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…