Author: Umm Salihah
This year marked ten years of me being a working mother, not necessarily something I am proud or ashamed of – it’s just the way the decade has panned out for me. This state of acceptance is a fairly recent occurrence though. The past ten years have been marked with anxiety about my children, fear that they will miss out or be emotionally or developmentally stunted in some way, embarrassment at being told I should not be working and must be a selfish person. I have felt pride in upholding all of my responsibilities and never allowing my children to be an excuse to achieve less at work as well as never allowing my work to be an excuse to do as much as I could for my children.
Now that I have four children and my oldest is coming to the milestone of the end of her primary education, I feel I am at a good place to look back and review my experience. After all the years of worry, I found that the children are growing up to be healthy, happy and confident. We have good relationships with them and we have made Islam central to our family life. The fact that I work has made them quite independent as I expect them to do more themselves. They also trust me deeply because every day I have left them and come back to them at the same time allaying any fears that they may have had at the beginning about their mum being away. At the same time I have my regrets as I see bad habits and character flaws creep in. But I recognise that every parent experiences this and wonders what more they could have done and that these flaws are part of what makes them human and unique individuals.
So after ten years of being a mother, working and now accepting my situation for what it is, I have learned a lot about what makes my life easier and helps me to do more. I hope sharing some of these things will help other mothers, whether they formally work or not.
1. Taking care of yourself – This usually comes last for most parents, but I am putting this first. This is because if you don’t take good care of yourself, eventually you won’t be left in a fit state to care for anyone else. This is regardless of whether you work formally or stay at home with the children. Self-care means physical, but also emotional and spiritual care. The better shape you are in with all of these, the better place you are in to be a caring parent with the energy to do the demanding job of looking after children. This could mean taking care of your diet and getting enough sleep. It could mean taking time to reflect on or journal your day and mentally process what has happened to you. It could mean making space in your day for play and pleasure – no matter how small. It could mean making time to pray and engage in dhikr (remembrance). As hard as it is to do these things when you are a busy mother, these kinds of things mean you are balanced and happy as a parent and that you can parent without resenting your children because you feel as if you are turning into a drudge.
2. Reflection – Funnily enough, the second one starts with ourselves too. Your children are a reflection of you. The quickest way to instil good habits and avoid bad ones in your children is to review your behaviour and be mindful of what you are modelling for your children. I learnt this the hard way when my children caught me swearing and made it their favourite word of the day. It’s also good to reflect on your emotional state and how you express this. This is because the way you deal with your feelings teaches your children the same – particularly the way you manage or express your anger and frustration. This is one of the big reasons I learnt to be okay about working, because I realised the most damage people did to their children wasn’t by working, but by being miserable and angry and passing this negativity to their children. I’ve witnessed mothers who are with their children all day do this and pass their toxic way of dealing with the world on to them. You often find these children very child anxious or desperate to placate. Sometimes I think these kinds of parents are probably better off spending less time with their kids.
3. Co-ordinate family life around salah – As a Muslim mother, my home has always been organised around salah – meal times, the time we wake, leave for work, sleep and go out, are all regulated by our prayer times. As the hours of daylight change around the year here, this means that our prayer times change and our routine is impacted. But what it does mean is that the home and children have an easy-going routine which co-ordinates with the seasons and changes naturally as the year moves along.
4. Preparation – One of the big reasons I manage to get through each day without too much stress and panic is preparation. This means planning ahead for meals (we do this in a two week cycle) and shopping accordingly, laying out bags, coats, uniforms, work-wear and lunchboxes the night before (I lay the lunch boxes out and only add any perishables from the fridge in the morning). This can sound tedious and the temptation is there to leave things till the next day, but doing these things means that it is a bit easier to get up in the morning without the thought of having to face sorting everyone’s things out. Preparation also means that we are less likely to miss school trips, children’s assemblies, things they need for school clubs or activities and various letters that emerge from their school bags at the last minute requiring action (or does this just happen in my house?)
5. Make the most of dawn – Not everyone is a morning person, so this is harder for some than others, but for those that are; the time after Fajr is so very blessed. In the past where I have used this for catching up on house work, for writing or for planning the day ahead, I have found myself far more productive. The beloved Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) prayed, “Oh Allah, give barakah (blessing) to my Ummah in their early-morning work.” (Ibn Majah)
6. Get some perspective – It can all feel like exhausting drudgery sometimes with you left feeling that despite all of your hard work you are not doing well enough or that there is no end in sight to nappies and night feeds. When I look at my children now I marvel at how quickly those baby years disappeared and ho independent they have become. Babies are small for such a short time, kids are sweet and silly for a few years that are quickly over and soon they are less demanding. Then you look back with wistfulness at the tiny perfect weight in your arms. When I was blessed with the chance to hold a tiny one again after so many years, I made sure I really treasured every moment.
7. Parenting as ibadah – It helped me immensely to change my mindset from child care as a task or hard work to parenting as ibadah, especially through the exhaustion, the broken nights, the whinging and the squabbling. Thinking this way made me more patient and even approach the hard work with enthusiasm knowing that there is a reward at the end of it.
8. The Power of dua – If there is one thing that helps when everything else fails, it is dua (supplication). There are times when it all gets too much and I have found that crying before Allah and asking for his help instead of moaning to other people, is the best and quickest fix for any problem.
What have you learnt from your experience as apparent and what advice would you pass on?
….Where Practice Makes Perfect
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