Back to Basics: A life less complicated

Batool Haydar wonders how far the 'less is more' maxim can be extended.

Almost from the day my daughter was born, I have received friendly emails from various ‘child-expert’ brands educating me about the various stages of growth she would go through.  In every one of these informative mails would be a recommendation on what my child would ‘need’ in order to maximise her potential during these phases and of course, the brands conveniently stocked exactly those items, usually at a discounted price.

While most of us recognise these commercial gimmicks, we do tend to think that our children need the support of educational aids in order to (eventually) grow into intelligent, successful adults.  Creatively-designed, expert-approved toys are a big part of establishing the strong foundation we want to build for our children.  If you think you don’t subscribe to this thought, try taking a look in your child (ren)’s toy box.  I did.  I did and discovered I had fallen into the same trap that I was working so hard to avoid.

In my attempt to provide a more tactile environment for my child, I had bought things that I thought she needed in order to learn.  I had begun to think that each new, thoroughly analysed and researched purchase would provide more excitement and more experiences for her.  This, however, simply isn’t true.  All children really need is freedom.  They will discover and learn from almost anything they can lay their hands on, and giving them less to distract them can actually trigger their imagination and creativity.

As I started to work on de-cluttering the material aspect of my parenting, I began to wonder whether this principle would work on the other aspects of my role as a mother in Islam.  My initial premise was simple:  What areas am I doing too much in as a parent and how would it impact me and my child if I was to use a minimalist approach in them?

My journey led me to the conclusions below. (I cannot stress enough that these worked personally for me and that while the question is a general one, the application of its answers needs to be tailored to each individual’s circumstances.)

  1. Less Distraction, More Focus

Sometime clichés work because they are so true.  When you reduce the quantity of your material possessions the quality of your experience increases.  It’s simply the way things are.

I used to dread the end of each day because cleaning up felt like a repetitive, fruitless effort.  Every evening, I would pick up and arrange all her things and every morning there would be the same disaster zone of discarded toys.  Because she had so many options, my daughter moved from one object to another, leaving a brightly-coloured trail of plastic, wood and rubber for me to follow.

My reduction strategy started by watching which toys she played with eagerly and which ones she discarded after a few seconds.  I also asked a friend who has studied child development to have a look through our stash and pick out everything that was no longer age-appropriate.  These two steps alone almost halved the collection.  Now I continue by regularly watching out for toys that get thrown into corners and forgotten. I put these away and offer them again after a few weeks.  If she still ends up neglecting them, they get given away.

We have a fraction of what we used to, but my daughter is still happily occupied and takes immense pleasure in playing with what she has. Plus, cleaning up is a breeze these days!

  1. Detach / Re-attach

Moving from the material to the emotional aspect of mothering was daunting.  I didn’t want to quantify my attachment to my daughter.  How could I even think about whether I loved her too much.  Was that even possible?

The leap for me came over the month of Ramadan, whilst reciting the famous Munajaat (supplications) of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib(a).  In the prefacing verses of this intense supplication, we seek refuge in God on the day when “the guilty will wish to redeem himself from the chastisement of that day by (sacrificing) his children….” (Holy Qur’an, 70:11)

I began to think about how much of our selves we invest in our children and to what end. Do we love them because it’s so natural?  Or perhaps because we hope they will love us back?  How many parents feel betrayed when their children choose a path other than the one they have envisioned for them?  These reasons point to goals that are selfishly bound to the limits of this world.

Yet, God clearly tells us that our children are a test for us, in the same way, that wealth is (8:28). Our attachment to them is a defining factor in our Journey to our Creator. It was an extremely unsettling thought, but I had to face the possibility that if I loved my daughter simply because she was mine, then I may have been indulging too much in a ‘worldly’ pleasure.

The shift in mindset has been difficult, but I now try to remind myself that children are a responsibility as well as a gift. They do not belong to us, they are simply loaned to us by God for the purpose of instruction and guidance back to Him.  By trying to see the source of everything associated with my daughter as being Him, I am finding that it is possible to love her even more intensely because the element of fear is removed.

A great secret of motherhood is that it is scary.  We are constantly afraid of losing our child, of not being around to see them grow, of their going down the wrong path in life.  However, all these become irrelevant once God becomes an active part of the relationship because we then acknowledge He is in Control and what is in His Hand is always Good.

  1. Simplifying Spirituality

One of the things I was sure motherhood would do was to open special doors to spirituality.  After all, we are told time and again about the elevated status of mothers.  It surprised me, therefore, to wake up one morning a few months after my daughter’s birth feeling more distanced from my faith than I had ever been before.

Life had become a monotonous routine focused around my baby and I barely had the energy to eat or sleep properly, let alone reflect or perform more acts of worship.  I struggled with feelings of guilt, anger and frustration until I came across a couple of quotes from the renowned gnostic scholar Ayatullah Mohammed TaqiBehjat.

It is said that when he was asked to give advice on how to get closer to God, his response was: “Learn what the Shari‘a has taught you, and act on what you know from the Shari‘a, this is enough.” Another response is mentioned as: “If a person acts upon what they know, God will reveal to them what they do not know.”

These words had struck me, but it was when I began to explore minimalist ideas that they seemed to make even more sense.  Islam is about submitting to God – deeply and completely. It doesn’t matter how much you do, but how sincerely you do it.

Islam required me to be a good mother, to teach my child about my faith and behave in a manner that would set a good example for her.  Setting out a prayer mat for her when I performed my prayers could become an additional act of worship simply with the intention of introducing her to prayers.  In return, watching her copy my actions not only brought warmth to my heart but made me aware of and wonder at the beauty of God’s Design.

The conscious effort to find God in simple daily tasks became a cycle of positivity, gratitude, joy and motivation.  The more I looked for Him, the easier He seemed to be to find!

This process of de-cluttering – internally and externally – is exactly that, a process.  It feels like I am at the start of a long road ahead.  Setbacks are an almost daily occurrence, but even this trial-and-error attempt at changing my mindset has impacted our lives so dramatically that I cannot help but feel that great discoveries await us.

At the end of the day, I am hoping that introducing my daughter to the habit of keeping things simple will help her face the complexities of youth as well as adult life with a well-developed sense of stability and peace.

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