

2. The Secret Food of Afghanistan 

“She hopes that this book will help change perceptions of the villages, towns and cities of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, focussing instead on the many cultural riches – and delicious dishes – to be found.”

 

3. Rio 2016: First ever refugee team ‘have already won’

“I’m very proud to be here,” Rami said.   “But I feel a bit of sadness that I’m not participating as a Syrian. We are representing people who have lost their human rights and are facing injustices.”

 

4. Hello Ruby

“Hello Ruby is the world’s most whimsical way to learn about computers, technology and programming. The story started with a book, and now Ruby continues her adventures in exercises, games and apps. It’s suited for kids age 5 years and older (but even adults might learn something new).”

 

5. 5 Uplifting Songs by Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam

“The messages of belief, love, and peace in his songs are timeless. It was hard to choose just 5 songs, but here they are! These, and many other songs of his, speak straight to the soul—regardless of the time you may be born in.”

 

Header Image: Steve McCurry

 

Practical ways to make the most out of your travels

 

I am travelling overseas later in the week with my family, minus Z (yes, I KNOW! How am I going to do it?! But I also can’t do it WITH her, so…). I haven’t actually been overseas since my honeymoon, which was SEVEN years ago, and am feeling slightly anxious about it. We’ll be gone for just over a month so I knew I needed to seek advice from a more experienced traveller. Who better to ask than writer/creator of Wayfarer’s Compass, dear friend and all-round knowledgable and lovely person, Sana Gillani. I wanted some tips on how to best to plan and navigate one’s travels to get the most of it, spiritually and practically. 

If you are travelling any time soon, and even if you are not but interested in travelling at some point, this is a must read. Thank you Sana for your wise advice!

Written by Sana Gillani.

Sometimes amidst the stress and multiple commitments of our daily routines, our planned travel tends to creep up on us and we aren’t as well prepared for the trip as we’d like to be. We find ourselves making rushed bookings, paying extra where we could have saved and trying to jumble a myriad of tasks on the way to the airport. Somehow suitcase locks and dry socks are always a part of that last minute to-do list. Although no trip will be completely free from trials, there are ways for you to eliminate unnecessary risks and make the most out of your travels. As a seasoned traveller, I have picked up a few useful practices from my own experience and research.

Set your Intentions

It’s often the case that our decision to travel is made with a considerable amount of thought and deliberation. We are influenced by conflicting schedules, monetary concerns, doubt over the benefits of the trip and managing competing priorities at home. Use your faith in God to divert any anxiety in such affairs and utilise prayer as a compass towards seeking conviction. It is recommended to perform the Istikharah prayer before travelling, and also to consult those known for their piety and religious wisdom. This is where the setting of intentions come into play. Know the purpose behind your travels and what benefit will arise. Will you be strengthening family ties? Will you be fulfilling your fard, such as Hajj? Will you be seeking knowledge, retreating or engaging in wholesome rejuvenation through leisure? Will you incorporate ethics, sustainability and social consciousness in your plans? Decide this and self-affirm and evaluate accordingly throughout your journey.
Other Sunnan associated with setting out on a journey include reciting two rakat of prayers, particular invocations and informing loved ones of intended travel. Such acts invite khayr (goodness) and protection in your journey. A useful guide to the etiquettes of travel is detailed in Shaykh Umar Husayn al-Khatib’s book, “Prophetic Guidance”.

Planning is half the enjoyment

I don’t see trip planning as a chore. There’s something so psychologically satisfying about allowing your mind to wander with the possibilities when constructing your travel itinerary. The truth is that there are so many variables involved in your travel, many you have little control over, that will shape the nature of it. A million and one different experiences can be had in one trip, and the decisions you make while planning form a kind of “choose your own adventure” scenario.

Especially for more complex itineraries, I would start by creating a timeline of milestones that need to be achieved within months in advance for the trip. I did this recently when having to balance more than one complicated visa application for a trip and arranging an itinerary for visiting five different countries over 6 weeks, and it really helped. Keep a sleeved-folder for all your travel bookings, itineraries, maps, directions, contact numbers and copies of ID docs etc., filed in chronological order. An electronic copy of such documents is also a must.

Apart from the usual research you undertake, find out useful details like opening and closing times for places of interest as well as any costs associated. Download travel guides onto your e-reader or tablet. Travel guides such as Lonely Planet and Bradt travel guides are all-inclusive resources you can carry around to find restaurants, transport and detailed historical/cultural information, all without needing wifi to look things up. Read up on your traveller’s fiqh (you can see here and here). Be sure to keep a record of prayer times of the places you are flying to/from and over, as this assists in determining when you may need to pray in the aircraft.

Some other important advice I have gathered on planning your trip is that its ok to plan a meticulous schedule, as long as you remain flexible to changes and unexpected opportunities. You don’t want to miss out on the festival you’ve just come to learn of, or reject a kind invitation by newly-made local friends. Weigh things up. Another great tactic is to devise, as a good friend of mine calls it, “planned spontaneity”. Oxymoronic? Maybe. But it’s a great concept! Plan for periods of time in your itinerary to be spontaneous and free yourself of the rigid schedule. You can visit a favourite place for a second time, meet with locals (I like to do this via the couchsurfing website), or simply allow yourself to get lost in a city’s streets. Try to make it a rule to wake up early, as you don’t want to have any regrets about how you used your precious time in all these special locations.

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Downloading particular travel-related apps can be a very effective use of technology. HalalTrip and Have Halal Will Travel have launched excellent apps directed at the Muslim travel market which include location guides, halal food information and prayer times.

 The essential rules of travel packing

  • Roll rather than fold your clothes. This helps with creating more space and also minimises creasing.
  • On that note, invest in a mini travel-iron. Ironing in hotels can be a very inconvenient and costly exercise.
  • There are innumerable, wondrous uses for wet wipes. Always pack them.
  • Zip lock bags will always come in handy.
  • Invest in a good quality portable phone charger and don’t forget to charge it overnight. These have saved us a lot in a world where we rely so heavily on phone battery.
  • Pack multi-purpose shoes. Footwear that can be durable, comfy walking shoes but also act as wudu sandals while you’re on the go.
  • Empty plastic bottles with “wudu only” labelled on them, you don’t want to confuse them with drinking bottles!
  • Keep emergency money in a secret hiding place. This will help you in any unfortunate circumstance where you lose your wallet or handbag.
  • This is common advice, but easy to forget: Pack a change of clothing for your carry-on luggage. Also take on board moisturiser (I like Argan oil for long flights) as flying will make your skin incredibly dry. Teeth cleaning products are always essential too.
  • I always make sure I pack presents for people I will be meeting overseas or staying with. I usually pack gifts such as Tim Tams (as long as they don’t melt!) or Australiana themed candles, lotions and teas. I also keep a few spare on hand if I can, for unexpected friendships made.

Safety first

It’s almost a given that I experience travel-sickness in many countries I travel to. I’ve become an expert in sensing which street food I can take a risk with and when not to. Most important things to note are to stay away from ice in areas where drinking water is not safe, and eat cooked food or sealed fruits. I also carry Travelan medication with me, as it is a preventative tablet you can take before a meal where there is a higher risk of the food making you ill. You can also include in your travel First Aid kit a water sterilising pen, a nifty device available at camping stores or online.

Traveller’s intuition is real. Remain conscious of your surroundings, read up on the culture you are entering and respect it. Choose your companions wisely. Due too particular fiqh rulings, we often hear about the need for women not to travel solo. What we don’t hear as much about, is how the Prophet (s.a.w) recommended travelling with company for males as well. The prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) said, “If people knew what I know about travelling alone, no rider would travel alone by night” (Al Bukhari). Of course, the hadith needs to be contextualised, but it highlights that one is generally at an advantage when they are travelling with others. We are recommended to choose companions who are students of knowledge so that they be sources of guidance on our journey. We are also urged to be considerate and of service to our companions during travel. The fruits of this is that the one you travel with, is the one you will come to know very well, trust and secure a strong friendship with.

My final morsels of advice for the traveller is to learn from mistakes made in previous journeys, and to document your travels in all kinds of interesting ways, so that you can savour the memories and build your knowledge. Try new types of travel over time and continue to challenge yourself. Don’t just opt for an easy vacation in a serene location, but dare yourself to go off the beaten track and also test your strength, physically. Try travelling whilst maintaining an internet detox as well. The more detached you are from home, the more immersed you will be in your new surroundings.

All Images via 8 Rue Caffarelli.

How to respond in these difficult times

2016 has been a particularly testing year. There has been tragic event after tragic event of mass killings, police brutality, domestic violence, civil war and the ever increasing growth of displaced peoples receiving very little compassion. How does one cope with such harrowing trauma? How do we not descend into a depressive spiral, where we lose hope in humanity and the world?

This is exactly the question a Facebook friend asked on her page yesterday, presumably in response to Sonia Kruger’s controversial remarks, to the Nice attack etc, specifically whether people were feeling increasingly depressed as a result of the state the world was in. Usually I don’t engage in online dialogue, of any kind. There’s too much that can be mistaken, misunderstood, plus the wealth of keyboard warriors, and even my hesitance at expressing my “opinions” because somehow I feel like I have something to say that is worth listening to.

But when I saw this last night (at around 2am after my little one woke up and I put her back to sleep), I was compelled to respond, not out of feeling like I had some unique understanding, but because I owed it to everything that I have been learning lately to respond. To act.

This was my response:

” (I’m) Not feeling increasingly depressed. It’s frustrating, to be sure, but given the reality of our times, not entirely unexpected. Does this mean we should excuse people’s racism? No of course not. But I think it’s important to keep at the forefront of our minds that all, the good and the bad, has been decreed by Allah. As Muslims we should be centred in the circle of life, the circle where we sometimes end up on top, or sometimes on the bottom. As a Muslim, we should be in the centre of that circle. Where the cycle of being at the top or bottom does not shake us too significantly, but we see these times as signs from Allah to reflect, to change our own selves, to draw closer to Allah. So, rather than become depressed, which can make us respond to these difficult times out of emotion, we should reflect that these are but signs of the times, and the best way to respond is through exemplifying Prophetic character. By engaging in positive action. In making sincere effort to do our part right. By being active community members and Australian citizens. To do more as a Muslim community to support one another and rectify the real, damaging issues we currently face. To support our scholars and leaders who do get it right, who work tirelessly for their community. This response is not based on feeling, but what I’ve learnt from my own teacher, Imam Afroz Ali, who constantly reminds me of how to orient ourselves in relation to such trying times. Honestly, I would be depressed too. Especially me! I’m totally prone to dealing with things in such a manner. But now, learning what I’m still trying to learn, anything I see simply cements what I said above. All has been decreed by Allah. We should not live in fear or anxiety. Our response to such vilification has been modelled for us by the best example, our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). We should be doing our utmost best to seek out his (pbuh) example and emulate it.”

Then today I saw Waleed Aly’s #sendforgiveness appeal on The Project in response to Sonia Kruger’s recent comments, and it was literally a real life, in action example of what I was talking about last night. He quite literally emulated Prophetic example by:

  1. Accepting and seeing reality for what it is i.e. that we are ALL scared by the current events of the world.
  2. By calling for forgiveness, by responding to Sonia Kruger’s divisive and heavy comments with compassion and understanding and
  3. By calling for positive action in response by trying to start a #sendforgiveness movement out into the world.

So, yes, the challenges we face are heavy, they hurt our souls, they throw us into internal chaos and confusion, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the most beautiful compass to guide us. And yes, it is hard work to get to the centre of that circle. But let’s try, at the very least to try, to espouse his (peace be upon him) teachings and example. I have absolutely no doubt that if we do, not only will we be able to cope better, not only will we become better Muslims, better people, but that the world will also change for the better. For surely, the world will not change, until we change ourselves.

Featured image entitled ‘Reach’ via Eventide.

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.