One of the greatest challenges of motherhood is the level of never-ending commitment involved. From the moment you become aware that you are nurturing a life within you, you begin to slowly weave a bond between yourself and this new human being. The strands that tie a mother to her child only grow thicker with time.
At first, love and the ‘new-ness’ of the relationship sustains the total 24-hour dedication that an infant demands, but as the days turn into weeks and then months, many women begin to feel the strain of this utter dependency – physically as well as emotionally.
When I was pregnant, I thought the biggest challenge would be changing diapers and lack of sleep, but like all habits, my mind and body adapted quickly to something that I was doing so regularly. Motherhood felt relatively easy while the only things my daughter needed were to be fed and kept clean, warm and dry. As she now heads for her third birthday, the reality of what lies ahead is beginning to dawn on me. And it is far from easy.
This child with only the beginnings of a vocabulary already demands my mental attention every waking moment. She asks questions, and then asks them again (and again) until she gets an answer that is satisfactory to her, which leaves me having to play a game of guess, supplying variations of the same statement in the hope of hitting the right one with the minimum amount of repetition.
She demands – assumes ownership even – my emotions, my expressions, my gestures and my speech. Sometimes I can’t sit next to my husband and talk to him because I am ‘her mama’ and should be talking ‘only to her’. Any quality time I might want to spend with my other half has to wait until she’s asleep and usually by the time I get everything else done that I haven’t been able to do while she’s awake, I’m too exhausted to be bothered to spell ‘quality’, let alone seek it.
Through all of this, I have often joined other mothers in the woeful cry for ‘me-time’. I have felt the hostility at having to pass up activities and social interaction while my spouse never has to think twice when he’s invited to go play (or even watch!) footy with ‘the boys’. When I talk about ‘the girls’, I am usually referring to my daughter and her friends. The need to find something that is other than mothering weighs oppressively over me some days.
And then recently (perhaps after the endless requests for empathy on my part) my husband began to push me to take time to do ‘your thing’ while he looked after the baby. So I joined a weekly swimming group, a craft club and a book club – all things I love and missed a lot. However, after a couple of months, the gnawing restlessness came back and despite having the time and freedom to do ‘un-motherly’ stuff, I still couldn’t shake off the feeling that I wasn’t getting ‘me-time’.
I began to wonder what it was that I was looking for and why it was proving so elusive. Whatever it was, I couldn’t find it in an odd hour or two every week, it was something I needed on a daily basis. It wasn’t me-time I was seeking as much as my-self. I needed to find peace and contentment where I was.
As I re-read the blogs and articles that spoke of finding time to do the things that matter to you outside of the role of motherhood, I began to realise that for me – as I would think the case with any Muslim – the things I did and enjoyed somehow always connected to and stemmed from my faith. Reading, keeping healthy and handcrafts are all recommended in Islamic traditions and they are not just an indulgence for me, but also a reminder than we can find God even in the things we consider to be ‘personal’ or ‘leisure’.
It became a case of seeking the intersection between my pleasure and that of God in my new circumstances. Being a mother is the new role that I have been honoured with, why should it be something I seek escape from? Seeking me-time within this space has become the new adventure for me.
In the quiet moments when I observe my daughter play, I don’t think about how I can’t turn my attention away for even a moment. Instead, I marvel at the new skills she seems to acquire on a daily basis with no help or guidance from me. The eagerness to explore, the innocence that doesn’t know what failure means, the persistent curiosity, are all qualities I need to learn and adopt in my own journey towards God.
When I have to simplify my thought processes and try to explain a complex concept with minimum words, I marvel at the beauty of the Qur’an, at this Message that contains the Infinite and manages to convey it to the simple human mind through finite words.
Prayers that are usually rushed through because of everything else that’s left to do have become a retreat, because they are the time for me to communicate and bond with my Lord; a connection that I must nurture and strengthen if I ever hope to make my child understand and embrace it.
Everything I do is now preceded by the question ‘Is this for me?’ Not for my temporary pleasure in this world, but for my aakhira – for the real ‘me’. I still take part in the activities I enjoy, but I no longer look to them as a release from my responsibilities. They don’t hold the promise of an escape, because I no longer feel imprisoned.
Becoming a mother changes many things, including your perspectives and priorities. The things that were once important no longer hold their appeal. However, recognising and accepting this reality takes time. We tend to think our interests define who we are and a drastic change in them threatens our sense of identity.
Once upon a time, my hobbies and work were chosen to help me in my journey towards falling in love with God, but they have served their purpose and I have moved on to another phase along this path. I am no longer the person I was two and a half years ago and I never will be that person again. Motherhood is not a role you play, or a responsibility you accept. It is something you become.
I no longer ask ‘What about me?’ Instead, I have replaced that question with this one: ‘Who am I?’ The answer to that is simply that I am a mother. Doing anything and everything that falls under that title should be as natural – and simple – as breathing.