Parenthood is hard. Motherhood is even harder. No amount of mental preparation helps you to deal with the actual physical and emotional investment your child will demand from you. As days turn into weeks, months and years, it starts to sink in that a ‘lifetime’ commitment is literally that – for life.
As Muslims, many of us enter our first conscious long-term relationship i.e. marriage with the firm idea that it will be a ‘forever’ deal, however, we all know at the back of our minds that we can walk away if things get really bad. In fact, when we fight with our spouses we often take breaks and step away from each other’s company. A spouse can give you space and time to calm down. Children afford you no such luxury.
When your children misbehave, when they throw tantrums, when they argue and yell and tell you to your face that they ‘hate’ you; these incidents are more emotionally traumatic than when they come from a spouse, because this child is your flesh and blood. Yet, being a parent means that you have to always be the rational, reasonable, adult each time. There can be no sharing or taking turns in being the one to give in or to placate.
It’s easy to find yourself drained emotionally more often than you’d like. Personally, when I tried to figure out why life had become so lacklustre and full of routine ‘adulting’, I realised that my lack of energy was connected directly to my feeling of being disconnected spiritually. In the whirlwind of looking after my child and handling work, as well as what seemed like every chore under the sun, I had reduced my relationship to God to the very basic requirements.
It didn’t seem like I had done this out of choice. There just wasn’t any time to spare for the recommended acts anymore. It took many days and nights of introspection to realise that while neglecting my spirituality may not have been a conscious act on my part, re-igniting it was very much an active decision I had to make.
If we want to pass on the love we have for God and our belief in our faith, then we have to live according to it with a passion. Our children must see us making time out of our daily routines to connect with our Creator. They have to witness the continuous choice we make to step away from the world and redirect our attention to the hereafter (aakhirah) that we are actually working towards.
I wish I could say that I have been able to simply pick up where I had left off and have started lengthy sessions of contemplation and worship. These are still out of my realm for the moment. In fact, I have found myself approaching my Creator abashedly, suddenly aware of how much of my ‘lack of time’ complaints have been of my own imagining.
So while my schedule remains pretty much the same, these are a few things I have tried to incorporate into my routine, but with a more direct focus on the intention to find a closeness to God that I can then hopefully pass on to my children.
- Recite the Salawat. Often.
One of the most recommended amongst the adhkaar (supplications), sending salutations on the Prophet (s) and his Holy Household(a) has an immediately calming effect. Just take a deep breath and recite it ten times, directing your thoughts inwards and reminding yourself that these personalities are the essence of Life and always there for you. The more you make a habit of this, the more you will find yourself managing to do things you never thought you could.
- The Tasbih of Lady Fatimah(a)
Given as a gift to Lady Fatimah(as) by her father, the merits of this recitation are countless, and mentioned over and over again in numerous books. As it was given to her in lieu of her request for a servant to help her with house chores, this tasbih is often passed on amongst women as a way to alleviate the pressure we often feel when our to-do lists get out of hand. And it works! Make a habit of reciting thing after every one of the daily five prayers and be amazed at its effects.
- Recite the holy Qur’an daily
It might seem obvious, because this is such a commonplace statement. We all know we should recite the Qur’an every day and most of us do. It may be the recommended chapters after the daily prayers or a few pages before going to bed. What I am suggesting though is to recite a few verses, along with their meaning and exegesis with the sole intention of understanding how they apply to you personally. What is God saying to you in those verses? What does He want from you? Even if it is just five or ten verses a day, recite with the intent to discover God’s Message to you.
- The Prostration of Thanks
This is an act we are trained from childhood to perform at the end of every prayer. Too often, however, it becomes a routine closing-act before we stand up and fold away our prayer mats. A quick repetition of gratitude, a rote request for forgiveness and we are done. If we take just a minute or two more to thank God for a specific favour or apologise for a particular sin, it allows us to make that direct connection – even for a few seconds – that we can then carry with us even when we walk off the prayer mat and return to our daily routine.
If you have been luckier than me and already do these regularly, I would suggest picking the next-level acts that you wish you could do, and simply doing them. The important thing is to do them consistently and to do them obviously and loudly (where possible) in the presence of your children. They need to see your actions in order to absorb them and think about them, before they can be ready to accept and imitate them.
These may seem like extremely simple ways to approach spirituality, but children start off simple anyway. When I started stating my gratitude specifically and out loud, my daughter showed no interest in joining me, but today she suddenly sat down next to me and began to thank God for her toys, her blanket and the curtains! Which only goes to show that God knows we need a bit of cheering up even as He answers our prayers…