Tag Archives: divorce

What will the Children Say?

In the time I have taken to slowly rebuild my life after divorce, I can confidently say that I have always kept my children and their emotions well within my radar.

Riding the highs and lows of life

I believe mothers have been blessed with an innate ability to go into a kind of defence mode and protect their young.  It is true of perhaps all species in this world.  Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), even in the early days, I never lost sight of the emotional roller-coaster my children were themselves reluctantly riding.  “Roller-coaster”, though cliché, is an apt expression since it denotes the surging highs and lows and the breakneck speed with which they were trying to figure out their new reality.  It was only by Allah’s grace, they all held on to the white-knuckled ride.  Perhaps I can be bold and even dare to suggest that we have since come off the roller-coaster and have boarded a smoother ride in life Alhamdulillah.  Yet all that was not without a lot of introspection and a simultaneous outward expression of pain.

Learning to release the grip of the wild pendulum

Perhaps because I myself had experienced the better part of my life without my father, I was well-prepared to understand the inevitable challenges that lay ahead for my boys….and Woah! Challenges I did have!  As much as I wanted to reassure them life would find its balance again, I was dealing with my own inner contradictions and volatility.  I was not in a healthy place to preach to others.  I was poised only to intervene if I saw their effervescent emotions were to begin to erupt uncontrollably.  Alhamdulillah, that situation didn’t present itself very often except with my youngest son.  He was only 11 years old when life took us down a completely new road.  He suffered the most being so young.  As such, my energies were exponentially invested in securing his mental stability and wellbeing.  I cannot begin to describe the wildly swinging emotional pendulum he had clutched onto, out of confusion and anxiety.  It zapped a lot of energy from me to slowly loosen his grip and help him climb down and restore his trust in people and life.

It is an unimaginable pain of a mother to be unable to break the fall of a child into a deep dark hole.  Although my boys’ distress never manifested itself in an irreversible manner, there were definitely expressions of anger and frustration, e.g., being victims of bullying at school.  Even when they could not discern the difference between simply readjusting to life in England from Saudi Arabia, I understood they were having to deal with the added layers of readjustment to the new normal.  They had been catapulted from one continent to another; from one culture to another; from being home schooled to going to mainstream British schools; and most importantly, from having two parents to one.  It is a lot for anyone to take on.  

However, my boys have not disappointed me, Alhamdulillah.  They have dealt with their lot admirably and with a maturity not commonly seen amongst their peers. I have seen a genuine humility in the acceptance of their situation.  The best outcome is arguably that, together, we have nurtured an even deeper and mutually respectful relationship between us.  Our collective and individual journeys mean we are each able to read the other’s overall mood and know when not to transgress personal boundaries.  They have become my confidantes as I have theirs.  I have always made it a point to talk to them and with them.  I have always made it important for them to be heard and to express their thoughts without retribution.  It is absolutely necessary that they are given a safe space to air their grievances and know they have the confidence and trust to be respected.  I have never belittled their pain or grievances but I have tried to channel hurt into positive energy. This is where my role comes in.  To dismiss them (the boys) is to lose them.  

Our thoughts and actions are circumscribed by a deep faith in Allah, knowing He will not abandon us even if others have.  It is that knowledge that gives us our security and comfort – not the bank balance in our accounts, or the cars we drive, the home we have or the academic achievements to date.  My plea to any parent on a new solo journey with their children is to listen, love and learn.

I am a work of Kintsugi

Healed scars as a source of beauty

For many young Muslims looking to get married, the knowledge that “marriage is half their deen* is a belief that expectantly propels them forward with their mission.  What that hadith (prophetic saying) means is that marriage helps a Muslim to be emotionally stable and satisfies a myriad of needs within a legitimate structure.  Therefore, a Muslim is removed from other potentially immoral distractions in life.  Indeed, marriage is a noble aspiration and a decision which should not be taken lightly.   No doubt, in normal situations it brings happiness and security in its many forms to both husband and wife. 

I have had the fortune of knowing the security and happiness that a marriage can bring, Alhamdulillah.  Although that experience was abruptly terminated for reasons I still can’t quite understand, I do know that half my deen ≠ half my faith.  Even on my own, I continue to strive to bring together complex and composite parts to make me a wonderfully complete whole.  As much as I lament my loss, I look in hope to the future. 

Over time, I have been putting my life back together in small but positive steps.  I have read a plethora of material (to rebuild myself) across broad subjects such as narcissism, healing, personal development, mental health and, most importantly to me, maintaining faith in crises.   

Amongst that reading, I have often stumbled across some more tangential material as often usually happens when one is digging deep for answers. This included an article on Kintsugi (golden joinery) – a sedulous and traditional Japanese art that uses a lacquer typically dusted with golden powder to mend broken pieces of pottery.  Once restored, the item not only assumes its glorious past but essentially becomes stronger.   It is perfection in the imperfection.  Kintsugi is the epitome of resilience and reclaimed beauty.  The idea that something should not be discarded simply because it is broken, resonated with me deeply.  My experiences, negative and positive, had been for a purpose after all.   I knew I was going to emerge as a better version of my ‘yester-self’.  I am a work of Kintsugi.

Once broken, now whole

Nobody has ever died of a divorce”. 

Interesting thought.   As with Kintsugi, I don’t recall where I read that sentence but serendipity had struck again. I pondered on the above line for a long while and thought, “How crazily true!”  For sure, divorce causes chaos and grief in many lives but accepting that no ex-husband was worth dying for, unequivocally jolted me out of my emotional coma.  

And so all these chance encounters, of quotes, of art forms, of random conversations, of subjects seemingly unrelated, may seem accidental but I believe they were anything but that.  I mean, why had I never heard of Kintsugi before?   But I already knew the answer – Allah was choosing His means of gradually guiding me back to a place of contentment.  Loose strands were slowly weaving together to become one solid rope of hope. I was beginning my climb.

From that base level of contentment, I have been on a mission to push myself out of my comfort zone and explore my own hidden strengths.  Those strengths may not seem extraordinary but given the lugubrious apathy I had been suffering lately, it was no easy feat to get going.

One such memorable example is a trip to the Peak District in August 2019.  Having hired a 9-seater van and planned an itinerary, I took a large group – my four boys and five of their cousins – on a self-catering holiday to one of England’s most beautifully scenic locations.  We set off in two vehicles onto new adventures.  Being in the company of mostly teenagers, I had slight hesitations about how things would play out especially with ten different personalities.  Would there be silly conflicts or immutable differences?  Would we return miserable rueing the day we ever thought of such an audacious idea?  As the sole mature adult, I also secretly wondered how I would cope in the absence of a confidante to share the task of shepherding that group.  However, I never needed it.  The holiday was a resounding success so much so that we have already planned to go away together again! 

Memories from a wonderful trip to the Peak District

The success of our trip wasn’t attributable to the wonderful sights and sounds per se.  It was also largely because the ten of us brought the best of ourselves to that time and space and effortlessly made it work.  In the time we shared together, I realised I was functioning just fine as the head of this motley crew.   They reciprocated wonderfully by allowing me inclusivity into their worlds so much so there were many times I forgot my parental status amongst them.  No boundaries were crossed and yet the fraternal fluidity amongst us was seamlessly present. 

Unbeknown to the others, the planning and execution of the Peak District holiday was an ambitious goal I had set myself.  In some ways, it was a microcosm of my life.   It is quite difficult to put into words.  Suffice to say, I needed to prove to myself that I could handle new situations and not simply get through them but excel.  As a Muslim, everything I do in life is circumscribed by my faith.  Yet that faith should not be viewed as a limiting factor.  On the contrary, understanding it helps me distinguish the impossible from the possible.  That is why I am now insha’Allah (God willing) on a path to create a bigger world of possibilities  

deen* – a way of life for Muslims which encompasses religious law, character and beliefs

On a beautiful path to new adventures

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Divorce only happens to those who are in abusive relationships or just hopelessly mismatched, right?  Or so I thought.  I never imagined that this fate would befall me.  After all, I thought my marriage was quite strong and functioning fine.  But I was given a rude awakening and my Happy was replaced with a huge Hole.   I will never forget the first time when the word ‘divorce’ was uttered by my ex-husband.  We were out walking and he casually mentioned it as something we both might want to consider.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  It was as if someone had just poured cement in my shoes.  My feet felt like solid blocks of concrete, unable to move…. 

                                                             Surah Baqarah: 216

Eighteen years, four children, three thousand miles and twenty-six cargo boxes later, my life post-divorce was about to enter into new unchartered territory.  Despite my desperate attempts to avert this outcome, here I was and there was absolutely nothing I could do to reverse the course of events.  The guillotine had come crashing down on my marriage and my head was a constantly spinning top in that debris.   

Even now, the pain of those memories resurfaces from time to time.  However, slowly, over the months and years, life has surely regained a sense of balance.  I have learnt to try take back control of my life and completely remove the negative influences.   Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), the harmony which I thought would forever elude me, has gradually found its way back.  No doubt, my many private conversations with Allah have helped me in my darkest hours.  Whilst He may not speak to me in a way a teacher does with his/her student, I know that the peace I feel within is His way of reassuring me that He is there responding to my call.  Nothing escapes His attention.

There is one other huge element of my life which has been pivotal in my recovery.  That is my four boys, Alhamdulillah.  In any divorce, children are the inadvertent victims and have the unsavoury job of watching the drama unfold and yet have no right to talk.   I promised myself that, despite my own inner turmoil, they would be given the right to as normal a life as possible. Their tenacity has been admirable. 

In the early days, I had many moments where I had let the façade of normalcy come down and regrettably, my children witnessed moments where I became madly unleashed.  Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do to stop my emotions from peaking.  It was difficult enough to be strong for myself let alone four other young people in my care.  However, one day I was fortunate to have had a conversation with a friend who had also gone through a divorce years before.  She gave me a piece of advice which would hugely impact me.  She told me to never let the boys see a mother who is weak as they would be taking their cues in life from me.   They were depending on me as their remaining role model. I needed to be strong if not for anything but to pass that baton of strength to my children so that they could deal with the ravages of life for themselves.  It was an absolute turning point and I am forever grateful for that advice.  At that point, I told myself I was no longer a single mother but a “double parent”.  I would compensate the loss of their father.

In the most unlikely places, beauty will persist.

So, the past few years have brought joy too.  The five of us have taken a seemingly tragic situation and, together, turned it around and made something beautiful.  Of course, as their mother, I have had a watchful eye on all aspects of their wellbeing – educational, emotional and spiritual. We had always been close but in retrospect, perhaps their father bailing out was the opportunity for us to grow even closer.  Together we have ranted, asked questions and even tried to provide answers about how life panned out for us. It’s here that I must pause for a moment.

Many people would argue that I am wrong to give an audience to the rants of my children, claiming it would be encouraging disrespect towards their father etc. I beg to differ. I saw back then, and still do, that allowing my children to grieve and vent their frustrations is both a human need and a cathartic process. We have had countless frank conversations about emotional pain, confusion, anger, sadness and even guilt.  More importantly, I wanted my children to know their opinions mattered. Besides, how could I tell them to hold their silence when I myself was bursting to explode? It would have been a complete hypocrisy to expect that from them. Each knew the other was finding their own way to a place of acceptance of loss. As time moved on, we allowed ourselves to reflect on things gone by and not allowed ourselves to be stuck in the quagmire of the past.

My sons have been the best counsellors I could have asked for.  They are usually in tune with my emotions as much as I am with theirs.   I have endeavoured to make happiness a palpable reality for them and, therefore, for me.  Life will not collapse into chaos simply because their father opted out. I refuse to let them suffer the stigma of divorce and be deemed as the pariahs of society.  They have every reason to hold their heads high and demand to be counted as fully fledged members of society. Some of the finest men in history have been raised without their fathers. My own personal belief is that is precisely because their mothers have restored within them a greater sense of compassion and humility.

Happiness is not about plying our children with gifts; it is more the lesson that we are grateful for the circumstances we find ourselves in, knowing that many others are worse off than ourselves.  In my own case, rather than waste my energies on the many “if only” situations, I resolved to invest in something much more worthwhile – my present reality which includes my sons.  I have watched in awe as they mature into young adults with a nuanced perspective on life which so many of their peers do not have.  Through adversity they have learnt kindness, humility and patience – and this is where Allah’s wisdom comes together.   

It is usually in our most difficult times that we turn to Allah for help.  Therefore, I take a very philosophical view to life.  Never become too attached to anything be it people, commodities or a given situation….and yes, that includes my own children. Even though they are the focal point of my life and I am heavily invested in them, I am mindful of the fact that they too will one day pursue their own desires. I don’t expect reciprocal affection simply because a mother’s love can never be matched. Happiness has many formulae but, ultimately, it depends on us to find it and make it work.   Any adversity we encounter is an added opportunity to recognise Allah as the real focus and demonstrate our reliance upon Him and nobody else. 

The Autopsy on my Marriage

One of the things that I have had to admit to myself in recent years, is that I had often mistakenly handed over the responsibility for my happiness to another human being, namely my other half.  BIG mistake.  

Today, I have that wonderful thing called ‘hindsight’ which allows me to answer some stark questions which I had asked myself back then.

For example:

  • Now that I was no longer a wife, what status did that leave me?  
  • Who would be responsible for me, my children, my happiness, my safety, my wellbeing?  
  • How was I going to face the world as a deemed failure?
  • Would society pity me or blame me?
  • How does someone move on?
  • Had the role of wife really subsumed everything else I had ever been?

That last question was perhaps, surprisingly, the one that resurfaced frequently in my mind.  Not so much because I didn’t know the answer.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I always knew I had an identity before marriage.  I existed in my own right before, during and after and it was that conviction that sustained me in my otherwise chaotic mind immediately following my divorce.

The fact that a Muslim woman should not take on her husband’s surname upon marriage speaks volumes about her right to exist alongside him and not become a part of him.  Perhaps it even hints at the impermanence of marriage itself.  Great female figures in Islamic history have not only been wives and mothers but they have simultaneously occupied so many other labels such as entrepreneur, warrior, educator and public orator.   These are not post C20th Muslim women but women around the prophet (peace be upon him) himself! 

The irony is that modern Muslims have forgotten the amazing legacy they inherited.  I now see that, like so many other women, I had fallen into an emotional dependence where my husband had become the source of my spiritual wellbeing.  Had I really pondered deeply over what those early Muslim women taught me, perhaps I would have had a healthier outlook on all the trials and tribulations of life.  However, the status quo of 18 years of marriage had inadvertently led me to give responsibility for all aspects of my wellbeing to someone else. It had blurred my vision of reality.  What was that reality?  That we encounter people along our own journey of life.  Some stay for the whole ride, some join us midway but many get off.   It is a fallacy to think that the route to bliss lies in the hands of another human being.  Maybe it is even a sort of arrogance on my part to expect them to want to commit their whole lives to me.  It is a lesson which many daughters would benefit from being taught by their mothers.  The book of life can end with “happily ever after” but the narrative that precedes that ending does not have to be the same each time.  

From my own experience, I have learnt that contentment in your lot is found only through knowing Allah.  In the vicissitudes of life, He is the only unwavering constant.    Human interdependencies are very much like spiders’ webs – complex but tenuous.  It doesn’t take much to dismantle them.  Our ties to any person, especially our spouses, are inherently tenuous not simply because of mortality itself but, because individuals themselves are always evolving in their own desires and aspirations.  Quite literally, it is a process that may lead to ‘uncoupling’.  I have learnt that post-divorce, I must not voluntarily throw myself onto the scrapheap of society.  There are a myriad of reasons to live even beyond a failed marriage.  Alhamdulillah (praise to Allah), I look forward to watching my children grow into young men and be part of their journeys and achievements.  Then there are my own personal goals, however big or small.  Where one door has closed, I have been able to walk through many others instead.

Islam teaches us that we belong to nobody except Allah, our Creator. That Quranic ayah (verse), like so many others, can only be understood in its entirety when life puts us through the grinder and delivers us on the other side of tribulations, wretched but strangely purified.  It is usually associated as a condolence to offer a grieving person after the death of a loved one.  Yet it is a truism that we should be mindful of at all times.  We were only ever destined to return to Allah.  We do not own anyone nor are we owned.   

So, whilst I no longer exist as a wife, I still exist nevertheless.  I am a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt and a friend.  I am still me.  With or without any of those labels, Allah has put me on this earth to live in a multi-dimensional way.  He created all of us as wonderfully complex and creative beings; it has always been our choice to exploit the best of us in any given situation.  So, as the pain of divorce ebbs and flows over time and the realisation that I actually have so many reasons to embrace this beautiful life, Alhamdulillah, (all praise be to Allah), I find myself silently carving out a new niche for myself.

In the post-mortem report of my marriage, records may point to natural causes for demise.  The truth is that sometimes we don’t have the answers we are looking for.  Nothing in life is guaranteed. 

Yet from the embers of that past life, I learnt the most valuable lesson of all – I needed validation from nobody but He who created me.   There are opportunities in every situation we are in, however seemingly difficult they may be.  However, recognising them must come from a place of gratitude first.   If we start from this base point, the only way is up.

The name, Mymotherhalf, is clearly a deliberate departure from ‘my other half’.  For me, motherhood forms a hugely significant part of my life; it is a label I cherish.   As it is, there is no longer ‘the other half’ in its commonly assumed sense.  I understand now that the other half always lay within me although I was searching for it in someone else.  I am my other half.  How I wish to express that part of my identity is for me alone to decide.