The art of a single Muslim working parent
by Battena Shafei
The juggling act of being a kitchen hand, cleaner, an ATM! a taxi, cleaner again while on the phone to the next Prince Ahmed Charming, homework tutor, story reader and my favourite, cuddle machine. Oh, and did I mention being both a mum and dad? Would you like fries with that?
I often laugh to myself when I need to complete a document that requires filling in my occupation. I imagine telling the whole truth. That, in the order of an average day, I am an alarm clock, a kitchen hand, a cleaner, a toothbrush, jacket and manners reminder, a banker, an ATM! a taxi, designer (which is the only answer I actually give which can be further broken down into even more sub-occupations, as with any paid professional job), grocery shopper on a budget!, taxi again, chef- sometimes even a master chef, cleaner again while on the phone to the next Prince Ahmed Charming, mood detector, counsellor, homework tutor, entertainer- rain, hail or shine, a tidy, toothbrush and shower reminder, story reader and my favourite, cuddle machine. Oh, and did I mention being both a mum and dad? Would you like fries with that?
This juggling act is what I call ‘the art of a single working parent’. Those nights when you get home and you are balancing your child, who is heavily fast asleep thus weighing around half your weight at this point, carefully from the car to the front door in an elephant like fashion (and even slower elephant with serious bad luck if you have stairs to go up during any stage of this balance act), whilst trying to turn the key to get in, kick off your shoes (or cry by this stage if you have boots on), then being careful not to trip over the trap of sharp and noisy toys left lying on the floor in the dark while you find yourself slowly descending, until you finally both topple onto the bed.. all to keep this little, big angel of yours fast asleep, or in other words on other occasions, not to disturb the beast! And if your game and stupid enough you will add injury to this self-inflicting, regular occurring incident by undressing your child out of their jeans and into their comfortable pyjamas. Forget long trips and motorways, kids should be forthright with a ‘Stop, Revive, Survive’ reminder sign.
I don’t discount that married/ other parents develop this art. I am well aware that they do, it’s the secret to enduring any parenting experience! However I will say that doing it solo, can be a whole heap of fun, less argumentative in terms of not having to negotiate parenting/ disciplinary ideals at times, and damn right exhausting! Sometimes, super exhausting. There is no other party to tag when the other is at the end of their battery life for the day, or to interfere when the child (and parent at times) gets out of control, or get you a cuppa when that is all you need to make it all alright. Hence there needing to be some form of intrinsic methodology to truly survive this now mundane thing called single parenting, and surviving it successfully.
I never thought I would be a single parent. And when it first crossed my mind after I was married I thought there was no way I had enough courage and mind power to do it, especially since I’d had a baby. My ex-partner and I tried to cross our t’s and dot our i’s to make our strained relationship work but after our second honeymoon and continuous effort to re-construct our irrevocable, damaged relationship of 6 years, enough was enough. I realized that in order to protect and nurture my child’s happiness and well-being, I had to protect and nurture mine.
Post-separation, the long run felt like an even longer run at the start. As with many break-ups, the first year of being single again and a single parent add that, was incredibly and unimaginably challenging. It was one of the most long winded and draining years of my life. In moving right along, I returned to University to complete my degree, whilst raising a toddler, looking for flexible work so that I could financially support myself and my child, which ultimately turned out to be my dream job, all while trying to set up a new home on my own.
Five years on, I still live by the quote that helped me achieve this ‘Things work out best for people who make the best of the way things work out’ (Unknown). This quote motivated and inspired me to pursue my journey of ambition to be happy and at peace, with the aid of an important tool, patience. I had to keep my head up, only look forward and remember that the world was my oyster, where my life would be what I made of it and no-one could muck that up unless I gave them permission to. I ceased giving time and energy to those who didn’t warrant my head space or time, the kind that drain your brain. The result was conversion into energy for my child and also for me, thus ultimately achieving exactly what I had yearned for, a plethora of peace and happiness, in contrast to life as I knew it, which my daughter and I could celebrate and share together. The extension of this celebration was the realization that I managed to get to this destination on my own, with the guidance and beautiful grace of God.
This realization proves that anything can be achieved if you put your mind and heart to it. We were born as one and will die as one. It’s being able to travel along successfully as one, with surprising life challenges, such as having the responsibility of raising a well-rounded child on your own, that proves true determination, fortitude and commitment.
Seven secrets and truths to my art
The glass half full.
Being the positive person I am, or who I try to be the majority of the time, I try to see the good out of what may initially appear as bad. Such as to see the pro’s in the traits of children who are raised in single parent households. Not only do our children turn out to be highly resilient and easily adaptable, but they’re also commonly more independent, and also perhaps more grateful and appreciative, since they can sympathise with others going through a tough time, having also had a tough time themselves at some stage.
Ideal VS realistic.
I would love to be considered the token mother. Being perfect at everything and raising a child perfectly. But that’s not even close to being ideal, that would be more like impossible. There are many times I consciously have to let go of things and just try and be the best I can be, without feeling pressured by anything around me. Life can already be so stressful, and aiming for that ideal life can so easily amplify that stress. So it’s ok to chill a little sometimes, to take each day as it comes and striving as best as possible to make each day count, even though it may sometimes seem like a headless chook race.
The ever- enchanting trials.
I was quite naive to think that each year my child gets older that parenting efforts would get easier. I dreamed of being able to communicate on a more mature level with my child and that she would understand, without negotiation. Little did I know the negotiation stage hadn’t even begun! There are days I just want to sit in the bathroom, the only room in our house with a lock on the door, until the whining is magically all over. But life is such, it’s a roller coaster ride and we just need to embrace it, despite those unforseen sharp turns.
Ground rules, routines and rituals.
Things that I have found to have helped in dealing with the stresses surrounding our lifestyle, besides the ample support by friends and family, is definitely establishing some house rules and values, which essentially form the foundation of our home and our family. Also clarifying chores and rewarding good behaviour. Routine is something innate for me so needless to say, I have always been a routine mother. Setting bedtimes and timing the amount of television watched/ computer games played for example reduce intense and unbearable end results. A realistic routine/ some kind of structure, gives me peace of mind and an element of direction. Generally, when I know it’s set and we stick to it as realistically as possible, then everything seems less difficult to manage. Our fun rituals add a little sparkle to these routines. Our pancakes on Saturday mornings and our occasional trip to our favourite café gives us both something to look forward to and indeed also allows for that crucial quality time to share together.
Bridge to the battlefield.
Heaven knows, it’s not always rosy. All those times we’ve cried together in each other’s arms after the re-settling period of re-adjusting between two different homes, two sets of values and two sets of rules which can all vary dramatically, especially when both biological parents are chalk and cheese, let alone any other step-figure involved adding to this cold predicament.
Work life balance.
I couldn’t bare the fact that I wouldn’t be able to give my child all the love and learning that I was responsible for as a parent. So, in pursuing the job I dreamed, I came to realise I had the fortune of two wonderful managers that were willing to accommodate my working needs, in order to maintain being the mother and role model I anticipated to be. Although I have to squeeze more work in a less amount of hours, and on many occasions leave in a busting rush, literally, it is the price I am willingly paying in order to give my daughter the time she deserves as a young child.
Mum’s in ‘time out’.
For quite a while I found it so hard to be kind to myself and treat myself every now and again. Over and over I would need to justify in my head, and sometimes aloud with others, why I had to go to the hairdresser and even after I would go, I would regret being so selfish. Then I finally uncovered it was the attractive recipe to nurturing the happiness I finally attained, and learnt that any spirit lifting experience is priceless (unless you’re Rapunzel!).
Hope and faith. Passion and compassion. Ambition and patience. The inspirational brushes I use to create this intricate, colourful and beautiful art of hard work.