Motherhood. It’s an enormous word, one that holds a lot of weight. I had some semblance of an idea of what this meant before having my first baby, but as the saying goes, “you think you know, but you have no idea”, until you experience it for yourself. I could be wrong but in my mother’s generation, it seemed that there wasn’t much out there in the way of “fellow mom solidarity” in the same way that we have today through social media, television, movies, whatsapp, etc. Scrolling through your facebook newsfeed, you’ll find many inspirational videos, motivational articles, or light and humorous memes all relating to the challenges and joys of motherhood, and often giving the message “moms, you’ve got this!”
I must admit, many of those articles have also brought me comfort and reassurance in these early days of adjusting to a brand new, life changing role. I’ve caught myself thinking, “wow, it must have been so isolating for moms” to not have things out there that shed light and raise awareness about the challenges, joys, and experiences of new moms. It also feels as though society is starting to actually name the difficulty of parenthood, instead of it being an unspoken taboo topic. But here’s the thing. Although the women in my mother’s generation didn’t have Facebook and Instagram for support, many of them had something else: A village. I recently read an article describing how mothers are struggling the most in the absence of a village, and it goes on to describe the depth of personal and social issues resulting from this lack of support. The author Beth Berry states: “Now? We’re being forced to create all of that for ourselves within a society that has physically and energetically restructured itself around a whole new set of priorities. It’s a profits before people model that threatens the well-being of nearly everything we mothers are wired to protect.”
I think for many mothers, this idea is not revolutionary nor is it a huge discovery but I think it speaks volumes about this perception of connectivity or community that we mistakenly believe we have. Just because you’ve joined 5 “mommy groups” on Facebook, or you’re part of 3 discussion groups on a mommy blog doesn’t necessarily mean you have true support. It will never be the same as having a person who can hold the baby for a while you go take a non-rushed shower, or someone physically standing alongside you to help brainstorm how to soothe your wailing baby. We always talk about the façade of social and personal connections in the face of social media taking over, but we don’t often think about it in the context of being a mother. And don’t get me wrong…for a lot of people, they simply don’t have access to a “village.” Their family may be overseas or unavailable, or they may not have friends who are willing or able to offer support with children, so these social media connections may be the only thing getting a parent through the pain-staking moments. However, this very notion that we need to go back to a “village” style of living, where we raise our children alongside other community members, is something that is already beautifully embedded within our Deen – we need to go back to establishing and accessing it in our communities.
Islam places such high emphasis on a mother’s rights, such that the Prophet (SAW) said: “I start the prayer intending to make it long, then I hear a child crying, so I make it brief lest I cause hardship to his mother.” Narrated by Abu Dawood. How incredible! While there’s nothing wrong with joining the most active “mommy” Facebook support group and receive some benefit, we should also focus our energy towards building and enhancing supportive “villages” for mothers, babies, and families. Part of the way to do that is for new moms to remain connected to their local Muslim community, and for the community to be helpful and welcoming to the new parents. It is extremely challenging for a mom with a newborn or infant to pack up their belongings, prepare to be out of the home for several hours, ensure there’s a proper space to nurse or feed her baby, all the while knowing that exhaustion, tears, and challenges will inevitably make appearances during your outing. But my advice is this: even though it is VERY challenging, new moms, I humbly encourage you to muster up every bit of energy in you and do it.
Go to the Sisters Halaqa at your local Masjid, stay connected to other sisters in your community, and go to that Islamic event (provided children are welcome). It is very natural to gradually become a complete home-body but that also leads to isolation, and eventually can cause feelings of disconnection from your Deen. Even though you may not catch a good chunk of the halaqa, or you might have to step out several times to soothe your baby, it will be worth it. You will be in a gathering of angels, and eventually it will become easier. I’ve heard a lot of moms say they feel they lost other parts of their identity, and the “mom” aspect of them has fully taken over. And it makes sense: caring for, nurturing, and raising a human being is a HUGE responsibility and blessing from Allah (swt) and it’s nearly impossible to truly comprehend it until you’re in that role yourself. It’s such a huge undertaking that there’s even a wealth of scientific research indicating that a woman’s brain physically changes after having a child, allowing her to be more attuned and focused on her baby’s needs. And more importantly, it is one of the most valued roles in Islam. Abu Huraira reported that a person came to Allah ‘s Messenger (ﷺ) and said: “Who among the people is most deserving of a fine treatment from my hand? He said: Your mother. He again said: Then who (is the next one)? He said: Again it is your mother (who deserves the best treatment from you). He said: Then who (is the next one)? He (the Holy Prophet) said: Again, it is your mother. He (again) said: Then who? Thereupon he said: Then it is your father.”
So although you are fulfilling one of the most important roles in the world, don’t forget about yourself, mama. Your Iman, your Islamic development, and having a positive support network are essential to your survival as a Muslim. It’s easier said than done, especially when it can even be challenging to ensure you pray Salah at the earliest times. It goes without saying that we must be realistic. Naturally, you won’t be able to participate in all your activities to the same level or in the same manner at first but the idea is that we don’t completely disconnect from our Islamic surroundings and gatherings. Stay involved in whatever capacity you are able to, and as frequently as you can manage. And one thing is for sure, placing effort on maintaining your Islamic growth and staying connected to the Muslim community takes intentional effort. It can feel daunting to get yourself and your babies ready, but remind yourself that it is worth it: the reward from Allah (swt) is worth it, the positive impact it’ll have on your Iman is worth it, and your children growing up in an Islamic environment is definitely worth it. Another suggestion is to seek out or join Islamic mom groups with fellow sisters who are focused on establishing the proper tarbiyyah of their children. Use these sisters as a support and an inspiration for yourself.
In order to do all of this, we have to be willing to accept help to make it happen! Let’s bring back the full advantages of raising our children with village like surroundings. And yes, this may mean receiving unsolicited advice, or more people giving input about what you should/could do, and might also mean more people handling your baby. But all of that in moderation is acceptable, and brings with it the invaluable benefits of wonderful support when you need it the most.
While new mothers absolutely need advice and guidance to be the best possible caregivers for their babies, we also need support to nurture, maintain, and continue to grow in our Islamic development, Islamic knowledge, and involvement in our Muslim community. Let’s start by taking active steps ourselves to ensure that happens, and let’s build strong communities that focus on allowing our sisters to do this! As we know, Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The deeds are considered by the intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention…” Mothers, let’s be intentional about this and then ask Allah (swt) for the strength and ability to implement. It is possible not to lose ourselves, and for motherhood to actually propel us to become more practising, active, and full of Iman than we thought possible.