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Failing Supermoms

Failing Supermoms
new book, Perfect Madness by Judith Warner, just published by Riverhead Books, tells us that during her research, Warner discovered that
  • “Seventy percent of American moms say they find motherhood today ‘incredibly stressful.’”
  • “Thirty percent of mothers of young children reportedly suffer from depression”.
  • “Nine hundred and nine women in Texas recently told researchers they find taking care of their kids about as much fun as cleaning their house, slightly less pleasurable than cooking, and a whole lot less enjoyable than watching TV.”

At a time when we women in the Middle East are being pursued and lured by all things Western, we owe it to ourselves to take a long hard look at the experiences of our Western sisters, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

In the lands where all that glitters is somehow perceived to be gold and therefore desirable, women are discovering that playing roles that were not ordained for them by the fitrah of Islam or by the decree of Allah Most High are not all they are cracked up to be.

Women in the West who have long been battling both themselves and the natural order to be “superwomen” are finding that banging their heads on the glass ceiling is giving them more than a headache. They are finding themselves on a merry-go-round that will not stop. Their makeup and their hair must be perfect; their size must be unrealistically thin; their children must be perfect, talented, and high achievers; their houses must be spotless; and all this must be achieved in the stolen hours between working and sleeping.

This is more than just struggling against the glass ceiling in pursuit of career goals: It is banging your head against a wall on a relentless and ongoing basis. As Judith Warner states, “I have seen so many mothers banging their heads against a wall. And treating their pain—the chronic headache of their lives—with sleeping pills and antidepressants and anxiety meds and a more and more potent, more and more vicious self-and-other-attacking form of anxious perfectionism.”

The chronic headache of their lives … ? Is this a life? This is mere survival in a life of stress and loneliness. The superwoman goal is unachievable, not because women are incapable, but because they fail to see that fulfilling natural and predestined roles is undoubtedly a super achievement.

Playing mother, wife, and career woman all at the same time is not an enviable position, and, except in cases of necessity, the woman’s role as caregiver and homemaker should take precedence over career and outside activities.

Islam defines women as superwomen—but with a different meaning. Islam recognizes that the role of wife and mother is of paramount importance. Islam defines wives as half of the religion. Islam clearly states that Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.

Islam goes much further than just recognition; it clearly defines the roles that women play and states rights and obligations with clarity and common sense.

The role of a mother in bringing up children is greater than that of a father. She is responsible for their emotional, behavioral, and intellectual development. She is responsible for instilling a love of Islam in them, especially in the early formative years. When a woman understands the teachings of Islam and her own role in life, she understands her complete responsibility for the upbringing of her children, as is referred to in the Qur’an:

[O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones] (At-Tahrim 66:6)

More than 40 years ago, Muslim women who were secure in their roles and their lives could see the damage being caused by a Western lifestyle. In 1962, Salma Al-Haffar said in the Damacus newspaper Al-Ayyam, after observing her Western sisters,

It is truly a shame that women lose the most precious thing that nature has given them, that is, their femininity, and then their happiness, because the constant cycle of exhausting work has caused them to lose the small paradise which is the natural refuge of women and men alike, one that can only flourish under the care of a mother who stays at home. The happiness of individuals and society as a whole is to be found at home, in the lap of the family; the family is the source of inspiration, goodness and creativity.

Now in 2005 a woman is often forced to make choices that are not easy. Often she feels that she must work to help financially support the family. Often she is the family’s sole breadwinner. Before we focus on the stresses and demands of society today and blame them for the destruction of family values and the pain and anguish of failing supermoms, let’s examine women’s lives in the 21st century.

The lives of Muslim women must be guided only by the precepts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. We must not be fooled by slogans such as “times have changed.”

As we all know, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent with a message for all mankind, in all times and in all places. The guidelines sent down to us by our Creator, Allah Most High, are perfect and cover all situations. Allah Most High made it clear that a woman’s first responsibility is to her Creator, then to her husband, and then to her home. There is nothing in Islam that prevents a woman from continuing her education, from working or from pursuing outside activities. Nothing, that is, except the well-being of her family.

The importance that Islam places upon marriage is clear.

[And among His signs is this that He has created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them; and He has put love and mercy between you. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.] (Ar-Rum 30:21)

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Among my followers the best of men are those who are best to their wives, and the best of women are those who are best to their husbands. To each of such women is set down a reward equivalent to the reward of a thousand martyrs. Among my followers, again, the best of women are those who assist their husbands in their work, and love them dearly for everything, save what is a transgression of Allah’s laws.”

The usual by-product of marriage is children, and these children are the future of the Ummah. What greater role can there be than that of mother? How can the women who fulfill this role be regarded as anything but superwomen? Women who understand their religion are secure in the fact that Allah Most High knows what is best for His slaves.

Women must be vigilant, for our Ummah’s future rests in their hands. Burned-out supermoms achieve nothing but stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, women in the Middle East today are blindly rushing to follow a well-worn road. It is a road of consumerism and excess, and it leads nowhere. That nowhere has no substance; it is merely a feeling of emptiness and loss. Let us not follow our Western sisters into oblivion, but let us learn from their mistakes.

As is evident from the research for Perfect Madness, the Western lifestyle being clutched at so desperately is not a cure for what ails us.

We saw ourselves as winners. We’d been bred, from the earliest age, for competition. Our schools had given us co-ed gym and wood-working shop, and had told us never to let the boys drown out our voices in class. Often enough, we’d done better than they had in school. Even in science and math. And our passage into adulthood was marked by growing numbers of women in the professions. We believed that we could climb as high as we wanted to go, and would grow into the adults we dreamed we could be. Other outcomes—like the chance that children wouldn’t quite fit into this picture—never even entered our minds. Life was hard. It was stressful. It was expensive. Jobs—and children—were demanding. And the ambitious form of motherhood most of us wanted to practice was utterly incompatible with any kind of outside work, or friendship, or life, generally.

The motherhood that we as Muslims want to practice is compatible with Allah Most High. That is it, nothing more. If we achieve this, we are superwomen, supermoms, super Muslims.

When we choose the make and form of our children’s education, we must take the leadership role and choose schools that will reinforce what we have taught our children at home. Our children’s education must be guided and formed by the Qur’an and the authentic Sunnah, not whims and fancies.

A woman interviewed for Perfect Madness stated that

she’d chosen to work part-time and at night in order to spend as much time as possible with her nine-year-old daughter. But somehow, nothing had worked out as planned. Working nights meant that she was tired all the time, and cranky, and stressed. And forever annoyed with her husband. And now her daughter was after her to get a day job. It seemed that having Mom around most of the time wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, particularly if Mom was forever on the edge.

As we stroll around the malls and covet all things Western, we, the keepers of the faith, must ask ourselves if we are controlling our children’s lives. Are the values being instilled in our children coming from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions, or are our children learning from the Western media? As Muslim women, we are responsible in front of Allah for our children’s education, and what a huge responsibility that is.

First and foremost we must be sure that the example we are setting is one of piety and morality. We must avoid leaving our children with babysitters and maids; we must be sure that the education our children acquire both at home and at school is in sync with our deen (religion). True Islamic values, true family values cannot be learned from outsiders. By outsiders I mean people on the periphery of our deen, people whose Islamic education and understanding could be called into question, and people who may not be of the Islamic faith at all. It is the responsibility of Muslims in general and mothers in particular to ensure that children are guided on the straight path. There is no room for error; the guidelines are clear. Allah Most High is merciful; He has made it easy for us. Simply follow the revealed sources, the Qur’an and the authentic Sunnah.

As today’s mother reaches into her purse for Panadol and rushes to her job or the mall, she must ask herself if she has strengthened the Ummah today.

Share your views. Are today's supermoms overstressed and overworked? Join us in the Discussion Forum. Are You a Failing Supermom?

Aisha Tahira Stacey writes for Qatar’s daily publications The Times and The Peninsula. The author is currently working on a series of stories based on the lives of the Sahabah and a series of historical stories for children.

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