When a Child is Born, So Too is a Parent

The journey of parenting is never-ending, but so too are the opportunities for growth, and this is something I am very grateful for, Alhamdulillah.

This phrase couldn’t be truer. Every experience is different for every parent. My transition into motherhood felt sudden, unnatural and isolating (thank you, Coronavirus). Imagine putting on a very beautiful shoe that you ordered ages ago but has taken a while to come. It’s exciting, right? But the shoe is completely new, never been worn before. And once you put it on, there’s no taking it off- no breaks where your blisters can get some air and some time to heal. You just have to power through it until the shoe feels comfortable over the wounds that you assume have now healed. The shoe has softened a bit, but your feet have also adapted in some places for those parts of the shoe that just won’t change.

That’s how the first year of motherhood felt for me. I have changed, adapted, but above all, I have grown. Someone wise once told me that Allah gives every parent their particular child who knows exactly how to push their buttons, because this child is a means through which we are supposed to grow. Perhaps if I had a child who had no issues gaining weight in those first few months, or slept through the night, or didn’t push the countless buttons that my daughter did, I wouldn’t have been pushed into the corner that forced me to face my own demons and grow.

That’s the interesting thing about parenthood- we face all sorts of challenges that are about our children, but our reactions and responses reveal many of our own deep-seated flaws.

Most healthy babies will outgrow a lot of the challenges that they face early on. However, our old traumas and wounds that those challenges unearth- the choice is ours. We can either let them stay and grow, or we can muster some courage, face some uncomfortable truths, and grow ourselves.

I am learning on the job (and if you’re a parent reading this, I assume you are too) and by no means an expert, but here are a few things that helped me survive the first year of parenthood:

1. Some Reflection Time

It’s nearly impossible to reflect mid-tantrum or when your 12 day-old is screaming her head off despite being fed, changed, held, rocked and shushed. What I found really handy, however, was either finding a few minutes to myself or later speaking to my husband about the things that nearly sent me over the edge that day. It wasn’t just useful to vent, but also to dig deeper about why certain things got to me- and this is where the big growth starts! The parenting journey is full of opportunities for growth, but only if we find the time to stop and ask ourselves the hard questions. Why did it bother me that someone said she looked nothing like me? Had I truly healed emotionally from the rollercoaster that was labour? Were there parts of my old, pre-motherhood life that I was sorely missing?

2. The Importance of Self-Care

Very early on in my daughter’s life, I decided to do the Parenting by Connection course, and my biggest takeaway from it was this: just as babies cry to offload their discomfort and unhappiness before calming down and moving on, parents need to offload too. You cannot fill from an empty cup- there’s a reason airlines tell the adults to put their own oxygen masks on before assisting children with theirs. We all want to give our best selves to our children, and that is only possible with deliberate and regular self-care. (Showers don’t count, by the way). Having said that, self-care doesn’t have to be a spa day or a weekend away. Something regular and relaxing- for me, it was walks and a skincare routine- can be a good start at feeling a little more like ourselves. This leads me nicely onto my next tip…

3. Communicate Your Needs, Guilt-Free

This one is hard for many of us. I don’t know if it’s culture, pride or something else but I constantly had to remind myself that there was no prize for being a martyr (my husband still reminds me from time to time). Nobody, especially not my daughter, was going to thank me for cooking even though I was a walking corpse when we could have just ordered some takeaway that night. We are allowed to feel tired, take breaks, ask for a bit of a time-out and recoup, but the only way for this to happen is to make those around us know how we are feeling and exactly what would make us feel better. My communication has come a long way since becoming a parent, but no doubt there is always room for improvement!

4. Reading and Implementing the Sunnah Teachings About Parenting

In those panic-inducing moments when my daughter is about to pick up something she supposedly shouldn’t, and every cell in my body is urging me to shout, “NO!”, I try remind myself of our Holy Messenger’s (PBUH) Hadith: “The child is the master for seven years” and ask myself, is it really a big deal if she picks it up? 9 times out of 10, it really isn’t. In fact, she might learn a new skill with said object, and I am pleasantly surprised at her coordination at handling it.

Or when I have 101 things on my to-do list for the day and my daughter wants me to play with her, I try and remind myself of the saying of Imam Ali (PBUH): “He who has a child he must act as a child [with him],” and I put my to-do list on hold (again) to steal a few giggles and squeals. In the end, I get to have a few laughs too and feel less stressed, and my daughter feels connected too.

There are countless recommendations, instructions and prescriptions we have from the Ahlulbayt and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) about how to interact with children- some of them counter-intuitive, and none of them is without benefit! I have found a lot of the time that I didn’t really understand the benefit until I tried implementing first. A little like praying- we know the benefits in theory, but we don’t truly feel them until we just do it.

The journey of parenting is never-ending, but so too are the opportunities for growth, and this is something I am very grateful for, Alhamdulillah.

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