Monday, 6 January 2020

Muslim Mothers, Anxiety and Racism

On the way home from work today I stopped at the shops to grab some groceries. In the fruit aisle, a young mum was blocking the apples with her buggy and little boy, so I waited for her to finish what she was doing.  As she moved away, her little boy hung back a little and she grabbed him roughly, telling him off for not moving. I told her it was okay, but she continued to shove him forward and walked off.

The incident made me squirm a little, the boy was about three or four and not doing anything wrong.  But I couldn’t judge the mum, because her manner and words made me think of myself as a younger mum.  All day every day with your little one, often without help or support gets exhausting and you can find it harder to be patient and loving in every situation.

Layer over that a level of social anxiety from being constantly judged as a mother. Your child’s every word, action and mannerism becomes a reflection of the way you are raising them. Anything less than perfect behaviour makes you a failure and a bad mother.  Half the time it feels like everything makes you a bad mother – letting your child watch thing on your phone, giving them treats, losing your temper with them – all of those things that you do when you are struggling or to help you cope.

Then layer that over with racism and Islamophobia – whether real or perceived.  We are not just mothers, we don’t live in a vacuum, our own experiences and the trauma we experience contributes to who we are and how we parent.  Racism doesn’t just deny us opportunity or make us fearful of the world, it shrinks our worlds.  When we are scared of places, of people. We limit ourselves in where we go, what we do and who we engage with. When we become anxious, we might see malice or dislike when none is implied.

As a younger mum, I lost count of the number of times people made comments about controlling my children, or having "so many" children or just being given a dirty look.  It starts to wear on you and impact on how you behave in public.  Always herding your children out of people's way, constantly telling them to be careful, "get out of the way", "don't touch!". Being extra polite to people, smiling and ignoring slights. After so many years the underlying anxiety makes you unsure - is the grumpy old lady just grumpy, or is she being grumpy because she is racist?  Sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's not and you start to doubt your judgement.

That's on top of the exhaustion of trying to care for your little ones as a mum, and trying to ignore all the judgement that rains down on you as a parent.  Sometimes you are barely aware of the racism interspersed with our interactions in public.

So when I saw the mum being overly harsh with her little one, I felt like a knew exactly where she was coming from - maybe just tired and harassed, or maybe suffering from a type of social anxiety that comes from being overly self aware and feeling as if you are being judge harshly or disliked because you and your little ones are different.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris

I came across this wonderful piece by Danusha Laméris (Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County, California).

Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

I wrote recently about my Word of the Year: Belief and the things that have gone with it – acceptance, confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.  I got to thinking what are all of these things for? To earn more, to have prestige or recognition, to feel better than others.  None of these are important to me and none of these will help me in the next world. So belief and confidence not in themselves but as a means to something else – to serve. To help others. Small kindnesses every day and at every opportunity that presents itself to us insh’Allah.

So many small kindnesses have made a difference in my life and left a lasting impact.  Perhaps some small kindness of mine will benefit someone else insh’Allah.


Friday, 3 January 2020

Word of the Year 2020: Belief

My word for last year was acceptance, I have written about how I fared with the idea last year here.  My word for this year is Belief. This year’s word was an easy one and a natural evolution from the word from last year.  So much of my development and growth last year has been about acceptance and self-belief.

Lots of reflection and reminiscing has led me to think about all the times I did well, all of the challenges I quietly faced and carried on moving forward with. The number of projects and jobs others put me forward for because they believed in me when I did not. 

Learning to parent my teenagers again, especially my oldest daughter, was a steep learning curve, but it also reminded me that I used to be like her - adventurous, fierce, argumentative, ready to face down the world, refusing to care what anyone thought. I look back and I can't believe how much I have mellowed, mainly due to my husband's love, my faith and perhaps being a mother of five.

More than anything else, a small number of incidents with family and friends has shifted my position on how I approach life.  Occasions where I felt powerless, unable to respond to unkindness because I didn't want to anger Allah (SWT) so held my tongue, or because I hate conflict.   Not responding caused so much hurt that it hardened a part of me.  It pushed me to recognise and reclaim that spirited part of my soul that didn’t care what anyone thought.

I have questioned myself for far too long because of my culture, my faith and my family, and it has been painful and exhausting.  I made a conscious decision to stop over thinking and over analysing myself and everything in life. To let go of the overwhelming feelings and just take each moment anew for what it was.

And not caring what anyone thought felt so, very good.

It led me to accepting myself.  All of myself.  To stop overthinking and let the guilt, shame and self-consciousness that lurks in corners of our mind and soul loosen its grip.

To make space for self-belief. Belief in my good intentions, in my capability, in my competence. Belief that I can achieve anything I set my will to. Belief that I do enough, have enough and am completely enough.

So this year, I want to believe in myself and say yes to new opportunities, to adventure, to recognition, and to some big scary goals.

Do you have a word for the year? What would yours be and why?

“[Then] when you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in Allah:  Allah loves those who put their trust in Him.  If Allah helps you [believers], no one can overcome you.  if he forsakes you, who else can help you?  Believers should put their trust in Allah” - Quran 3: 159-160