When my mom was 12 years old, she immigrated to Canada from Punjab, India. She lived with her father and four siblings in Victoria, British Columbia until she got married. My mom acquired many of her Christmas celebrations as a Canadian Sikh during this phase of her life.
Around the age of 16, my mom had someone incredibly special come into her life, her stepmother, Shirley.
Shirley was Indigenous, part of the Cree tribe and followed the Catholic religion. Everyone who knew her, adored her as she shared so much love with those around her. Shirley was a true gem of a human being, one of the kindest and warmest people we have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
She celebrated Christmas and brought her own family traditions into the Punjabi home she joined. Many years later, when my mom had me, she continued the same Christmas celebrations and traditions.
She told my dad all about the importance of the holidays – the tree, the gifts, the family coming together, the food, the photographs, and the home videos. Together, they made it all happen.
Every year, my siblings and I decorated a Christmas tree. My dad climbed the ladder and put up lights all around the house. We invited family over or made the trip to them. On Christmas Eve, we baked cookies and watched our favourite holiday movies (both Home Alone films are at the top of the list), and left out cookies and milk for Santa. In the morning, we woke up early, snuck downstairs and found a mountain of gifts under and around the tree.
We spent the entire morning opening gifts, laughing and just being completely happy. Then my mom would make cholay bhaturay for brunch (curried chickpeas with fried bread). The fresh and warm bhaturay were so irresistible that we continued to eat even when our stomachs were ready to burst. Since she cooked the cholay in a pressure cooker, they were perfectly soft, never too spicy, and were topped off with thin slices of red onion marinated in vinegar.
The rest of the day we enjoyed all the new gifts we received and would marathon the Harry Potter movies. For dinner, my mom would make a feast: a full turkey dinner. The spread included homemade stuffing, oven-roasted veggies, creamed mushrooms and potatoes, fresh rolls with butter, mixed salads and rice pilaf. The dessert was chocolate fudge cake or ice cream. The five of us sat around the table, passing around dishes, smiling and savouring every bite, praising our mother for everything she blessed us with.
There were other times when we wouldn’t be at home for Christmas. We went to my mom’s siblings’ homes, where all the aunts and uncles and cousins got together and exchanged gifts. We ate lots of food, danced, and danced some more. Especially on New Year’s Eve, the kids stayed up after midnight. We loved dancing with the grown-ups to our favourite Punjabi folk music and celebrating life with every morsel of our beings.
Growing up, I didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with this tradition. My mom had done such a great job with continuing with it every year. Other people outside of my family began to question it. They would ask, “oh you guys celebrate Christmas? I didn’t realize you were Catholic!” I would suddenly feel embarrassed and confused, and replied with, “well, we do celebrate Christmas, but we are Sikh.”
“How does that work?” they’d ask.
I didn’t really know how to answer at that time. I told them that my parents enjoyed decorating, getting into the spirit of giving and coming together during the holidays. They created so much magic and wonder with stories of Santa Claus. I tried to explain that there was nothing religious in our Christmas celebrations. We just simply loved Christmas!
My siblings and I attended a Catholic school from kindergarten until graduating high school. My parents didn’t want us to go to a public school. Luckily, we were accepted into a Catholic one, which at the time was not easy, as we were not baptised.
We attended mass at the local church with our classmates. Whenever it was time for communion, we crossed our arms over our chests so that the priest knew not to give us the host. He would bless us by making the sign of the cross on our foreheads with ash.
We learnt about the Catholic religion at school. We knew everything there is to know about the bible, the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, and more. So, with Christmas, we felt conflicted. As we got older, we questioned if it was right to be celebrated even though we were technically raised as Sikh.
I remember seeing an Instagram story of a family friend, a couple of years ago, around the holidays. He said something to the effect of, “sad to see so many brown people putting up trees and getting caught up in the capitalism of Christmas, rather than attending the Gurdwara.”
I wanted to tell him, lovingly of course, that putting up a Christmas tree does not take away from being a Sikh or being South Asian. Being a parent now for over 10 years, I can see why my mother decided to bestow such a beautiful tradition upon us. Our parents raised us to respect all religions and cultures, which is something I have taught my own daughters too.
With my girls, I keep my parents’ traditions and those of my late Shirley Naniji, while creating a few new ones. As soon as December 1st hits, we start decorating the house. We bring out the tree, put on our favourite Christmas song playlists, and start the holiday movie marathons. Together, we write letters to Santa, take our yearly family photos, and print them onto cards that we send by mail. We come up with ideas about how to give back to our community and help those in need.
Every December morning, we anticipate what Elfie has been up to the night before, and the girls eat their daily chocolates from their calendars. We love to drive around the neighbourhood and check out all the beautiful lights that sparkle up the houses of the city. Also, after an afternoon of either shoveling the snow or building snow-people, we treat ourselves to hot chocolate with marshmallows while sitting by our (electric) fireplace. We make our rounds to all the family members in every city within our province, Windsor, Waterloo, Brampton, Orangeville, Guelph, and Mississauga. If we’re lucky, they come to us. But not even a snowstorm has stopped us from visiting family during the holidays!
Finally, on Christmas Eve, my daughters and I bake cookies. Just like I did with my siblings when we were kids, we eat them with milk while watching Christmas movies. We never forget to leave some out for Santa before going to sleep. In the morning, we wake up early, give each other hugs and kisses, and give thanks for the family we have, the home we live in and the love we share with each other. We wrap our arms around one another and then go crazy unwrapping all the gifts Santa left for us under our tree.
From my little family to yours, we wish you a magical holiday season and a very happy 2023!
February 28, 2023February 28, 2023 4min readBy Sara Qadeer
Hi! I am Sara and I am a mom to a beautiful, neurodivergent child. This piece explores some challenges of parenting an atypical child in a typical world.
It is a sunny day in the summer of 2020 and I am trying to enjoy the only entertainment that has finally been “allowed” by our province. Parks. Sunshine was always free; scarce but free. I have eyes on my daughter, running and somersaulting, with that untethered quality they say she gets from me, while socializing with two girls her age from a distance.
All of a sudden, the distance called ‘social’ gets smaller and as I run and call out in vain my child has the kid in a tight and loving but forbidden hug. I understand that pandemic or no pandemic, physical space is a basic right but for my daughter, it falls under the ‘but why?’ category.
The next 15 minutes are spent apologizing to an exasperated mother asking me why my kid was not taught the dangers of COVID-19 and personal space. She is four, I tell her, she just got excited. At some point, I zone out and just let her say her piece. Some of it is in a language I have never heard before, complete with hand gestures and melodrama as if it was not a preschooler but Bigfoot.
Maybe later I will do the thing we all do; oh, I should have said that. Maybe I won’t. This is not the first time my kid has drawn public attention and it is not the last.
Six months later, we received a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After the reaction time (read stress eating and ugly crying) ended, we began our journey of raising an atypical child in a world that insists on the typical.
Textbook wise, neurodivergence includes Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, OCD, hyperlexia and Tourette Syndrome.
I could write a book on my journey as a mom raising a child who is neurodivergent (ND). I will in due time and the first chapter would be, “Fighting for inclusion in a world insisting on exclusion.” If you ask any parent with a neurodivergent kid, they will tell you that it is not finances or the fear of the future bringing them down, it is just people. But that’s been the case since the dawn of time anyway.
If you are someone who is kind and inclusive but are confused by the jargon, read on for some guidance that will make you an ever-favorite ally and, well basically, just decent. It is just basic decency after all to be inclusive and kind.
If you have a kid on the spectrum for ASD or ADHD or any other neurodivergence in your social circle, the first step is to not stop being friends with their parents. Yes, that happens. Parents can get super isolated and alienated because their kid is a certain way. Give ND families a chance to breathe. Invite them to BBQs, ask them what their kid will eat, encourage your kids to include them — the whole nine yards.
There will be meltdowns, at birthday parties, at the mall, in restaurants. Sometimes the best thing to do is to look the other way. Ask the right questions. Rather than asking “what happened?” or “why are they doing this?”simply say “how can I help?” Maybe you can help with another sibling or give the child some space.
Do not equate a sensory meltdown or otherwise to a parenting failure or a lack of discipline. ND parents face a lot of judgment on those grounds. That is one of the top reasons they scoop up their kids and leave before dinner is even served.
The biggest challenge in our community is acceptance. There is a dire need to accept that around 30 percent of our population is neurodivergent. This includes adults and undiagnosed individuals. You and I might not even know if we are atypical, the world is just getting to know this word and what it entails. As for the South Asian community, neurodivergence is practically stigmatized and seen as ‘spoilt’ child behavior or ‘mom spending too much time at work, on social media, Netflix, sewing, knitting, kayaking…’ The list goes on.
It is 2022 and we are all trying to make space for people at our tables. This includes people who might not look or act or perceive the world like us. As a parent I have fears that all parents have, but somehow those fears have been heightened to exponential limits ever since my kid’s diagnosis came through.
How is she doing? Did someone bully her? Does she have friends? Is she included in activities? What if she says something silly and they laugh at her? What happens when she is older? Will she go to college? I should not be thinking that. I want to think about how much she is learning at school, what game they played today, what she and her friends talk about and all other typical mom things.
Except I am not a typical mom. And that is okay.
My child has wonder; she has innocence. I see things from her lens and her computation of the world is unique. The biggest misconception people have is of intelligence. A child with autism finds difficulty in processing social cues (like sarcasm) but otherwise they are as smart as you and me, if not more. Probably more.
Some days are hard but not all days are hard, and not every moment of that rough day is difficult. We, parents of ND children, do not keep obsessing over the fact that our kids are atypical; we binge watch the same shows, we have hobbies and interests and date nights and ‘me-time.’ Some days are magical and the most important thing for people to know is that Autism families are not looking for pity parties, just kindness and inclusion with a healthy sprinkle of understanding— an understanding of the atypical in a world only rooting for the typical.
We survived several long months of frigid winter, wondering when sunshine, blue skies and a healthy amount of humidity would return. Now that it’s all here, we wish we had planned out and meticulously scheduled the days. If you’re like me and aren’t sending your kids to a summer camp this year, here are some ideas to ensure your little ones stay entertained and you stay sane. All while being connected in the best ways and making the most cherished memories for years to come.
The year 2020 saw many loaves of banana bread so make this summer slightly spicier with something different. My daughters love getting their hands messy and bringing creativity into the kitchen. There are two different types of foods we love to snack on; something savory and something sweet. For a savory snack, we enjoy a Punjabi favourite: samosas! I know you may be thinking that it would be a better idea to just hop over to the Indian store and order a box of them, but where’s the fun in that? Also, it’s not as hard as it may seem. If you’ve made aloo parathe before then you’re already ahead of the game! You won’t even have to do much of the grunt work if your kids enjoy being involved in the process. They can get their little fingers in the wheat flour and knead the dough, stuff the triangles with the potato mixture and pinch the edges closed! Here is a super simple and quick recipe you can use (I personally love that you can bake them in the oven, so it keeps the process completely safe for the kids). These samosas will be perfect with a lovely cup of chai! For sweet, one of our favourite desserts to make is a combination of two heavenly treats: gulab jamun ice cream. It doesn’t get any better than this! Don’t worry, you do not need to own a fancy ice cream maker. In fact, you don’t even have to do any churning! If you have heavy cream and condensed milk, just grab a box of frozen khoya from the Indian store, and you are good to go. Here is a 10-minute recipe that does not disappoint!
We were recently invited to a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic which would have cost upwards of $6,000. For a lot of parents — more so single parents — those funds have only one destination: the mortgage company. There’s an easier way to get to a body of water and some sand! What I like to do is search the area for local beaches. For a good, clean beach, I’m willing to drive two hours and spend a full day there. What I look out for when researching beaches are: Is it dog-friendly? Are washrooms clean and easily accessible? Is there a fee for parking? Are there enough picnic tables? (You bet I’ll be packing food from home instead of purchasing from the snack bar at the venue! When I do this it takes me back to my own childhood, when my family would all get together at Canada’s Wonderland, and my parents, Massis, Mamajis, and cousins would spread blankets on the grass and open up the foil-wrapped piles of steaming parathas). Last summer, we made a goal to try and visit a different beach every couple of weeks. Trust me, the kids won’t care that it’s not an all-inclusive resort. Remember, the earlier you get to the beach, the better to avoid big crowds! My daughters made me promise that this summer I will actually get in the water. So put on the bathing suit and start splashing your kids, mama!
Brunch and Books
Sunday morning cafes and bookstores (and/or libraries) are, in my humble opinion, the absolute superior road to relaxation and bliss. Books and the spaces they are kept in are my place of calm. When you arrive at the cafe (and I mean an independent cafe, not Starbucks) each person orders something they have never tried before and everyone shares what they love or didn’t love about the pastries or sandwiches or drinks. You can ask your kids questions like, what did the food make them feel? Joy? Sadness? Confusion? Why? Did what they tasted remind them of anything? Did it make them think of any colours? Sometimes, my daughters and I like to pretend we are judges from “The Great British Baking Show,” and talk about the textures of cake or if the lavender is really “coming through” in that scone. After the café experience, head over to the closest independent bookstore or library and browse through the children’s/youth section for books you and your kids haven’t read before. I recommend books written by BIPOC authors and/or culturally specific stories that your kids can really relate to (one of our favourite authors for children’s books is Supriya Kelkar). Get cozy in a little reading nook and read together.
In my household, we are a little obsessed with staring at the sky when it’s lit up in various hues of pinks, reds, oranges and purples (taking photos of them never does the beauty justice!). Being in the presence of the sun, whether it’s rising or setting is such a spiritually refreshing, humbling and moving experience. I strongly urge you to pick one day a week to wake up with the sun and create your own little sunrise ritual. This could be praying to the sun, trying a few new yoga poses or a simple sun salutation. Sit with your kids on the floor and each of you takes turns setting your intention for the day and stating something you are grateful for. For example, “My intention for today is to create something new. I am grateful for our home and the family in it.” Closing your eyes and taking a few deep belly breaths releases negative energy and gets you in the best mindset to start the day. When it’s time for sunset, sit together again and this time each person says out loud what they love about themselves. This small practice, when done consistently (not just in the summer), actually does wonders for your kids’ mental health and self-compassion.
My youngest daughter is always experimenting with various items in the house, whether it’s ingredients from the kitchen or old boxes and paint. One day she somehow made her own version of mehndi! She called out to me to come and get my mehndi done and showcased what she had already done for her sister. She mixed together different colours of water-based paint, pink, yellow, a bit of purple, and some green. The outcome was a nice “chocolatey brown, almost caramel,” she described. She used a thin paintbrush to make small designs on the palms of our hands and along our fingers. The paint dried and fell off (similar to mehndi) and washed off after a day or so. She was really proud of herself and we had so much fun with it. If you want to make actual mehndi at home, that’s another great activity for the kids. Here are really great instructions for a DIY henna paste. You don’t have to wait for a wedding to adorn your skin; do it on a Wednesday afternoon!
Remember the days when photographs didn’t just exist inside our phones? They were on a reel of film inside of a physical camera and if we ever wanted to look at those memories again, we had to visit a photo center to have them printed, and wait at least 48 hours! (And sometimes we waited just to find that the photos were blurry or we all had red vampire eyes). I am here to tell you please don’t leave those photos on your phone! They aren’t just meant to be posted on Instagram. Make an afternoon of going to your local printer and physically print out photographs from the last 10-12 months. I suggest making a folder on your phone where you and the kids have already selected the photos you want to print, otherwise, it will take forever to load at the photo kiosk! Then head to the art store or even the dollar store for a scrapbook, and fun art supplies. Anything from glitter to googly eyes. Have the kids come up with a theme or a storyline for the photos (for example, visits to the park, school photos, sibling love, etc). Just have fun with it. Another idea is to gift the scrapbook to grandparents! They’ll love it.
We hope you have a really magical and smooth summer with your families! Find small moments for yourself too — don’t forget, you can’t pour from an empty cup! May your days be as refreshing as biting into a cool slice of watermelon.
May is an important month for mothers around the world as we get to celebrate motherhood for Mother’s Day and support mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month. It is also a month in which a week is dedicated to honour maternal mental health before, after and during pregnancy. To honour this beautiful month, I would like to explore motherhood as I have experienced it as an South Asian, immigrant mom — the magic, the struggles, the mental health challenges, the community expectations — and share how I have reached the most comfortable, confident version of myself as a mother.
12 years ago, on a very hot, humid August morning, after going through a few years of unexplained infertility and then finally getting pregnant, I was rushed for an emergency C-section and my tiny, but very feisty, daughter was handed to me. As I held her in a severely drugged-up state, very much disappointed in my body’s failure to deliver naturally, I felt a rush of the most beautiful, gut-wrenching, fierce, protective love I had ever experienced. In the hours following her birth, I also experienced major confusion and anxiety every time she cried endlessly; I didn’t know how to soothe her.
I grew up listening to my mom, grandmothers and aunts talk about the beauty and miracle of motherhood, but no one ever talked about the extreme sleep deprivation, the mental and emotional breakdowns and the sheer physical exhaustion. I had seen most moms in my very traditional, Pakistani family, sacrificing their own needs for the comfort of their children. In fact often, I would be confused at how proud my grandmothers were for sacrificing their health and mental peace to raise their families.
After moving to Canada I repeatedly witnessed the same thought and behavior patterns in other South Asian maternal figures. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a cultural thing, especially among the older generation! They love to talk about the beauty and magic of motherhood and glorify the rough parts of this journey with a kind of toxic positivity. South Asian women, I find, generally don’t like to discuss the struggles, the vulnerability and the mental load of motherhood. Yes, motherhood is magical, beautiful and one of the biggest blessings but also it might probably be the most difficult thing you will ever do! In retrospect I do feel, had I heard healthy discussions about the mental and emotional challenges of motherhood, along with its privilege and beauty, I would have been much more prepared for this magical, roller coaster journey!
The mental health challenges, the invisible load of motherhood, the continuous mom guilt, the overwhelm, the self doubts, I experienced all of these during the happiest time of my life. And I felt extremely guilty for having these feelings! Was I not supposed to have that ethereal new mama glow and calmly enjoy this new phase with ease and joy? My overwhelm and anxiety as I protectively held my five-pound, feisty baby girl just felt wrong! It made me doubt myself as a mother.
As an immigrant mother, one of the hardest things I have had to do is to break away from, and unlearn, so many culturally-acquired behavior patterns and expectations. It is so important to acknowledge the fact that mamas need to be vigilant about and take care of their emotional and mental health in order to be fully intentional and engaged in raising their children and taking care of their families. Thankfully, the thought patterns are evolving and finally the South Asian community has started having discussions about mothers’ mental health issues and acknowledge that motherhood, though absolutely precious, is exhausting, rough and can sometimes leave one questioning their sanity.
After the initial years of motherhood, I started researching and reading on mental health and South Asian behaviour patterns. My observation and research has led me to a point in time where I can proudly say that I am the most comfortable I have ever been in raising my children. I have come to the realization that this will be the most fulfilling, but also the most daunting and exhausting thing that I will ever do. I have also come to a very solid conclusion, the better my headspace and mental health is, the better I will be at being the best version of myself for my children. I really want my children to see me making my mental health a priority so that they learn that their mental health is also as sacred as their physical health.
Once I realized how pivotal my own mental health was for my family’s wellbeing, I became more mindful about prioritizing my mental health. These 10 mantras have really helped make a difference in my mental health:
It is not normal to feel excessively overwhelmed and anxious all the time just because you are a mom. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. Talking to your doctor about your sense of overwhelm is a great place to start. Accepting medical intervention (meds) and therapy are an important part of my parenting journey; they do not make you a weak or bad mother in any way. Rather it makes you a braver, better parent!
Motherhood is not always glorious and rosy as most of us have been made to believe. Like any other relationship, it will also have its ebb and flow. It will sometimes be chaotic, messy and hard and that is ok!
They say, it takes a village to raise a child and that is so true! In case of immigrant families, a lot of times their village is far across the oceans so what do you do. You mindfully try seeking out a village of like-minded families/people that share similar values and beliefs as your own. And then you help each other out. In other words, when offered, graciously accept help from that elderly neighbour, a family friend or a distant relative. They probably have gone through this busy season themselves and realize how exhausting and isolating it sometimes can be.
In today’s world, many of our decisions are driven by our favourite influencers, mom bloggers and social media personalities. Majority of them curate content that just spells perfection and beauty! From a beautifully arranged, tidy house, to an impeccably put together, happy mama serving fresh, organic meals in her tastefully-decorated, minimalistic kitchen; we know very well that social media can be unrealistic and shows only the beautiful parts of the journey. Yet most of us feel this immense pressure to be perfect and be the providers of the absolute best for our children. Honestly, in my experience, motherhood became so much easier, smoother and calmer once I let go of my exhausting efforts to be the perfect mother! Once I accepted that there is no such thing as a perfect mother — only a mama who loves her children like crazy — I felt at peace and became way less anxious.
Most South Asian cultures measure the worth of a woman by her marital status and later by the success of her children. In the first few years of being a mom, I enrolled my tiny humans in as many different activities as I could in dreams of future success in education and careers. I was always running around planning things for them to do. The result was an extremely burnt-out mama with overwhelmed kids in tow. It has been quite a journey to learn that children will be at their happiest with simple routines and happy experiences. You DO NOT need to lug your family to fancy, expensive activities in order to prove your worth as a good parent! Children will remember simple, happy experiences where they can connect and spend time with their loved ones. A simple picnic in the park on a beautiful day, feeding the ducks at the local pond, visiting the farmers’ market, going to the beach on a hot day, camping trips with other families, these are some things my kids consistently recall happily from their tiny human days.
Connecting with other moms going through a similar situation will make your journey less isolating, less intimidating and so much calmer. Culture tells mothers to be resilient and unwavering, and not share their vulnerability with others. That can be very isolating! After a rough night with a teething baby and a clingy toddler, nothing feels better than having a quick cup of chai over a phone call with another sleep-deprived, tired mama!
Mamas, you are being so generous and giving to everyone around you. Be kind to yourself too! Indulge in self care and take out time to do little things that bring you peace and joy. It could be a lunch date with a friend, getting nails done, doing a yoga class, taking a walk by yourself, listening to a podcast or going out for a movie. Remember your children are observing you all the time and will learn emotional regulation and self care by watching you do it.
Mom guilt is real and can be devastating for one’s mental health. Know that you are only human and the only way to learn about motherhood is by actually going through it. You will make mistakes and it is okay! Give yourself extra love and grace on those hard days. As long as our children see us apologizing, being respectful and loving and trying to be a better parent, it’s all good.
Taking care of one’s physical health will always help in achieving better mental health. Eating well, staying hydrated, learning some breathing techniques, moving one’s body, all these help so much when the days seem long and never-ending.
Motherhood, specially in the initial years will be physically exhausting. If you are like me, maybe you have also thrown your babies at your spouse as soon as he walks into the house and escaped to the washroom for a mommy time out! It is probably the busiest season of life for both you and your spouse and might leave both of you angry with and snapping at each other. Try to find little pockets of time when you and your partner can reconnect, away from the beautiful chaos of the tiny people you have created together. Something as simple as having a takeout meal together after kids’ bedtime can feel heavenly and therapeutic and recharge both of you for the day ahead.
So moms, I urge you to let go of overthinking, enjoy the present moment, go with the flow and savour the messy as well as the beautiful, uplifting parts of your journey. Cherish and protect your own mental health, reach out for help and support if the journey gets too isolating and overwhelming. For your children, will grow up seeing the beauty and wonder around them through the eyes of the most important person in their lives — their mom.