Category Archives: Family

Coherence: Answering The Needs of Baby, Daddy, And Mommy At The Same Time

I have been told and have read time and again that taking care of one’s children means taking care of one’s marriage, one’s spouse, oneself, and, of course, one’s children.  It makes sense theoretically, but in practice, it can be quite a challenge when there are only 24 hours in one day.

What would I give for Hermione’s Time-Turner…

Layering Needs

In lieu of that, I have come to greatly appreciate what I am referring to for now as the “layering” of needs.  In other words, how can we, as a family, layer our needs together and answer them with one common activity?

One prime example that has become a precious part of our daily routine is baby’s need for naps, and mommy and daddy’s need to pray, meditate, and read Sacred Writings.  Like all babies, ours need to unwind before she can settle into a restful nap.  And like so many babies, she loves music.

Her father and I love music as well, so we put together a simple nap-time routine that helps baby unwind and give mommy and daddy some time to close their eyes, listen to Sacred Writings, and meditate.

Our ‘Layered’ Naptime Routine

It sounds ominous, but our routine is amazingly simple.  We play the three videos below in the order I have embedded them, one of us holding the baby in our arms and cuddling her.  She usually babbles her way during the first one, but by the end of the second one, she is completely relaxed.  By the middle of the third, she is ready to be put down and she falls asleep, content and relaxed, shortly after its conclusion.

At the same time, her father and I have the time to reflect on the three quotes used in each of these videos of utmost importance to a life of service.  The first reads: “Unite and bind together the hearts, join in accord all the souls. Oh Lord! Make these faces radiant through the light of Thy oneness.”  While the main reason we love this song so much is that one of our dear friends put it together and another few dear friends feature in it, the quote seems so important to us in our efforts to build a vibrant community that we can’t reflect enough on it.

Similarly, the second video features a quote we find important to our efforts in becoming better individual members of our community.  It is from The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh and reads: “O son of Spirit!  My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.”

And yes, it features another one of our friends.

Wrapping It All Up

Finally, the last video is of a live performance of a song of great significance to many Bahá’ís.  It also features a choir, which is quite uplifting and inspiring in itself.  In very short, the song is a request for Divine Help, something that we all need when working for the betterment of both our communities and ourselves.

There you have it; a daily routine that we repeat at least twice, if not thrice, which helps baby nap well and allows mommy and daddy to regularly reflect on their life’s purpose.

Now that’s what I call being efficient.

Teaching or Educating: What is the Difference, if there is any?

Someone asked me a really interesting question recently.  She asked me: are you teaching or educating a child?

My initial response made me look like a wide-eyed deer caught in the glare of oncoming headlights.  After a few clarifying questions though, I realised that her view is actually really thought-provoking, and thankfully she was OK with me sharing it here.

The way she defines teaching is as giving the child the information repeatedly until he absorbs it.  The way she defined education is as giving the child the opportunity to learn something, and the child repeats the same action until he absorbs.

My friend really felt that creating opportunities allowed for a parent to build on their children’s inherent capacities, and to eventually make up for their weaknesses.  For example, her son very early on started rolling around, but took his sweet time talking.  So, she provided him with a lot of safe space for him to roll around.  She indirectly encouraged the development of his vocabulary by naming the direction that he was rolling towards and the objects that would attract his attention.

Discipline, in each case, also looks very different.  My friend shared that discipline in the case of education is for the child to sit and follow instructions and absorb the information.  It’s something that isn’t inherent in young children.  In education, however, she felt that the inherent discipline that children have—to repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat some more—is encouraged.

Now I have to admit that the only reason I kept listening to her was because of her own well-behaved, adventurous, curious, and hilarious children.  All three are between the ages of 5 and 12, and all three have this amazing combination of being mature children.  How was she able to raise these well-behaved children if she didn’t discipline them?

Because, she answered, they have it in them, and their father and I just brought it out. The couple always believed that each child is spiritual in nature and that a parents’ job is two-fold: to hone his inherent strengths, and to build on these strengths to develop more capacities.

My husband and I are still at the beginning of our own journey as parents, so we are focusing on what this means for babies.  My friend’s advice was simple.  Just like children, babies need a balance of both education and teaching.  There are some life-threatening things that you just have to teach your baby as soon as possible—sometimes using a physical reminder (ex: stairs are off-limits and here is a baby gate to remind you.)  But so many other things are opportunities for them to learn so much more than just an action.  My friend shared how letting her son to keep trying to reach for something on his own allowed him to develop perseverance and determination; letting her daughter to carefully examine things at her pace allowed her to develop focus and patience.

Is this going to work?  How well with it work?  And since nothing is formulaic, how will we have to adapt it to our baby?  We have no idea at the moment, and probably whatever idea we develop over the course of the next few weeks and months, well…  Let’s see how this is going to change over the next years, huh?

If you are a mom, I would love to hear about your experience of teaching versus educating!  Or even, if you think there is a difference between the two!  If you are a blogger and have written about this topic, please drop your link below with a small introduction on what you wrote about!

Learning From The Little Ones: Daily Lessons In Perseverance

Just like so many others around me, I have been struggling with my relationship with mistakes (as reflected in this, this, and this post).  The beacons lighting the way to a better me become major obstacles to my development when they are seen as negative feedback.

Taking the time to observe a baby at play is quite a revelation.  Have you ever taken the time to watch quietly while a baby played?  I mean, really watched, like, for hours on end.  I have been doing that lately and it has hit me time and again: we are all born with a healthy relationship with mistakes.  They are a constant source of feedback that helps us achieve what we want to achieve.  A baby trying to reach for a toy doesn’t give up; he might make sounds of frustration, but again and again, he tries, taking the time between each try to consider what has happened that he didn’t get the toy, and adjusting his approach.

Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t; as one obstacle is surmounted, another appears.  And yet the baby, despite being sometimes quite vocal about the frustration that can be felt in the face of not achieving one’s goal, keeps trying and ultimately, achieved joyous victory.

The Take Away

This is what I want my relationship to be with the process of working towards a goal.  I want to never even consider giving up; I want to vent my frustration and then go at it again, informed from my previous unsuccessful attempts.

Another important thing that I have learned from watching babies at play is this: that if you are constantly distracted from achieving your goal, you are not going to be able to put in the time and effort necessary.  When I brought this back to my own life, I realised that behind every unmet goal was a distraction.

It makes the pursuit of a voluntarily simple life all the more important.  I was talking to a very wise friend of mine who told me she had questioned everything she did in the pursuit of a simple life focused on achieving three goals: having a strong marriage, raising three healthy children, and serving the community.  She told me that by time-tracking everything she did for a few years, she came to realise that she wasted on average three hours a day on things that ultimately served no purpose within the framework of the life she wanted to lead.

So let’s learn from the babies around us; let’s simplify our lives as much as we can, stay focused on our goals, and take the feedback from all our attempts and channel them into refining our approach until we make it.

Teaching Discipline Rather Than Disciplining

A post I wrote back in September 2008 about doing your best out of fear triggered a reflection on the difference between disciplining your child versus teaching your child discipline.  My husband and I feel strongly that we do not want to discipline our child in the sense of saying no to everything we think she shouldn’t do.

Of course, there are always situations that will warrant a no, but we hope they are an exception.

A Small Example

For example, when it comes to food, we don’t want to have to tell our child what to eat and not to eat.  Rather, we want her to be able to know how to discipline herself and make a good choice depending on the circumstances.  So this means that at home or at regular dinners, she will make healthy choices with little treats here and there, and that at exceptional events, like weddings and parties, she can enjoy all the junk food with a clear conscience.

In this context, she won’t do her best out of fear that she will hear her parents thundering “no”, but rather she will know what to do to make the best of the situation.  She will be both healthy in her daily habits and be able to make healthy exceptions that might weight heavily on her stomach but be delightful for her spirits.

Now the question is, how to achieve this…

A New Series

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

Learning To ‘Be’ From The Cradle Up: On The Desire To Constantly Entertain My Baby

One of the elements that I have come to understand as essential to one’s personal growth—mental, spiritual, and emotional—is the ability to sit quietly and just be.  Of course nowadays, there is always something (or rather, a bunch of things!) that is clamouring for our attention, and so we are often left without a second to ourselves.

As I was watching my friends play with my daughter, it hit me that perhaps there is another reason why we are not able to just sit and be.  From the cradle, there seems to always be a need for those around a baby to constantly be in their face.  OK, that sounds bad, but you know what I mean—we are always talking to babies, singing to them, waving toys in their faces, always encouraging movement, and never just letting them be.

I was particularly struck by how there seems to be a conviction that a baby left alone is a baby that is neglected.  My daughter has had the capacity to play by herself from very early on.  And so, my husband and I have made a conscious effort to let her be when she is happily entertaining herself.  And yet, although she is fed, clean, and safe, those around us seem to be quite uncomfortable that we are leaving our baby to her own devices, convinced that good parenting means constantly entertaining her.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that we should leave our daughter to herself when she is perfectly content to do so.  Because the adults around her already have such a tough time creating a space in which they can be by themselves; isn’t it giving our daughter a leg up that, when she does find a space to just be, she knows how to fill it up with joy and wonder?

Honouring Our Parents By Parenting Our Children

It feels like whatever I do, I can never repay my parents for everything they have done for me.  And since I got married, I feel like whatever my husband and I do, we can never repay our parents for everything they have done for us as individuals and as a couple.

And—not to sound too depressing—I don’t think we ever can repay our parents, to be honest.  The only thing we can do is try.

A bunch of my friends and I have been trying for years to repay my parents with both little and big things.  Gifts, considerations, exceptions, decisions, all made with our parents in mind, with the hope that the little joys we can offer them can pile up into something worthwhile.  The process has brought us all a lot of joy, and we can tell that our parents are appreciative of it as well.  A great beginning!

As we started having our own children, things suddenly got a little easier.  It came to us through a big ah-ha moment at a coffee shop one weekend: that the best way we can hope to come close to repaying our parents is by honouring them.  And the best way we can honour them is by paying it forward—by giving to our own children what our parents gave us.

And funnily enough, it makes even the toughest times with our little ones so much easier.

When we rock our baby to sleep, we remember what our parents did for us; we think of our parents and thank them for giving us the strength to keep rocking our baby to sleep.

When we hold our baby through a crying spell, we remember our parents’ patience and thank them for being an example of patience we can uphold before our baby.

When our plans get thrown out of the window because our baby’s schedule suddenly and unexpectedly changes, we remember our much of our parents’ plans we ourselves ruined, thank them for being so understanding of our developmental needs and remember to be just as understanding with our baby.

When dietary restrictions make our diets ever so bland, we remember how our parents would deny themselves treats so that we wouldn’t be unfairly tempted, and we find sweet taste in our food.

It’s very humbling, guys, how having a baby helps us become a better person as well as helps us honour our parents.

Gosh, do we owe our little ones a lot.

Excellence And Detachment In Parenting: Reaching That Tough Sweet Spot

There are many reasons why people have kids.  Some of these reasons are downright amazing, some of them are just absolutely terrible, and most of them lie somewhere in between these two extremes.  Some of my friends have done it because it’s just the next logical step in their lives.  Some of them did it because it has been a dream of theirs “since, like, forever”.  One person I know did it because they wanted to keep the attention of their family on them when their sibling got married.

From what I understand of the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith, we are told to have a kid for many reasons—such as perpetuating the human race and bringing forth another soul to make mention of God—but that ultimately, we do it for the sake of God.  Therefore, just like with everything else we do for the sake of God, we have to strive to be the best parents we can be.

At the same time, we are told that nothing happens if it isn’t the Will of God—in other words, however much we might try, our child may fall short of the efforts poured into his/her education.  Therefore, just like with everything else in this world, we have to remain detached from the results of our efforts.

Detachment is a difficult thing to achieve in itself, what with the existence of the ego and the insistent self.  Detachment with regards to our role as parents is even more difficult in a society where the worth of a parent as a person is tied to the actions of the child.  If your child is not behaving, then you are immediately labelled as a bad parent.

How, then, can parents hope to achieve detachment while at the same time striving to give their best?

Pray Every Day

This seem to be the most basic way to balance our striving to be the best parents we can be and detachment from the results.  Praying reminds us God’s Might and our relative nothingness.  It reminds us time and again that we are raising children for His sake.  It keeps us focused on the ultimate purpose of our own lives, which is to know God and appropriately worship him.  And prayer is a great form of meditation that helps us control our emotions, because I’ve been told that our children will test us and push our boundaries like nothing else (sorry, Mom and Dad.)

Choose and Use Mantras

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: mantras work wonders.  They can be used in our quest to fulfill new year goals, to manage our ego, and even to become a better person in general.  And there are easy ways of surrounding yourself with your chosen mantras, so as to make sure you don’t forget them.  The trick seems to be to choose one’s mantra wisely: it has to be memorable, relatively short, and meaningful to you.  One of my friends chose lyrics of songs by her favorite singer-songwriter; another chose only lines from Rumi’s poems.  Another one of my friends uses well-known marketing catch-phrases.  None of these techniques work for me, but they are superbly efficient for each of them.

If you are looking for a specific mantra to start with, one that many of my friends use is the following quote: “Verily, I do this for God, the Lord of the heavens and earth, the Lord of all that is seen and unseen, the Lord of creation.”  Some talented individual has written a catchy melody to sing this quote to, but I have yet to find a recording of it online.  If you know where it can be found, please feel free to post the link in the comments below.

Why does this quote work?  Because it’s straight to the point and uses simple words that embrace the entire meaning in a very short sentence.  Choosing something of the same type and repeating it again and again while taking deep breaths does wonders.  After a while, you will get to the point that just thinking of your mantra will slow your breath and calm you down.

Join a Support Group

When it comes to combining excellent parenting with detachment, the ideal support group would not include parents who know what that means—because no one really does.  Rather, the ideal support group would be itself treading a path of reflection as its members seek to understand what it means to parent with excellence and detachment.  I suggest that, if ever you are in a group with someone who claims to know it all, you take the suggestions and recommendations with a large grain of salt.

Take Care of Your Marriage

If your spouse is meant to be your eternal partner on the path to fulfilling your life’s purpose, then it is only logical that the stronger your bond with him/her, the better you will both be able to strive for excellence while learning to be detached.  Furthermore, having a strong marriage means that you have a perfectly safe space within which you can consult with the one other person in the world who knows your situation as well as you do.  So take the time to nurture and strengthen your marriage so that you will always have that safe and honest space where you can reflect on your experience and on your learning.

Continue Serving

Oftentimes, service as a parent is seen as separate from service to the community.  However, the two are intimately linked in many ways.  For example, if raising a child is a form of service, serving within the community will inform our parenting—and of course, parenting will inform our service within the community.

We always have to be detached from the fruits of our service.  We tend to be less emotionally involved in others forms of service than parenting.  So learning to be detached in less emotionally complex situation within the community will be of great help in learning to be detached when it comes to parenting.

Any other ideas on how to achieve a balance between excellence and detachment in parenting?  I would love to hear from you!  Comment below or email me at saharsblog (at) gmail (dot) com.

The Woman Carries the Baby, The Man Does… Nothing? More Thoughts on Supporting the Partner of a Pregnant Woman

Nothing about the birth of my child was about the other person that had so much to do with it: my husband.  I have already discussed this matter previously, but I think it’s such an important topic that I have to bring it up again.

During labor, no one took care of my husband.  And the funny thing is that, because I could see how hard it was on him that I was in so much pain, I was worried about him—which made it all worse on me.  So ironically enough, but not taking care of him, the medical and nursing staff were undermining the person they were focused on—me.

It remained the same after the birth.  As one hospital staff after the other came into the room to check up on me and the baby, my husband was barely acknowledged, let alone addressed.  And when, in response to a question, I would tell the staff member that I had to consult with my husband, I was met with looks of surprise and even confusion.

Even now, a couple of months later, I find that people address all their questions and comments to me.  And when I consult with my husband, they are surprised, some of them even exclaiming: “But she’s your child!”

To them I try to explain that yes, she is, indeed, my child, but she is also his.  While I was the one that carried her for nine months, I didn’t fall because he was the one carrying me.  While I was the one that labored to deliver her, I was able to do so because he was laboring in his own way right beside me.  While I am the one breastfeeding her, he is the one feeding me.  He is just as involved and as sleep-deprived, reads just as many posts, articles, and books about parenting, asks just as many questions about what to do, and wonders just as much as I do on how well he is doing as a parent.  His heart clenches as much as mine when something happens to her, he worries as much as I do, he suffers right there alongside me when something is wrong.

And yet he doesn’t get any of the support that I get.

I’m not sure what the underlying assumptions to this pattern of behavior are.  They could be only positive—perhaps it is a sign of the respect we give mothers for what they go through.  There is definitely a lot of that, thankfully.

But I think there is also negative underlying assumptions, one of them related to the definition of what it means to be a man.  Being loving and nurturing, caring and supportive—it is assumed that the woman, and only the woman, has these.  The bills, the heavy items, and the logistics—all of those are given to the man.

The challenge seems to be that we have yet to overcome our constraining definitions of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man.  There is a lot to be said about this matter, and surely a short post like this one can’t hope to touch on all aspects of this complex matter.  But when it comes to how each one of us, as individuals, can address this matter, I think it’s quite simple, really.

Don’t forget about the father.

Ask him how he is doing.  Ask him how he is feeling.  Ask him what support he needs.  Make sure that this essential piece of the puzzle remains sane and whole.  Because both the baby and the mother need him, and no family can hope to achieve its full potential if all of its members are not functioning at peak capacity.

Is it a baby boy? No? Then why is she wearing blue?

Even before we knew if our child was going to be a girl, her father and I started shopping for clothes.  On the one hand, we were looking for any excuse to get our hands on the ridiculously adorable miniature versions of what we wear that grace the stores (I mean have you seen the selection that Carter’s Oshkosh offers?)  On the other hand, we knew that a large part of our child’s wardrobe would be gender-neutral.  After all, it’s not as it there is a big difference between boys’ and girls’ proportions at that age!

But it seems that what we consider neutral is gender specific in the eyes of many after all. When our daughter wears grey, black, orange, or green, we are inevitably asked if she is a boy and, when told that she is a girl, we are met with confused looks. Out for curiosity, I asked a friend of mine to dress her baby boy, who is around the same age as my daughter, in yellows, creams, and lavender; she was asked if he was a girl and, yes, met with a lot of similarly confused looks.

Are my friends and I, who shop on both sides of the stores to fill our children’s closets, being avant-garde by throwing away some if the superficial societal expectations placed on their wardrobe? Or are we breaking a necessary social rule by which young babies, who for the most part do not look like they are of a specific gender, are dressed in pink and blue to eliminate such awkwardness? Or is it time for a maturing society to grow out if this rule by accepting that clothing does not define gender, but rather, that genetics do?

I personally think it is a balance between the two, as we are in a period of transition between the old ways and the new ones.  It used to be necessary to have certain patterns that governed our interactions, including clothing that clearly identified us and, of course, defined us.  But now that our understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman evolves, what we do naturally evolves as well.

So to those of us who are dressing our children according to the dictates of beauty and esthetics rather than limiting ourselves to only the colours assigned to our child’s gender: keep at it.  But remember to be patient and loving towards those who question our choices; of course they are confused, they never thought about things the same way.  And we must be very careful to never, ever judge those parents who stick to social conventions.  Because who knows; we might be completely wrong after all.

Human Rights For Everyone—Including Our Babies

I think we can all agree that babies are human beings just like we are—albeit with quite a few developmental accomplishments ahead of them.  However, I find that we have a hard time putting this concept into practice.  Actually, to be blunt: it is amazing to me how disrespectful we are of our little one’s rights.

Now I don’t want you to think that I am someone who believes that parents shouldn’t discipline their kids and that they had the right to make their own decisions about everything from the beginning.  Of course not; that’s what parents are for.  But at the same time, children have certain rights from the very day they are born.  It’s based quite simply on the fact that they are noble, spiritual creatures.

My Baby Isn’t a Doll

While some parents dress their children in outfits that I personally don’t like, because said outfits are basically miniature, cute versions of what their parents wear, I feel that the child as a person is being respected.  But there are cases where the parents’ choices really make me uncomfortable; these are the cases where the child comes off as an over-the-top candy or clown.

But I realised early on that this is a personal choice as well, and that I should respect other parents’ choices.  But by the same token, it means that other individuals should respect my choices.  That means that I will not be dressing my baby up in any outfit that is gifted to us.  On the one hand, I am grateful for the token of love and generosity; but on the other hand, if I don’t feel that the outfit is befitting my baby’s true nature as a noble, spiritual being, then I won’t be using said outfit.

Individuals who are upset at the fact that I don’t use their tokens of love have the right to be disappointed, but I really hope that they understand that my baby is not a doll for them to dress as they please, and that they are happy that my baby has an advocate dedicated to her well-being.

My Baby’s Body Isn’t Yours To Enjoy

I love holding babies and hugging them.  They are so sweet and cute, so innocent and filled with hope of a bright future.  And they smell so sweet!

But just like I don’t go around hugging adults randomly, I wouldn’t pick up a baby randomly, even if the parents give me their OK.  I would make sure that the baby is OK with me picking him up, and that’s because from the very beginning, he has the right to determine what happens to his body.

It is particularly distressing to me that people don’t respect the baby’s right to determine who can hold him.  I’ve been told that babies don’t have an opinion on the matter, that they are too small to know better, and that parents need to chill out.  But time and again I have seen the signs quite clearly when a baby doesn’t want me to hold him.

I can’t help but wonder what we are teaching our babies when, in short, we do not give them the right to determine who can do what to their bodies.  If anyone who wants to is allowed to touch them at that age, what’s to say that this trend won’t continue into the future, however subconsciously?

My Baby Isn’t a Toy

This one is like the doll but more so.  Don’t move my child’s limbs around ridiculously.  I know it’s safe for her physically, but you are insulting her spiritual nature by treating her as a toy for your amusement.

Another thing I noticed a lot of people seem to like doing is to use a baby as a prop or a doll.  They will hold its arms and make ridiculous gestures, they will make them walk around, they will propped them up in a certain way that amuses them, things of the sort.  This one also bothers me because, well, would you do that to an adult?  Isn’t it an insult to her noble, spiritual nature to treat her like a puppet that does silly things?

My Baby Isn’t Totally Helpless

While babies are dependent on their parents for so many things, they are also intelligent human beings who can achieve a lot.  But they are learning; they need more time and don’t do things the same way that we would.  When you see a baby trying to reach for something, don’t give it to them, however kind your intentions.  By doing that, you could be sending the message to the baby that it will not be able to reach the item in question, and so he just might as well not try.  Rather, channel your good intentions into encouragement; cheer babies along as they learn the basics of life.

My Baby Has Moods Just Like You Do

You know how some days, you are not cranky, but you just feel quiet?  Those days during which you would rather listen than talk, observe rather than participate?  It’s the same with babies.  It’s important not to label babies and children, especially with negative labels.  My baby isn’t cranky and antisocial.  My baby is just in a quiet, observant mood.  And ironically enough, she is in that mood more often around people who treat her like a doll, don’t respect her body, see her as a toy, and think of her as helpless.

Final Thoughts

Treat babies like real people and you will be surprised by how well they will respond to you.