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.
When we wish one another a ‘Happy New Year’, I’m very aware it’s not because we are ungrateful for the year that has just passed. It’s more about looking forward to new things which have yet to be discovered.
Starting at the head of a new year is a convenient excuse to remind ourselves of that perpetual journey – the constant quest to seek and get more out of life. Not in the selfish sense but in a way where we are always aware of the diminishing nature of time itself.
I enter this year with gratitude for the things I’ve pulled through till now and with hopefulness of good things to come. I know challenges lie ahead too because no life is without them.
Yet this is a moment to be just still and take it all in and reflect…
The goals I have set myself for this coming year are not new. Rather, they are a continuum from 2022 but the challenge is to keep forging ahead. As long as I have good health and a default happy state of mind, underpinned by my faith in Allah, I can only expect that the future will be bright inshaAllah.
Asked what charity looks like and most probably people would say “giving money to the poor”. It would definitely be the most popular answer. Whilst that is very true, we know that charity can encompass so much more.
Sometimes, it doesn’t even involve reaching deep into our pockets. But always, it should involve reaching deep into our souls. We need to search for something within that we can share with others for their betterment and not for our self-aggrandizement. Of course, all of this should happen with a firm belief that we only seek the best reward from Allah and not necessarily a ‘thank you’ from the ones we aim to help.
So, even during this time of global political and economic gloom and doom, I know that charity doesn’t have to stop. I may not always have money to spare but Islam teaches me that charity can be practised in so many different ways. For example, smiling at someone, lending an ear in someone’s time of need and for me, not least, writing this blog for the last 2+ years.
Whilst the original intention for writing here was to help myself offload years after my divorce and find a form of release, the blog has since evolved into a place where I hope others can find respite too, inshaAllah. So, the intention (niyyah) for it has also reshaped itself and it’s heartwarming to have received replies over the months from people I don’t even know and yet who have welcomed the implicit advice I have shared along the way. But it’s not even about receiving praise from others; it’s about learning that there has been a tiny positive impact made on their lives. May Allah always allow this humble blog to ignite a flame of adventure and plant a seed of empowerment in the minds of others, inshaAllah.
Not surprisingly, even now, I still come across divorced women who are in a total quandary about life. I sympathise. I was one of them myself. For a short time. Now I know better than to put all my eggs in one basket. But whilst I may not be able to alleviate people’s pain with money (I doubt money is the ultimate solution anyway), my task here is to draw upon my own experiences and share them appropriately in a manner where others may take heed. I have been blessed with this platform and a voice and hope to make it work for others. That’s what motivates me to keep returning week after week. It might be the only charity I can afford for now but I pray it has far-reaching and meaningful consequences for all who stop by.
In an ideal world, who wouldn’t love to give money to those less fortunate and help set them up in life? There will always be the desire to do good in this way and there will always be that need somewhere. However, money is in the hands of many and beyond simply emptying our purse in a dispassionate way, Allah has blessed each of us with unique capabilities and we need to draw upon and exploit them for the benefit of others. I believe a real sense of charity comes at a cost to ourselves – and I don’t mean in monetary terms only. For it to have meaning to us, there will be inconveniences. Making personal sacrifices with time, physical and mental energy, intellectual abilities and other intangible qualities that we all possess, takes a charitable act onto a higher level. That’s where the individual challenge should be sought. Arguably, those examples are where the best forms of charity even lie.
Ultimately, we connect everything back to Allah. Even the ability and desire to do good in the first place. Recognising the tools He has placed in our hands is a wonderful start. Using them effectively is an even bigger example of the gratitude we express in return. Ultimately, anything we give in the name of charity has its returns and often in ways we couldn’t even begin to comprehend. The best return is the one which reconfigures our thinking and aligns it closer to what Allah wants from us. The real lesson in charity is not that we have made a difference to the lives of others but they have made a difference to our understanding of ourselves.
A question I ask myself many times and always the answer would be ‘yes’.
Why would I want to try to make new friends at this late stage of my life? How could two people possibly catch up on all the previously missed years of each other’s growing up, schooling, marriage, having kids etc etc.? Too much work and too little time to fill each other in on all the gaps. But life is strange and sometimes you bump into those rare people who you know you can connect with almost straight away. Despite them not having been present in your earlier life, in the ensuing conversations that you have, it’s almost effortless to fill them in on the details of your life as time goes by.
For the most part, I have a select few friends who’ve been by my side for many years and witnessed all those major milestones in my life. Likewise, I’ve been a part of their lives too. Such friends are not easy to come by and even if we don’t catch up weekly or monthly, we know we can just pick up where we last left off and not feel guilty for the silence in between. We get it. No need to explain ourselves. That’s a special type of friendship.
In more recent years though, I’ve met a few wonderful people who I feel confident enough to call ‘a friend’. They are very few but the quality is deep. If the definition of ‘friend’ is someone who wishes only the best for you, or who offers their time and advice unreservedly and without any self-interest, then I have definitely been fortunate to have made a few new friends, Alhamdulillah. Though I was never in search of them, Allah had bigger plans and I’m grateful for them enriching my life. We’ve shared happiness, sadness and madness! But it’s all been great.
And yet here comes the cynic in me…
I don’t believe all friendships will stand the test of time. Sadly, I’ve lived long enough to know that people can be very unpredictable. Suddenly, they disappear from the friendship radar and unexplicably so. I’ve lost a few friends over time for reasons I still don’t understand today. No explanation. Nothing. Cold turkey was the dish for the day. It’s disappointing given I’d at least like to have known the reason for their sudden disappearance. However, I’ve come to learn that if such people can’t see the value of my friendship, then I really don’t need to waste my energy trying to prove it to them. The biggest reminder of being in that demoralising state was the time leading up to my divorce – when I desperately tried to convince my ex to reconsider his decision to separate. Ever since then, I vowed I would never denigrate myself again and beg to be of any significance in anyone’s life. I will never chase someone for validation. A rule I even apply to my own sons. My purpose on this Earth is not to prove my worth to anyone except Allah.
In life, some you win, some you lose. The same applies to human relationships. I intend to keep moving forward. If anyone wants to join me on this journey, they are welcome. However, they need to understand that I will not be checking in on their commitment. I no longer fear people deciding to get off at the next stop. It’s perfectly fine.
I will no longer apologise for taking care of myself and understanding my self-worth. And I make the distinction between self-worth and self-importance. The latter has a haughty connotation to it whereas the former speaks of a silent dignity within. I feel unfettered by people now. It’s not that I don’t cherish human interaction. To say that would be totally disingenuous. It’s more that I haven’t got time to hang around and collect reviews on my personality.
The biggest irony is that one of the best things my ex-husband did for me was after divorce. He inadvertantly taught me never to diminish my self-worth, never to rely on a human too much for anything and never to seek meaning in my life through others. I’m sure a little bit of all that existed in me already which is why I have managed to bounce back, Alhamdulillah. In fact, it’s precisely because all of that existed in me, I was not the archetypal dependent wife. Too bad.
Like a tide that ebbs and flows, so too are some of our friendships and human encounters through life. Each situation brings its own beauty and lessons and there should never be regrets for what the tide takes away with it. Let it float on downstream.
I believe that the ability to carry and deliver a child into this world is more of a physical one than anything else. For most women, we are predisposed to this ability given our physiological makeup. Yet, moving through the years, and beyond bringing a child into the world, the practical considerations of raising that child take over. As parents, we concern ourselves more with issues related to their emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
I am a firm believer of children never overstepping the boundaries between themselves and their parents. I make no apology for that. However, there are times when that boundary needs to be blurred a little bit to allow children to understand that this relationship is not invariably about power and control of the adults over them. It’s important for mothers and fathers to come down from their self-appointed pedestal and engage at a level with their own children. Stripping away the airs and graces which come with the territory of being a parent, allows us to appear more amenable to our kids in a way that doesn’t threaten our status. It’s essentially about foresight. Knowing that these strategies will serve us well in later life when children become teenagers and then young adults. If that relationship of trust isn’t forged early on, we will face problems in future for sure. At least, that’s how I see it.
Parenting comes with its plethora of risks. I can – and do – sometimes get it wrong. However, that doesn’t make me flawed. It makes me human. And being seen as a fallible human rather than a robot dispensing perfunctory orders can create a relationship with my children whereby they feel comfortable opening up about their own personal worries or struggles. Being a mother is hard work. Being perfect is near impossible. And being a perfect mother is an ideal which will forever elude me. Which is why I don’t pretend to be one.
Instead, one way for my children to earn my trust and find ease in one another’s presence is to have those frivolous moments together and simply enjoy one another’s company. Occasions where there are no instructions, no chores to complete and no pending goals to discuss are occasions to be used to discreetly learn about one another and what makes us tick. It’s about creating confidence -laying the groundwork for a time when those serious matters will arise and when that child or young adult will need to have my full attention.
Once a mother, always a mother. Till death us do part. However, having carefree banter or generally, times when we can jump off the hamster wheel of life, is so important. It’s cathartic for all. That’s why I am a strong advocate of unashamedly releasing the child in me from time to time – and making sure my sons (who are no longer children) see it. It diffuses tensions and resets us to a lightened mood and allows us all to step back from whatever stresses we might be going through. Moreover, my sons know that although I will never cease to be their mother, I am happy to sometimes surrender my control of a situation and let them steer the way forward if they wish to. In other words, I don’t mind if they want to swap roles and let me take a back seat whilst they manage decisions for a while. After all, this is what I have trained them to do. It started with household chores when they were younger and now they have grown into managing bigger decisions. Today, it’s comforting to see them wanting to spread their wings to protect me instead. The tables have turned and I have become the one who they plan to watch over, inshaAllah.
I guess life would be boring if, as a mother, I was always in control. Over the years, I have enjoyed gradually releasing the taut rope that connect my sons and me. This isn’t about abandoning my responsibilities but moreso about surrendering absolute authority over them. I don’t feel guilty about this. After all, it’s my formula for preparing them for adulthood and simultaneously, allowing me some respite. The carefree child in all of us definitely exists and at some point in life, we should let it resurface if only to help us cope with whatever lies ahead.
It all boils down to that. My summary of a life fulfilled. Each day has to contain all three of those composite elements to make that day worth living.
So what about the cynics who would argue that it’s impossible to laugh through difficult times? Or those who feel bitter about unrequited love or one that has been lost forever? I would agree that they have a point. There’s no medal to be earned in trying to suppress those feelings of sadness, anger or disappointment. After all, they are emotions gifted by Allah and it’s best to let them have their say. However, my stance is that wallowing in negativity can’t be the final stop in that journey of emotions. Once the darker or sombre emotions have been purged from our systems, we need not be afraid to allow the lighter and uplifting mood to return and help us transcend all that’s weighing us down.
It’s this latter state that I have chosen as my default setting for some years now. To be honest, knowing that life itself is borrowed time, I have learnt to take a step back from stressful situations and pause for thought. I want to remind myself that the focus in this life isn’t simply about the achievements or challenges. It’s more about all the decisions we make that will determine our outcome on the other side of this existence. Some decisions are thrust upon us. Others we make of our own choosing. But whatever the case, they must be governed with our sights set on the journey beyond. Not easy I know, given we can’t even see what lies ahead in the afterlife. However, believing can be done without seeing. As much as I know I have internal organs in my body without ever having seen them, so too am I convinced that there is a Creator who is in control of it all.
As a perennial student of Islam – as a Muslim – I look to the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who found many moments of pure joy despite his litany of challenges and woes. Nobody could have had it more difficult than him. Yet we know he found times to enjoy banter with his companions, to play with his young children and grandchildren, to race for fun with his young wife through the town of Medina and, no doubt, to marvel at the beauty that the natural world presented him with. These are but a few of many examples where he allowed himself ‘time out’ of the more serious matters he had to contend with on a daily basis. So, this is proof enough that the life of a Muslim is not one to be surrendered to constant misery and being morose. No. We have to learn to be characters that rise to difficult challenges and never be overwhlemed by them. I refuse to move forward on a permanently punctured tyre.
Life is short. But I never understood that aphorism till recently – when I finally realised that the better part of my time on this Earth is definitely done. ‘The better part’ being my youth and carefree state. Like it or not, I can’t deny the ageing process and the fact that my sons, being independent or not, will always be my concern till I die. That’s exactly why I know that to laugh through the tears and to love through all the forlorn memories is even more important now than ever before. Bitterness is a dead weight too heavy to be dragged around all the time. I liberated myself from that load a long time ago, Alhamdulillah. It was more improtant to free up that energy and mental mind space for things which still lay ahead and would be potentially much more rewarding.
Perhaps it’s worth to pause and clarify a thing or two. I want to make the distinction between ‘bitterness’ and ‘hurt’. I see the first of those two things as destructive and soul-destroying. It eats up your insides. The latter is one that I felt I had no control over as I am a mere mortal and have emotions. Yet, hurt can be processed throughtfully and should be allowed to be expressed. But once it has, lessons have to be learned. And this is why I say a day in which nothing new has been learned is a day wasted – a lost opportunity. It could be something as minimal as a new word or as profound as the meaning of a verse of the Glorious Quran. We need to stay healthily inquisitive of the people and world around us so that we don’t become consumed by our own problems.
I obviously don’t know what challenges lie ahead of me. I’m sure more are on their way. However, I pray not a day goes by without having a reason to laugh about something – even for a fleeting, carefree moment. That doesn’t make me flippant or immature. I think it just makes me try to be grateful for the good despite the bad. Whatever circumstance I am in, will, after all, always be temporary. I have seen others contend with far more difficult challenges than myself and I am in awe of their resilience, mashAllah. Compared to them, I’ve had a life of ease, Alhamdulillah. I’m relying on my older age to not let me be given to any extremes of emotions any more anyway. With it too, I’m hoping wisdom and faith will also keep me in a healthy check.