As a previous London City worker married to another city worker, life was always busy — tied up with deadlines, post-work drinks, movie dates and cook-offs to see who between the two of us could make the better meal. Back then, I used to complain I had no time.
Today, if I could turn back the clock and slap some sense into the old me I would — I have never experienced a sense of ‘no time’ like this ever before. Now, if I am able to eat a hot meal or be able to use the bathroom alone, it’s classed as a “good day.” No, I’m not locked up in Guantanamo Bay, I have two kids! I have been blessed with two boys — one aged ten months and the elder boy is two years old.
Right now I am standing outside my youngest son’s bedroom door waiting for him to fall asleep without me. It’s a taught skill, falling asleep alone. Could you imagine, that if we failed in this task with our eldest son, he could be sleeping with us until he moves in with his wife?
Jokes aside, as much as I love these two as babies, I can’t wait for the nappies and bottles to end. I realized the other day that I’ve sterilized bottles every single day of my life for just over two years. It’s become second nature now, like blinking. It’s the mundane that throws you. You are never really prepared for what’s to come when you have kids.
[Photo Source: rekhadhyani.com]
It’s funny, isn’t it? You spend the prime years of your life searching for the “one” with rose-tinted expectations of the perfect wedding, the perfect home, living the perfect life with perfect babies. Yet, when you get out on the other side it is never quite what you envisaged. When my husband and I discovered I was growing a human in my once-toned belly, we were incredibly excited for the baby fun to begin. We painted the baby’s room in sunshine yellow and bought the expensive buggy that needed a second mortgage to fund it. As we attended antenatal classes, we left each session more and more excited and bewildered about what was to come. We officially started ‘nesting’ and preparing our home for the little one to join us.
When he did finally arrive, I had no idea I had to search for the ‘fun’ amongst the tiredness, explosive nappies and the vomit — especially in the first few weeks when you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck trying to recover from a thirty-six hour labour, and keeping your child fed whilst still learning how to breastfeed. Throw in a load of visitors, dill-infused water that tastes like pond water (an Indian custom forced upon new mums), a whole new postpartum fenugreek flavoured diet into the mix and there you have it — an utter sense of “what on God’s green earth is going on here?!” Night times were the hardest for me. Being woken by a crying baby every two hours to feed can get pretty lonely — especially when your supportive partner is snoring next to you whilst you stare at him with envy of the sleep he’s getting. He may even be dreaming! Lucky him!
But as soon as I received that first tiny smile, I no longer had to “search” for the fun. The postpartum fog faded and the fun was apparent every day — the giggling, the cooing, the cute little expressions he made. His attempts to crawl, to speak, and to stand is just so magical. He’s a gift that keeps on giving. Eight months in and we had another peanut growing in my now loose-wobbly tummy. This time I wasn’t so fazed about the newborn stage and what to do next. That truck had already hit me so I knew what to expect… kinda!. I was now more frightened about how I was going to cope with two babies. The expectation of juggling two toddlers literally felt like it would be a circus act. I assumed there would be meltdown after meltdown — and that’s just me. How would I get dressed? Would I be lucky enough to get dressed? How would I feed them both? Would I go out ever again? Who would I load into the car first? After a hellish six hours of labour, my youngest son was born. He looked identical to his brother and we were in love all over again.
Another love of mine during that time was gas and air, or how most mislabel this as pain relief! I like to describe it as getting high as a kite to divert your attention away from what you’re actually doing there. I still recall the midwife’s iPhone beeping and Siri asking, “what can I do for you?” I screamed back at him like a banshee, “EPIDURAL! EPIDURAL!” Back to the present day, so here we are with two babies in hand and I’m living the reality of looking after ‘two under two’. The second newborn phase wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d assumed. Yes the tiredness is relentless and ten months on and it hasn’t got any easier.
However, I do get dressed every day and I can feed them both at the same time. I load the toddler into the car first so he can’t escape and yes I do go out — often. At first, I was accompanied by an adult but now I take them out alone, and guess what, we even have fun! It’s become a new ‘normal’.
The reality of it all is that I am blessed. I have been gifted the love of two beautiful babies. Often I feel so much love I can only hope it is conveyed in my tight squeezy hugs. It’s hard to remember that when you’re in the thick of it, but believe me when I say our house truly became a perfect home when our perfect sons were born.
Surina Khira Shah is a “two under two” graduate of boys who are 17 months apart in age. From a London based IT Manager to a mother of two, navigating through parenthood whilst narrating the ups and downs it offers. She prides herself on complete honesty and transparency, giving us a real insight into life with kids. When she gets some downtime she spends it with her saviour: dark chocolate. She adores her family and loves writing.
As we enter the holy month for Muslims around the world, Ramadan — a month of fasting, reflection, community, charity and celebration — I aim to foster long-lasting Ramadan memories and traditions for my children while also showing them the beauty of our faith.
The rich tapestry of my life has been intricately woven by the threads of my Pakistani ancestry, an Indian-Kashmiri partner, and the multiculturalism we have passed on to our children. As I navigate the current journey of my life while being a mother to two children, I aim to provide my kids with a life enriched by different cultures which will ultimately help them to become compassionate and empathetic human beings in the future.
Through education, conversation, and exploration, I hope to help set a strong foundation of values that will serve them well in their journey as Muslim Americans and make Ramadan a holiday that they look forward to every year.
Before we explain the importance of Ramadan to children, it’s helpful to holistically explain the importance of the five pillars of Islam.
Declaration of Faith (Shahada)
Giving Alms/Charity (Zakat)
Fasting During the Month of Ramadan (Sawm)
Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)
When it comes to Ramadan for young children like mine, there is no better way to teach them than implementing practices of both fun and learning. Engaging them in activities that feed their interests means that they are much more likely to retain information.
It’s amazing to see the assortment of Ramadan decor available at national retailers such as Target and Amazon. I purchased Ramadan lanterns for the kids, and we decorated our home with majestic lights, crescent moons, and other arts and crafts the kids and their friends enjoyed. Noah and Liyana also look forward to the ‘Countdown to Eid Calendar,‘ and put a star sticker on, each day before bed.
Charity and Gifts
Charity supports building a strong foundation for children and demonstrates to them that their actions, no matter how big or small, can make a difference. I strongly believe that good habits instilled during childhood go a long way. The kids have been packing gift bags filled with toys and food packages for local orphanages. I have partnered with other Muslim families to create Ramadan cards for the victims of the Syrian and Turkish earthquakes.
Songs and videos
Another form of educational content that we have introduced to our kids is singing and watching animated videos — after all, we are in a tech generation! Below are some options for child-friendly and lyrical songs to teach your children about Ramadan.
Community is an integral part of a Muslim’s life and even more so important during Ramadan. It shows the profound significance of relationships to humanity. As a Muslim parent, it is important for me to make my kids excited about community-based traditions such as Eid-ul-Fitr. This year we will be taking the kids to the Washington Square Park Eid Event where there will be many family-friendly activities.
Whether it’s decorating our home during this blessed month, Ramadan-themed coloring books, bedtime stories or our ‘Countdown-to-Eid’ calendar, the best part of it is that we do it all together, as a family.
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.