It takes the experience of motherhood to appreciate one’s own mother and the strength of family bonds
“I imagined you’d see your parents in the street and not recognise them.” This is how a friend of mine in the Middle East explained how she pictured family ties (or lack thereof) in the western world. While my time working abroad had certainly exposed me to far stronger traditional family values, I assured her that the situation back home in the UK was not so bleak. Indeed, as current greeting card adverts will remind us, today is Mother’s Day, a time to celebrate all the wonderful things that our mothers are to us. Although deriving from different origins across the world – from a day to describe one’s “mother church” in the UK, to an attempt to encourage population growth in countries such as France and Germany – today Mother’s Day is proof that a mother’s role is still loved and cherished in modern society.
Or is it? While it might sound lovely that modern technology can offer “personalised” cards to our dear mums at the touch of a button, I cannot help but feel how detached this celebration is. Simply click onto a website, have a quick nip across mum’s wish list on amazon.com, and that’s it – you’re sorted – you’re now a devoted son or daughter. Meanwhile, the companies behind this commercialised holiday reap the rewards of our quick anti-guilt fix.
It’s hardly any surprise that we’ve drifted away from true appreciation of our parents. In our modern consumerist culture, family is no longer the first priority for most: we are flying the nest earlier, moving further from their parents, and postponing marriage and children until later on in life. In fact, the average UK woman now has her first child at 28 and does not marry until 30 (the reversal of these steps also signalling a step away from the traditional family unit). With family – or at least our parents – playing a lesser part in our daily lives, celebrations such as Mother’s and Father’s Day are a more succinct way to show recognition.
Becoming Muslim was the shift that began to alter my view of parenthood. Islam honours parents, and mothers especially. The Prophet Mohammed is reported to have said, “your heaven lies under the feet of your mother”, that is to say, serving our mothers is one of the most rewarded deeds. That said, I am far from being a model daughter, despite having a wonderful mother. Neither of us is particularly feminine or girly in the conventional sense, but my mother provided me with invaluable support when growing up. Despite being a stereotypically difficult, angst-ridden teenager, my mother would always offer me a sympathetic ear and would unfailingly defend my interests. After finishing my monstrous teen years, I rocked the boat by converting to Islam at 19; although not easy on my mum and although she disapproved, I was still her daughter, and she respected my choices.
However, what has made me truly appreciate my mother and the sacrifices she made for my brothers and I, is becoming a mother myself. They say that becoming a parent changes your life and that you can’t understand this until you do. Well, it’s true. When you think about unconditional love, you might think of your love for your partner, your parents or your siblings. For example, you may love your brother because he is your brother, even if you don’t get on that well. These people usually give something back at least. But when you first become a parent, your baby cannot do anything for you, he just demands from you. This is what I discovered through my experience of motherhood. Despite many sleepless nights of nearly tearing my hair out, I would find myself gazing upon my newborn son with utter love and devotion. While my husband quickly bonded with our son and adores him, I can tell that there is nothing quite like the motherly love I have for him – the mercy that a mother has for her child. I tried to explain to my husband why I can’t “just let him cry a bit”, in that I feel as though the cord still attaches him to me.
The Qur’an states, “We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents; in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth.” I doubt anyone imagines pregnancy and childbirth to be a walk in the park. If you plan to have children, you or your partner can look forward to the joys of morning sickness, stretch marks, aching joints… culminating majestically in labour and birth. To top it all off, in the UK at least, this precious experience is typically shared with two to six complete strangers in the form of midwives, students and doctors. So, as the Qur’anic verse states, even if your mother did nothing but birth you, she already went through a lot for you.
Yet this is barely the beginning. While I am a worrier, I have never experienced anxiety such as that I have on my son’s account. I fret over every detail, however ridiculous. Is he putting on enough weight? Is he developing as fast as other babies his age? Is my chocolate habit affecting the nutritional value of my breast milk? Not to mention my fears for his future. Will he be academic? What if he gets bullied? What advice do I give him? I can only imagine the challenges I shall face as a mother as my child grows, reaches his teens and adulthood. Looking back, I can begin to appreciate the pains I put my own mother through. When my little one was a few weeks old, I thanked my mum for all she had done for me, with a depth of understanding for the first time, and maybe one day my son, too, will understand and thank me in turn.
So for this Mother’s Day, rather than giving in to commercial hype, I’ll try to keep appreciating my mother a little better. Not for one day, like a new year’s resolution forgotten by February, but all year round. As for it being my first Mother’s Day as a mum, I don’t expect a card or gift, but perhaps I’ll enjoy a day off changing nappies.
Image from: http://wondrouspics.com/happy-mothers-day-2012/mothers-day-flowers/
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