Photo Courtesy of Pallavi Sastry (For Mother’s Day)
I used to forget Mother’s Day every year.
I always felt bad about forgetting, but thankfully my mom is chill and isn’t really into gifts or “stuff.” (Actually, I don’t recall my mom ever asking for anything.) When we were kids, my dad would help us make her breakfast in bed, and later we’d go out to dinner or order in and watch a movie as a celebration. She loved it. Nowadays, she seemingly is whole-heartedly satisfied with a better-late-than-never 9pm Mother’s Day phone call.
If I’m being honest, I kinda judged her. I assumed she was putting on a good face because I was led to believe that Indian moms are supposed to just be happy with what their lives being all about family and not have any big desires outside of having a family.
So last year, while I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a huge meltdown on May 12 while eating delivered pizza because I felt like my husband hadn’t tried hard enough to make my first Mother’s Day special. I wanted something. I didn’t know what, but I knew I wanted more than a passive kiss on the cheek and a “Happy Mother’s Day, babe” at 9 p.m. Yep, I figured that one out in therapy…
Fast forward to the top of 2020, post-maternity leave, my plan was to be the mom that had it all. I’d be back to work on a new TV show, I would be providing financially for my family, back to my pre-baby body, and enjoy weekends in the park, on the beach, or whatever other luxurious things my fellow LA moms are seemingly doing on Instagram.
What really happened? I was constantly struggling with questions and doubts. How do you give as much of yourself as possible to your kids while also pursuing your dreams? And how do you pursue your dreams without feeling guilt or shame around your ambition and desires? What if I don’t have what it takes to be a successful working mom? And let’s not forget the massive body image issues that come with being postpartum while building a career in Hollywood.
My mom happens to be quarantined with us due to travel restrictions, and I had no choice but to put aside my to-do list and make sure my family was fed, healthy, and happy.
A few days ago, I was sitting in the hot SoCal sun watching my daughter splash around in a kiddie pool shaped like a duck when I came to a really sobering conclusion. My mom didn’t need anything on Mother’s Day because she had achieved what many mothers desire. Two kids, and now a grandkid, who make her feel special and wanted. No grand gestures or gifts or “stuff” necessary.
After all, my daughter, at 9 months young, could give two craps about what I do or how successful I am, or that it’s Mother’s Day. All she knows is that it’s taking me 10 seconds too long to clean those two craps out of her diaper because I’m thinking about what I want to do on this special day.
Despite the financial, physical, and emotional rollercoaster that new motherhood and COVID-19 has been, I have gratitude that the world stopped while my daughter was in her first year of life and I got to be 100% about my family knowing that I wasn’t “missing” out on anything.
So on Mother’s Day, I’m going to do what we do everyday… Let my daughter high five my face for her amusement, convince her not to throw gourmet food on the ground, sing “Wheels on the Bus” a bazillion times, go for a walk, nap, and eat her sloppy leftovers as my meal. Perhaps I’ll give my mom a hug around 9 p.m too. It’ll be perfect.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who have it all.
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.
Eid-ul-Fitr is a special holiday that marks the end of Ramadan — the month of fasting — for Muslims worldwide. Ramadan is a time of gratitude, spiritual focus, forgiveness, celebrating community and helping the needy. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan.
Rubab Bukhari is a busy mom of five based in Calgary, Canada. She shared that Eid, for her family, is a day of gathering with loved ones and sharing a delicious meal together as a symbol for breaking fast. “Eid is celebrated as the most joyous occasion where we put up Eid decorations and exchange gifts with everyone in the house. New clothes are made for everyone; the girls get excited about getting henna on their hands and the boys get more excited about receiving their Eidi (gifts/money).”
A published author, spoken word artist and dance fitness instructor, Nazhah Khawaja shares how she’s built new traditions with her two children and husband in Illinois, Chicago despite not being exposed to the “Eid flavor” herself while growing up.
“My sister suggested decorating the house for Eid with the goal of getting the kids in the holiday mood,” she said. Regardless of the exhaustion that followed due to decorating while fasting, Khawaja realized that her sister “was onto something.” She added that “kids are very visual learners and interpreters — the visual display of decorations helps them to feel the festivity more. Forever grateful to my sister for encouraging this tradition that our family has embraced.”
Another new tradition that she has embraced is celebrating Eid festivities with her husband’s family who are non-Muslim. Furthermore, she insists on taking photographs during Eid-ul-Fitr to keep memories alive because one never really knows if the people in the photos will be there next time around. She also includes that the “Eid nap is a must — which means adults are dozing off while the kids are running wild; ample heavenly chaos and beautiful noise.”
Passing down familial customs from her mother, Khawaja remembers a story she had told her of how as soon as the dawn of Eid arrived, the villagers in Pakistan walked down unpaved streets welcoming Eid with a tune: “Mubarak Eid Mubarak/ Mubarak Khair Mubarak/ Saheliyon Eid Mubarak!” Khawaja’s mother used to sing it every time. “Growing up, my siblings and I would sing this tune in our not-so-refined Urdu, giggle at one another, create our own, often goofy lyrics, and even dance silly moves,” she shared.
Meanwhile, Bengali shemai, Kashmiri kheer and ma’amoul are the favorite Eid desserts in Janan’s household! She is the founder and CEO of the publishing company, Global Bookshelves Intl., a pharmacist by profession and a mother of three young girls, based in Louisville, Kentucky. They look forward to dressing up their best for Eid prayers the most.
Likewise, Ursula Sarah Khan who is a mom influencer and an accountant by trade, said that they fill their Eid-themed gift bags with all sorts of goodies like candy, bubbles and pencils. On Eid-ul-Fitr, her eight-year-old son, Ibrahim, distributes these bags amongst the boys after Eid prayers, while her five-year-old daughter, Eliyah, hands them to the girls.
They also bake Eid cookies together in addition to swapping their Ramadan decor with Eid decor, while still in their Eid pajamas in their Northern Virginia home!
Blending older traditions with some newer ones, Sarah carries on her mother’s age-old tradition of making sheer khorma — a Pakistani dessert made with vermicelli, milk, dates and nuts — in the morning.
She also explains to her children the importance of Zakat or charity, which is what her mother taught her: “I now take this same approach with my children to ensure they have a deep understanding of the generosity Islam teaches.”
Speaking of home and family, Haffsa Rizwani — a Canadian, currently residing in Stockholm, Sweden, as a PhD candidate — said: “Living away from home, Canada, where my immediate family resides, we have a tradition of traveling from Stockholm to my aunt’s house in Oslo, Norway, every Eid. Especially to mark the celebration as a family event for my children.” Together with her aunt, Haffsa’s daughter gets her henna done and goes shopping for bangles! She goes on to explain how Eid-ul-Fitr is an opportunity to not only dress up, but also regain that morning ritual of chai and evenings with games like carrom board; “a game played till my uncle wins.”
As Rizwani so eloquently puts it, “While my children are still quite small, my daughter is now of age to appreciate and understand the meaning of gratitude, blessings, and giving back. She now has the empathy to comprehend the inequalities and injustices in the world. Ramadan is therefore a month of being thankful and making extra duas. Eid is a day of celebration with gratitude and blessings.”
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.