Last year I was watching a call-in programme on the Islam Channel, where you could call in and ask a scholar a question. A woman called in to ask for advice regarding her children who would disturb her during prayer. The scholar indicated that she has brought them up poorly and there must be something wrong with them. That was it, no advice, no sympathy, just judgement, and ignorant judgement at that. I was fuming at this response.
Why does Allah rain so much hassanah (reward) on mothers? Why is care of the home and children our Jihad? Because it’s tough. Praying with small children is not easy. Imagine as a mother taking your full attention away from your child and trying to direct it towards Allah (SWT) only. It’s near to impossible.
Anas (RA) narrated that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his house) said, "I start the prayers, intending to lengthen them. I then hear a child crying so I make them shorter, knowing how emotional a child’s mother gets." (Bukhari and Muslim)
Nope, nothing there about being a bad mother, just a sympathetic acknowledgement of the difficulty a crying child presents to a mother. I’ve continuously struggled with my prayers throughout the time I have been a mother, not just the dividing of attention, but exhaustion, lack of time and the children playing up have all been factors. When Little Lady was 18 months I put her in her cot to pray taraweeh prayer, she managed to get the metal knob off of my bed and throw it at me. She caught me square on my spine. I spent the next few months cringing as I prayed in case she found something else to practice her aim. Little Man used to try and get at my toiletries whilst I prayed, as soon as I said salaam he would disappear, this too went on for months. Now he sits by my side waiting for me to finish so he can get in my lap whilst I make dua – this is the serenest I ever feel. Gorgeous tries to stand on me when I sit in prayer, or climb in my lap and hug me or make sujood (prostration) in front of me. It’s very hard for children to accept that their mother could turn her full attention away from them.
I find the thing that helps me most is routine. Getting them to bed early so I can pray Maghrib and Isha in peace. Getting them to nap in the afternoon so that I can pray the Zoher prayer is another option.
I also keep reminding them each time: "you mustn’t walk in front of mum when she prays", "you mustn’t talk to me when I pray". Eventually the message gets through and you find that the older ones discourage the younger ones from disturbing you.
Little Man and Little Lady also have mini prayer mats and I try to get them to copy me whilst I pray, sometimes this works, sometimes not.
If all else fails and I need peace to concentrate, I shut the door and warn them not to come in for the next 10 minutes. By the end of it, I’m usually calm enough to let them in and deal with them more kindly.
In the end though as a mother of young children you end up accepting that not all of your prayer’s will be as you want them. As always with pleasing Allah, the essence is in the struggle. Allah (SWT) sees our effort and perseverance despite frustration and rewards us for it. One of my Aunt’s use to see me pray and say "it must be hard, I remember when my kids were little how discouraged I would get because I couldn’t pray properly – but then these are the prayers with the most reward" I thought I could detect a wistfulness.