“Waah,” my baby’s screams woke me up with a jolt. “What? Who? Where? What happened?” I fumbled to the cot, groggy with sleep.
Life was chaotic. I had hardly slept. The baby was up all night crying for no apparent reason. The laundry was piled high. I had no time to cook, and my husband preferred take-outs to my cooking anyway. I hardly had time to shower, and he was tired of a home that had no semblance of order.
Life wasn’t meant to be like this. I had been an outstanding student, a star intern, and a brilliant MBA graduate. However, I was barely able to cope with real life now. No one warned me about this. No one prepared me for child-bearing or giving birth, or taking care of a tiny life that was entirely dependent on me. Such big shoes to fill and I had had no time or will to prepare for them all these years.
My grandmother’s words rang out in my ears now: “What will you do after marriage, Nadia? You can’t even take care of your own self!” I would always brush her off with an affectionate hug, saying: “We’ll see when the time comes, Nani – don’t worry.” I was always too busy studying for school and then college, too busy going out with friends, and then working nine to five. Even when I got engaged, all I was really preparing for was the grand wedding day. In retrospect, I wasted so much time, effort, and planning for a few hours of limelight. All of that didn’t do me any good today in this mess I had landed myself in.
Nadia’s story is not an uncommon one. Many girls find themselves in a similar situation when they step into practical life. Marital bliss turns into a nightmare all too quickly. This has many devastating outcomes that we see around us more and more frequently:
- Quick and all-too-easy divorces soon after marriage.
- Strained marital relations, where partners are deeply unhappy with the marriage.
- Severed relations with extended family.
- Poor family nutrition and other health issues.
- Women completely consumed by household work to the point that their own physical and mental health, intellectual, and spiritual growth suffers.
The problem may seem insurmountable, but the solution is a simple one: inculcating good habits in girls from an early age to prepare them to excel in their vital role of nurturing future generations.
Charles Duhigg in his book “Power of Habit” says: “One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”
Habits are the key. If inculcated from an early age, habits will become second nature and leave a woman’s mind free to pursue other matters that require actual decision-making. However, if ‘what to cook daily’, and managing other daily chores takes up all of her time and decision-making skills, she will be left with little to contribute to her own or her family’s development.
You might argue: why do we need to prepare only girls for this role and not boys? This argument, I’m afraid, was biologically settled for us much earlier. Every mother is honoured with the task of bearing her child for nine months and then nursing him or her for around two years. She is physically and emotionally attached to the baby for an extended period of time in a way that a father simply cannot be.
In their international bestseller “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps”, Allan and Barbara Pease write that for millions of years, no one had a problem accepting that men were basically the hunters and protectors and women were the nest-defenders and nurturers of the human species. Men and women were content and happy in their natural roles, supporting and understanding each other. But due to the recent confusion, there is widespread dissatisfaction, chaos, and breakups. Today, science confirms that men and women are profoundly different, both physically and mentally. They think, believe, behave, and process information differently. They are not better or worse, just different. Naturally their rights, duties, and training must be different, too. However, women will find that most schools are not teaching anything about the set of skills that they need to learn to fulfill their primary roles of nurturers and home-makers.
This does not mean that a woman has to do everything around the house herself or that men will be surrendering their manhood, if they help around the house. What it means is that a woman is the primary care-taker and nest-defender, delegating duties and managing resources including manpower (children, cook, driver, gardener, and maids) around her domain. This does not mean that she cannot pursue her education, charity work, or career, if she effectively manages her time and resources at home.
Speaking of myself as a young girl, I was a bit of a rebel, bent on breaking all stereotypes, avoiding any girly housework like the plague. But it never occurred to me until later that what makes us truly happy at heart is when we start fulfilling the purpose for which we are created. All human beings, men or women, are wired to find happiness in helping others. Being the rock solid foundation on which my children can plant themselves firmly and grow is no less important than my dreams. However, to be that person, I would need to learn the core lessons my grandmother wanted to teach me, handed down to her from generations of strong women. I could strive to be a great woman, rather than working harder to be an average man. Like someone once said wisely: “Women, who seek to be equal with men, lack ambition.”
A girl must study at least the basics about Islam that enable her to fulfill her obligations correctly. Many girls simply don’t know what Allah (swt) has ordained for them.
Many girls have no idea they have to make up the Ramadan fasts they missed due to their monthly cycle. They do not know what the rights and responsibilities of a husband and wife are. They don’t know that in matters of Deen, they must obey Allah (swt), even at the cost of disobeying their husbands. If their husbands restrict them from praying or wearing Hijab, they think they are obligated to obey them. They don’t realize that they have been entrusted with the monumental task of raising the future generation of Muslims. They do not know that Islam lays out many guidelines for our practical life that ensures a happy existence not just in the Hereafter but also in this world.
In today’s medicine-dependent society, nutrition is often neglected, although it is a key factor in keeping us healthy and tackling diseases.
Again, a woman plays a major role in creating a lifetime of healthy eating habits in her family, simply because in most cases she is the one choosing and preparing what her family eats. For that, she needs to learn about nutrition herself, such as:
- Fruits are not dessert; they should be eaten on an empty stomach before the meal, not after.
- Cereals are not healthy. They are junk food loaded with sugar, salt, and additives, so a child raised on cereal breakfasts is eating junk first thing in the morning.
- Whole-wheat bread and grains are not only for adults or the ill. Actually, the entire family should be avoiding refined white flour, as it has almost no nutritional value or fibre.
- Organic and non-GMO products are not a fad but a way to prevent tons of toxic pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically modified food from entering your body.
- Organic, non-GMO junk food is still junk food.
- Such fats as butter and ghee are actually good for you and your child. It is sugars we must be wary of, including the artificial sugars hidden in the ingredients under other names.
- Skipping breakfast yourself and letting your child do the same is not alright; breakfast should be the heartiest meal of the day.
In his book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg details an eye-opening study on the causes of high infant mortality in USA. The results of the described research stated that infant deaths were mostly due to premature births, which were attributed to the mother’s malnourishment during pregnancy. This required that women must improve their diets before they became pregnant. The government took action of creating nutrition curriculum inside high schools, which helped to reduce the general rate of infant mortality.
Home-cooked, nutritious, and balanced meals are the single most important head start a woman can give to herself and her family in the health department. For that a girl would need to know the following:
- Planning weekly meals;
- Shopping for healthy ingredients within her budget;
- Cooking in a way that retains the nutrition in food;
- Presenting food in a way that makes it desirable.
Knowing a few basic cooking skills can make or break a woman as a home-maker, because when we are overwhelmed by other responsibilities of running the house, we end up wishing that we had learnt more from the culinary skills of our mothers. Thankfully, we can now instantly call them to ask for quick fixes when in trouble. The Internet is also a great help, for it is full of recipes, videos, meal planners, and cooking tips for every kind of cook.
Make Food Your Medicine
I strongly believe in this, as I see children and adults falling sick over and over again, heading to the doctor only to be handed a bag full of medicines, which slowly wreck their immune systems. It is a vicious cycle and a highly lucrative one for the pharmaceutical industry.
Eating the right foods for strengthening our immune system is our best bet. Using cod liver oil and other natural-based supplements is a good idea. Adding honey, black seeds, figs, dates, and other foods praised in the Quran and Sunnah is most beneficial. A girl must know natural treatments for such basic ailments as flu, fever, constipation, and diarrhea, so she does not have to rush to the hospital for every cough and cold. Of course, for serious or prolonged issues, professional help is needed. She should also learn basic first-aid and life-saving techniques, such as how to save a choking infant.
Many girls don’t know the importance of breastfeeding and give up too soon if they find it difficult, not realizing that nursing the baby has amazing life-long benefits for the newborn as well as for the mother.
Reproductive Health Education
An essential part of life, which is deliberately ignored as taboo by our parents and educators, is reproductive health education.
A girl goes through huge physical and emotional changes throughout her life. She must be ready for it not only emotionally but also physically. The French fries and Cola diet most girls live off these days is just not going to cut it in the long run. We have a sure recipe for a catastrophe, if we add to it eating disorders (anorexia, binge eating, etc.), body shaming by the media and society, and fad diets.
A pre-teen girl must not only be educated in languages, arts, and sciences but also in the following:
- Her expected monthly cycle: what to expect and how to prepare for it;
- What to eat before, during, and after her cycle to avoid cramps, anemia, and weakness;
- How to recognize the symptoms of PMS and how to address them;
- How to maintain intimate cleanliness and good PH balance as well as prevent infections and odour, without using harmful chemicals;
- How to use and dispose sanitary products hygienically, both at home and outside;
- Which Islamic duties become obligatory for her at puberty, and awareness that the recording of her deeds has started.
After marriage, both spouses should be aware of the physical needs of the other and strive to fulfill them in a Halal manner. Often a new wife, who is unequipped to manage the responsibilities of married life, feels burdened by her husband’s natural physical demands. At times, this single factor can become the undoing of a marriage, as besides emotional and material needs, spouses have to fulfill each other’s physical needs as well. Often she cannot understand this and wonders why, despite her efforts at being a good housewife, her husband still seems annoyed with her. A girl must be educated about her own body and also about Halal ways to enjoy a healthy physical intimacy with her spouse. There are now online courses by scholars, who guide couples on how to understand each other’s needs and enjoy a mutually fulfilling relationship.
Amongst the qualities of a good wife is that she must be pleasing to look at. A girl must learn basic self-grooming techniques to look beautiful for herself and for her husband. She should look good after a long, tiring day for both, and greet him with a smile, instead of a list of complaints and dressed down in nightwear. What a shame that we reserve our best charms for our kitty parties and coffee mornings, instead of doing so for the person whose hard earned money paid for our clothes and accessories. Especially today, when temptations abound at the click of a button, we must pay special attention to our marriage. Even after becoming parents, we should take out alone time and invest in our relationship together.
Before outlawing them as perpetual enemies, the girls should consider this: they shared their most beloved son with her, hoping that she would take care of him, as they did for so many years. Yes, like all humans they are not perfect, so they may be some disagreements. But love conquers all – if the new daughter-in-law loves them unconditionally and selflessly, it will all work out. She should consider them like another set of parents and respect and help them, as she would do with any elder person. This does not mean not having a life of her own or not setting aside time for her husband and kids – it simply requires extra tact, love, and communication. It is okay to tell them politely and lovingly when something disturbs you. A husband should never play the part of a messenger or a punch bag for a frustrated wife.
Our children can become a source of ongoing reward for us when we depart from this world, or the opposite. According to a Hadeeth, the wife is the caretaker of her house and children, and she will be held accountable for it.
Today’s parenting requires a whole new set of skills than it did twenty years ago. We live in a rapidly changing world – the techniques we were parented with may well have become obsolete today. We must understand our children’s needs at different phases of life and communicate in a way that they open up to us. There are so many books and workshops now from which mothers can learn parenting techniques. Mothers must focus not only on the physical and academic progress of their children, but also on their spiritual development, their character, and integrity. Likewise, they should be aware of what their children are doing online on social media and what games they are playing, even if this may require gaining extra knowledge in these areas of modern technology.
Today’s parents must become the role models for their children. If we want our children to be good Muslims, we must focus on our own relationship with Allah (swt). If we want them to read, we must be avid readers, too. If we want them to eat healthy, we ourselves must give up on our junk food. Children do as they see, not as they are told. Advising is important, but if our actions are constantly negating our words, the effect is considerably less.
Even though it may seem that the life of a woman is all about responsibilities, we should remind our girls that they must not become martyrs who sacrifice all their interests and hobbies in favour of fulfilling the rights of others. Burnout is a reality that they would not wish to experience firsthand.
They should be reminded also of our most powerful tool – Duas. Many seemingly non-extraordinary women raise amazing children and maintain great homes, because they beseech their Lord in the darkness of the night while the rest of the world is sleeping.
This article may probably seem a feminist’s worst nightmare; however, if we really want woman power, we must seek it in the right direction. Like Rumi said: “Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots.”