SAUDI ARABIA: A Message to the Mom Shamers

SAUDI ARABIA: A Message to the Mom Shamers

Mom Shamers
I had a nightmare the other night about running late for dinner with my husband. In the dream, I went into the bedroom to change, but for the life of me I couldn’t get ready. I knew my husband was outside getting more and more impatient with me and we were going to miss our reservation, but nothing could make me speed up. I woke up with a start and looked at my bedside clock. It was 9:15 am. I was an hour and fifteen minutes late for my son Boodi’s sports day. I had slept through the alarm (and many many snooze alarms) like a zombie. My subconscious had been taking me on a dream guilt trip.

I jumped out of bed, irrationally angry at everyone in the world who didn’t wake me (including my 4 year old, Khaled, who I kept home from preschool to go with me to sports day). He greeted me saying, “Mama I was waiting and waiting and you weren’t coming.”

It took me 10 minutes to get from the bed to the car. My irrational anger began to subside when I realised that there is no one to blame. I simply slept through the alarm. This didn’t help with the guilt that swelled with every passing minute.

I should give you a little background: our nanny normally does the school drop-offs, which is why I was still asleep till 9:15. Also, I am 17 weeks pregnant with baby number 5 and running my own business – hence the coma-like sleep I have been experiencing lately.

Thankfully, our nanny had rushed back to school at 8 am to be there for my son and take pictures. I frantically called her from the car and she assured me they had 3 more games to play before the end of the sports day.

We arrived finally at 9:55 am. As I walked onto the field where the mothers were following their children’s classes from activity to activity, I ran into a couple of mother whom I know. One of them looked concerned and asked if I had just arrived. “Yes, I slept through the alarm! I feel terrible!” I told her. She gave me a sympathetic look and said not to worry, and that Boodi was pleased the nanny was there (kill me now). The other mother laughed and said “Well, good morning at night!” (An Arabic expression meaning too little, too late). The first mother was genuinely trying to help but this one, well, was just being bitchy.

I let out a little laugh, not knowing how else to respond. I held back my tears, and went to find Boodi. Khaled found him first and ran over to him to give him hugs. I found our nanny, apologized, and thanked her profusely for coming and taking pictures. She, as always, understood and left us to enjoy the last of the activities. I ran into a few other mothers who were genuinely empathetic. They made me feel better, but I couldn’t shake the sour taste the mean mother’s comment left in my mouth. I promised to pick Boodi up at the end of the day and headed home. Boodi was so happy to have us there the last 10 minutes that he didn’t even ask why I was late.

I came back to school at pick up time and was waiting outside for the final bell to ring. Another mother whom I know walked up to me and said “I didn’t see you today.” Previous interactions with this particular mother had me prepared me – I knew what to expect. “Oh, I saw you!” I said with a smile. “I arrived a bit late.”

“How late? After it finished?” She laughed. I stared at her, flabbergasted, and said “I slept through my alarm,” because that’s all I could muster. “Well, don’t be late for the grade 5 sports day tomorrow!” she snipped. Tomorrow’s sports day, which both our older children are part of, starts at 12 in the afternoon. I managed to say, “Of course I won’t! It’s at 12 pm! Who would sleep that late?” This answer took her back a bit. By the time the bell rang I was seething.

I went home planning what I would say the next day when I saw the mom shamers. I knew that someone would make a comment, and I wanted to have a snarky reply at the ready. Of course, the next day when the other mother passed by me on the field and said, “Ah, I see you made it on time today!” I just gave her a steely look and walked away. At the end of the day, I’m all talk.

Looking back on the different interactions I have had with the mom shamers at school, I lose count of how many times I have been shamed, or have witnessed shaming of others. Mom shamers can be brutally judgemental. No matter their reason for shaming other moms, it is inexcusable for women to be other women’s biggest critics. What happened to women supporting women? We’re in the trenches together, are we not?

Here is what I want those mom shamers to know:

  • You don’t love my child more than I do. And if you feel I don’t love my child enough, your shaming me won’t change that.
  • When I arrive for the last 10 minutes of my sons sports day looking frazzled and out of breath how do you think shaming me will help? I believe your goal was never to help me, but rather to feel better about yourself.
  • Parenting is not measured by drop offs and pick ups or having a nanny versus doing everything yourself. No one can measure the strength of a mother and child’s relationship from these superficial, insignificant daily routines.
  • Your focus on me and my child should be a sign for you to look deeper into yourself to see where this is coming from.
  • My lateness is obviously triggering something inside you, making you need to lash out with a snide comment. Your energy is better used trying to figure out why it is so important to you to put me down.

Finally, as Bernard Meltzer said: “Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.”

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B. of Saudi Arabia. Photo credit to the author.

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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EGYPT: Beliefs and how they impact our lives

beliefs

According to Merriam Webster, a belief is, “something that a person accepts as true or right, a strongly held opinion about something.” A belief is just an opinion, not necessarily the truth or the reality. Beliefs can be imagined as an iceberg. There are some beliefs  we are conscious of, like the tip of the iceberg that can be seen above the water. Meanwhile, there are other beliefs we are less aware of, the larger part of the iceberg that lies below the water.

There are different types of beliefs. There are some that are empowering beliefs, like we are happy, we are successful , life is beautiful and worth being lived, failure is a part of the success journey, and so on. Other beliefs are disempowering, like I am unhappy, I am not good enough, life is unfair, I am a loser, et cetera. Such beliefs can be very limiting. Our beliefs about ourselves shape our lives. If we hold empowering beliefs, we feel more satisfaction and peace of mind. Otherwise, we are frustrated and unhappy most of the time. Most of our beliefs are formed during our childhood and adolescence.

Why our beliefs impact our lives?

Our beliefs drive our behaviors, so anything we do can be linked back to a certain belief we hold. Our perception of a situation creates a thought in our mind. The thought triggers an emotion, and the emotion makes us behave in a certain way. For example, one of my clients felt uncomfortable when her colleagues repeated to her, “You are so kind.” From my point of view, it was a positive comment of praise, while she perceived it as, “You are so naive.” With the positive perception, she would have felt totally comfortable and satisfied. Meanwhile, with the negative perception she felt annoyed and uncomfortable. These two different perceptions of the same situation triggered two completely different feelings, which lead to two totally different behaviors.

When we go through the same experience with the same thought, we feel the same feeling and we behave the same way until it becomes an unconscious belief and the behavior becomes automatic. Unfortunately it becomes the TRUTH while actually it is just our truth that we created due to our perception. If we want to change our behavior, we need to change the angle from which we see the situation.

“Making mistakes is shameful”

I grew up in a family and a school where making mistakes was not an option. We were punished, made fun of, and severely criticized for making mistakes. There were only one way to do anything, the way the elders wanted it done. Anything else was wrong and unacceptable. Living in such an environment was really hard.  I always felt like an accused who needed to defend herself. I wanted to have my own life, but unfortunately anything that did not match their way was considered a mistake.

One of my dis-empowering beliefs that negatively affected my life and harmed my self confidence for many years was, “Making mistakes is shameful.” I was so sensitive, so I avoided many situations and experiences to avoid the feeling of guilt and shame I felt every time I thought I made a mistake. I feared oral exams, trying new things, delivering presentations, and giving an opinion in a meeting or a class. I was so frightened of failure that I had to find help. My coach helped me see my foundational belief that making mistakes is shameful, and helped me to see that it caused me to avoid situations where I feared failure. It took me some time to adopt the new perception and to overcome my fear and my belief. Fortunately, I can now express myself in public easily, confidently, and in a relaxed way.

How we can change a behavior?

When you want to change your behavior in any situation and you want to find out what dis-empowering belief you hold, just answer these questions:

What are your thoughts in this situation?

How do you feel every time you go through it?

Write down your answers, and repeat this process several times. You will begin to notice a pattern. Notice your inner self talks and your wording – it will tell you a lot about your beliefs. To change the behavior, you need to change the angle from which you perceive the situation. Try to find a more positive perception – it will make a big shift in your thoughts and feelings and hence your behaviors.

As moms we need to be so careful with our children. We must pay attention to how we treat them, and also how we treat ourselves or speak about ourselves in front of them. We need to be aware of our dis-empowering beliefs, and work on changing them as they will surely affect our children. They acquire their self confidence and self esteem from ours. Our children see themselves through our eyes and they believe us, so if you tell your child they are not good enough or they are amazing they will believe you and may be they will live their whole life with this belief. Be cautious which beliefs you want to implant in your child.

Are you aware of your beliefs? What type of beliefs do you hold about yourself? How do they affect your life? Do you have a similar story, to share with us, about replacing a limiting belief ?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Nihad from Alexandria, Egypt. Nihad blogs at Aurora Beams Life Coaching.

Image via José María Foces Morán / Flickr

Nihad

Nihad is an Egyptian woman, who was born and has lived her whole life in Alexandria, Egypt. She says, “People who visited this city know how charming and beautiful this city is. Although I love every city in Egypt, Alexandria is the one I love the most.” She is a software engineer and has worked in the field for more than twenty years. But recently she quit her job, got a coaching certificate and she is now a self employed life and career coach. She says, “I believe that women in this era face big challenges and they are taking huge responsibilities. That's why I have chosen my niche -- women looking for happiness and satisfaction. I help and support them in making whatever change (career change, life change, behavior change, belief change…) they want to bring more satisfaction and happiness in their lives.” Nihad is a mother of two lovely boys, 15 and 9 years old. She states, “They are the most precious gifts I have ever had. I madly love them, and I consider them the main source of happiness in my life.” Our inspiring mother in Egypt can also be found at Aurora Beams Life Coaching.

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UAE: Parenting In Strange (Trumpish) Times

Parenting in Strange (Trumpish) Times

We are living in strange times. Here’s how strange they are: the other day I found myself nodding in agreement with something that Dick Cheney said. He is one of the few Republicans who spoke out immediately against Trump’s executive order banning Muslims entering the United States. (Of course in the same interview, he talked about how there was “nobody in America” when his Puritan ancestors arrived. I guess some things never change.) I’ve also started following Pope Francis on Instagram. The Pope gives good Insta, I have to say, but the thing is, I’m not Catholic. I’m not even a lapsed Catholic. I’m not even religious. The closest I came to a religious moment is when I was about seven and was a horse in the St. Augustine “Noah’s Ark” pageant. I pranced down the aisle with the other “animals” and then we all huddled around the altar while Father Pemble—the hippy minister with a fabulous baritone and a red beard—sang songs about the flood. A religious high-point, for sure.

I don’t agree with the Pope on some key issues—he’s not going to be espousing any pro-choice rhetoric anytime soon—but his messages speak to the importance of caring for all of humanity, not just those who look like you.

Here’s an even stranger thing: for the first time in my adult life, I wished this weekend that I had become a lawyer. Because if I’d been a lawyer, and if I were in the United States, I could have gone to an airport and offered my services to detainee families as they (as we all) struggle with the implications of Trump’s destructive (and illegal) actions. I even suggested to my sixteen-year old son that he might think about becoming a lawyer — an idea that wouldn’t ever have occurred to me a month ago. Watching from afar as US airports flooded with people offering support of all kinds to detainees and their families—legal advice, places to stay, food, whatever they could find—I felt a tiny glimmer of hope. The Women’s Marches were amazing, a tour-de-force of activism, energy, and global feminism, but somehow the airport protests seem like an even bigger deal, because they were spontaneous, contagious, and effective (can we get a shoutout for the ACLU)? As the wonderful Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate, “Donald Trump has no idea how terrifying a blue book and a Lexis password can be. He’s about to find out.”

The protests have also helped me to show my kids that all is not lost (for a little while longer at least): the country still has the rule of law, which the President has to obey. I’ve been pointing to the photos of lawyers sitting on airport floors, laptops open, as signs that individuals can make a difference and that Trump’s message of fear has not taken hold everywhere.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? How do we explain Trump’s actions to our children when what he’s doing violates such fundamental principles of civility? And how do we keep our children, particularly older children, optimistic about the future when around the world things seem so bleak? My sixteen-year old son is full of the existential despair that only a teen-ager can feel. He says things like, “yeah, I’m doing my homework, not that it matters because…Trump” – which might become the 2017 version of “the dog ate my homework.” Like most teenagers, my son is a pretty rigid thinker: things are one way or another, the best or the worst; he has lots of opinions and they are, of course, always correct. The night after Trump’s victory (a landslide, as Trump keeps telling us), The Teen said, “but mom, I thought the good guys were supposed to win.” He looked so sad and confused, and I could almost hear the screeching gears in his mind trying to recalibrate his world view.

The Teen has only known Presidential elections where Obama won, and although he knows theoretically that “good guys” don’t always win, this election is his first real-life whammy of watching the good guys lose. It happens to all of us eventually, and sadly, we may even come to expect it. But right now, the Teen is sure that we’re all doomed. I’ve had my fair share of similar thoughts since the inauguration (did you see those “huge” crowds on the Mall for the swearing-in? Yeah, me neither), but I don’t want my kids to feel as pessimistic as I do. They’re young, right? If they lose hope, then that’s the end of the game.

Surprisingly—or perhaps not surprisingly, given how odd things are these days—I found some advice on the Pope’s Instagram. The day the Muslim ban went into effect, the PopeFeed featured a picture with the caption: “Dear young people, make a ruckus! A ruckus that brings a free heart, solidarity, hope…” You know what? I’m thinking ruckus sounds just about right. Perhaps that’s the final thing: I’m actually telling my kids to make a ruckus. Ask questions, read the news, read history, pay attention. And vote. The sixteen-year old will vote for a President in 2020. I wonder who she’ll be?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn, Mannahattamamma of the UAE. 

Lead photo credit: Kenneth Lu / Flickr. Pope Francis video via the Pope’s Instagram

Mannahattamamma (UAE)

After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.

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ISRAEL: I Don’t Want to be Superwoman

ISRAEL: I Don’t Want to be Superwoman

Superwoman

I don’t want to be Superwoman.

I used to take it as a compliment when people told me I was “Superwoman”.  I took it to mean that I must be doing something right to be able to manage to do everything I was doing. And yes, it felt good to hear that people were impressed by the amount of stuff I was able to accomplish while raising 5 kids.

I’ve grown older. I’ve gotten more tired. I’ve also gained some life experience and have slowly realized that not everything in our lives is of equal importance and there is no way we can do everything we want at the same time.

In case it’s not obvious, Superwoman is fiction. (Also, let’s put aside that the Superwoman character is actually a villain as opposed to a hero. For sake of this post we’ll just assume that when someone calls you Superwoman they mean Superman in a female body.) And even the fictitious Superwoman pays a heavy price. Between having to hide her real identity and not letting the people closest to her know who she really is,  to time and time again having to drop everything on a moment’s notice and run off to save the world. Not to mention the burden of having the world’s problems on her shoulders.

It’s tiring putting up a facade. It’s tiring putting everyone else’s needs before your own. It’s tiring feeling that you alone are responsible for so many important things.

In general, women have a problem that is not as common among men: we don’t know how to ask for help. We’re queens of helping others but we have a problem reaching out for help when we need it, at least until things are really bad and we’re completely falling apart. (And more often than not we are then angry that those closest to us didn’t instinctively know to offer help before we asked for it.) Women have more of a problem delegating tasks even within our families, because, once again, that’s asking for help. And even when we ask for help and receive it, we feel we have to return the help in the future.

I don’t want to be Superwoman. I don’t have the superpowers that would make it possible for me to continue adding more and more things into my daily routine and to continue to do all of them at the same level without dropping something else.

I also believe that the Superwoman mentality harms women. People who aren’t managing to do as much as a “Superwoman” feel bad and inadequate when they compare themselves to women who at least on the outside seem to be getting so much done so well. Our daughters also suffer when we try to do too many things all on our own. Kids learn from what we do, not what we say. By putting up the facade of Superwomen we are teaching our daughters to set unrealistic goals for themselves.

I don’t want to be Superwoman. I don’t want to have unrealistic expectations for what I can reasonably  expect to accomplish. I want to learn how to prioritize and how to ask for help. The biggest difficulty is that I just don’t know how to let go of the guilt that comes with not living up to the unrealistic expectations I set for myself.

Are you a Superwoman? A recovering Superwoman? Any tips?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Susie Newday in Israel.

Photo credit: Anne Marthe Widvey / Flickr.

Susie Newday (Israel)

Susie Newday is a happily-married American-born Israeli mother of five. She is an oncology nurse, blogger and avid amateur photographer. Most importantly, Susie is a happily married mother of five amazing kids from age 8-24 and soon to be a mother in law. (Which also makes her a chef, maid, tutor, chauffeur, launderer...) Susie's blog, New Day, New Lesson, is her attempt to help others and herself view the lessons life hands all of us in a positive light. She will also be the first to admit that blogging is great free therapy as well. Susie's hope for the world? Increasing kindness, tolerance and love. You can also follow her Facebook page New Day, New Lesson where she posts her unique photos with quotes as well as gift ideas.

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OMAN: Don’t Be Such a Woman

OMAN: Don’t Be Such a Woman

15400325_10154323825197636_1357682882493959907_nGender inequality is a sensitive, yet significant issue.  Gender inequality (i.e. discrimination) against women and girls affects their education opportunities, choice of career and even their economic advancement.

Gender discrimination is so embedded in many cultures that it has become normalized, people perceive it as being acceptable. Hence, trying to discuss gender inequality can result in extreme responses such as anger, or maybe denial.  It is also common to receive responses of pure surprise from both genders, as if it is an issue that does not exist.

I will try here to my observations of gender discrimination that can be encountered in Oman, keeping in mind that this is not a study. Omani culture is diverse, and is not homogenous.

In my experience, gender discrimination usually starts from day one of a child’s life. Many Omanis still celebrate the birth of a boy more than they celebrate the birth of a girl. You see, a boy carries the tribe’s family name, and thus keeps it going while the girl will be married one day, and her children will take their father’s name.

Until recently (and still today, with many families) an educated woman was considered a person who deserves less respect than an educated man. I believe this was the case worldwide at some point and time, which is why many female intellectuals throughout history used male pen names to publish their work. This is exactly why we did not have many female contributors in science, politics, etc, as this was totally unacceptable in many cultures. Historically, girls were given fewer opportunities to advance in their studies, resulting in much higher illiteracy amongst girls and women. I still hear many men (and women alike) insisting that a woman’s place is the home and that this should be her only choice.

Many universities in this part of the world have colleges that accept men only. I personally graduated from school during a time when the college of engineering in one of Oman’s universities accepted only men. Luckily, this has since changed, and both men and women are accepted.

Moreover, there is obvious discrimination in salaries, allowances, and career development opportunities in many countries in my region. Luckily, this is not true in Oman now. Although, at the time I graduated from university, I had to attain higher grades for my scholarship, compared to the boys who applied at the time. Fortunately this has also changed now, and discrimination in the opportunities given to men and women is much less obvious. However, some discrimination is still institutionalized. For example, if an Omani woman marries a non-Omani man, then she cannot pass her Omani citizenship to her children. At the same time, an Omani man can pass his Omani citizenship to his kids, regardless of his wife’s nationality.

Career choices are also subject to gender discrimination, and men can also suffer from that. I can still remember the comments I heard about men who opted to study nursing. Nursing was seen as a career for women, and men working as nurses received continuous sarcasm.

Women were once only allowed to study education, as a teaching job effectively kept women segregated from men. Studying medicine, for example, was once frowned upon for women. This has changed dramatically, but female doctors are still not widely accepted. Discrimination is obvious even in recreation, as some hobbies are still only acceptable for men.

Discrimination is also common in our daily language. Until recently (and even today, with many families), a man saying the name of one of his female family members in front of other men is considered shameful. Moreover, disrespectful phrases like “don’t be such a woman” are still commonly heard. Furthermore, there are many societal codes forcing specific looks, hairstyles and clothing on women. Any woman refusing to comply with these societal expectations is usually seen as disrespectful. Meanwhile, men are allowed to dress as they please.

In Oman, the tribal system is highly regarded, which means you belong to a huge family and carry their name. If a girl does something unacceptable (say she married without her family’s consent or did something unacceptable in the society), then she brings disgrace the entire tribe. However, if a boy does the same, then he carries his “shame” alone. In other words, women carry the dignity of the whole tribe on their backs. This is more common in rural areas, and less in big cities.

In Oman, women are commonly held responsible for the misbehaviour of men. For example, if a man harasses a woman, the woman will likely be blamed for it. She will be accused of provoking the harassment by wearing something indecent, for instance. Else, she will be blamed for being attractive, walking in the wrong place, talking in the wrong way, etcetera. Of course, the man is excused for whatever he does and is never held responsible. Fortunately, Oman has a strong law now against such behaviour, therefore, this is no longer a common issue here. However, it is unfortunately a critical issue in many countries.

The pressure women suffer to appear, behave, talk, and act in a certain way is huge. As such, the cosmetic surgery businesses are profiting with the active programming of girls to believe that the way you look is more important than anything else. Moreover, marriage is an integral part of our culture, and a lot of men look for beauty above all else, thus putting extra pressure on women. Of course, household chores and raising children are considered a woman’s job only in most houses.

One of the most common ways of discriminating against women is treating them as objects. Many people in this part of the world are aware of the different literature that describes women as jewels, diamonds, or pearls in a shell. This may sound poetic and beautiful, but to many, it is just a way to describe women as fragile, delicate, objects to be owned.

Due to their reduced autonomy, women in Oman are less able to manage daily activities that many women in other countries take for granted. For example, I know many women cannot even go shopping by themselves, nor are they allowed to conduct simple bank transactions. This makes them more vulnerable, and prone to exploitation.

While gender inequality is officially reduced at organizational and political levels, it still continues within the society. It is more difficult to eliminate the discrimination in areas where the law cannot interfere that much. At this point, only raising awareness can help.

These are just few of the points about this critical issue. My aim is not to degrade one part for the sake of the other, because I believe each human being deserves equal opportunity. Moreover, gender discrimination has caused more than enough damage. These days, many households are being run by women. In many cases, women are the sole breadwinners for their families. Women are the ones  who raise the kids, help them with their homework, and put food on the table. Reducing women’s opportunities to proper education, careers and treatment affects the whole society. Empowering women in every way possible brings positive change in the economic situation of any country. Many women are not even aware of their rights. They have been raised to believe that they are less than men, and thus deserve less. The vicious cycle continuous and we need to break it. Awareness is one way. I was luckier than my mother and I want my daughters to be happier than me. The fight continues!

Are you aware of any gender inequality where you live right now? What can be done to change it?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Ibtisam Alwardi of Oman. Photo courtesy of the author.

Ibtisam Alwardi

Ibtisam (at Ibtisam's musings) is an Omani Mom of three, living in the capital city of Oman ,Muscat. After working for ten years as a speech and language therapist in a public hospital, she finally had the courage to resign and start her own business. She had a dream of owning a place where she can integrate fun, play and 'books', thus the iPlay Smart centre (@iplaysmart) was born. Currently she is focusing on raising awareness through social media about parenting, childhood, language acquisition. She started raising awareness on (the importance of reading) and (sexual harassment) targeting school-aged children. Ibtisam enjoys writing, both in Arabic and English, reading and working closely with children. She plans to write children books (in Arabic) one day. Contact Ibtisam at ibtisamblogging(at)gmail.com.

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UAE: A Lesson on Love and Loss

UAE: A Lesson on Love and Loss

Love and Loss

My husband’s grandfather recently passed away at the grand age of 94. Along with other members of the family residing overseas, we rushed home for the funeral. As we prepared with the packing and arrangements, my husband and I wondered how we should tell our daughter. Would the loss of a loved one would be too complex for my three year old to understand?

How would we explain this? What might she feel? How could we help her to deal with these feelings? Would she be confused and scared if she saw others expressing sadness over their loss? Previous parenting challenges diminished in the light of this gargantuan one; it seemed so daunting that we shelved the topic temporarily.

When she asked why we were packing, I said we were going back to Singapore. She asked innocently, “For a holiday?” After a long pause, I explained that Grand-Papa had gone to heaven and we needed to tell him goodbye. “He’s in heaven, like Nanny?” (Nanny is her great-grandmother who passed away the year before she was born.) After that, she carried on playing with her toys. While I was glad we had this conversation, had she really understood?

In Singapore, the wake is usually held before the funeral. The open coffin is displayed for friends and family to pay their respects and say their farewells. With the coffin on a raised platform, I was relieved that my daughter was not tall enough to see. However, sometime that afternoon her grandmother walked up to the coffin with my daughter in her arms. I suddenly realised that my daughter was looking at her Grand-Papa’s body and my heart leapt. But contrary to showing any fear or confusion, she just looked at his peaceful face and commented, “Grand-Papa is sleeping.”

On the day of the funeral, she amazed us with her good behaviour. I had been worried she’d want to walk around during the service, but she seemed to sense the gravity of what was happening and knew she had to sit quietly. She asked me a few questions but was quite content to sit on my lap or next to her grandmother. When it came time to say our farewells, I gave her a rose to lay on her Grand-Papa and whispered into her ear that she had to say goodbye. After looking around at her family, she turned back and said, “bye Grand-Papa.” It was such a sweet send-off to her great-grandfather of whom she has such loving memories and whom she had the privilege to know. I tried to hide my tears as I hugged her tightly.

As a parent, I worry about my daughter all the time. Each time we move to a different county, I worry about how she will adjust. I fret about her relationship with her family whom she sees maybe once a year. I agonize about how she’s eating and sleeping, and if she’s growing well. Most of all I worry about the world she lives in, for it can be such a scary and hostile place. And while I want to protect her from every single danger, I know that she has to face disappointment, sadness and most recently, loss.

In trying to protect her, I underestimated my child and how mature she can be. She might be very young, but she surprisingly taught me something in her own experience. She had shown no signs of being upset or afraid, even when looking at her resting great-grandfather. It wasn’t because she did not understand, because we recently had a conversation about Grand-Papa and Nanny being in heaven, and she exclaimed that it was unfair as she missed them very much. She really does understand that they are gone and she can’t see them anymore.

Even though she has not experienced loss to the same depths and understanding that we have, she has comprehended it in her own way. When she saw her great-grandfather, she had recognised his face, and remembered him playing games like “tweet tweet, where’s the birdy” and “meow, where’s the kitty cat.” She had remembered going to his house in Singapore and sitting on his lap while he talked to her in his ever-gentle voice. All she had seen in that face was love. And if that is her strongest or only memory of her Grand-Papa, she is truly blessed.

I can’t shield my child from everything, nor would I want to. I strongly believe that she has to go through pain, mistakes, struggles, and loss in order to fully appreciate people and what she has in her life. It will make her a stronger person, it will give her perspective and hopefully it will motivate her to bigger goals. She will eventually learn from experience that the world isn’t the utopia of her childhood, but I deeply hope that she will never fail to see love in the faces around her.

How do you help your children to understand and deal with difficult life experiences, like the loss of a loved one? 

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Karen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Photo credit to the author.

Karen Williams

Karen is a Singaporean with an 8 year-old daughter who’s a little fire-cracker version of herself. She’s spent the last 15 years in her various roles as trailing spouse, home-maker and educator. Having experienced 5 international moves alternating between postings and her home country of Singapore, Karen considers herself a lover of diverse foods and culture, and reckons she qualifies as a semi-professional packer. She is deeply interested in intercultural and third-culture issues, and has grown immensely from her interactions with other World Mums.

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