Parenting Is Not Just For Moms


I really appreciated this article on motherhood last week from GrowMamaGrow in which Layali Eshqaidef challenges that Muslims are not living up to the standards that they claim Muslim mommies deserve. The overuse of “Paradise lies at the feet of your mother” while most mothers are being completely taken advantage of even to the point of abuse… this is nails on the chalkboard stuff for me. I need to hear/read Eshqaidef‘s included Muslim maxim below (as well as the best among you are those who are best to your families) a kazillion times over to wash away the residue of my annoyance at the other hollow sentiments. Eshqaidef touches on several points about Muslim parenting, which I would like to reiterate and add to here.

One point that I think many of us really need to cling to is: “One thing to do is revitalize fathers’ roles in parenting, childcare and household duties. The purpose of marriage in Islam is to form a partnership in pursuit of sakinah (tranquility) for both partners. It is best for Muslim men to follow in the footsteps of the best role model, Prophet Mohammad (S), who used to spend his time at home in the service of his family.” In my experience, I see far too many families abusing the role of the mother as the primary care-provider, whether she works for an income or not, leaving the father’s just-about-nearly-only role to be an income earner. The dads have a flimsy secondary role as an authoritarian parent and husband who has little substantive interaction with his family other than making demands and giving orders as to how he wants his duties outsourced.

Often an unrealistic burden has been placed on the mothers, seemingly forgetting that the fathers will be first in line to be questioned about their accountability in their family’s care and children’s rearing. When asked about their shortcomings in providing their children’s rights and being an honorable companion to them in their adolescence, will dads expect “Well I told my wife to take care of that” to be an acceptable excuse? But I know that, like Eshqaidef, I am preaching to the choir here as the majority of my readers are women, and the majority of people seeking out advice from Mama Google on parenting are also women.

So, I will jump to my second point which is how we, mothers included, completely undervalue the work of mothers. Especially among Muslims, the general attitude is that women are motherly by nature – it is our nature to have children and nurture them – therefore it is pretty much thoughtless work we do inherently. The chores associated with mothering are seen as mundane, yet exhausting labor that anyone can do, yet men certainly don’t want to. Not only have others devalued our work as mothers, but we devalue it as well. Likely we have all seen those cute little break downs of the financial value of our motherly work, but true appreciation of our work doesn’t seem to stick for many of us mothers. Many of us rush to get back to working for a paycheck after having children (when not absolutely necessary) because monetary value is the only tangible value we can place on ourselves. Other mothers may (wisely) avoid being a stay at home mom (even though they will still carry more than a fair share of the parenting duties) for other reasons, especially around emotional well-being.

As I move through international mothering communities, I have found some women, within some cultures who have much greater respect for their roles and work. They wouldn’t dream of going to work if they don’t have to, they are much more… prepared to accept the mahrs and gifts that come after having given birth, they fight for maintenance and that of their children in cases of divorce. Many men and even some women will see these moms as money-hungry, but I see them as having a better understanding of the value of their role.

I truly believe that one person cannot change another (such as forcing fathers to father), and that Allah only changes our condition when we change ourselves (such as STOP doing EVERYTHING). It has taken six children and my share of burn-out to better see the value of my mama role. I move forward today actively mothering, but not bogged down in unrealistic expectations and guilt – this requires shutting out many voices, and listening to the true sunnah and my instincts.

Please read the rest of Eshqaidef’s article here.

*This post is focused on the rhetoric of traditional Muslim marriages and parenting roles, but of course there is an enormous scope beyond this which also needs much addressing…

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Mothering Mondays: Starting In The Embers With The Motherhood Project

Lovely little tiny green things growing in a seemingly inhospitable space. Taken by my eldest child.
Lovely little tiny green things growing in a seemingly inhospitable space. Taken by my eldest child.

In an attempt to better understand what it is I am doing, I have been wanting to dedicate some time to writing about parenting, but you know… writing vs doing. Well, Ke’lona Hamilton, the force behind the awesomeness that is Creative Motivations, has dedicated a snippet of everyday in 2014 (insha Allah) to creating a personal reflection centered on mothering. Ke’lona has invited others to join her in the Motherhood Project, where participants can create any form of writing, media or art on their own feelings around the subject, and she has fleshed out some pretty worthy areas to delve into: the good and bad, step-mothering, thoughts about her own mother and so on. I think I am going to go ahead and try to do this project too, at least on Mondays (when I eat meat, cuz someone else is around to do the cooking). Click these linkies to read more about the project and Ke’lona’s posts to date.

Here’s my first Mothering Mondays post:

Feeling Burnt

I told Ke’lona that I don’t exactly have shiny-happy feelings to write about mothering right now and she said something like that’s great, because the project is supposed to cover it all. So. My current stage of mothering feels something like that guy on YouTube stuck on a treadmill that just keeps going faster and faster, but he’s determined not to be violently thrown from the thing so he keeps running and running. He hollers a lot too, which is something else we have in common.

I have six kids, the first one is firmly rooted in the chemically-challenged throws of teenhood and the last is a couple months shy of her two years worth of breastfeeding. In May, if we live, I will have completed twelve years of breastfeeding. Remind me to award myself something spectacular since no other family member is yet at any stage to appreciate my accomplishment. Although I will likely get a little tiny bit more sleep, I’m not looking forward to weaning my baby who I am hoping will remain The Baby. As one friend always (painfully) reminds me, “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” And I sure am getting whiffs of that.

My kids are home-educated, which I would not trade for anything currently available on the market, and that means that I spend more than average time with them. Of course I know I am supposed to GET AWAY from them time to time, rejuvenate me and all that, but you know theory is one thing and escape capabilities are another. My working from home is a mixed blessing in that I am always here for my kids and I am always here for my kids. For the last year and a half my husband spends half his time with us here in the countryside and the other half in the city. There is no solution presenting itself to this… lifestyle we have carved out. It sucks. For me.

As I type this I think about all the great craft supplies we have that I don’t have time or energy to do with my kids, or the access to glorious hikes that I don’t have ti… and all the many, many parenting, mothering and pedagogy books, articles and resources I have imbibed yet find myself acting contrary to… And I know, I know that I have done so much for my children and blah, blah, blah… yet I am in that burnt out space that I hope is a sort of rocky bottom because I fear to think how this could get worse.

Sometimes I feel like I am being mocked. I thought that I was laying out a nice little plan and made adjustments when necessary, but right now I feel overextended, like I have adjusted too much and the gears can’t take the pressure.

Maybe next week I will feel shinier and share some of the solutions I am trying. Or maybe I’ll drag myself out for a walk and share a picture. At least my treadmill is… as wide as I can make it.

Thanks Ke’lona for inviting me along on the ride.

My Horriblest Ramadan Ever

A few months before Ramadan this year, a couple of good friends confided in me that their Ramadans are always horrible. Always. One friend’s husband is a smoker and every Ramadan she has to deal with his nicotine withdrawal, which includes irrational-like grumpiness and downright cruelness with both his words and actions. She’s spends her Ramadans waiting for the moment when he inhales so she can exhale. The other friend spends the entire month attempting to please the high needs and demands of her in-laws and husband. She cooks, cleans and serves at a break-neck constant pace throughout the month, while receiving a constant stream of nit-picking and frequent reminders that her lack of a cheerful demeanor indicates that she is not happily providing servitude to her family for the sake of Allah. Of course friend #2 isn’t able to perform any of the special Ramadan acts of ibadah which most of us look forward to and she is belittled for her failings there as well.

Wow, I was truly shocked as I had never had a bad Ramadan. Sure, sure I get a little pre-Ramadan anxious about the food and not having access to the food at regular intervals, but while I still have those feelings every year, after my first few fasts I knew that the hunger and thirst were truly not that bad. It’s mostly the unusual scheduling that Ramadan brings that I have found most difficult and more difficult each year as I have more children, now in all stages. This past Ramadan I had six kids ranging from a (greedy) breastfeeding baby of 14 months to a 14.5 year old teen who has fasted full Ramadans for a few years. As our family grows and our home environments change, the last few years I have found it helpful to have family meetings about what we all anticipate to happen and want to be doing during Ramadan. In Ramadans past this has helped me to recognize the needs of and prepare for our different styles of Ramadan, such as the years my husband took the boys to community iftars every night (heavenly years where I opted out of the stuffy, windowless sisters’ room and stayed home enjoying the quiet!) and the years we lived with my sister-in-law who has a very rigid Ramadan schedule which she stuck to even with seven people added into her household.

This year I was to be alone with the kids for the first couple of weeks of Ramadan as my husband had planned to be gone, so I sat down with the kids to discuss their expectations. I had hoped to help the three fasting older boys to understand that the iftar spread does not magically appear on the table and to accept that if that’s what they wanted (who doesn’t want a little feast at mahgrib?), then they would have to help to get it together. I had also hoped to illicit some empathy out of them, to get them to understand that in addition to fasting along with them and doing the managerial work of the suhoors and iftars, I also have younger children who would be keeping more regular schedules and would need supervision throughout the days as well as to be fed. Their response: nada. One son offered that he wanted “cake every day” and being the sincere (and previously a retail baker) kind of mom I am, I jumped at that suggestion and did bake cakes very regularly during the month. But when it came to addressing schedules- who would do what and when- forget about. They gave me groans and want-you-dead stares.

Some people might chalk this mis/lack of communication to typical mannish ways, but in hindsight- after an unusually horrid month with them, I think there was something else at play there. I think that they were having their own Ramadan anxieties and rather than work with me, they opted to just opt out. They closed down. I did try a second and third time to get them to “visualize our Ramadan together”, but again I got nothing.

Mistake #1

Ever heard the saying that “Expectations are unrealized resentments”? I expected my sons to empathise with me about the increased workload that Ramadan brings, and I expected them to help. Ha! Now, maybe some of you have perfectly perky children who upon waking every morning, happily refer to their to-do list and then systematically work through it, checking off their tasks as they accomplish them before rewarding themselves with a gold star or a game of Angry Birds. For the rest of us, I’ll randomly estimate, billions of parents the world over and throughout the ages- we suffer what is known as The Chore Wars. Beating, bribing, begging- to each their own how they deal with it, but a week or so into Ramadan I sought support and commiseration from some of my sister-girlfriends and lo and behold our kids were worse during Ramadan! Many people’s otherwise delightful children metamorphosed into bitter, resentful, heel and palm dragging, tantrum throwing beasts. And of course we all noted with horror that if Shaytan is locked up during Ramadan, then our children…

Mistake #2

This Ramadan the typical adolescent cry of “You’re trying to control me!” finally made its way to our home. Well, no duh. But herein I feel that I really failed: we (as in the husband) chose to restrict electronics during Ramadan. This makes perfect sense to a logical adult who understands that they are fasting not only with their stomach, but also with their other senses. Why would you expose yourself to ibadah-time wasting and potentially even haram content-filled entertainment during Ramadan?! We went cold turkey off the electronics while fasting, and now in the well-fed light of day I see that there could have been a better way. A couple of my (very smart) friends actually invested in handheld devices specifically for Ramadan. They chose all the content – new and exciting!- and were able to use the devices to both control (bribing!) and further control (keep ‘em occupied!) the kids without the kids even minding too much. I have already started stockpiling new-to-them “quality entertainment” for next Ramadan. As we get closer to next Ramadan, insha Allah, I will let them pick out some edutainmenty things so as to attempt to reduce the complaints about us, the adults, controlling everything.

More Solutions

As a home-educating mother I have long @@ at mothers who “just do all the chores, because it’s easier.” Maybe in the short term it’s easier than these daily battles I dredge through, but it’s a great disservice to our kids and would likely literally kill me if I tried.  Deconstructing the worst (not all, just the worst) scrimmages of our just passed Ramadan, three particulars really stand out for me as needing resolutions for next year: The Dishes, The Milk Run and Iftar Help.

I let most of the chores slide (even for myself) during Ramadan as we all have less energy; less energy to do and less energy to nag, but those three chores had to be done daily and were battles every time. Well actually, the first day of Ramadan one of my sons cooked iftar before I even woke up! He cooked in a filthy kitchen that he was supposed to have cleaned the night before (the cooking was meant as a “surprise”), so when I got mad about the mess he further shut communications down, feeling that his actions weren’t appreciated and the only other few times he cooked during the month were done so after immense nagging on mine and his father’s part.

To me, another full grown adult with a lot to learn, this kitchen work stuffs seems logical; I like to cook in a clean kitchen, cleaning as I go along, serving the meal on plates that are clean and waiting, and then clean it all up again sometime after we eat, and then repeat the whole thing forever. OK, maybe I should omit “like” in there because a lot of times I loathe the entire process. And obviously that is just my preference because The Kid managed to cook a scrumptious meal with only four clean items: cutting board, knife, pot and spoon. Still, he does not see passed that cooking moment (let’s not even get into the mess he creates while cooking) to needing those dishes to serve on, as well the cooking and serving that needs to be done in between suhoor and iftar for the younger kids. Tons of work, right? And while I sympathetically added myself to the dish washing roster just for the blessed month (the three eldest rotate dish duty), I refuse to do all of the washing and cooking. I expected (there’s that word again!) the kids to help with our iftars, especially when I was doing some of their work.

And they did help and even fully prepared a few iftars, but with no rhyme or reason- reluctance being the only constant. Maybe without the burden of cleaning the kitchen (we do nearly all of our cooking from scratch, so there can be a lot of dishes involved) maybe the cooking would be easier to approach for all of us. I know some families turn to paper plates during Ramadan and though I am absolutely loathsome of this option (how we gonna skip a whole meal every day, but waste other resources!?) if we are not able to fulfil our mutually agreed upon dream of getting a dishwasher next year, I might seriously buy a stack or several of disposable plates. At least I won’t be using plastic utensils and Styrofoam cups, right?

The last thing that gave me a lot of problems this past Ramadan was The Milk Run. When we lived in urban Morocco this problem was The Bread Run: sending a child to pick up daily fresh bread for iftar. Here we buy fresh daily milk and the kids use a rotating schedule of whose-turn-is-it? throughout the year just like we do with the dishes. It’s about a ten minute walk to go get the milk- right before breaking the fast at mahgrib- a task that apparently few children cheerfully fulfil day after day. This year my non-fasting (and too young to normally go) daughter truly happily went to get the milk everyday with her friends who went that way to get fresh drinking water, but on the days she didn’t go- uff with the begging and bribing again! I really don’t know how we are going to get over this one next year if we are still in this same location, but it would certainly be nice to relieve this other headache.

Moving forward

With all the moaning and groaning (it was actually much louder than that) that went on around here during Ramadan, you can imagine how our acts of ibadah faired. The Boys finally got into the habit of going to tarawee for the final ten days, but on eid I gave the two worst offenders cards which basically said:

“I’m so sorry that we all had such difficult Ramadans and I hope that we can work out some of our problems before next year. I have put aside some money for you for eid, but since I noticed that you didn’t get to read much Quran this Ramadan I have decided that when you demonstrate that you have revised (insert name of long surah child has mostly memorized) then I ‘ll give it to you. I’ll even spend an equal amount towards an electronic device of your choice! I love you, Mama”

And you know what? They weren’t even mad! They knew they were horrible. And maybe I was too. Insha Allah we can begin now to be sure that this past Ramadan remains our most horriblest Ramadan ever.

~~~

If you have had some horrible Ramadans and have found solutions to make them the blessing-filled month we all aspire for, please leave me a comment here to contact you for an interview and I promise not to publish your comment.

*My family home-educates and although I look one, I am not a fulltime housewife.

The 5 Worst Things My Kids Have Done in the Masjid

To the horror of a few dozen boys and young men, before Taraweeh last night my seven year old daughter prayed Isha on the men’s side of the masjid. Having three older brothers and no one to go over to the women’s side with, of course this seemed perfectly natural to Z, who in her tiny rhinestone dotted abaya and jersey knit tie back khimar (my sport khimar she has somehow usurped) she lined her little foot up to the gunboat of her fourteen year old brother and salaamed in. The next man to join the line gave a noticeable double take at the mini-hijabi, then lined up next to her and also salaamed in. Though none of the men of the men’s side said anything to her or my son, several young males were impelled to break their own prayers to inform my son (who enjoys a little rabble rousing as much as his Mama) that his sister had to leave. “Did you tell them she won’t bleed on the carpets?” I asked. He snorted in response and then me and The Boys took a rofling journey down memory lane recounting all of the horrible stuff they have done in the masjid. In no particular order:

5. The Not Salutations

One of my kids climbed to the roof of a masjid under construction and threw rocks (pebblish sized) and flipped the bird at his passing by friends and acquaintances. We can blame this on hormone shifts causing lack of impulse control. It was kind of an elder brother to overlook my son’s horrid adab and simply suggest that the kid come down for safety reasons.

4. Bad Dawah

My kids don’t play ball much. Their parents aren’t ballers and apparently there isn’t a recessive gene for that. So allowing one of my kids to kick a ball at the amir’s door just across from the masjid was an especially bad idea. A few kicks in and SMASH went the ball into the window of an apartment building next-door. Possibly worse was that the parent who was (supposed to be) supervising this kicker thought that they could fix the window without the tenants ever having to know about it. Parent parked a delivery van in front of the window and began scraping the rubber sealing off, without heeding the fact that the police station is two blocks away and fairly attentive to the masjid’s comings and goings. Alhumdulillah, lacking proper tools led Parent to give up his DIY project. Son paid for the window and still doesn’t play ball of any sort.

3. Najas Nightmares

My kid says that he “really had to go. Like really bad” but who wants to break their taraweeh prayer and then do that all over again? So yep, he tried to hold it but finally released a torrent all over himself and the masjid prayer rugs right there in the front row of taraweeh prayers. That’s one of your worst fears about kids in the masjid right?

2. Najas Nightmares II

During itikaf one year my boys rotated staying overnight in the mosque with their dad. Of course one semi-uncharacteristically peed in his sleep. All over the rugs, again. Not the same kid though.

1. Biology Experiments

After a hearty community iftar yet another one of those well-meaning brothers warned my son not to run around the masjid as it could make him puke (vomit for those of you joining us outside of the US) if he exercised on a full stomach. This is the son that doesn’t run much, but is especially inquisitive, so of course he did. And he did. Fortunately he kept running through his nausea, saving the rugs this time by puking off a masjid balcony into the parking lot below. No he didn’t hit anyone or anything other than the pavement.

Forgot one!

0. More Not Too Superficial Damage

There was also the time one son threw another son’s Arabic studies book down the masjid stairs. When the book owner went chasing after it he stumbled, rolling down the stairs to the bottom where he crashed into and broke the glass door. I would think those things would be strong enough to take the impact of a smallish child, but no.

*Let it be noted that I was never once in attendance with my children during any of these episodes, though I did receive phone calls about them. May Allah preserve the parents who make the effort to take their children to the masjid and raise their children high in the deen. And for all you afflicted bystanders, I still got no empathy.

Tight

We had a terse argument that ultimately got me to here. If he left work a few minutes early, we would lose a few dollars. But if I could leave home a few minutes early, I could pick up the food. The free food. But would it even be worth it?

Mmmm look at all those yummy preservatives and other added chemicals!

Sometimes the boxes are more generous with fresh produce and even some yogurt or cheese in them. Sometimes they are measly, full of processed, chemical-filled “food” items that I am ashamed to feed my children. We finally agreed that the risk was worth the few dollars we would lose. The few dollars wouldn’t buy any produce or any other foods beside a gallon of milk.

The warehouse had moved since my visit last month, but I didn’t know that until I arrived and read the posted flier with a map directing me to the new location. I was tempted to take the flier so I wouldn’t forget the address, but it was the only one posted. I got back in our car, his work truck. We own just this one vehicle, but it doesn’t seat our entire family. I drove a little faster. We lose on the other end if I am late.

From the bright, midday sunlight I step into the dark, unfamiliar space, looking hurriedly for the number tags. Should someone else get the next number, it could mean late or later for me. New people don’t know the process. They take a number, sit and wait with the rest of us, waiting for food. But when the number is called the new person is then told to fill out paperwork which they should have filled out before they took a number. This can make the wait unpredictably and painfully longer. Some days there isn’t a wait. Other days, it could take an hour’s worth of waiting just to finally walk over to the counter and exchange a number tag for a box of food. If my turn is not called soon enough, I may have to leave without my box.

The warehouse is so noisy. Just like the old location. There are several workers, a few administrators, dozens of people waiting ahead of me, the television is on and of course, several small children are in various states of playing or clinging. I find the number dispenser and move further into the warehouse looking for a place to sit. So many people standing. So much noise. I hate it that they watch me as I stand looking for a place to sit and wait for the food.

Then I see her and realize that the noise is mostly a moaning sound. A very tall and heavyset woman is lying on her side on the painted cement floor. She is writhing just slightly and making a constant moan. Many people are standing around watching her, ignoring the Wizard of Oz on the TV. A man is on the floor cradling her shoulders and head in his lap, telling her: “You’re okay baby. You’re okay.” A woman is asking no one in particular if the moaning woman is diabetic. The curious or concerned woman has a family member who is diabetic; she guesses that perhaps this is the moaning woman’s problem. She is epileptic. This is repeated throughout the crowd. “She is epileptic.”

A woman is asking the man on the floor questions, relaying the information into the phone. I hesitate. Should I take a seat? I step just outside the entrance. Back into the brightness. My number is 56. I see a couple in the parking lot, loading their food into two backpacks. I want to ask them what number they had. I am envious that they got their food before whatever is happening happened and they don’t have to wait. The woman on the phone is the one who should be calling the numbers. Another couple leaves and I want to ask them what their number was. I peek through the door at a man standing near the pick-up window. I try to see what number is in his hand. I feel so callous. That woman is sick on the cement floor. She may not get her food. She may not need it anymore. Maybe I should leave.

I move along the side of the building, further away from the door. An ambulance comes. I watch the entrance closely for anyone else coming out with their box. I don’t know what time it is. I can see most of the inside of the waiting room. I don’t see a clock. I remember during another visit at the old location that the place didn’t have a clock on the wall. Maybe it makes the waiters too anxious. The Wizard of Oz is a VHS tape and won’t even give a commercial break to hint at how long I have been waiting. Someone else comes out with a box of food. I go back in. The number 59 is still hanging on the wall. I press myself against the wall next to the number tags. I stare down towards my feet and notice how my nails are digging into my hands. I can see the wrapper of a hypodermic needle on the table next to me. I can see her feet. She is lying on her back now. Only one of my friends knows that I do this. A few days ago I told her that I only felt desperate during my first visit to the food bank. I feel desperate again today.

~~~

This story originally appeared in University of Alaska Anchorage’s ‘Understory.’

Go here for a list of Muslim operated (and sometimes halal carrying) foodbanks.

SISTERS Reads: Raising Baby Green

Raising Baby Green:The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care (Kindle Edition)

By Alan Greene/ Published by Jossey-Bass/ Reviewed by Brooke Benoit

Every time I have a new baby, I’m a bit of a new mum all over again. It seems like I should have at least learnt the basics after six babies, but the basics keep changing on me! The wealth of baby-related products and the methodologies are constantly being updated, while my responsibilities to my baby and to Allah (SWT) remain the same. Wait, that’s not true. My responsibilities grow as my knowledge-base grows, so while it’s great that I learned so much after having six babies, it certainly would have been nice from the start to have learned more about sustainable parenting and less about the latest parenting trends.  Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care by Alan Greene is not only a great place to start understanding the immense impact one little bundle of joy can have on our entire shared environment, but it had plenty of new ideas for an old green-palmed mum like me.

 

Organics

I have always strived to be conscious of whether or not I am feeding my children organics, but I hadn’t fully considered the exposure to chemicals via what I put on my babies or their beds, which they mouth and suck on more than food in some stages! As Greene explains, baby sleeps up to sixteen hours a day and are almost always clothed, but the fabrics you buy for baby have not undergone the same regulated restrictions as food – actually there is good reason new clothes and bedding are suggested to be washed before using, they are made with and tainted with many chemicals, even potentially toxic ones. While I always considered organic clothing to be too expensive and maybe even extravagant, I now have a better understanding of its efficiency and would prefer to gift friends pricey organic clothing rather than anything else – except maybe fair trade chocolates for mum.

 

Nappies (What the British call diapers)

Greene thoroughly covers issues regarding nappies, referring to current studies and for those of us, like me, who are trapped somewhere between the guilt of wishing to use cloth nappies and actually using landfill-nappies (as Greene points out they are not truly disposable since they stick around forever!), there are some alternatives available: eco-diapers, made with less toxins and more sustainability or disposable cloth liners, which can be flushed thereby making cloth diapers easier to clean and carry. With a new, less toxic detergent on hand, Green has inspired me, and we are back in the cloth!

 

Labour and Delivery

The section on eco-birthing was especially interesting to me as I have birthed in several different environments, both home and hospitals. Even though I have home-birthed four of my children, they were all in different homes. In the Labour and Delivery Room section of the book as well as the Whole Home section, Green gives plenty of areas to consider when creating a safer home environment for our babies. He also details the larger impact of hospital births, offering alternative suggestions for a “carbon neutral delivery” within both hospitals and homes.

Toys

And even though I am already completely sold on the idea, I loved Greene’s section on toys where he waxes the goodness in wood, wool, cotton, and toys made of natural materials. “Research on the health effects of many plastics is still in its early stages, but it is known that some of our children’s plastic toys contain chemicals, including lead, cadmium, and toxic softeners, that  may cause permanent damage to the brain, liver, and reproductive system” warns Greene. Being from San Francisco – the city Green highlights, where certain plastic toys are actually illegal – I have long known about the toxicity of plastics and their manufacturing, but rereading the litany of environmental and health problems caused by these products is always a good refresher. Plastics are so convenient and common, I find them constantly sneaking into my home! Natural materials can be more costly and time-consuming to care for, but what is time? And what is our rizq (income) for? Allah (SWT) allots us our time, so being green is an act of ‘ibadah (worship) and our money should not be spent on buying goods which are poisonous to both ourselves and the shared environment.


Overall I really appreciated Greene’s book. Even though I consider myself an eco-jihadist, I still found through the read that there are several areas of my life in which I could do a little more greening, and there are a good variety of ways to do it.

Further Reading:

Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Third Edition: Encouraging Your Child’s Natural Development from Birth to Age Six by Rahima Baldwin Dancy

All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life by Winona LaDuke

~~~

This book review originally appeared in the April 2013 issues of SISTERS Magazine– the magazine for fabulous Muslim women. 

 

Brooke Benoit lives in a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains where she is trying to lightly walk her own eco-talk.

Homeschooling: Getting Dad on Board

I frequently hear moms asking “How do I get my husband to agree to homeschool?” and, well, I have great empathy for their plight. I’ve heard that if it’s not dad’s idea to begin with, it can be very difficult to convince him to homeschool. This week when someone asked me about this common dilemma I thought back some ten+ years to the beginning of my family’s journey and tried to remember- how did I get my husband to agree to homeschool our kids?

Initially the husband seemed to agree with my homeschooling idea. Perhaps he saw my enthusiasm- pouring over hsing books, joining hsing groups, taking parent and child courses at our local Waldorf school- and he thought something like, She’s going to be great at this! I just asked him how he was so easily convinced in those early days and he says it has to do with him being “weird” by which he means “unconventional” and he says that he’s quick on his feet and “just got it right away that homeschooling was a good thing to do.” I may try again to jog his memory about that time because…

… and then about a year later we moved to Morocco and the man buckled. He began pressuring me to put our four year old into preschool. Now he says “that was only about the language.” Yes, of course. Muslim homeschoolers who move overseas often cite language acquisition as a reason for indoctrinating putting their children in schools once they are in Muslim majority countries. The other main reason is so that the children will learn Quran and Islamic values.

The first two neighbourhood schools I begrudgingly toured with my husband were taught primarily in French. And they happily informed us that the children learn all about Papa Noel and wear costumes for Halloween. Did this appeal to the Western Mom? No. Their curriculum was also cra substandard and they did not have an outdoor play area for the children. Well they had cement driveways. Nice. The third school we toured was a 40 minute drive (not during commute hours) from our home. It was an “Islamic school” located within the compound of a lovely mosque. There was a plush lawn covering the grounds and a slide. One of those detached slides you might buy from a toy store for your own kids.

We arrived at Option #3 just in time for Thuhr prayer and got to witness all the little kids (remember- preschool) pulling on their hijabs and thobes, rolling out the enormous plastic rugs, and lining up to pray. Truly adorable. Then we learned about the curriculum. Yes, we were proudly informed, these three and four year olds were learning not only Classic Arabic (as opposed to the Derija or Tshilhit they speak at home) but they were also learning English. Argh. I was hoping to follow the Better Late Than Early model. The husband was impressed. He decided the son would go. He decided my little four year-old would-be-homeschooler should commute to school six days a week for several many hours every day. I remember there was an option for him to come home for two hours every day for lunch, but obviously that would be futile with the more than an hour’s worth of driving back and forth, so he would be there all day. Full-time.

I decided to opt out. “You want him to go, you have to get him up, get him ready, make his breakfast, get his lunch ready, drop him off, pick him up. I’m not doing anything to help,” I said (and meant). My husband did not get up and get my son ready and make his breakfast and make his lunch and drive him in Casa traffic (similar to LA or NY) to school and then drive back to our side of town and then go back hours later to get him. My husband didn’t put our son in school after all. This solution didn’t come to me immediately or easily, but it came to me and it worked. That was the end of that and the beginning our homeschooling journey.

I hear that dads are more inclined to listen to professional advice regarding these matters of making choices that very much go against the current grain, especially the advice of other males. So you may want to do another thing I did, which was to load the coffee table down with books and printed out data about the success rates of homeschoolers. But then again, that didn’t seem to entirely work for us. Otherwise, some Muslims appreciate a good fatwa, so here’s one if it helps at all- though I’m sure you could find support out there for an opposite view…

Homeschooling our Children is an Act of Obedience to Allah

Question:

If a woman wants to home school her children, to protect them from evil influences, can she do so against her husband’s wishes? Can you provide any articles about educating our children, especially in this secular liberal society?

Answer:

The danger in the non-Muslim schools is definite, and sending our children there when there is a good alternative available is an act of disobedience to Allaah. If you know that you can properly home-school your children, and you know that you can get by it despite your husband’s opposition, then do it by all means, because, “No obedience may be granted to any creature that involves disobeying the Creator.”

Shaikh Muhammad al-Jibaly

imanbendjedidi.blogspot.com

Note: You do not have to be a teacher or have a university degree to teach your children at home. Studies have proven that home educated children are approximately five years ahead of children that attend public school, regardless of their parent’s level of education.

More and more Imams are encouraging homeschooling and some are stating it is a requirement, alhamdulillah.

Link Love – The Unassisted Birth (hey Dad helped!) of Salma Luna

I keep meaning to write more eloquently about the unassisted birth (dad helped!) of my sixth baby, but… in the meantime here is my friend (I’m happily one of those who have watched her grow from girl to woman) Shukr and Salma’s (and Dad’s) story…

Forward: As I begin to more fully blossom into my adulthood, privacy has become an important virtue of mine. I’ve reached a place in my life where I no longer seek permission, approval, or praise from those who I look up to for my life choices. It will continue to take some time for those who have watched me grow from girl to woman over the years to also see me in this new way, and I will continue to be patient.

I kept the knowledge of my pregnancy private, and also my decision to give birth unassisted. I was originally hesitant to share my amazing experience for fear of being accused of selfishness and recklessness when in actuality so much thought, prayer, and research backed my decision.

I’ve decided to put my reservations aside and share my positive experience with all who are willing to listen.

Keep reading here…

I Go To School… At Home

Asalam alaikum, my name is Zakariya and I am eleven years old. I have always been homeschooled, so I really don’t know what a typical day at school is like, but I do have an idea of what an ideal homeschooling day would be …
My perfect day would start with a big breakfast, including waffles and hot chocolate, but usually I just make myself a sandwich with honey and homemade peanut-butter. I really like to have extra sweet coffee or black tea, but my mom usually only lets me have chamomile or green tea. We don’t live near a bakery, so my mom pays my brother and I to make our own bread, which is pretty awesome because I get money and homemade bread is delicious.

Zak
On a perfect day I could jump into my favourite projects right after breakfast, but actually I have some chores to do. My brothers and I take turns washing dishes; we also feed our food scraps to our neighbour’s cows, chickens and cats. Sometimes I have to clean the hammam (bathroom) or wash my clothes, which we don’t have a machine for. In an ideal world, we would have a washing machine and I would never even have to use it!
After chores we have ‘project time.’ Right now my main project is learning about architecture and doing architectural drawings. I draw with pencils and the computer. I’ve used some architecture software and am hoping to get some better illustrating software soon.
I tried making three dimensional building models with balsa wood, but found out that I really like making toy guns instead. I also draw a lot of comics and have been thinking about writing a whole story about what World War III might be like.
Lunchtime always sneaks up on me while I am working on a project. On an ideal day, we would have Chinese take-out or pizzas with fountain sodas delivered, but actually, just like with chores, my brothers and I take turns helping to make lunch, which is usually our biggest meal of the day. My mom says that I am really “detail oriented” so she usually has me cut vegetables into small pieces for fresh salads or sautéing.
After lunch my parents like to have “quiet time,” which for them and my little sisters usually means taking a nap. My brothers and I like to use the computer during this time, either to watch a movie or play video games.
The athan for Asr lets us know that quiet time is over, and, after we pray, we can play outside until Mahgrib if we don’t have any chores to do. I usually use this time without my brothers and sisters around to do my own work on the computer, like right now I like to take a lot of math tests online or make stop animation movies with Lego or paper cutouts.
Usually right after Mahgrib we eat a simple dinner of leftovers or other simple food and then begin getting ready for bed. Most nights we have ‘story time’ and my mom reads either a storybook for my sisters or a chapter from one of the books we have on our Kindle. We don’t live near a library, so most of our reading is done on the e-reader, and after story time my older brother and I take turns reading on it. Right now we are reading through all of Rick Riordan’s books. If it’s not my night to use the Kindle, I usually draw for a little while before I go to sleep. Occasionally I actually stay up longer than my parents and having the whole house to myself is really perfect – the best way to end the day!

~~~

Originally published in Discover- The Magazine for curious Muslim Kids, Issue #3

Confessions of An Unschooling Hypocrite

I have been wanting my kids to learn Arabic since before they were born, of course. And since the first child’s birth I was irritated for nearly a decade (maybe more) that this acquisition wasn’t happening naturally via my husband speaking to them in Arabic. It seemed like he just wouldn’t do it,  though he could. It took me very many years to understand that he is not a native speaker. Yes, yes- he learned Arabic in school and can read, write, and speak it, but it is his second (or third language) so it does not come naturally to him, just as German, Spanish and French (languages I have somewhat acquired) do not come naturally to me. He did teach the kids how to read Arabic phonetically and got a bit into grammar stuffs with #1 and #2, but when I finally caught onto to the non-native speaker problem I began hiring tutors, which got them much further in the acquisition process. Doesn’t sound exactly like unschooling philosophy, does it? Then this week my eldest son vehemently refused to continue with his Arabic instruction.

While the Arabic tutor worked with my second son, I nagged, begged, threatened and attempted to bribe the heel-dragger, while being awash with a sweeping myriad of emotions all connected with a resounding feeling of failure. He simply wouldn’t do it. Later, he would explain that he “just prefers self-taught learning,” like he is doing with his Latin studies. That sounds like unschooling doesn’t it?

But before he inadvertently helped me to recommit to our unschooling ideals, I had another thought. All this time I have been wanting for my children to learn Arabic, knowing that it will be beneficial to their deen, but for myself I had a dozen or so excuses about not having time to learn Arabic over the last 16 years or so of being Muslim. Um, yeah. So those recently opened slots our Arabic tutor has on Wednesday and Saturday- they’re mine.

لديك فكرة جيدة!