Monday 30 March 2015

Unconditional Love – Parents, Children, Ourselves

There was a recent article in the fantastic AHA Parenting blog about unconditional love that caught my eye, mainly because I was thinking about this the day before. I grew up in generation where our parents had massive expectations of us and seemed perpetually disappointed no matter what we did. The old stereotype of getting straight A’s and being asked why we didn't get all A+’s like the neighbours kids, always being compared, always room for improvement whether our grades, our looks, our relationship choices, our careers.

I remember getting annoyed as a teenager and thinking how unfair it was I got compared to my mum’s friend’s daughter who passed her driving test and not the one who hung around in the street in the evening, dressed in tight clothes or the one that failed every subject at school. It didn't help that all of my mum’s friends compared their daughters to me, which made them dislike me a little (I can’t help it I just am a good girl! Or maybe just a bit of a people pleaser). In any case, none of us just ever seemed to be good enough.

Fast forward to today and as a parent I have found myself with the blessing of having a different perspective on the things my parents did. As I mum, there are some things that I look back on and think I would never do (like the time my brother wouldn't eat his lunch and got his keema curry dumped on his head). There are things I look at and think “did they really do that just for us?” like when my mum worked as a seamstress for 12 hours a day on very small wages to give us the things we wanted. Then there are things that I am starting to think might have been a good idea after all, like the time my parents told us they were going to a funeral, left us with my uncle and went to Madame Tussaud’s instead, telling us about it with great glee when they got back.

My perspective as a mum does make me think about why they always held such high standards and why we could never meet them. They invested everything in us, not just money, but emotionally and socially. As the first generation of immigrants, they had to give up their dreams and survive. I know my dad is very bright; he came here after he did his matriculation (equivalent to GCSE’s in Pakistan) and didn’t even wait to get his results, although he also sat a friends exam and he passed with high marks. He started working multiple jobs when he was 16 and tried to study but found it too much and gave up. My mum lost her mum at a young age and never went to school, she wanted her children to be educated and not suffer what she had to go through. Our doing well would act as a validation of their guidance and parenting. How we turned out was a sign of their success or failure.

It made me think about whether I ever put my children in the same position. I don’t believe in comparing my children to others. I think we are each born with our own strengths and circumstances and Allah (SWT) determines a different path for each of us, so there is no sense in comparing. I also don’t like to compare my children to myself as a child. As someone said to me once, Allah (SWT) made us for our time, He has made these children for this time – a harsher, scarier time it seems with so much more to deal with.

I considered whether I would love my children conditionally always regardless of what they did. It’s easy to say yes, but I see people of my parent’s generation who turned their back on their children when they were not obedient or didn’t agree with their life choices. I have seen many mothers withhold their approval and use the silent treatment or emotional blackmail, for instance when trying to get their children to marry someone they have chosen for instance.

I like to think I would never do that. But what if they did something really bad, what if they hurt me, would I stop loving them? What if they made life choices that were painful to me? A hard question, but I realised that even if I was angry and hurt, I couldn’t stop loving them. I like to think that rather than turn my back on them I would be clear about how I feel but continue to deal with them like an adult.

The AHA Parenting article asks an interesting question:

“All parents know that children need unconditional love to thrive. But how can we give our children something many of us haven't really experienced?

The answer is that each of us CAN experience unconditional love -- by giving it to ourselves.”

The answer is even more curious: unconditional love for ourselves? Considering the way we were raised with the high expectations that we could never meet, the cultural and societal definitions of success which didn't always match with the things that we really dreamed of doing, to love ourselves unconditionally seems almost impossible.

Certainly it is something I have struggled with for a long time. Perhaps because we have the faulty thinking that love and respect are a result of what we do rather than who we are. This means we think we have to earn that love rather than deserve it as we are. I believe that each of us is born with purpose and that makes us important d worthy of love. That’s easy to believe about others but sometimes very hard to believe about ourselves.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Reesh (A Happy Muslim Mama Sponsored Post)

  • Free international shipping on many products
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  • Fantastic give-away with entries accepted worldwide.
Reesh is an online store based in Australia, selling stylish, high quality abaya’s kaftan’s and scarves in vibrant colours and rich fabrics in timeless designs.

Their kaftans are soft and flowy chiffon with silk body lining.  The embellishments include beads and sequins in a range of shades, not just silver and gold.

They currently offer free international shipping on their abayas and kaftans as well as discounted shipping on scarves.  All products are ready to ship, there are no pre-orders needed and no waiting period.

Reesh's scarves are maxi-hijab size providing plenty of coverage and flexibility for how you want to style them.

I'm particularly keen on their beautiful bags and clutches which are going on my wishlist.  All of the bags are hand-crafted with high quality embellishments to ensure durability

You can find their products at their website:
Their Facebook page is here and they are currently running a free kaftan giveaway with entries accepted worldwide.

Happy, Healthy Pixie

I had some nice news today. After months of fretting about Baby’s weight and wondering if I am doing something wrong, got her checked at the hospital to find out that she has grown at a steady weight and height for the last three months and there is nothing to worry about. It seems that she has taken to weaning and all the food I have been shovelling down her, regardless of protests, has done her good.

I enjoyed my fourth baby Darling so much and found being a mum to her so easy that I thought my fifth would be a cinch that we would sail through her first year and have a big, bonny happy baby at the end of it. I underestimated the task and found myself at the baby clinic week after week being asked why the baby was gaining weight at such a slow rate that she was dropping lower and lower on the health chart each week and threatening to drop straight off it. I tried nursing on demand, nursing by the clock, shorter times between feeds, introducing formula milk sooner than I would have liked, adding fennel seeds to the kettle when boiling the water for formula to avoid trapped wind, offering infacol between each feed to relieve wind (I don’t think she ever even had any wind, but one of the health visitors suggested it). One health visitor suggested I started waking her up twice every night for a feed when she was sleeping through and another told me I should stick to formula.

They referred me to the doctor who checked her over, found her alert and didn't think there was anything to worry about but gave me a hospital referral long enough in the future to give me a chance to get her to gain weight. I stopped going to the baby clinic because I was at my wits end with different health visitors and different advice each week and a week was hardly enough time to show a decent weight gain. I also didn't like the feeling of being interrogated and judged. In the end a good friend of my husbands who is a doctor advised me to give the baby clinic a break too.

That was three months ago, in the intervening period, I dropped everything else going on in my life and concentrated on getting as many feeds, formula as well as breast milk, into my little doll. We started weaning as soon as we hit five months and that seemed to make all the difference.

After her check today, the doctor declared she was beautiful, healthy and there are no concerns. So I am going to stop being anxious now and relax a little.

She is six months now and because of her neat features and big eyes, has been nicknamed pixie. She is trying to crawl and manages to roll all over the place. The kids have a game where they put something just out of reach and try and get her to wriggle her way to it. Mash’Allah she is my soul twin more than any of the other children – quick, full of energy, happy and always smiling and a chatterbox.

Subhan’Allah I look at each of my children and imagine them all grown up, I wonder what Allah (SWT) has in store for them and pray they will use every good thing He has blessed them in the path of His beautiful religion.

Like Darling before her (who managed to pick off some of my laptop keyboard keys) Baby is obsessed with my laptop and keeps chasing my mouse across the bed.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

The Organised Muslimah: Clarity and Motivation

Quite a few sisters have asked me in the past how I manage my time or structure my day to get the most out of the day, or to even get everything done. This is something I have been thinking about a lot recently as I experiment with ways to get things done at home and with my children.

Baby number five really pulled the rug out from under my feet and it took me a long time to get to grips with all that I have to do. I had to reset my family’s routines, re-think my approach to worship and revisit how I use the time management tools available to me. I also needed some inspiration and motivation, which can be half the battle sometimes.

I wanted to share some of the tools and techniques that have helped me to feel more productive and get more done, in the coming weeks. But I believe in starting with first things first, so I’d like to share some resources and the thinking which really encouraged me to start trying to make the most of my time. The first is a quote from Imam Al Ghazali’s (may Allah have mercy on him) book ‘The Beginning of Guidance’:

“You should not neglect your time or use it haphazardly; on the contrary you should bring yourself to account, structure your litanies and other practices during each day and night, and assign to each period a fixed and specific function. This is how to bring out the spiritual blessing (baraka) in each period.

But if you leave yourself adrift, aimlessly wandering as cattle do, not knowing how to occupy yourself at every moment, your time will be lost. It is nothing other than your life, and your life is the capital that you make use of to reach perpetual felicity in the proximity of God the Exalted."

The second is a reminder from Hassan al Basri (may Allah have mercy on him):

"O son of Adam! You are but a bundle of days. As each day passes away, a portion of you vanishes away."

Both are reminders of the value of time and the importance of planning how you intend to use the limited time you have been allotted.

My first approach was to try and do everything and diarise it into my day in detail – right down to meal times, nursing times, prayer times, with all of my chores, cooking and to-do list allocated time. Then I tried to squeeze in any hobbies, recreation, projects and just about everything I wanted to do. I very quickly realised that this wasn't realistic and trying to do everything is not the same as making the most of your time. It’s also a short cut to feeling as if you are running against the clock and feeling exhausted and burnt out from trying to do everything.

Instead I did two things. The first was to think about my priorities – which activities are most important and need to have the most time allocated to them? How many of these are genuinely as important as you make them? In the wider scheme of things will some of them even matter? Most importantly which can you let go of? In writing the answers to these questions, I realised that there were lots of things that people expected of me or that I had taken upon myself that I no longer wanted to do. It felt very liberating and empowering to make the choice to just stop doing some of these – for example minimising computer time, minimising trips to the supermarket or shopping centre and asking hubby to make smaller shops in between the main family one and not checking my e-mail every day.

This started to free up pockets of time but I didn't want to just squeeze in more things that I thought I should probably do. Instead I thought about how short life is and how many things we want to do but put off until another time, especially as Muslimah’s sometimes we have spiritual ambitions to gain religious knowledge, to improve our prayers or to develop our relationship with the Quran (i.e. through memorisation or trying to understand the meaning). But time passes and those ambitions remain as ambitions, lost in the busy-ness of housework and the demands of our family.

There is an exercise that self-help books and life coaches sometimes use. They ask you to imagine your ideal day in detail and create a vision of everything that would include – from the moment you wake up to the time you fall asleep.

I decided to ask myself what my dream life would look like. I am a day dreamer, so this wasn’t hard at all. The hardest part is sometimes putting aside your rational viewpoint that says, “no don’t include that, it’s not realistic” and really being honest about what the life you long for looks like.

Once I decided that this is what my dream life would be like, I reminded myself that we get one shot at each day, once it’s gone, it’s gone and that there is no day better to implement our plans than today. For me my ideal day was not about wearing amazing clothes and spending every day on the beach doing nothing. I want my ordinary, everyday life to be blessed and full of beauty, not run away from the life that I have because I am dissatisfied with it.

My ideal life included all of the good intentions we have and never get round to fulfilling – reading Quran daily, memorising some surah’s, praying our nawafil and sunnah (non-obligatory) prayers alongside our fard (obligatory) ones each day. I decided that from the present day I would make these my priorities and start acting on them. This meant that the house would not be spotless, the kids would have to wait until you are done and there would be some things that wouldn't get done. I didn't care. I was tired of rushing my prayers or shortening them because I had to get dinner going or the babies were crying. The routine of my ideal day is built around my prayers at the beginning of their allotted time and with my full attention.

My ideal life also included eating properly, having breakfast, and making my meals look good as well as taste good. This means expanding the time I give to preparation before each meal and trying new things. Most importantly, no mobile phones or books when we are eating and we will all be sitting together.

Finally my perfect day would include spending some time doing something you love and which gives you immense joy. This one has made me think deeply about what leads to real gratification and satisfaction and why and this is one that I have promised myself I intend to explore every day.

Being clear on what your priorities are and what you would like your life to look like is the first step in planning your time. If you are not clear on these you risk your days being full of activity but lacking in achievement or productivity. Insh’Allah, next I want to go through some of my planning tools and what I learnt and changed over time.

There is no intelligence like planning, no ability like good character, and no piety like restraint. (Bayhaqi)

There is a video called Imam Al Ghazali Advice on Time Management by #SpiritualPsychologist here that I found very helpful.

Taking the Strengthfinders Test

I have been thinking about what I will be doing when I go back to work. I work as a Performance Officer in local government, but by the time I started maternity leave, I was well and truly done with that. I am not a statistics person by nature and this job requires me to look at data and interpret it with a lot of detail – something that I don’t enjoy.

I have been looking at alternative career paths and options for an income and non have appealed enough to pursue them.

Years ago at university and again early in my career in Central Government I did the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test, both times I was an ENFJ (Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Judgemental) with the following traits:

ENFJs are natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma. Forming around two percent of the population, they are oftentimes our politicians, our coaches and our teachers, reaching out and inspiring others to achieve and to do good in the world. With a natural confidence that begets influence, ENFJs take a great deal of pride and joy in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their community (source).

Hence the reason I don’t like analysing statistics in my current role and occasionally want to thump someone, anyone, at work but could spend all day encouraging people to go for that job or try a new course.

After I had Darling I fully intended to go back to work and find another job, but I found myself expecting Baby. I then thought during maternity leave I would try a few short courses, learn to drive and pick up some skills that would help me make a career change.  Yeah that was happening with five kids. I'm impressed if I'm dressed by midday some days.

So whilst I thought about work on and off, I decided to take the Clifton Strengths Finder, an online personal assessment test which identifies your top strengths (based on the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton).

The test cost £10 for the basic top five strengths test and asked me to answer a set of 177 questions which took about 20 minutes. I have to say that the cost was worth it and the test was an eye opener for me. My top strengths were:

Positivity - People exceptionally talented in the Positivity theme have contagious enthusiasm. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.

Strategic - People exceptionally talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

Achiever - People exceptionally talented in the Achiever theme work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. They take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.

Communication - People exceptionally talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

Woo - People exceptionally talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with someone.

Positivity has always been my default attitude to life, but I never viewed it as a strength because of the way some people can see you as being naive and unrealistic or Pollyanna-like, but the test report describes how this trait can be really useful in certain careers.

The trait that really interested me was Strategic. I have written strategy documents at work and found this type of work interesting and not too difficult and have been praised for it. I think because I can see the whole picture and work out how all the disparate parts fit together across the organisation.

I used to get annoyed at my husband, my in-laws and just about everyone for doing things without thinking through the consequences. I used to complain that no one thought even a few hours ahead, especially when we were making plans, for travel for example. I realise now it’s the strategic trait that means I see all the potential eventualities and pack and plan for everyone. The test has made me understand how I think and not expect everyone else to think in the same way and this stops me getting annoyed.

I will be mulling over the test reports and thinking about which direction I need to take in April when I go back to work. What strengths tests have you tried that were eye-openers? How have they changed the way you view yourself?

Friday 6 March 2015

World Book Day 2015 Costumes

It was World Book Day yesterday and this year we decided we would create costumes from we had or could wear again rather than buy them.

Little Lady goes to an Islamic school, so the girls took part but the school stipulated that there should be no witches or vampires - which probably rules out two easy costumes you can build around an abaya.  Girls were allowed to wear their costumes under their abayas if they come on public transport.  Little Lady pulled out an old bridesmaid dress she had, white shoes and this fur shrug which she matched with diamant√© jewellery and a white hijab to create a Snow Queen costume, from the beautiful book of the same name by Hans Christian Anderson.

Little Man went as Charlie from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book that we all love.  He needs a hair cut, so his wavy brown hair was just right and he found a check shirt to wear with jeans.  I made him the ticket with gold card which I cut with scissors that had a scalloped edge and attached it to a large Dairy Milk chocolate bar.  He was very happy to get his hands on the chocolate.

Gorgeous' costume was my favourite  - Burglar Bill from the book of the same name.  He moaned at me that he didn't want a home made costume but one from the shop.  I told him that I was not willing to spend money on something that he only wore once.  The only thing I bought was the hat for £3 and I suspect he may wear it again and the sleep mask for £1.50 which I cut holes in.  Thankfully he absolutely loved it.