Category Archives: Marriage

Helping My Husband (Not): How The Best Intentions Can Go Wrong

One of the things that bothers me to no end is how fathers are underappreciated.  I won’t ever forget how, despite his exhaustion and the emotional toll of worrying about his wife and baby, no one took care of my husband during our baby’s birth.  The most ironic part of this story is that because I knew no one was taking care of him, I was worried about him, and as we know, worrying has adverse effects on one’s physical well-being.

Now the interesting thing is that, however passionate I am as an individual about this topic, I still live in a society that breeds a certain indifference towards the capacity of fathers.  And this belief, which has molded and shaped the structures of our society, has also affected me.  This effect is, in my opinion, even more dangerous: because of my passion for the elevation of fatherhood to its full worth, I can and am often blinded by sometimes very subtle actions that are, in fact, breeding the same type of indifference but in a much more insidious way.

Now as all parents know, the first couple of months are particularly exhausting.  Night feeding, crap naps, witching hour, clinginess of a baby introduced to a brand-new world—a lot of demands are being made that are unique to this time period and uniquely tiring.  I saw the effect this had on my husband and decided that I would take care of him by taking on as much as I could of our baby’s care.

Oh, how this backfired.  In my drive to make sure my husband didn’t feel as exhausted as I did, I took away from him and our baby the precious opportunities that I have had to get to bond with her and get to know her.  And one of the underlying assumptions that kept me going was that men weren’t built to do this the way women are.  In other words, that men don’t have the capacity to go through these first few weeks like women do.

Woah.

Thankfully, I realised this early on and was able to address this underlying assumption.  I still take care of my husband as much as I can, but not by “hogging” our baby’s care.  Rather, taking care of my husband now includes giving him the time he craves to be with her.  This gave given the two of them precious time to bond and connect, and has given me the precious opportunity to sit back and watch their relationship blossom.

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.

Parenting and Marital Happiness: Not Mutually Exclusive

I am a bit of a nerd, just in case you haven’t noticed yet.  I love reading studies and reflecting on the implications of the results found.  However, I also can be quite harsh when it comes to studies that demonstrate a combination of laxity in their data analysis and over-confidence in their interpretation.

I recently got very annoyed (to put it mildly) at the author of an article I came across on the effects of parenting on marriage.  Just writing about this article is making my blood boil!  Posted on the Fortune website, it shares the result of research into marriage satisfaction when a couple has children, and other related data.

It’s not the results that bother me—well, they do, but only in that it is something that needs to be addressed.  What bothers me is that articles like this one use data collected on a limited sample population to perform an analysis that ignores so much of the context within which the data was gathered that the conclusions can only be disheartening and disempowering.  So the results are being presented not as a hypothesis’ applicable for a certain population, but rather as a universal truth.  Similarly, the results are presented as the only outcome possible rather than one of many possible outcomes.

Of course this is wrong on many levels.

The Reality of Becoming Parents

Having children brings about, of course, a huge change in a couple’s life, but rather than analysing why it is so, the overall conversation around this topic—and the conclusion this article ends with—draws a line of causality between having children and unhappy marriages.  What we are failing to do is to look at the context within which having children brings about unhappy marriages.  When we place this relationship within a vacuum, we ignore a wealth of other causes and, therefore, a significant number of solutions that are within our reach to make sure that the decision of having children strengthens our marriages.

Failing to do so limits our view of reality and, most importantly, robs us of the ability to figure out how to achieve a different outcome.

Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: Marital Strength Pre-Parenting

First off, it would be interesting to analyse how strong the marriage of “miserable” parents was in the first place—there is, after all, a known, steady breakdown of the sacredness and importance of marriage.  The number of couples getting married with the thought that, should things become tough, there is a way out (a.k.a. divorce) is increasing.

The influences of society that encourage a self-centered, ego-driven view of the world also sap marriages of the selflessness both parties need to evince to make a marriage strong and happy.  Furthermore, the drive for material wealth saps the couples of energy to focus on more important things; instead of having dinner together as a family, for example, parents will be doing overtime or answering work emails at the dinner table.

What would happen to the data if we were to focus only on couples who act on a belief that marriage is sacred, on couples that do not believe in divorce as an option, who strive to be selfless, and who are not focused on the increase of material wealth?

Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: The Breakdown of the Extended Family Unit and of Community Life

Second, it would be interesting to study the relationship between how “miserable” parents have become over the years and the breakdown of the extended family unit, as well as the breakdown of community life in general.  Both of these traditional forms of support are known to provide the best protection against many negative life events and experiences, including an unhealthy marriage and weak parenting.  Are parents who have a strong and positive relationship with their extended family as unhappy in their marriage as those who do not have such a relationship?  What of parents who are members of a vibrant community versus those who do not have strong connections within theirs?

Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: The Decline of Our Spiritual Health

Third, it would be interesting to correlate the steady decline in a strong spiritual life with the increase in how “miserable” parents have become.  Many studies have shown that an individual’s overall happiness is intimately tied with his or her level of spiritual dedication and discipline.  It isn’t too far of a stretch to wonder if “miserable” parents are less engaged in their spiritual lives than those who are happy.

Parenting and Marital Happiness: How This Article Should Have Read

The saddest thing about this article is that it provides a wealth of information on how parents can have a happy marriage—if only the data was analysed through a more optimistic lens.  It also would be so much more of an empowering read if the article focused on how the data it presents can be used to change the fact that so many couples state being less happily married after having children.  Because fact remains that there are many parents out there who do become happier once they have children.  Why not focus on helping all parents get to that point, rather than making the miserable parents the norm?

What Did He Mean? Some Thoughts on Justin Bieber’s Latest Track

Let’s be honest, ladies; we do experience mood swings that take us completely by surprise. It’s so confusing, irritating, and frustrating to not understand what is going on in our own bodies and minds. I can understand that it’s also irritating to those around us to live through a mood swing; but what is needed is for all parties to ride the wave together and make the most of the situation.

Video clip aside, Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean” has captured my attention because it feels like the beginnings of such an attempt. While its sticky factor is bound to make this earworm settle in for quite some time (and a great workout track, as well), what makes it particularly interesting to me is the message I get of the desire to understand his partner.

I don’t know what Justin Bieber had in mind when he co-wrote and recorded this song; but what I get from it is a positive message about the importance of communication. First, the melody; it’s a cheerful, upbeat one, with a piano leading into the track using a relatively high range, starting things off with a feeling of optimism. The background beat thumps its way in and around Bieber’s confused and at times frustrated breathy vocals, giving the track a throbbing life quality reminiscent of blood flowing through one’s body. The lyrics seem honest and even raw as they seek to understand the meaning behind the mixed signals Bieber’s partner is giving him: “What do you mean/when you nod your head yes/but you wanna say no” and “What do you mean/when you don’t want me to move/but you tell me to go.”

It’s such a different take from songs in which men (and women!) pretty much rage against female hormones and their ensuing mood swings. We are often made to feel ashamed of a natural phenomenon occurring in our bodies because it is so hard to understand. But what if instead, we held an ongoing, joyful conversation about the ways in which mood swings can enrich our lives? I know of a couple whose husband is so aware of the strength behind his partner’s mood swings that he plans things around them. When he knows she will be particularly emotional, they have conversations that require the insights of emotions to advance them. When she is in an anti-social mood, they plan date nights in. When she is in an energetic mood, they plan to host events or go out. They have been told he is being condescending and that she is letting her hormones control their lives, but they have told me, over and over again, that this has enriched their lives in many ways they had not anticipated.

And how did it start? With him asking her what she meant when she was being contradictory.

Picture courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.

A Valentine’s Day Special: Applying the Lessons of Romantic Love to Other Relationships

vdayHappy Valentine’s Day!

Taking a day to celebrate romantic love is sweet indeed. After all, from romantic love is born a family; romantic love creates a healthy space where children are raised; a healthy family creates a strong family; and a strong family unit contributes to the well-being of society.

Rethinking that gift, are you now?

Many of the things learned by two individuals in a healthy romantic relationship can be applied to the other relationships in our lives, from our family to our friends all the way to the most casual of acquaintances. Amongst others, we learn respect, kindness, fairness, and patience. What would happen if we applied these learnings to even the most informal of our relationships?

For example, how differently would Justine Sacco’s story have ended? She tweeted a joke that many—including myself—didn’t find tasteful at all right before boarding an eleven hour flight to South Africa. When she turned on her phone she found out that her tweet had gone viral and an e-mob had turned on her. Would each member of this e-mob have done the same to their romantic interest? Similarly—albeit in the realm of fiction—would we be labelling Severus Snape as a ‘complete twat’, denying that anything he had done was even remotely heroic? How would the writers of such posts react if a strong romantic interest of theirs had told them they had a similar past?

It might not be sustainable to pour as much time and effort into all our relationships as we do our romantic one. But perhaps applying the rules of love we learn from them into all our relationships would do wonders.

Image credit: Chad Mauger.