My kids are watching me be……. me.

Seriously this thought scares me. Because really we don’t test our readiness for most of life’s big decisions. We kinda wing most things. We think for weeks and weeks before landing an outfit for our best friend’s wedding but our own marriage is sometimes the result of others advocating for a family enough times that they start to look like the perfect match for us. We are expected to almost “naturally” slip into the role of a caring and emotionally available wife right the day after our wedding. We prepare for months and some people take years to find the perfect venue, the perfect place settings, flowers, ambience. We nitpick through the guest list that our parents hand us and reduce it by tens each time we go over it because so and so aunt/uncle/cousin/distant relative gets on our nerves. While we are making these hugely important decisions, some of us are perfectly content with not knowing the groom at all.

Parenthood comes pretty much like that. We are expected to have kids soon after getting married. Why? Cuz, duh! Okay, ’nuff said! Sigh! This is the long and short of it. Yup! Duh is what you’ll hear our mothers say if you ask them why I have to have a baby right after I get married. Again, the age-old expectation of slipping naturally into this role like a hand slips into the perfectly sized glove. Effortless, seamless. No readiness testing is done and no readiness is considered important. A woman has a uterus and that’s the biggest sign of her being good and ready at all times to carry a child.

Now don’t think I’m criticizing. Because I learned a long time ago that arguing with society about how they can empower women by letting them make their own decisions is going to earn me an unbecoming name or two. I would be considered a bad influence for all the nice girls who don’t think twice before getting married and becoming mothers. I’ve been told that this is almost societal heresy and I should be ashamed of myself. This is why I keep my mouth shut when a girl is going gaga over her wedding outfit but doesn’t know exactly where her fiancé works. I just let her revel in the moment. It’s okay. She can act like a teenager right up until the day after her wedding. Because then she’ll be expected to be well-versed in household chores like an experienced 45 year old woman. Sometimes this girl wakes up temporarily from her ditzy state of mind and asks “What’s marriage?”. And the unanimous answer is “You’ll find out”.

But I can’t let the cavalier attitude towards parenthood go down my throat without some noise. That’s where the real unfairness starts. When people start to expect us to become mothers. Good mothers who breastfeed and consider formula the devil’s food. Good mothers who dress their children up in pretty clothes even though they themselves haven’t showered in days. Good mothers who take their kids to the library, park, latest animated movie, play dates, craft class and more. Good mothers who are clueless as to what parenthood is and what motherhood asks of us. They’re clueless because when they asked what the demands of motherhood would be, the unanimous answer was ” You’ll find out”.

I can let our unreadiness of marriage go. Really! I can! Because usually, despite not being ready , women and men find success in their combined wisdom. It’s not like they have to discover the secrets of the cosmos. It’s just the art of living together peacefully which is the bare minimum ask of marriage and most couples learn that art pretty good.

But the same can’t be said of parenthood. No, no, no! That’s not equivalent to starting a life together with a grown (or not) man who can call us out when we are at fault . That’s not similar to living with an adult woman who has an an astute (or not) sense of right and wrong. Parenthood is actually making a human being from scratch and stamping our good and bad on this tiny person.

Daunted yet? Yup! It is daunting. And can be very, very scary if we don’t know what we’re doing.

Someone asked me to get married when I was 24. Then someone asked me to call him my husband. Then somehow I got pregnant. Then down the line I had a miscarriage. Then years later I had another baby. It is all beautiful and I wouldn’t trade it for the world but a tiny voice in my head says ” But you didn’t plan any of it.”

So when I became a mother I ran the corporation of motherhood just like all xennial and millennial mothers run it. Doesn’t make sense? Look up on the internet. Looks funny ? Ask a friend. Baby threw an ugly tantrum for thirty minutes? Throw an even uglier one and prove you’re in charge. Husband tries to advise about parenting? Tell him to contribute only when he grows a uterus and has had labor pains. Yup! The short and sweet of my motherhood was “winging it”.

And I winged it pretty well. Up until the long-term side effects of winging it became apparent. When I started realizing that I’m not just a vessel for bringing a child into this world, raising them, sending them to school and getting them settled in life. I’m not just the technical manual to life for them. I’m not just the road map to navigate social settings and fashion choices and religion. I’m not just the voice of reason that has to detach herself from her child’s spirit if she has to be a practical and impressive parent. I started to realize that the image of a parent that I was emulating was not even in line with my own parents’ who always kept their children close to their heart and nurtured them delicately. My personal brand of parenting was on-the-go parenting that only surfaced when it needed to. The parent in me made an appearance when my child was being out of line. The parent in me showered my child with love but not compassion. I was conditionally forgiving towards them . I wasn’t humanely forgiving to them. I kissed them and hugged them every second of us together but I didn’t talk to them or play with them. I started to see how I was an ineffective parent who wasn’t really making a mark on my child’s mind.

This started to make me doubt my readiness of parenthood and made me make the same changes to my life for my children that a lot of women make for their husbands.

The first step in this regard was to build an acute sense of close scrutiny by my kids. I knew they were watching me. How did I know that? Because I was starting to see myself in them. My good, my bad and my ugly was plainly seen in them by me. My kids were watching me being…….me. And they were learning to be….. me! And they were especially modeling the side of me that didn’t make me proud ever.

It was like I was in captivity and my captor was watching me. Constantly. And I had to prove my good conduct so he would waive part of my sentence. This is how I started to change myself. I stopped indulging in mundane activities like talking about others, commenting on women walking down the street and keeping count of people’s possessions. I also stopped lying, making excuses and finding ways to cut corners. So these were the first things that I stopped doing in front of my kids.

Slowly but quite tangibly, these changes crept into my spirit. And then I didn’t have to make a hugely strenuous mental effort to be forthright in front of my kids. I noticed that now I didn’t have to make an effort to be forthright with other people in my life too. This became a habit.

One thing that I had noticed my kids picking up from me was the love for reading. I started to notice their leaning towards flashy books and adventurous stories. They didn’t like soft narrations of virtue and character. They had learned to value thrill and over-the-top adventure and had not been given a chance to appreciate the calm that reading can induce.

So I started reading the Quran more. Of course my kids were, and still are, too young to completely comprehend my reasoning behind it but they can see that here’s a book that is quiet in its narration while being strong and compassionate in its message. They learned about a new genre of books. They saw me reading to myself quietly and they started mimicking it. They learned a few good things about silence. I also started to introduce them to different books than the ones we had been reading. Instead of extremely colorful books loaded with pictures and caricatures, I showed them plainer books and it seemed to open up their minds to various types of reading. I also showed them the pleasure in simple toys like a ball, lego, a trampoline. I tried to model camaraderie for them when they’re playing together. By taking a few tough physical hits myself with the ball, I showed them how physical hurt is part of playing together and doesn’t always need a tantrum or incessant complaining. They became more resilient.

I stopped shushing them when they fell. I stopped using stupid, feelingless exclamations like ” You’re a boy. Boys don’t cry. You can get right back up”. Or ” Don’t cry. You’re a tough girl”. I started acknowledging physical hurt when they experienced it and made them see how the amount of help they get is directly proportional to the amount of help they ask for and that there is no shame in asking for help. Human beings are supposed to help each other.

The changes were subtle but undeniable. We became a more tolerant family. We continued to have the occasional meltdown. We still have the prolonged squabble over a favorite toy. We still sometimes have a toddler who throws himself down in the middle of the cereal aisle because we refused to get the cereal that he prefers. But we are better equipped to control some behavioral issues by being better examples than we were. Just by adopting what we always admired in others made all the difference.

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