The steel strength of motherhood

People talk about being strong in labour. To grit your teeth through contractions, to push hard, to stay strong.

After which your need for an unbreakable strength does not diminish. You need to get through the sleepless nights, the endless crying, the unexplained colic and sudden vomiting ruining the bedsheets. It takes resolve to keep going. To not break down into a tired heap. In fact often you do break down, but the strength required to get back up and do it all again the next day, is one which supercedes what you had before.

But I was thinking today that the strength a mother must have, doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end in those endlessly consuming physical exertions and stamina tests the first few years of motherhood puts you through. No, in fact the strength you need to nurture in your core, evolves and its need increases.

As your children grow, you need to have the strength to help them become great. What does this mean? What mother doesn’t desire their children to be great? But greatness must be worked for. And how our children attain it, is shaped through what direction we send them in.

Motherhood is like an emotional danger zone. You are trying to do this big job, but the work is so emotionally entwined with your heart that often you don’t know if you are doing what is right, or what you feel you want to be right. It hurts to see them hurt. But this is where we question, what do we want them to be?

It takes strength to not spoon feed them, to not make life easy for them, to not continuously cushion them. You want them to not feel hardship, but without experiencing how to prepare their own food, how to sort out their own clothes, to how to sort out their own problems – how will they ever learn? It requires us to help them to do things the hard way, for them to learn that hard work is part of life.

Muhammad SAW in a hadith advised us that we shouldn’t overeat, as the stomach is the worst vessel to overfill. Yet as parents we can become so concerned with our children being slightly hungry, not filled to their maximum intake, not having a range of tasty foods always to relish. It requires strength to build a practice of eating for sustenance, not overeating regularly. In fact it goes against our very instinct as mothers, and to do so needs strength.

Then there is giving them what makes them happy. It’s hard to say no to our children, easy to give them what they want in a time when material is so easily available – if not the new versions of things, ebay and gumtree mean ‘stuff’ is always available. But do we choose to give them what they want always? Is feeding their desire for more and more material what will lead them to greatness? I think there are enough studies available to answer that including the understanding as Muslims we have of this world – that to build a human that isn’t dependant on stuff, is the greatest thing we can do. To say no, needs strength.

And then all the blips, ups downs in behaviour, all the mistakes they will make, all the things they won’t do. It requires strength to keep going, to stay motivated and focussed on continuing to raise them, to fulfil our responsibility towards them.

Finally to raise strong believers requires us to raise people who put others and the deen first, over ourselves. The strength this requires is phenomenal. As you are investing in a human who you desire will invest in everyone else. That might be the most selfless thing you can do.

When Asma bint Abu Bakr’s son came to her for advice on how he should respond to the ruthless ruler of their time, the elderly blind lady displayed this exemplary steel strength that we can only admire. She advised her son to stand up for what was right, what was the truth – even if that jeopardised his own life:

“It’s your affair, ‘Abdullah, and you know yourself better. If however you think that you are right and that you are standing up for the Truth, then persevere …..

If however you desire the world, what a miserable wretch you are. You would have destroyed yourself and you would have destroyed your men.”

What do we learn from this great woman ? Our love for our children, should never cast a dark shadow on our love for the person we want them to become.

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