Tag Archives: Family

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.

Enjoying the Reality Instead of Grieving the Fantasy of Parenthood

Every parent I know had a certain image of what life would be like with their children.  And every parent I have talked to tell me the same thing: that life with their children is not all like what they thought it would be.

What happens next is also really interesting and has got me thinking a lot about the importance of attitude and perspective.  Some parents end up disappointed in what their life is like, seeing the discrepancy between their plans and the reality of parenthood.  Other parents thought love every moment of it—even the worst parts of it that they could imagine.

It seems that the trick to being a happy parent—and to have a happy child—is to enjoy the good and the bad sides of parenting, to the point that the bad side of parenting becomes a source of joy in itself.  I put the question before a couple of parents and here are some of the ways that the difficult sides of parenthood became a source of joy for them.

Breastfeeding

There is definitely something beautiful about the concept of breasts being able to feed a little human being with exactly what he needs.  There is also something delightful and beautiful about holding your baby while you are feeding him in such an intimate, unique, and short-lived way.

But oh boy, can breastfeeding be messy!  Some mothers have told me tales of how their milk shoots in their babies faces or leaks all over while their baby struggles to latch on.  Other moms shared how gross they often feel what with milk always leaking through their bras and clothes.  Some mothers couldn’t get over the unsettling smell that seemed to follow them everywhere while they were breastfeeding.

Then again, as one mother said, if you laugh at it, it’s all becomes fun.  When her milk shoots in her baby’s face, she laughs, and the baby, taking his cue from her, learned to scrunch his face as she would open up her bra and would laugh when the milk would hit his face.  Another mother told me how she and her husband cataloged all the different ways she smelled because of the breastmilk, and how they would create fake perfume ads based on her “scent of the day”.  And all of them said that once their babies were weaned off, they really missed breastfeeding in all its messy, gross splendour.

Diapering

Diapering is another one of those moments that can be quite beautiful, a great opportunity for parents to bond and enjoy their baby.  But do I even need to mention all the things that can go wrong?

Again, laughing it off seems to be key.  One of my friends, realising that whatever she did, her baby boy was going to end up peeing at some point when not covered, put up a bullseye on the wall by the changing table and would give her son points based on how close he would get to its centre.  Another mom started cataloging the various colours and textures and would send updated to her close friends who, also mothers, started battling it out for the grossest poo of the day.  Each week, the winner of the grossest poo would be treated to coffee by the other women.

The most powerful “retake”, however, it to consider every bowel movement as a gift: the gift of knowing that your baby’s gastrointestinal system is doing fine and that you got another reminder that everything is OK.

Nighttime Feedings

Especially in the dead of winter, when the idea of getting out of a warm bed into the cool air of your bedroom, nighttime feedings can be quite difficult.  The exhaustion, the discomfort, the loneliness, the baby that won’t settle, the baby that bites because he falls asleep at the breast, the lolling head—there is a really long list of reasons why nighttime feeds are just so darn difficult.

Then again, most mothers agreed that despite it all, there is something incredibly peaceful and almost magical when it’s just them and their baby, without anyone or anything to come in between them.  One Mom told me that those moments were some of her most peaceful and restful ones, when all she had to do was watch her son eat.  Another one told me that’s when some of the most precious things happened—her baby’s first real smile, her baby’s first laugh, and the first time her baby was able to reach out and grab her finger without hesitation, to name a few.  Another one said that the nighttime feeds became her meditation time—at which point her mental health became a lot better and, consequently, so did her physical health.  So much so that when her husband suggested that he start getting up with her on weekends and holidays, she turned him down!

Conclusion

The consensus is that parenting is truly wonderful.  It’s an experience that transforms you as an individual and greatly enriches your marriage.  But it’s also tough, sometimes so tough some parents wonder how they will ever get through it.  It’s OK to not enjoy every moment, and it’s OK to acknowledge that some moments are tougher to enjoy—and make sure to laugh as much as you can.

But I think there is something else to remember: you should always enjoy every moment.  When you are single, enjoy every moment.  When you are dating, enjoy every moment.  The same for when you are engaged, married without children, married with one child, married with more than one child, and married with grown-up children.  These moments will all pass and only if we live them to the fullest will we not regret them.

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.

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?

The Life of a Parent: Gaining Insight into a Different Kind of Love

The way I understand the Bahá’í Writing, we are created in the image of God, and we can understand Him better by working on the various aspects of our spiritual selves.  I also understand that we are told that one of the main purposes of marriage is to have children.

It makes sense to me that nothing revealed in the Sacred Writings of any religion would counter their main purpose: to put us in touch with our true, spiritual selves.  Therefore, parenthood isn’t just about perpetuating the human race.  It is also about our personal spiritual development.

And boy, do I feel like I am already so different from the person I was a mere couple of months ago, before becoming a parent!

I could go on and on about the various spiritual lessons I feel I have learned since having a baby.  However, I feel there is one encompassing one that rules them all (yes, much like a certain ring): that of love.

Now this might come as blasphemous, so let me begin by saying that in no way so I ever expect to be able to even come close to understanding God.  But I do believe that we can gain smidgens of glimmerings of understanding, tiny atoms of it compared to the greatness of extent of knowledge that exists.

We are told in all Sacred Writings that God loves us.  But many times, we can think that God can’t love us because we are so messed up; or that God doesn’t love us because look at all the horrible things He is letting happen to us.

When I look down at my baby, I don’t feel like I can even not love her.  I went around a wide circle of parents that I know; some of them have been parents only a little longer than my husband and I, while others have grandchildren; some of them have angels for children while others suffer the consequences of the actions of their children daily.  And every single one of them said the same thing: they cannot not love their children.

So if we, limited little humans, are capable of this kind of love, then definitely an all-Mighty and Perfect God can love us, however messed up we may be.

There are some things that I have to allow to happen to my baby that she really doesn’t like—some of which actually make her suffer.  I’m thinking for example about vaccinations.  In her view, the ones who rule her world—her father and I—are allowing a terrible thing to happen to her.  But of course, her father and I know that the vaccines are necessary for her, that in the long run, not vaccinating her could be lead to a much greater deal of pain than the 24 hours of suffering she went through.  Our love has to go beyond her immediate needs, and accept her pain and be there for her as she sobs her way through the afternoon.

God, then, doesn’t allow horrible things to happen to us; rather, there are horrible things we have to go through in the short run so that, in the long run, we don’t suffer even more.  His Love is what allows for these terrible things to continue happening, because He knows that if He swoops in—which He can—the suffering might ease in the very short term, but will be much worse in the long term.

All of this helps me as a parent and a person.  As a parent, it helps me prepare for the pain my baby/child/teenager will go through when I deny them something or put them through another difficult situation.  As a person, it helps me understand that basically, that is what God is doing when things seems to be going irreparably wrong.  And as a blogger, it makes for quite the powerful blog post.

Why I Decided To Take Precious Time Away From My Baby To Start Blogging Again

My blogging journey—an incredible, fulfilling one that has given me so much—started almost nine and a half years ago right here in Sahar’s Blog.  I never intended to stop blogging—that is, until I had a baby.

I had always intended to take a short hiatus when each of my children was born.  When my first one was born last year, I took what I thought would be a short hiatus.  But I love the life with my little one so much that I pushed it back once, then twice, and then again for a third time.  I was seriously considering pushing my return to blogging for another couple of months as my beautiful baby went from adorable newborn to hilarious and charming infant.

Perhaps then it will not come as a surprise that it is for her that I am returning to blogging.  Sahar’s Blog has already wanted to be an attempt to contribute to positive online conversations, the ones that translate into action dedicated to the mental, emotional, and spiritual improvement of each reader as well as to the betterment of their communities.  In light of the recent sharp and significant increase in hateful conversations, both online and in real life, I couldn’t abandon the platform that took me so long to build up.  It seems much more important, both for my little one and all the others of her generation, that I start blogging again, to contribute to the positive conversations that are happening on community building, personal development, sexism, racism, and spirituality.

And so, as we ring in a new year, I’m happy to be returning to a wonderful world where, alongside assiduous readers who send me so many emails (and who hopefully will start sharing at least some of their thoughts in the comments section—you know who you are!), I will be attempting to have uplifting conversations that will inspire thoughtful and consistent action.

To my little girl, who might one day read this: I am going to have a little less time with you from now on, but I am spending it paving the way for a world I hope will be much healthier for you and your friends to grow in.

Social Media: Sharing Joy instead of Stroking Envy

Social media is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good…  Or not so good.

In the context of family life, I have been reading on various discussion boards and forums about the effects of social media on family life.

On the one hand, it can be quite inspiring to see how some families manage to lead such fulfilling, active lives.  It can give others the boost needed to reach for higher levels of fulfillment.  But on the other hand, seeing how some families have fulfilling, active lives can stroke envy, competitiveness, and even depression (did you know Facebook can make you unhappy?)

There are different ways of responding to this issue.

One extreme response is to completely unplug from social media—cancel your accounts and stay removed from it all.  Those who have chosen this method are not exposed to the curated pictures of other people’s lives and I assume this makes them less affected by envy, competitiveness, and depression caused by social media consumption.  But I am not sure how wise or healthy it is to cut oneself completely off from a major conversational platform used daily by such a large portion of the population.  I also don’t think this helps eliminate envy, competitiveness, and depression caused by comparing oneself to others; it just limits the challenge to “in real life” exposure.

I feel that the response on the other end of the spectrum has been to share “candid” shots of how messy family life can be, with shots of children crying, messy kitchens, and harried parents.  Seeing how others can be having as much difficulty as we seem to have can come as a relief to many others.  But although the feeling of “being in the same boat” can be a powerful one, I’m not sure this is the best approach either.  Helen Keller is often quoted as having said: “Keep your face to the sunshine and you can never see the shadows.”  Is it really that inspiring to see someone else’s struggle?  I would personally much rather be inspired by the beautiful shots of families having a good day (or even a good hour or good moment) to inspire me to work my way to creating beautiful moments of my own.

Once again, I turn to the concept of how we consume media.  In this case, I wonder if we need to shift away from consuming media with our egos and instead consume it with our hearts.

What I mean by “consuming media with our hearts” is to look at a picture of a family having a great day and feel a surge of love for them, feel joy at their joy, and, if we are having a bad day, feel inspired to reach for that same joy, however it might look for us.

As for “consuming media with our egos”, it’s looking at the same picture with anger, pride, and envy.  We might then feel compelled to take out our frustration on our loved ones; or perhaps we would feel compelled to stage some pictures of our own, at whatever cost, to give the impression that our life is fabulous as well.  We will do anything we can to give the impression that we have this same joy in our lives—even if we don’t.

I wonder if this unhealthy consumption of media could be connected in part to the guilt many parents feel about not being good enough.  Logically speaking, no parent is perfect; so a parent that is “good enough” should be defines as a parent that is giving it their 100%.  But this is not the conversation that surrounds us; rather, just like with so many other things, our deepest insecurities are triggered in a bid to have us consume more to feed the big consumerist machinery that has been set up.

The long term solution then seems to be a transformation of the foundation of our society—i.e. the reasons why we consume in the first place.  And while it is a huge work-in-progress that requires the participation of millions of people, it doesn’t mean that every single one of us can’t start contributing to it, slowly, humbly, but systematically and powerfully.  It requires that we enter the social media forum with the purpose of sharing joy, be it when we post or when we consume a post.  This might not seem like a lot, but I feel it would go a long way into creating a healthier online environment.

Picture courtesy of Chaitra of PinkPot

The Real Meaning of Unity: Removing Obstacles to Fulfilling our True Purpose in Life

Quite unfortunately, community-building doesn’t just happen when a group of good-willed individuals come together. Not that good-will doesn’t help! But it’s not enough. All the good-will in the world cannot be properly channeled unless there is unity. If we think of the community-building process as rowing, it becomes clear that we can have a lot of very eager rowers, but unless they are rowing in the same direction and with the same tempo, the boat is not going to get very far, and might even tip over.

Seems pretty simple and obvious, no? And yet I am sure that you, too, in your day to day efforts to contribute positively to the building of your community, are faced with various obstacles to acquiring a depth of understanding of the concept of unity.

One such obstacle if the use of the concept of unity as a buzzword. Instead of delving into the meaning of the concept through constant action, consultation, reflection and study, we claim that a certain act does or does not contribute to unity. And while perhaps 50 years ago, this was all we had the capacity to do, I feel like we have evolved since then and can embark on a process of understanding the deeper meanings and implications of the concept of unity.

The main danger of buzzwords is that they lull us into a false sense of understanding, and thus keep us from putting in the effort to truly understand what the concept is about. Many people around me seem to think that unity is people getting along; that it implies not having difficult discussions to iron out misunderstanding; and, most dangerously in my opinion, that unity is limited to what the ego wants and needs.

How can we counter this seemingly natural urge to reduce deep concepts into buzzwords? It seems that part of the solution is to cling to the very purpose of our lives, that is, to know and to worship God. I somehow do not think that the unity within a family dedicated to criminal activities is quite the type of unity we are looking for…

If we go back to the analogy of rowing, if all the rowers cling to their purpose, that is, to get to the finish line, then reaching true unity will be easier than, say, if each rower clings to their understanding of how rowing should be done. So not only do we have to work to create unity, but we also have to be united in our understanding of unity!

In light of a previous blog post in which the idea of the family as a laboratory of sorts in which we can develop tools and skills useful to community-building was presented, this begs the question: what does unity in a family mean? If this understanding of unity is ego driven, fighting ensues, because each member of the family wants their version of unity to prevail. But if a family is united in serving God and humanity, it becomes a lot easier; each decision is focused on enabling service, enabling the family members to let go of their ego.

Perhaps this implies that the reason for which we bring up certain topics should not be to prove ourselves right and the other wrong. Rather, it means that we choose to consult about obstacles to the family’s service to God and humanity, and let go of personal preferences. This is, or course, a lot harder than it sounds, and involves a lot of time, energy and effort poured in consultation.

What could this look like in a community? Many spaces for reflection might have to be created so that the members of the community can consult on how they can build a community centered on God. But also, spaces might need to be created in which the members of the community strengthen their relationship with God, which helps them detach from their egos. This gives a whole new layer of meaning to reflection meetings and devotional meetings, doesn’t it?

First published on Sahar’s Blog on 19 January 2013.

From Governing One’s Family to Governing the World: Learning to Use the Vital Instrument of Consultation

Someone recently mentioned that there is no institution older than that of marriage, which really got me thinking. If this institution has been part of human society for millennia, why are we still so terrible at maintaining it, with divorce rates in North America so high? No wonder, then, that so many conversations revolve on this topic; nothing like a good old mystery to keep tongues wagging!

Then again, when we consider the stage that humanity is currently at, no wonder marriage and family life are also in such turmoil. As the fundamental unit of society, families are the microcosm within which we can learn and experiment with various skills, techniques, policies, procedures that can then be applied at the level of society. In light of the fact that humanity is striving to build, on top of a foundation of unity and equality, a new world order focused on knowing and worshiping God, it comes as little surprise that the family becomes a laboratory of sorts in which we can figure out with what tools, instruments and materials it can be cemented together.

For example, it’s easy to say on paper that a governing body should consult on all matters; but what does that look like? No one really knows, and it is overwhelming to overhaul an entire system of governance without having any idea what the final product looks like.

But what if, hand in hand with the realization that we need to govern using consultation as a key instrument, all those serving on governing bodies experimented with this concept in the safety and comfort of their own families? All the skills, capacities, insights and learning they would generate in a safe, manageable environment, could then be applied to the really large, overwhelming environment of national governance. And as this learning process continues, no doubt those in these positions of governance will be able to serve the people they represent even more efficiently, because they have learned, step by step, using their families as a learning ground, to use the powerful instrument that is consultation.

So the next time your parents call you to the den for a family consultation, just think about it: this seemingly tedious hour could be the very stepping stone needed to creating a new world order. Pretty insane, no?

Originally published on Sahar’s Blog
on 30 November 2012

Big News and The Launch of a Related New Family Focused Feature

Someone recently told me that the most important advice she could give my husband and I about my impending dive into parenthood was to be ready for a lot of changes.  Like so much of the advice I have received, it seems pretty obvious in theory, but still comes as a little bit of a surprising adjustment when it comes to practice.

Pregnancy has already been filled with adjustments as other priorities as well as new physical limitations (I can’t see my feet anymore!) have created a new reality in which I just can’t keep up with my old self.

And this is why the launching of this feature is already a week late.

You probably have guessed what the ‘big news’ is—which is commensurate with the size of my waistline.  As my husband and I have been preparing for the coming of a little one, we have been exposed to amazing advice, great conversations, and, already, some fantastic learnings with repercussions for both our personal development and our ability to contribute to strengthening our community.

So of course this new feature was kind of inevitable!

We—because this will be a joint effort—initially thought of integrating it into Tuesday’s posts on personal and community development.  Then we realised that there is just so much to discuss when it comes to parenting that overlaps all the other categories in this blog, from books to movies to music to products to personal and community development etc.—that either it would take over the entire blog, or we could create a whole new feature that would basically be a ‘specialised’ view of all the good stuff you are already used to seeing on this blog.

For the next three months we are going to give this format a try.  The rest of the blog will remain the same; Friday’s old, blog-centric content has been shifted to Saturdays, and Fridays will be dedicated to all things family related.  For now there is no set schedule within each Friday—we will be sharing, for now at least, whatever comes to mind or crosses our paths during the previous week.  But since I will be revising the editorial calendar every three months, whatever we learn about family related blogging on Fridays will make its appearance then and there.

I have been reading about motherhood for more than 10 years now, the time around which my friends starting giving me gorgeous nieces and nephews.  It enabled me to help my newly minted parent friend as well as introduce me to a whole slate of amazing parent and mommy bloggers.  My husband and I are excited to be joining their ranks, be it only for a day a week, and hope that we can help others are much as bloggers have and will no doubt continue to help us.

Image courtesy of Pregnancy Chicken.