Having A Large Family

Muslim Mummy

While Muslim Mummy is away, I wrote a not-so-little guest blog post musing on having a whole bunch of kids:

It surprises me how many Muslims respond negatively at my having a large family. Worse is when they nearly reprimand me, demanding to know if I am “done” at six kids. I thought we all knew this one:

Wealth and children are an adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope. (Surah Al Kahf: 46)

I’m not into name brands. Having kids is mything. Well, I have a few dunya-ey things that I really like to do, but raising my pack of kids is my main thing and not only do I give it a lot of my time and consideration, I do it pretty well and get a fair amount of satisfaction from it. Alhumdulillah. Over the years I have found that there are a lot of benefits (not just for me) to having a big family. Here are just a few:

  • Learning to labor

Parenting begins with birth, and if you are birthing your own kids you may not realize what a crisis modern birthing practices are going through in the US (and just about everywhere) until you are actually in labor…

Please shoot over to Muslim Mummies to read the rest. And then get all wrapped up and inspired in her Project 365 posts.

Thank You Maria Zain


As I have been putting together an archive of Maria Zain’s articles for SISTERS magazine, many of them are pieces I am already very familiar with. Maria and I shared several similar passions – homebirthing, homeschooling, deen-centered parenting, balancing family/extended family with personal and spiritual obligations, sex and sexuality with an Islamic point of view, and even a fashion frustration with Islamic clothing designers’ negligence to cover pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

When I started as an editor at SISTERS in 2011, Maria was one of the professional, highly skilled and conscientious writers already on board who made my job a cakewalk. Her articles nearly always came in well polished and needing little editing, masha Allah. Over time we developed an easy working relationship, in which she could pop off a quick one liner idea to me about potential articles and I would often respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and brief suggestions to avoid this and that as we likely covered them, while maybe considering addressing this or that. The final piece would then be submitted covering a good scope of ideas, introducing me (the first reader) to new ways of seeing and often giving me a few (always needed!) giggles.

Several months back, SISTERS reintroduced their ‘Soap Box’ feature: Soap Box is the place for sisters to speak out on issues they feel strongly about.” This feature, though a popular one to read, is a hard one for writers to approach, as it is a fine balance between critiquing and demonstrating real social problems within the ummah versus whining about some lesser important pet peeve. Maria recently really took to the feature, addressing several issues she (and I!) would like to see taken more seriously by Muslims, and she also pitched me a few of those emotion-filled one liners for a potential Soap Box rant, which she would later tone down and round out into more… palatable articles for elsewhere in the magazine or even other publications.

As a writer myself, Maria and I had a great deal of crossover in the subject matters we both write about which easily could have made us competitive in such a small field for Muslim writers, yet it only furthered our sharing of knowledge and resources. Maria introduced me to her fabulous editor at an online publication we both enjoyed writing for, and when I discussed the pending possibility of having an unassisted birth with my sixth child, Maria brought me into a tight circle of hundreds of women choosing to homebirth without assistance due to legal restrictions on using midwives. This circle was phenomenal and supported me through my sixth and most relaxed and stress-free birth.

I often see myself as a reluctant advocate across several fronts, where I have chosen to take less popular and even (unwittingly to me) controversial paths. Maria walked many of these paths with me, though I never once saw her reluctance. When I did see her attacked, either via online comments, Facebook discussions or in private exchanges, she always maintained a calm composure and an ability to remain politely but firmly steadfast, with a grace I still hope to someday achieve.

Reading through the memorials posted online for Maria, I am well aware of the legacy she has left behind in her writing having already read so many of her writings as an editor, a peer, a person of shared interests and a friend, but seeing them anew – knowing that there will be no more follow ups, no more branching into new subjects, no more behind the scenes chats – I now know what a privilege and blessing it was to have known Maria Zain, to have had my hand held, to have been given both echoed reassurances of my own feelings and even new insights into many issues from a truly special sister. I regret that I do not recall ever once thanking Maria for all she did for me and my family.

I pray that Maria’s husband is given support and strength to carry on raising his family with a deen-centered focus and that their children know even a glimpse of the sacrifices both their parents made to protect and nurture them as Allah (SWT) guided them to do so, ameen.

Editor in Chief of SISTERS Magazine, Na’ima B. Robert, has set up a fundraiser to help Maria’s husband and family through this upheaval. Please consider sending them some support: http://www.gofundme.com/mariazain


Increasing Numbers of Muslim Homeschoolers in Muslim Lands

The call of the athan, plentiful halal foods, people who know about Allah (SWT) similar to how you do, easier access to Islamic or Arabic resources for the entire family, and of course sending your kids to schools with Muslim teachers and peers are all among the perks of repatriating or making hijrah to The Lands of The Muslims. Scratch out that last bit for me and the growing handful of families who choose to homeschool even over here.

For many Muslim families who homeschool in the West, they expect to discontinue doing so once they move abroad as if all the reasons they chose to homeschool in the first place will be left behind. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that all the reasons are present in the ‘East’ too, where the Western model of education is mostly replicated and this is exactly why so many expats and locals are continuing or starting to homeschool.

Growing Pains?
When freshly relocated expats complain about the conditions they find in the schools locally available to them, whether the curriculum, the general ethics or particulars of the staff, often more experienced expats will appease these complaints with something like, “You’ll find a fit. You just have to keep looking.” By ‘fit’ I think they may mean another sort of compromise, such as with more drive time or maybe that’s just code for ‘You’ll get used to it’ as so many seemed to do. For former homeschoolers like Charlene Gray, who homeschooled in Australia but initially enrolled her daughter in schools in Morocco, she knew that there was no reason to compromise her daughter’s education when she found the school environments to be lacking in demonstrating Islamic principles as well as below her own standards of academics. Now Charlene’s daughter is back to flourishing as we know homeschoolers usually do.

Corporal Punishment? No Thanks
Another common thread of discussion I see among expats is about their kids being abused or bullied in school. This is something nearly every expat family I know of in my region has experienced. They have absolutely experienced it as far as other children bullying, throwing rocks at and fighting with each other, which I agree is a part of childhood that is unavoidable. I regularly deal with these kinds of problems outside of school hours, so would hate to think that my children were experiencing more while in school, but they would, and worse is that it even happens at the hands of the adults.

Just as discrimination is illegal in the states but still regularly happens, corporal punishment within schools is illegal in the region I live in but happens very regularly. Many parents deal with this by confronting their children’s teachers, often more than once and sometimes resulting in physical altercations. One such fistfight with her child’s (male!) principal is what led an expat friend of mine to return to homeschooling even though she obviously had thought she could quit once she made hijrah. This may sound like a worst of scenario, but unfortunately it is frequent when the parents choose to confront their children’s educators. Even if you step in and your child is no longer being abused by the teacher, they are still sitting among other students who are being emotionally and/or physically abused. While I want for your child what I want for my own, currently the best I can do with these circumstances is to home-educate and encourage the same for you.

What About Socilaization? Blah, Blah, Blah…
Daily incidents of bullying was just one paradigm shift motivator for unschooler and prolific writer Sadaf Farooqi who admits on her blog that sometimes her child (when younger) was even on the offensive side of bullying. While many non-homeschoolers cite concerns about lack of socialization as a reason not to homeschool, Sadaf, saw that her schooled child’s socialization was being adversely affected as her pre-primary daughter “…had more problems than improvement in her social ‘interactions’ (fights and conflicts) with peers…” as socialization in institutionalized school settings has multiple problems. As Sadaf has explained in the comments of her blog, “I personally think it’s debatable whether school improves social interaction. I think at the pre-primary and primary level, school actually curbs confidence, because such small kids rarely get to ‘socialize’ with each other freely only before first class, during break and in the short time after school before they are picked up. The rest of the time, any endeavor to ‘socialize’ innocently is strictly curbed by supervising teachers, and if continued, even results in that child being labelled as ‘naughty’ and ‘disobedient’.”

Sadaf discovered the concept of homeschooling through several teachers who, like many pioneers of the homeschooling movement in the US, chose to homeschool their own children instead of forcing them to sit through years of substandard and even abusive ‘educational’ environments, or they became ardent advocates for others to homeschool. Sadaf has become a semi-reluctant key figure in the steadily growing homeschool community in her native Pakistan, be sure to check out her blog for lots of good insight both on general unschooling and specifically homeschooling in Pakistan.

It’s A Muslim Thing
Another homeschooling and writer friend, Maria Zain, began her homeschooling journey in Malaysia and now continues in the UK. Maria perfectly sums up many of my own reasons for home-educating, even in the Lands of the Muslims, “After 6 years of homeschooling, I’ve had time to put in much thought as to why I have chosen it, and I believe, first and foremost, it’s because I believe that it falls upon the responsibility of parents to be the primary educators of their children, not the state’s or the institution. I think parents have lost a lot of their parenting skills, due to pawning off their children to schools at too young an age, for too long a period of their waking time, that both parents and children have lost the true value of education, which encompasses so much more than textbook – classroom learning. Our religion puts so much honour in parents – children have to be THE BEST to their parents up until old age, but I would like to question many adults (including myself), have we done enough to deserve this type of honour and respect from our own offspring? A “parent” is not just a noun, it’s also a verb, and adults need to honour this by being cohesively involved and understanding of their children’s growth and development.

Secondly, another belief – Islam champions the great diversity of the ummah. In fact, the strength of the ummah lies in the diverse heritage of its people. While other religions struggle with supremacy of certain races and caste systems, Islam has zero tolerance for discrimination against race, nor against genders (men and women are spiritually equal), nor age, nor upbringing. The same should be taught for the diversity of talents, interests, specialisations (all within Shari’ah of course). Homeschooling provides the platform for children to develop at their own pace and pursue their interests without prejudice or judgement. When children are encouraged to do things that they love and are given the time and space to explore, they flourish a lot more as compared to learning under stress and timelines.”

Ultimately my Best Reason to Homeschool While Living in the Lands of the Muslims is this: I like homeschooling. I enjoy encouraging my children’s diverse interests and talents, I believe in my role to be their primary educator (along with my husband) and know that there is plenty of support available to us to do it, so I do.

Yes of course homeschooling is exhausting and I have plenty of days in which I fantasize about the relief I may feel if I just put my kids in school. Ultimately this is one area of my life where I can delay gratification, insha Allah my relief will come later, but there is already plenty joy and gratitude in the right now. Plus my kids say they “won’t get on the yellow bus” so I’m stuck with it.

Welcome to homeschooling / unschooling

10 year old sitting on a ledge of rocks way, way far up a mountain with a village below and snow capped mountains behind him.
10 year old sitting on a ledge of rocks way, way far up a mountain with a village below and snow capped mountains behind him.

Welcome to homeschooling/unschooling where you have opened yet another window of opportunity for people to judge you and suck energy from your being by wasting your time drawing you into conversations which are mostly built around others’ guilt about what they fear they may be doing wrong with their own kids. Please avoid this all too common trapping. Do not engage. Just do not engage with anyone who is not at least 90% supportive of your decision to homeschool. Reserve that energy for your child(ren).

But obviously I think it’s worth it to homeschool, even with the copious amounts of stress it brings. Whenever I have considered (and threatened) to put my kids in school I am immediately faced with a multitude of ways that my children would suffer in a school environment (and no, I don’t buy into the “We All Made It Through OK” fallacy): bullying (emotional, physical and sexual), racism, Islamophobia, sexism, disrespect and abuse for their individuality, the increasing stress accompanying a testing-based education system and general boring-ass curriculum that would drive them to hate learning. Homeschooling is stressful and it has taken me many years to learn how to deal with that stress, but it’s a fair tradeoff for me. Here are some things that I wouldn’t have minded picking up on a lot faster:

Support: Find like-minded people and talk to them/listen to them, this will help to lessen the very natural self-doubts that will flourish in you fed by both internal and external voices. See above. Really there may be very little support available in your region or related to your particular circumstances (such as working while homeschooling, being a single-parent, having a child with a different point of view/way of being or maybe a disability, diagnosed or undiagnosed) so seek those folks out. Do google searches where you may find blogs of interest to your needs, join social media groups, be open to starting and participating in physical groups, but keep in mind that homeschooling mamas are ridiculously overly busy and can be hard to organize with. I hate to say it, but take what you can get when you can get it, unless of course this person/group is less than 90% supportive of your choices, then forget ’em, bad homeschooling groups can be an energy suck.

Homeschooling Philosophies: Homeschooling parents can be really annoying too. We are all going about this with quite a bit of defensiveness and/or chips on our shoulders and we can be horrid about judging how other people are doing it. For instance, I am an unschooler (a radical one really) which means that my children are all self-directed learners. I basically facilitate and advise. My children express and demonstrate their interests and I find and suggest ways for them to further these interests. Now, when we lived in Alaska we were eligible for a yearly stipend that paid for supplies and classes. Many other unschoolers would click their tongues at me and insist that I wasn’t unschooling because we turned in work samples to the state, took yearly tests and accepted money in return for these efforts. I was very clear to my children that if they wanted to do X,Y,Z (go horseback riding, have an annual subscription to the children’s museum and tons of art supplies) then they needed to do the work required by the state- not at all a set curriculum – but still all based on their own interests and the samples being stuff like “Photo of Z reading a book” to fulfill reading credit, otherwise we could not afford these things. It was their CHOICE to do the work or not, and of course they chose to and we discussed different ways they could fulfill the requirements based on their own interests (Lego robots for science!) and that IS unschooling. The child makes their own choices.

Integrated Studies: As you wander down the road of this homeschooling journey you are going to come across loads of material demonstrating how institutionalized schools are doing it all wrong and how they KNOW this and are still doing nothing to change their ways. You are going to learn to follow your instincts, and then get some back up from you chosen support network and those homeschooling articles/books and sages when you need. One big thing for me is integrated studies. This is a bit of a buzzword in schools right now, because it is awesome and a very natural way to learn, but unfortunately it is really cumbersome to pull off in an institutionalized environment (Waldorf schools do it well, but they have been at it for decades) and it is not at all child-led as it is still a presented, packaged curriculum (fine if you are into that kind of thing). But you, dear homeschooling parents moms, have the perfect opportunity to embrace this phenomenon. The general idea for integrated studies is that you take a broad subject matter and spread it across the curriculum so that a child is exploring this topic in several subjects. For instance I have a child who is very into studying everything and anything about all wars. This was weird for me to embrace, but I did and he has learned a tremendous amount about history, cultures, religions, science and technology, art and even just reading so much material (not written for kids) has helped him to improve his own writing, of course. I think this is a great way to approach unschooling. Foster your child’s individual interests and they WILL flourish.

Schedule and Personal Accountability: When I very first began to homeschool, I mean my first few days with my first son over a decade ago, I was prepared to use a “traditional” homeschooling schedule, you know sit down at the kitchen table after the breakfast dishes were cleared and begin lessons. My son, thankfully, wasn’t buying into this charade. He just thought it was so weird and really balked at drawing the alphabet in crayons (he hated crayons!) when there were better, more pressing things to do like constructing something with the enormous cardboard boxes we had recently acquired. It felt fake to me too. So I went back to the books and started learning about other and many ways of homeschooling, eventually I found unschooing and it just made sense for us. My son was already brilliant, he WAS learning and seeking out knowledge all the time, so I decided to try out this method that others swore by. And it works.

One of the biggest challenges for me (and the husband) has been scheduling versus personal accountability. Radical unschoolers will tell you that they don’t put their kids on schedules (not for bed, not for work, not chores) and that their kids learn self-discipline. This is true for me, but it is not easy. At all. My younger kids go to bed when I do, my older ones stay up later though sometimes (like when they are going for new sleep deprivation world records) I firmly remind them that it’s not fair that they are living amongst us but so separately, sleeping all day, not being available to help with their siblings and the house, inconsiderately eating whatever they want and so on. They get that. They are self-centered kids, but they are also empathetic and smart, they get it that it’s just not fair and they come around. But you can imagine how frightening that sounds to authoritarian parents and people who are used to “controlling” children.

When we did turn in samples to the state (and actually I have one enrolled in the Clonlara program in Michigan right now) I had to do frequent countdown reminders regarding when the work was due and it was pretty hectic just before the due dates, but again if they wanted the activities badly enough… they got it done. And I have had to see my kids miss a few opportunities due to them not being able to pull it together in time, and that can be a real hard thing for a parent to let unfold – but the child LEARNS from it. There is plenty of stuff out there about letting kids learn from their own mistakes and how that builds personal accountability, and so far this seems true for us.

Currently I have five children who are not enrolled in any programs and interestingly to me, three of my kids have been curious about where they stand compared to their schooled peers and have sought out online assessment tests to see for themselves. What they didn’t know they looked up on Khan Academy or Wikipedia, and poof now they know.

I feel for anyone beginning homeschooling, whatever method that they use and for whatever reasons why they are doing it. You will face hurdle, after hurdle, after hurdle, but if you look to and communicate with your children you will know for sure if you are doing the best thing you can. As much as I am for child-led learning, I think we parents also need to reclaim our instincts and in many ways our power – we are very capable of doing greatness for our kids.

Next step? Deschooling if you can.

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…

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.

Link Love: Goals as a Learning Tool via Unschoolery

With The Eldest working towards his highschool diploma, setting goals has become a thing around here. Seems something is in the whatever as here is a great article from Leo Babauta of Unschoolery about unschooling and setting goals:

Some of you might know that I’m a fan of letting go of goals, or living/working without goals …

So you might be surprised to know that this week, I decided to encourage my kids to create 2014 goals and a plan for accomplishing those goals.

What gives? Well, I thought I’d use goals as a teaching/learning tool in our little unschooling adventure. I’ve found goals to be unnecessary for accomplishing things, but I don’t believe goals are evil, especially if you use them right. And they can be a useful tool to learn about something.

In this case, I’m helping the kids to learn about achieving things. It can be easy in life, and in unschooling, to let the days pass by without doing anything important or exciting. That’s fine if you have a job and are getting a regular paycheck, but if you own your own business or are an unschooler, you don’t have that luxury. You can take a few days off, but eventually you’re going to have to produce.

And so how do you get motivated to do something good? Well, there are lots of ways. Some possibilities:

* Find a project that excites you and get up each day looking forward to working on it. This is what I do most of the time. You don’t need a goal to help you get up and work on something exciting.
* Find a partner to work on something with you. Being accountable to a partner helps you stick to the project.
* Be a part of a team doing something awesome.
* Be a part of an accountability group — people who are working on different things, but hold each other accountable for what they’re doing. This can be a formal group or just your friends checking in on each other.
* Help people. When you have someone to help, it motivates you to do stuff.
* Find inspiration. Surround yourself with inspirational people.
* Declare your goals or habits or project publicly. Report publicly.
* Get motivated by needing to pay the bills. Go out and find clients or customers.

Read the rest here.

Link Love: Is the American School System Damaging Our Kids?

Great article covering much of the science and history of institutionalized schooling and illustrating some of the many (more than two million children!) ways people are accessing alternate forms of education for children.

“Education has become an American institution—of the worst kind.”

Parents send their children to school with the best of intentions, believing that formal education is what kids need to become productive, happy adults. Many parents do have qualms about how well schools are performing, but the conventional wisdom is that these issues can be resolved with more money, better teachers, more challenging curricula, or more rigorous tests. But what if the real problem is school itself?

The unfortunate fact is that one of our most cherished institutions is, by its very nature, failing our children and our society.

Children are required to be in school, where their freedom is greatly restricted, far more than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we’ve been compelling them to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there’s strong evidence that this is causing psychological damage to many of them. And as scientists have investigated how children naturally learn, they’ve realized that kids do so most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school….

….Most people assume that the basic design of today’s schools emerged from scientific evidence about how children learn. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Schools as we know them today are a product of history, not of research.

The rest of the article is here.

From Homeschool to College: Following in the Footsteps of the Prodigies

Homeschool Image How I quit stressing about my homeschooled children’s ways and means to get to college by asking other homeschooled mums how their children managed it.

Every few months I catch a glimpse of another homeschooled wonder child in the United States on their way off to college at 14 years old (or perhaps having just finished up their doctoral at 16) and I have a mini freak-out. Who is this child? Who is their mother? How did she do it? What curriculum did she use? Am I doing this right???

Even though I have raised my children not to needlessly compare themselves to others, when these things float across my monitor I can’t help but reassess our own homeschooling situation – probably not doing so in the most healthy and pragmatic of ways.

As unschoolers, it can be especially difficult for me to gauge my children’s successes. The ole college acceptance letter is still the pinnacle of success, but my eldest is a couple years shy of attempting that goal. Recently two homeschool mums I know met this milestone and have experienced the sweetness of their own teenagers heading into college. Instead of freaking out, I felt a great relief. I see these sisters as just a few paces ahead of me on the home-education journey with my kids, so I caught up with them for a minute tof ind out how they had shuffled their own kids along the path to higher education.

Jayla Muhammad and Bee Rodriquez both have sixteen year old kids who enrolled in college this autumn. Both mums have seen their children in and out of brick-and-mortar schools and started homeschooling with a standardised curriculum before loosening up their routines a bit and allowing their kids to pick and choose their own interests and methods. Jayla, whose children have lived on three continents and are currently in the US, has always made it clear to her children that college “is a must”. Jayla adds, “It does not have to be a traditional college, it can be a trade school, but it has to be something that will allow them to become employable or own their own business. But when they were younger, I used to say they could not think of marriage until they graduated college, now I say not until they finish their masters. They know I don’t mean this literally but its stresses the importance of education.”

Jaleel, who registered for community college this past fall, is Jayla’s second homeschooled child to go to college. Still she had some minor concerns about how his dyslexia might have affected his admittance. She was worried that Jaleel may have to take some remedial classes, but finally decided that it would be better to only have to take them once in college rather than taking them in high school and then again in college. Ultimately, Jayla saw her son’s interest to start community college earlier than most schooled kids as an opportunity to skip a lot of wasted time in those last two years of high school. Jaleel is now working towards his degree, while still taking some lower level courses equivalent to what he would be doing in high school and pursuing his interests, such as photography.

Bee’s daughter Alisah has also been in and out of schools up until the fifth grade when she left for good and her parents found out about homeschooling. Though Alisah’s family had never heard of homeschooling, it seemed “natural” to them. Initially they used an online school, then a box of ready-to-homeschool curriculum, but strong-willed Alisah says, “And then I stopped all of that, I started reading and learning whatever I wanted to. I started teaching myself. I picked up books, I got online, and just learned. I would learn as much as I could about whatever it was that I was interested in at the time.”

Bee says that she has acted as a “facilitator” to her daughter’s education, not a teacher. Together they explored Alisah’s interests and goals, identifying college as a possible necessity. Alisah recalls, “my mom talked about college and university with me a lot. I always felt like college was going to be it, the last step, if I ever made it…” Last year, when Alisah decided to take that leap, once again Bee gave guidance and then stepped out of her daughter’s way, “I just had her do all the work. I felt if she was ready she would be able to enroll herself in school and it turned out that they didn’t even need me. She was just able to follow the steps that were given for new students.”

Alisah’s wavering doubts about college sounds similar to my own son, who having never been to school couldn’t really imagine what college was or how he would ever get there without approaching it via the same route as everyone else – through school. Recently my son, like Bee and Jayla’s children, began to narrow his focus on some skills he would like to acquire for his future and saw that a college degree would be helpful to him. He has enrolled in a diploma program and now has much more confidence about going to college in the very near future, insha Allah.

Destress it!

Jayla and Bee offer some sage advice for those of us who are stressed about our home-educated children’s college prospects*:

• Your child does not have to be perfect to get into college. Colleges offer remedial courses as well as other assistances to help smooth over any weak spots in your child’s education.

• Don’t stress about the SATs. In the US, students do not have to take the SATs to go to junior colleges, though home-educated students have the opportunity to focus their studies full-time on the SATs if they want to.

• Help your child identify the small goals they need to fulfil their education and life dreams, then give them the tools and guidance to tackle them little by little. Again don’t worry! These dreams may shift when the child sees them more fully explored.

• Encourage hobbies, they can turn into careers and/or help develop related work skills.

*Much of this advice may only apply to the United States.

Brooke Benoit is a homeschool graduate who now radically unschools her six darling children in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.



This article originally appeared in the JUMBO Jan/Feb 2014 issue of SISTERS magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women!

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.