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.

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