In conversations with my octogenarian mother, I find I have to often bite my tongue and remind myself that not only is she my mother but also the product of another generation.
Since I’ve been divorced, she has countless times lamented the fact that I am now on my own. She worries about my future but moreso, a future without a man by my side. Strange, coming from someone who experienced a very similar fate in her own life. Perhaps that’s the reason why she is concerned for me although she also knows that, Alhamdulillah, unlike her, I am savvier about the world around me and can find my way around more easily than she could. I don’t hold anything against her – especially not for the outpouring of grief which she expresses at times about my current situation. She also endured the daunting job of raising five young people single-handedly for which I am eternally grateful.
However, despite my many attempts in trying to appease her and let her know I’m doing just fine, my words seem to fall on deaf ears. I understand better now than to try to contest her views. It’s not just out of respect for my mother in her revered position or because of her age. It’s more because she is old school and maintains that as long as a mature woman is without a husband, her value in society and self-worth are almost meaningless. This applies to both a divorcee or a spinster. However, I believe that perceptions of kismet (fate) can be sometimes skewed and attitudes in the 21st century have shifted dramatically. I for one, refuse to ever let others define my worth. Whilst I’m not out there trying to prove anything to anyone, I know at the same time, I am living my life according to my standards and wishes – inshaAllah all circumscribed within Islamic principles. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
The truth is, there is also a slightly more concerning mindset which underlies the outward concern which my mother displays. For many in her generation, they believe a woman should never opt for divorce and instead, tolerate her husband’s shortcomings. His misdemeanours become misadventures. Excuse him. Forgive him. Tolerate him. And this is despite acknowledging that undeniable injustices have occurred. Somewhere along the line, a silent and obedient wife becomes a noble wife – a woman who is raised higher in religious ranks. So, it comes as no surprise that even though my mother strongly berates my ex for his decision to leave, at the same time, she would berate me if he miraculously reappeared, asked for a second chance and I refused!
I know this is absolutely ludicrous! Even in the time of the Prophet ﷺ there were women who complained of their husbands and were unapologetically vocal in that. So, how did we arrive at a situation today where married women are taught that to be demure, submissive and weak is a sign of piety or religious duty? It’s a situation which is unashamedly exploited by many including extended family members who abuse their power and cause misery for such women.
As unorthodox as this may seem, if I live to witness any of my sons marry, I hope to have a conversation or few with their prospective wives. To the young lady, I will offer my advice and request that she protects her financial interests and knows how to stand up for herself if need be. I would say the same to my sons. In a world where divorce rates are unprecedented and people are too blasé about ending their marriages, some awkward yet frank conversations need to happen beforehand. It may even reveal a lot of hidden idiosyncrasies about the individuals which might save a lot of heartache later. Call me idealistic or even simplistic. Maybe I am. But I am a cynic and live in a cynical world where the formula for “happily ever after” is a long-lost secret.
I look forward to the future of my own sons and hope to see them get married and have families of their own one day, inshaAllah. However, I will not be busying myself with endless shopping trips to find the perfect wedding outfit for the groom or girl. I will not be concerned about healthy bank balances or their rung on the property ladder. Nor will I be naïve thinking that a God-fearing Muslim is the only criterion for a successful marriage. The reality is, there is no perfect balance. Theory often doesn’t translate well when put to the test.
Marriage is a rowing boat that needs a rower on each side to keep going forward and in a straight line. As soon as one side throws out their oar, we know the boat will spin in circles and chaos will ensue. As it is in my own life, I’ve been left to row the boat with a single oar. However, I am still managing to manoeuvre from side to side and keep moving forward. One thing is for sure, I am not in search of a second oar.