Author: Umm Salihah
A sister kindly took the time to leave a comment on a previous post in which I mentioned I was pregnant with my fifth baby: “Asslalamoalikum. I was just wondering how do you take care of the littlest one while resting and not being very well. My son is 18 months and it’s hard how will I manage the next pregnancy with him in tow. Doesn’t your darling need constant supervision and attention? Who gives it to her all the time? Thank you so much for your reply in advance”.
I just love reading comments and I always have the best intention to respond, but never get round to it, mainly because I read them on my phone and then plan to log on to my laptop to answer them properly and don’t get the chance to until much later. I thought this sister had a valid question and wanted to answer it properly.
There are a lot of elements that come together in how I take care of myself and my family, especially when they are at challenging ages. The first element is experience. I helped my mum a lot as a child with my siblings, being the eldest I was expected to pull my weight and I have clear memories of changing Fashionista Sister’s nappies when I was about eight or so and also of baby sitting numerous babies and toddlers at a time from about ten whilst mum and my aunts were out shopping the sales (no-one thought anything of leaving so many kids unattended twenty five years ago). So there was never the novelty factor for me of having children. I never thought about it too much and I just got on with it when my kids arrived. Certainly the practical elements of nappies and bottles were no big deal as this is just part of being in a big family and something you gets lots of exposure to.
Alongside this the most valuable factor to me has been the help of my husband. This has made all the difference in my life Alhamdulillah. Hubby was the eldest of six brothers and always pulled his weight and helped his mum at home. He is also religious and understands that it is sunnah to help your wife. Finally he is just a decent guy mash’Allah and if he sees that someone needs help, he won’t sit there tapping his foot for his dinner. I would strongly encourage brothers to help their wives wherever they can and not think they are above it, it makes so much difference in their lives and in the lives of your children.
That’s not to say it’s easy. I had three children under five at one point and I remember how miserable I felt after Gorgeous was born. I had a dose of the baby blues (undiagnosed post-natal depression) and could not motivate myself to get up and get on with taking care of my children. So for months it was a case of robotically going through the motions of constant nappies, bottles, breastfeeding, changes, baths and bedtimes. I was lucky that Gorgeous was such an easy-going baby and also that the feeling of depression and not wanting to do anything lifted after a few months. Little Lady started nursery and I went back to work. Those years really were hard work though and once all three were old enough to go to the bathroom themselves and feed themselves, it was as if my life had suddenly gotten easier.
Another factor that helped was that a few years ago, my mum-in-law started spending summers with us. This meant that the kids had supervision from someone that really adored them through the summer holidays whilst I worked. Mum-in-law loves it here: the climate suited her, our home environment is quite easy going and religious and she made lots of friends on the school run and when she took the kids to the park. It means that between us, with mum-in-law here, me doing earlier hours and leaving work around when school finished and my husband becoming self-employed we could all help each other take care of the children and they have never been in day-care. I am also lucky that my neighbours are amazing. They pop round during the day to keep my mum-in-law company and occasionally one of them will take Darling home for an hour or to the corner shop. I have found it very rewarding to make friends with a number of my neighbours, they dote over my little girl and a few have offered to help with taking the kids to school or picking them up if I needed it when I was pregnant or Darling was very small. I have never had to take up the offer, but I know it is there in a tight spot.
Now that they are in school and I have a 22 month old again in Darling, the biggest factor in caring for her has been her laid back nature. Darling sleeps a lot and she sleeps for a good part of the day when she is with her grandmother. She is a quiet introverted child and occupies herself with her toys (or by standing on her potty and getting hold of my make-up). I find myself taking her in my stride – she is a fussy eater and instead of chasing her I try again later, or she refuses to go up the stairs herself for her nappy change so I get one of the older kids to carry her up for me.
The one big thing that has helped me is that I and hubby have mostly been consistent in setting boundaries. The kids know that they will get the same answer from us both and that there is no point in trying with the other parents if one has laid down the law. So we save a lot of time in whinging and pestering. There are certain things that are set in stone – once Darling is in bed she knows no one is going to get her out again, so she lies quietly until she falls asleep. The kids know that they can’t have fizzy drinks, so they don’t ask. All four have tried tantrums and found that we ignored them and given up quite quickly (Gorgeous is the exception and responds to everything loudly, not so much because he is throwing a tantrum, but just because he is very loud and energetic). Once we say no to something, we keep to our word, so when the kids were smaller they didn’t pester us too much or they gave up with – “well I know you are not going to let us have it anyway”. As they get older I tell them that they can disagree or negotiate with us if they are respectful and reasonable, so they will often try to persuade us and we will sometimes change our mind.
Something else that helps me is my faith. I ask Allah (SWT) every morning in my fajr (dawn) prayers to help me get through the day, to fulfil the responsibilities He has tasked me with, to be a good mother and wife. Especially at nine months pregnant I could not do it without the help of Allah (SWT). When I am at my limit, I carry on putting one foot in font of the other knowing that Allah has promised:
“Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship, ease.” ~ Al- Quran 65:7
At the same time you have to be realistic about the standard you hold yourself to. I think mothers in the modern world have unreasonable standards placed on them regardless of whether in the West and Muslim or not. A perfect house, amazing cooking, the figure of an eighteen year old, immaculate children who are ahead at school, know all their prayers, have perfect manners and Arabic and are good at everything. Mothers are expected to organise activities, tuition, enrol their child in every class and sports activity and programme going. All the time with a vague anxiety at the back of their mind that if they let slip anywhere they will be failures and their children will fail miserably in life. I don’t think so! I don’t buy into this and I believe in taking on what you can manage and doing it as well as you can rather than perfectly. Allah (SWT) knows and we know when we are doing our best. I believe in allowing children to enjoy their childhood rather than hot-housing them and placing undue pressure onto them.
As I get older, not only do I reject these standards and create my own definition of what a good mother is, I am more confident in saying that something is too much and I might have to stop doing it or ask for help. I don’t see it as assign of personal failure as a woman or mother if the house is messy or the kids have misbehaved or dropped a grade in a subject, or spent the last twenty minutes fighting, or the baby has a dirty face and bedtime is getting late. They are only children and you are only human and in the bigger scheme of things, maybe these things won’t matter so much.
One other thing that has freed up my time and given me the opportunity to do other things despite having young children, is not having a television. This is such a time-stealer and I find not having it means that when I do have a rare free moment these days, I will use it for something useful, or productive – writing, crafts, even napping. Over time I have also found that it means that the children have found ways to occupy themselves – reading, building dens, having a summer club with the neighbors’ kids during the holidays. Sometimes it means they occupy themselves with wrestling, fighting, mischief and breaking things (so far this summer holidays I have a broken tile on the kitchen floor, a door hinge loose on one of my kitchen cabinets and all of my lovely garden plants and ornaments have been destroyed thanks to football practice). I figure their dad will have to fix what he can and I console myself with the thought that I was much, much naughtier than any of them as a child.
After all these years, I have no idea how I will manage a toddler and a newborn with three older kids at two different schools – except to say that it’s not my job to do so alone. Our family only works and does well if we work as a team. If I am too tired, I don’t try to be a martyr and I am honest and tell them I can’t do any more for anyone until I have rested. I take one day at a time, try to be organized and ask Allah (SWT) for help every step of the way knowing I can do nothing unless I have his help.
….Where Practice Makes Perfect
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