This is an appropriate time to reflect and assess how I got on this past week in my new part-time job. One thing I promised myself was that work was not going to consume my life. So far, so good. Being a part-time role, I know that is a huge factor in allowing me to maintain the social distance between my working life and personal life. Let’s see how long I can sustain it but I am hopeful.
That hope is driven by the fact that I am determined that my paid job is never going to be the sole focus of my life. I continue to strive to make the most of my time and squeeze as much as I can out of every 24 hours. Therefore, my day will never begin and end with the job. I know I am fortunate to have the option not to work in a regular 9-5 job and the deep gratitude I have for that freedom is to fill that time with useful pursuits that will help me become a better human being. Whether that be my charitable causes or seeking beneficial knowledge of some kind, the time to be still and idle will be kept minimal, inshaAllah.
Looking back on the past 6+ years where I have headed a family on my own, I have learned a great deal. The experiences garnered along the way haven’t all been wonderful but they have all been soul-nurturing and for that, I am truly grateful. To have lived a life in ignorant bliss is one which would have been easy but not enriching. I know this duniya was never meant to be a place of constant ease and yet we are all tested within the parameters of our own tolerance levels.
I am grateful to be ‘out there’ again in mainstream society and to be learning along the way. It’s the first proper job I’ve had in the UK since having my children so I have a lot of catching up to do. It feels like I’ve been stirred from a deep slumber after 20+ years. I can’t imagine how the companions of the cave felt as is recorded in the Quran (Surah Kahf). I recall praying to Allah that He would give me a job which would suit my needs etc. and He has done just that. SubhanAllah. To remind ourselves of the prayers that are answered is to be humbled totally in the presence of our Maker.
Today’s submission to my personal blog site is a reflection on my short trip to Iceland with my niece and from which I have returned.
Alhamdulillah, it was the perfect precursor to a new job which I am due to start tomorrow. Admittedly, I was a little anxious before going away given the financial strain I’ve been under like many other countless people across the world. However, for those magical 2-3 days, the usual worries and concerns all melted away whilst I immersed myself in another realm and experience. I was surprised how seamlessly I flitted from anxiety to carefree reverie. And for that in itself, it was worth spending the money. As I mentioned last week, I vowed my life will no longer simply be about paying one bill after another without any respite in between. So this trip was always going to be a litmus test for what’s ahead.
Iceland is the perfect place to reconnect with natural beauty and therefore, of course, with Allah. The two are inextricably linked in my opinion. Both my niece and I were in awe of everything we saw and commented how we couldn’t appreciate the natural world without appreciating its Creator. SubhanAllah. What a feast for the eyes! Volcanic rocks, fissures, mountains, waterfalls, lagoons, lakes, glaciers, geysers and last but definitely not least, the Northern Lights! To try to encapsulate all that wondrous beauty in a few sentences embellished with admiration will never do it any real justice.
Despite the subzero temperatures and piercing winds, where we were sometimes struggling to keep our fingers exposed for just a few seconds to take pics on the camera, we savoured every moment. Two days seemed like a week given the plethora of sights we saw. I had never seriously considered Iceland as a holiday destination before but I was not disappointed. In fact, I would like to return there to see the sights we didn’t have time to explore such as the black sand beaches and ice caves.
Whilst a tourist will always experience a new country through rose-tinted glasses, I can confidently say that I appreciated the slower pace of life out there. Reykjavik is noticeably much smaller than even some satellite cities in the UK but that is where its charm lies. As an older person, I enjoyed the calmness of the place. There were no rat-race commuters or soulless skyscrapers dominating the skyline. Beyond the nucleus of the city, the vast emptiness of this underpopulated and quite barren land was surreal. I often had to remind myself I was not travelling through a desert nor in the American plains both of which this country’s landscape bizarrely shares so much in common with. There was an air of tranquility which permeates the country throughout and all of this the perfect decompression process I needed before returning home.
Yet, my trip to Iceland was more than simply staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the stunning scenery. It was about realising that I now want to see more of the world if I possibly can. I don’t wish to compete with other travelers and boast about how many countries I can claim to have visited. I am still cynical about the disconnected tourist who travels without actually getting to know anything about the people and culture of the host country whilst indulging in the oblivious comfort of their 5-star ivory towers. Alhamdulillah, I have lived amongst the ordinary folk in the countries where I previously settled with family and have been enriched by all those daily encounters. So, I know the stark difference between a tourist’s lens vis-a-vis the perspective of an ordinary citizen. It’s like having a front seat in a lesson in anthropology. The experience is priceless!
However, my days of living abroad are on hold for now, maybe even permanently. But, the desire to dip into an ‘otherness’ will always be with me. So, even standing with my niece in the geyser cloud that absorbed us as it sprang up from the earth’s core, or trying an unusual local dish which is a staple for others in the host country, all these little experiences are like pearls on a string that form a beautiful and complete piece of jewellery. They are the things that adorn my life and restore my humility towards my Creator, Allah.
Travelling through this world in a metaphysical sense can’t happen without travelling through this world and accruing a heightened spiritual awakening. I say this because I don’t just see with my eyes but I see with my soul. Allah’s presence in His world is intrinsic to the natural phenomena that bestows so much intense beauty in our midst. If I need any excuse to travel more, then this one reason alone will suffice.
It might seem like a totally reckless thing to do but I am planning to escape for a short break to Iceland very soon. I am so tired of routine and the relentless pressure of managing money. I am determined to take control of it before it takes control of me. Therefore, although it might seem like I’ve made a frivolous decision to go away, I know it is anything but that.
Going away is a financial cost for sure. However, long after the money has been spent, the memory of that experience is what will linger. Not the memory of the dent in my bank balance. I’m tired of always being cautious and overly cautious. When I know that life can be overturned in the blink of an eye, I’m now going to aim to fit in as much as I can before it’s too late.
My short sojourn in Iceland will be with my niece inshaAllah. Not my own sons. (I am still planning for that trip inshaAllah). But even before I was a mother, I was an aunt and looked forward to spending time with my nieces and nephews whilst they were growing up. My relationship with them was going to be more involved. I vowed I wouldn’t be like the emotionally-distant and uninterested aunts and uncles I had as a child. Those adults had no real connection with us and never shared any crucial milestones of our lives. Perhaps my parents were responsible too for that missed opportunity but I do believe it was a mutually convenient setup. So, just like how I arranged the large group of nieces, nephews and my sons to go on a road trip to the Peak District (twice) in recent years, this time it will be a one-to-one quality trip with my niece. I am honoured she deems me worthy of spending time alone with.
In an ideal world, I’d have my Prince Charming husband to woo me and whisk me off to wonderful places. But the world is not ideal and Prince Charming does not exist. Plus, I don’t want to rely on anyone anyway. I’d much rather call the shots myself. So, inshaAllah, this escape will be the first of more to come. I want to be a person of action and not just empty words which is why when I told myself that I want to do things I had always put on hold, I knew I was fired up to go.
I know a short break will not resolve any of the difficult realities I have to confront when I return home. However, that dull constant has to be punctuated with some sort of relief now and then. So, this isn’t a guilty pleasure. It’s an absolute necessity to rejuvenate my spirits and give me the momentum to carry on. All with Allah’s mercy and help. Nothing I say or do is without that conscious awareness of His ultimate guidance.
What is a life if it’s just about paying bills and worrying about the future and losing the present in the process? My future started a long time ago. Despite the constant internal battle I have between hope and despair, I always strive to let hope win since scoring this victory will determine the rest of my day, my week and beyond. Isn’t it this attitude that has got me through the last few years anyway?
Recently, I was invited by my niece to have lunch together. An offer which I happily accepted not because of the food per se but moreso because of the prospect of having time with her alone – something which I’ve not had the chance to do till now.
She had planned for us to have Vietnamese food together – a first for me. I’ve had Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Japanese dishes before but never Vietnamese. I must confess, it was a very satisfying meal. Just for the record, I had summer rolls – noodles and veggies wrapped in thin rice paper – followed by a generous bowl of tofu pho. To add to the new experience, I also tried Vietnamese coffee – rich and dreamy. The new culinary experience was definitely a hit with me.
But beyond the food alone, the ambience of the place was so calming and quaint that for a moment I forgot I was in London. The restaurant was also located right opposite the driving test centre where, many many years ago, a young teenage girl had emerged triumphant from her test. Little did she realise that she’d be sitting in a quirky eatery a stone’s throw away many moons later with her first-born grown-up niece. To see that place again took me full circle and in a few seconds, my life story flashed in quick successive images in my mind’s eye. I can confidently say it’s been one amazing journey even with all the bumps, scrapes and detours.
Sitting opposite my niece, the first child to be born amongst my own siblings and myself, was also another realisation of the passage of time. This young woman, who has matured into adulthood and independence, was once the baby who I had the pleasure of spending many countless days with watching her grow and develop. Today, the tables have turned. Instead, here I was accepting her invitation to indulge me and take the lead. I admit having fleeting moments where I was sitting there but asking myself how thirty years had passed by so quickly. How had I watched this young woman grow up? To think of all the things I’ve done and places I’ve been to and yet, I’m grateful to have kept my finger on the pulse of others’ lives and to have been a witness to their journeys too, Alhamdulillah.
To have had the rare chance to sit and talk together without any interruptions was just lovely. Almost as if I had been given the opportunity to say ‘hello’ properly and really get to know what has been going on in my niece’s life. Coming together in a world where everyone is so busy is a wonderful thing. We are all too ready to send detached, robotic messages with our fingers on phones but not with any real depth from the heart. It is often too taxing to talk. The irony is we are all connected but detached at the same time. So, to sit across a table and have personalised human interactions, where we can make better inferences from the intonations of the voice and the expressions on the face, is a time to cherish.
Perhaps older age has mellowed me a little but I know for those people in my life still, I value their presence and not just as a deadweight contact on my phone. There has to be real and meaningful interactions whereby we enrich each other’s lives and are a constructive element rather than a wearisome force. I’ve learnt to weed out those whose presence has been nothing but debilitating on my state of mind. No qualms about cutting ties there. They are excess baggage that can be reclaimed by someone else.
The answer to that question lies with her kids. It’s true that a mother is only as happy as her saddest child. I guess that statement will always be a reliable gauge to my own happiness. And so, I have good days and bad days depending on how my own children are feeling.
When they are not emotionally well in themselves, it can be very draining on me. I try to think of the solution/s to their problems and if it’s something I can fix, I will happily try to help resolve it. But the very nature of emotional unhappiness is that it is a state of mind that might take much longer to put right. Moreso, it is something that, as a mother, I might not be able to resolve myself even with the best will in the world. I can guide, advise, listen, care and pray for the problem to dissipate with time and yet it may still never be enough.
In situations like this, I’ve tried to dangle the carrot and then berate with a stick (not literally) and have tried everything in between. There are times I feel I am making progress and others, when I feel I’ve come full circle. Often, I imagine myself on the other side of the conversation listening to myself speak and pre-empting what my sons must be hearing. It almost feels like I have to constantly stay one step ahead of them and be prepared for what they might say in response and in defence of their own argument. It’s exhausting. Those are the oaccsions when I have to take off my Superwoman cape and hang it up in temporary retirement.
Whether I have failed or succeeded in helping my sons through their volatile times, when they are on the cusp of true adulthood and trying to claim their space in this fast-pace world, I hope they will look back in retrospect and appreciate I always had their best interests at heart.
In the same breath, I will also say that I can’t live the rest of my life simply as the go-to offloading site when things don’t go quite the way my sons had planned for themselves. As much as I will always be there for them, I’ve made it clear now that there are times when I am saturated with their woes and my own worries that I can’t absorb any more. Ideally, this scenario should have been shouldered by two parents and I’ve been carrying the load on my own for years now. Not suprising that I might sometimes just capitulate under the load. In any case, I want my sons to accept responsibility for their own actions – or inactions. This is the other reality of claiming to be an adult. After all, isn’t that what they want to be treated like?
I do what some would call ‘tough love’. That’s because I don’t want to raise a group of young men who are totally unprepared for the world outside their door. I do try to soothe their emotional pain or worries but upto a point. Wrapping them in cotton wool will, ironically, make them fall harder when difficulties hit them. And hit them they will.
I also need to keep some of my reserve energy for myself. Just like when parents are instructed to place the oxygen masks on themselves first before attending to their children, so too will I now manage self-care a little more. If I don’t do it now, when will I? I’ve stopped feeling guilty about it a long time ago. If men can walk out without any qualms, which is something many women would find impossible to do, then the time to reward ourselves for our own selflessness has got to happen one day.
In all my years of motherhood, a cup of hot tea and a biscuit have been my best friends, my counsel and my therapy. I have to confess that hardly a day has gone by in the last twenty years or so when I have not had that small indulgence to return to, Alhamdulillah.
A self-confession of my very own personal peccadillo.
But I make no apology for enjoying the time out for this wonderful epitome of satisfaction. It isn’t just about the pleasure of the cup of tea itself and the biscuit. It’s more about how those two things allow me an escape from the monotonous routine of life. They represent a few moments of mindfulness; when everything stands still for a while and I can press ‘pause’ on all around me and forget my reality. Ironically, it’s one of the few occassions when I can empty my mind of clutter and fill it with a zen-like tranquility. It is an excuse to disconnect from the hustle and bustle and go into silent reverie mode.
Maybe I am not ambitious. To get that much enjoyment from the small things in life might seem quite pathetic to some. However, I marvel at how it is sometimes the simplest of things that bring so much pleasure. I have a favourite cup and a favourite tray (for one) with a favourite biscuit. Once equipped, I retreat to a place on my own in the corner of my living room or my bedroom. No company required or desired. It is a ceremony wherein I unplug myself from any conversations, online or otherwise. I do not entertain questions or demands from anyone. Silence becomes sacrosanct. For ten minutes or so, I choose to become numb to everything and everyone else. Even my children and their demands can wait. I need that time to recharge, reboot and reload.
Over the years, the particular tea and biscuit may have changed but essentially, the need for time alone has remained the same. I actually make it known to those around me that on my list of occasions where I need absolute silence and focus, my prayers stand at an unrivalled first place. I cannot have anyone distracting me from the one thing which requires my utmost focus in life. That being said, the afternoon cup of tea is the only thing that comes second. Though the gap between them may be huge in terms of priority, I honestly can’t think of anything else which deserves the right to silence than those two things. Of course, I have had many cups of tea as a stimulus for social interactions but I must say, rarely have those times equalled the sense of delight I get when sitting alone sipping at my tea and feeling unshackled by life.
This candid reflection is not an invitation for others to feel sorry for me. I have always enjoyed this experience whatever my circumstances. Like an artist who retreates into the country to paint a scene of nature, or the mountain climber who ventures on a solo expedition for the best view from above or the small fisherman who patiently waits alone in his boat for the catch of the day, I am simply another human who enjoys that opportune solitary experience to reconnect with myself and my inner thoughts. My vista might not be as exotic as those mentioned above but viewing the world above the rim of my cup, everything seems just right for those few moments.
It might be a very British thing – the penchant for a traditional cup of tea. Although I am not averse to a good cup of coffee, I confess that tea will always score more points. Others in my family know that when I have that cup in my hand, it is tantamount to a “Do Not Disturb” sign inscribed across my forehead. It is time for me and me only. Selfishness completely allowed. It is, after all, the rare occassion when I can – and will – put myself first. No apologies offered.
If I find myself living on my own in future, perhaps my attitude will change and I might find I’d like to share a cup of tea and a biscuit with friends more often than I would alone. Right now though, I always look forward to a few minutes each day when the world can continue spinning frantically but I will slow the pace down for myself to relish that time out. I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of tea. But I do know I am an expert in taking the time to understand its higher purpose.
If asked who we would turn to for wholesome advice and trustworthy opinions, a few examples of people might come to mind: mother, father, grandparents, teachers, counsellors, religious figures and perhaps older people generally. Most of them having lived longer than us, they possess a greater breadth and depth of life experiences. Arguably, for that reason, they command respect.
Age is often synonymous with wisdom.
For the most part, the above statement is true. However, there are usually anomalies to a general rule. It is not unheard of to find examples of older people who are irrational and erratic despite the number of years they have spent on this earth. Turning to such people for advice would be very questionable. At the same time, and at the other end of the scale, young people can sometimes unexpectedly surprise us with their maturity. Some are able to offer advice with a rationale that surpasses expectations for their years. Wise counsel might therefore be found in the places we least expect.
I cite my own experience with my sons. The divorce of their father and I was a harbinger of immense change and catapulted them into adulthood much faster than they would have wanted. Overnight, the stability which they once knew was disrupted. The dynamics of our family were irreversibly changed. Not only did my sons and I have to relocate home but we also had to relocate countries. Our lives had to be rebuilt all over again at a time of great emotional trauma. Alhamdulillah, as young boys, they pulled through it all with a quiet dignity and determination despite the turmoil and setbacks. It is these kinds of atypical experiences that fast-track young people through the maturing process unlike many of their peers and allow them a nuanced perspective on life.
In the years since I inherited the onerous task of managing a home and family on my own, I have had many conversations with my sons where I seek their opinion or advice especially on issues to do with the family. In those conversations, sometimes our opinions corroborated and, at other times, we agreed to disagree. No doubt, to some extent, sharing my burdens caused them to grow up faster. Some might argue that this approach to parenthood is a bit risky or even irresponsible.
Why would a mother need to seek opinions or advice from her own children? Is she incapable of making independent decisions? These are valid questions. Yet, it has not stemmed from a lack of leadership on my part. On the contrary, my rationale has always been embedded in a worthy example to follow – the sunnah, or practices, of the Prophet ﷺ himself. I understand that the life of a Muslim is governed by Quranic teachings and the sunnah and so, within that, giving and receiving advice must also be done within an Islamic framework.
In reading the seerah (the life of the Prophet ﷺ), we find many examples of beautiful behaviour with regards to how he consulted his close confidantes. On one occasion, on the brink of the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet ﷺ expressed to his sahaba (companions) his desire to confront the enemies of Quraish in Medina rather than to go out to Uhud to fight. However, the younger sahaba insisted they all go out to meet the Quraish in Uhud even though those older amongst them had agreed with the Prophet’s ﷺ plan. Finally, when the Prophet ﷺ realised their fervour and that the majority opinion had now shifted to this strategy, he agreed and retreated to wear his armour for battle.
Meanwhile, the younger sahaba were scolded by the older ones for causing this shift. As a result, they felt deep regret. However, the Prophet ﷺ re-emerged explaining it was not befitting for a prophet to take his armour off once he had worn it and until he had carried out his mission. The battle would therefore take place at Uhud. The two salient points to note here are that:
1) the Prophet’s ﷺ discussion with his sahaba in the first place was with the intention of making them feel involved and important, and
2) he did not chastise the younger sahaba for their persistence and went ahead with their opinion despite his authority.
As a Prophet with divine inspiration, we know he did not need the approval of anyone. Yet, it was an intelligent and tactical move to foster inclusion and mutual respect. He achieved far more than was apparent to the eye. It is this kind of prophetic wisdom which inspires my own style of parenting.
Again, in Islamic history, we see plenty of examples of youth who were never dismissed as insignificant on the basis of their age alone. Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA), is one such glowing example. Not only was he a paternal cousin of the Prophet ﷺ, more importantly, he lived in his close company from childhood. Ibn Abbas became an accomplished scholar of ahadith at a young age. Such was his vast knowledge and wisdom, that when Umar ibn Khattab (RA) was the Khalifa of the Muslim Empire, he consulted with ibn Abbas on matters to do with governance and referred to him as the “young man of maturity”.
This is proof that age was not an automatic barrier to wisdom. Umar ibn Khattab, the second Khalifa and an undisputed giant in Islamic history, displayed total humility in seeking wise counsel from a scholarly person much younger than himself. In pondering over anecdotal evidence from the seerah, I am confident that giving teenagers or young people the liberty to express their views is not the same as allowing them to override parental authority. In fact, the examples mentioned above prove to us that this practice is neither new nor decadent. Arguably, it is even encouraged.
In my own role as mother, I have come to understand that I cannot behave like a bull in a china shop and always force my understanding of the world onto others. I realise my sons are the product of the 21st century and, as such, have to accept that their views and encounters in the wider world are going to be shaped by their unique and individual experiences. That is not to say that being of different generations we are necessarily at loggerheads. However, my perspective on things might well be ill-judged or biased.
So, whether it has been deciding on how to deal with mental wellbeing or what career moves to consider, I have sat with my sons to hear their views as much as give my own. Where I have not been able to be objective, they have been the voice of reason. I have accepted their advice on many occasions knowing they would not beguile me. Instead, if we all can act and react to situations with an Islamic reference, I cannot ask for more. To submit to their advice does not make me flawed as a mother. It makes me human.
If our thinking is upheld by Islamic standards, it goes without saying that to consider only the secular perspective on important matters will never be enough. Nor should the focus shift to the age of the person making the point. Rather, it has everything to do with whether that person can validate their position through an Islamic lens – and that is a competency not uniquely limited to adults or parents.
It is important to inculcate Islamic values in children early on so that they have the confidence that their views have credence – they are not simply talking from a baseless and whimsical standpoint. Having invested in that upbringing for my children early on, today I feel my sons are old heads on young shoulders.
So it would seem that I have motherhood worked out perfectly. Far from it. It is very much a work in progress. As the boys have evolved from children to young men, so too have their personalities been formed and reformed. I have tried to stay prepared but the reality is that it is impossible to pre-empt every situation. Over time though, we have all fallen into a healthy codependency, Alhamdulillah. It has been years of stressful work and many challenging episodes of teenage tantrums and mother’s sombre moods. To say we have all found our own niches effortlessly would be disingenuous. Yet, I can claim that my sons – these young men – have supported me immensely at my lowest points. They have offered advice or comfort at times when I needed to be placated or could not think clearly.
Even though I have tried to spare them from witnessing my worries, they have been perceptive enough to know when mother is not her normal self. So, despite the upheaval we experienced in the aftermath of divorce, a solid silver lining has beautified our cloud, Alhamdulillah. Today, I see a maturity in them which has occurred through facing challenges together as a family and consciously working hard to keep within Islamic boundaries.
When I started this new phase of life as a single mother, I recall a close friend advised me to stay strong. I was not even sure what ‘being strong’ was supposed to look like. However, I never forgot her words and years later, they still resonate in my mind. I now understand that being a strong mother is not about being a heroine and carrying the burdens of the family on my shoulders alone.
Of course, the boys have needed to see a mother who is bold and determined – a trait which they could also emulate. InshaAllah, their observations have fed into their own perceptions of what women can do. However, it also takes strength to acknowledge one’s weaknesses. Now, when I call upon my sons for advice or practical help, I am not plagued by guilt or a feeling of incompetency. They understand this is my acknowledgement of their maturity and a demonstration of the trust I have in them. They feel secure that they have the right to be heard and counted on.
Turning to one’s children for advice can only happen if the parents have instilled the correct values in them in the first place. Additionally, there must be a conscious effort to nurture mutual trust and respect amongst all those involved. Most importantly, everyone must promise to listen and not simply hear. We must aim to build one another up and not drag one another down. Wise counsel can only be of any benefit if one is focussed on the virtues contained in its message and less so the messenger. With that mindset, my sons and I strive to continue working as a team, inshaAllah. Ultimately, we know the goals we each score belong to us all.
Try as much as we like, sometimes it’s just not possible to convince our children to see eye to eye with us, their parents.
I use the word ‘children’ in its loose sense. My sons are more young adults. They don’t see the world as I do and whilst I know it’s foolish to impose my interpretation of things onto them, it’s equally frustrating that they sometimes consider my insight into things as outdated or not applicable to today’s world. As a mother, I try to give them the benefit of my own experiences in life to save them the hassle – or even trauma – of having to go through a scenario for themselves. But, I realise now that that form of parenting, for all intents and purposes, can be non-productive. It may even be counter-productive. So, even though I ask them to wear my old shoes and have a walk around in them, metaphorically speaking, I know they will be an ill fit in many cases.
What I am beginning to realise is that I’ve entered a different phase of motherhood. I am now dealing with adults who have increasingly independent lives and increasingly independent minds. Alhamdulillah, those minds still have Islam as their reference point. However, because Islam isn’t the narrow straitjacket that many people erroneously think it is, there is plenty of scope for interpretations. There is also plenty of scope to do things in a way which may not meet the expectations or standards of people but still be able to please Allah. This is the reality I’m beginning to learn to deal with. I have to concede that, for years, I myself wrestled with societal expectations vs. Islamic principles. Now I’m having to take a long hard look at myself and question what I expect of my sons vis-a-vis what roles they have fulfilled as Muslims.
No parent in their right mind would want their child to make a mistake, be it in academic matters, career choice or marriage plans. We would do all we can to help them avoid the pitfalls ahead. However, we also have to accept that these big life decisions are going to be informed by the personalities behind them. So, what may seem a sensible choice in my opinion as a parent, might seem inconceivable to my sons simply because we are not the same person, nor the same generation. In those cases, me laying out the pros and cons of a potential situation might give them something to ruminate over but there is no guarantee they will tow my line. I have to remind myself that there cannot be any compulsion in these momentous choices in life; just guidance on my part. After all, I don’t want to be accused of being that pushy Asian stereotypical parent whose sole goal is to use their children to accumulate self-adulatory trophies.
And yet here’s the contradiction….
My rational self tells me to let them decide for themselves on what they want to do in their long-term future. It would be unfair to impose my version of good choices on them. Yet my emotional self wants to see them go through life without making avoidable mistakes. But that’s not realistic. It’s not even healthy. Sometimes, mistakes are our best teachers. Of course, I wouldn’t sit casually back and watch them make irreversibly devastating choices. I hope they’d have the mind not to venture down that road anyway. Perhaps the best solution in all of this is for us all to meet halfway. We need to be open to ideas from the other side of the fence. We all have to respect that there is wisdom to be found in alternative viewpoints.
I, for one, know that I have listened and not simply heard. I am attentive to the ambitions that my sons claim for themselves and consider those ideas against the reality within which they are living. As long as those ideas are Islamically compatible, I don’t resist too much even if they may not have been my personal preferences. But I know my position of defence would be like standing on quicksand. So, I put my trust in Allah and let the rest take care of itself.
On the other extreme however, I don’t appreciate younger people generally these days making the automatic assumption that their elders “simply wouldn’t understand.” An ironic statement since older people are often accused of saying the very same thing. So, wrong assumptions exist on all sides. The way forward is to consider the perspective and value system that the other person is speaking from. It isn’t the same as necessarily having to agree but just to understand. And as biased as this seems, I still believe parents make the greater effort in that exercise. That’s because our rational selves tell us that there is more at stake than just appeasing our kids. Saying ‘yes’ to their ideas is not a reluctant capitulation. At least I don’t see myself in that situation all the time. I actually believe that I am protecting something far greater and that is the trust and confidence my sons will have to confide in me and know I only wish the best for them in this duniya (world) and Akhirah (the Hereafter).
Perhaps my metaphoric shoes might not be the best fit for anyone else. I wouldn’t expect my sons to be in them for long anyway. But daring to give them a try might reveal some hidden truths about the journeys I have been on and the uphill climbs I’ve overcome. Having that appreciation is what I would hope for at the very least.
A common theme that runs through all my blog posts. I’ve learnt that nobody is going to take as much care of me as me. So, here goes…!
In fact, I’ve been on the journey of looking out for myself for a few years now. Ever since I learnt the harsh lesson that I couldn’t rely on the one person I trusted to do that for me. How naive was I? But Alhamdulillah, it catapulted me into action and today I believe I am finally in a happy place. Of course, being a mere mortal, I know I could suggest other things I’d like to see happen in my life. However, even without them (and no, remarriage isn’t on the list), I am genuinely content, Alhamdulillah.
It is no exaggeration to state the impact of my divorce. I see how that momentous and lifechanging event was the catalyst for so many unprecendented changes. And in fact, a lot of them – no, an overwhelming number of them – have actually been positive. How else would I have actively sought out a means to earn a living? How else would I have made the time to go to the gym and take care of my physical self? How else would I have made the connection that my physical well-being is directly connected to my mental wellbeing? The list goes on….
I don’t thank my ex-husband for making the decision to divorce. No. Let’s get that clear. He didn’t have any divine inspiration from Allah that this was the right thing to do. He is a mere mortal after all. However, I do thank Allah for bringing me to where I am today. Of this result, I am strangely enough, more accepting. Ultimately, He is in control and we are all at His mercy and I recognise Him as being truly merciful.
I am not one to seek validation from others. At least, not at this late stage of my life. Yet, when I receive recognition of my progress from those closest to me, it is a satisfying reassurance that perhaps I am doing something right. Just yesterday, my son commented on how he noticed that the post-divorce me is a happier unfettered version of the previously married version of me. I agree with him and I am aware that this new version is what reverberates around our home and impacts my sons. My own son is aware that I was not inherently unhappy whilst married since he himself was part of and witness to the many happy times we had together as a family, Alhamdulillah. Yet he (and I) also recognise the new freedom I have been given and harnessed.
I honestly believe my zest for life stems from the realisation that not much of it is left. That sentence is a strange dichotomy since there is a morose sense of morbidity in it as well as a form of passionate positivity. But I am in a race against time now and the things I want to achieve are things I tell myself I can do if I put my mind to them, inshaAllah. Except flying. As much as I wish I could do that, even I have to know my limits!
However, seeing that my positivity has permeated my sons’ lives is enough validation for me. I do believe they all would agree that we have come together even stronger than before, Alhamdulillah. And more than saving my marriage, I would do anything to protect and preserve my relationship with my own children. They are my amanah (trust) and being there for them is such a blessed way to potentially earn reward from Allah. So, independent mothers out there, my message is this:
You may be doing double the work without your husband by your side, but now you have infinitely more potential to earn extra reward from Allah. You have not been denied by Him but honoured to do greater things with your life, inshaAllah.
The other definition of parenthood: tightrope walking. One of the most challenging aspects of it is to find the right balance between knowing when to share advice and when to keep quiet. Constantly assessing and over-assessing a situation to know if it’s a good time to get a positive outcome or not. Sometimes, I have got it right; others, I haven’t.
I don’t claim to be the world’s best parent but I do claim to have given it a damn good try so far both with and especially without their father in the picture. I have never had my finger off the pulse when it comes to the best interests of my children. And I consciously make the distinction between what is best for them as opposed to what is best for me. That’s not to say those two things are always diametrically opposed. There are many times we are on the same page. However, them being boys and of the next generation to me, I have to remember those factors when dealing with their desires or needs. I would like to think that that acknowledgement is something they too realise I make. I always remind them of it anyway as I am acutely aware I can’t impose my version of reality onto their lives.
In my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles to progress in this world is miscommunication. Whether it be at a political level, community level and especially at an individual level, this is the root of so many problems. That’s why I am so pernickety about being clear yet honest about how one feels. I make sure I can talk about awkward issues with my sons but in a respectful and decent manner. I don’t leave them guessing my views when those views need to be expressed as I hope this information will help them make good judgements of their own decisions.
Lately, when we disagree, or when I feel they lack the foresight I try to offer them, I now accept that there is nothing more I can do. One of us is going to be proved right in the end. Maybe it will be me who learns the valuable lesson. And that’s fine. I’m not haughty enough to be impervious to good advice. But, if my advice or insight on a matter, which is based on irrefutable first-hand experience, is rejected against all reasonable logic, then I’m silently content to watch them shrink in defeat later on. I make it clear that I will say, “I told you so.” I take that stance because I’ve learnt that I can’t take a horse to water and force it to drink. Sometimes, the only way to avoid a path a second time is by falling right into its potholes the first time. Making mistakes is perhaps one of the best ways to learn a lesson – and to learn it well. I no longer have the patience or energy to be the guard at each pothole of the road others take anyway.
I’ve waited too long in life to put myself first that it seems by the time I do, I will have no energy left. That is something I’m not prepared to sacrifice any more because there is no gratitude for it. I have spent many hours telling my sons that their lives are in their own hands whilst letting my own slip by. So, selfish as it seems, I will deliver the essential message, make sure they’ve listened and understood and then move on. InshaAllah I hope that this will signal to them the responsibility they need to take for themselves. After all, they are young adults now and at the closing stages of my life, I feel my clock is ticking faster than theirs.
My sons are all finally at an age where their academic acheivements are no longer within my parental responsibility. That aspect of their lives has got to be one of the most arduous phases of parenthood and I am simply glad it’s almost over (for me). As adults, it’s finally time for them to take the reins on their own educational trajectory. I will always be there for support and advice but I don’t have absolute control of them any more in any sphere of their lives. Finally, I can slowly reclaim some freedom again for myself.
Inhale. Exhale. Slow and deep.
Of course, parenthood never stops. I have been honoured to know its joys, frustrations and challenges. I’m aware that not everyone gets this opportunity. Allah has blessed me with children, Alhamdulillah and I hope I have delivered my duties well, inshaAllah. Right now, I’m looking foward to a new phase where I can sit back a bit more and observe from the wings of the stage of life.
I am exhausted but I am excited.
I am worried but I am hopeful.
I am a mother but I am a mere mortal.
My mother half is only one part of my life. The other half is where I fill in the space for myself and by myself inshaAllah. This is a fait accompli.