In this counseling answer:
“Many things could transpire from the social group alone that you could do at home, like singing a traditional song, a recipe that you could make together, a handicraft or a form of art that you could work on together, or a family tree that you could make together so that your daughter would know where she came from, or a folk story that you could tell her as you put her to bed at night.”
My sister, as-salamu `alaykum.
First of all, thank you for sharing your story with us. It is not an uncommon experience, even amongst parents who have had a less traumatic upbringing.
Through my observations, it only takes one generation of parents in today’s world to be so caught up in the demands of modern living to turn round years later and find that they do not know their children at all; and these children learn, in turn, to grow up too quickly, missing out on childhood because there was nothing to compensate them in their environment as they were growing up, or they were never allowed access to what could compensate for missing their childhood in their homes. Basically, what I am trying to say is that you are not alone, and in your case, you are not guilty.
You are studying full time I believe, plus you have to be everything to your daughter when you do not have the time to be anything to yourself.
What is your support system emotionally, psychologically and spiritually? When do you relax? When do you find the time to do the things that place an inner smile in your heart? Even computers need care and maintenance before they can deliver the output we demand of them.
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You have said it yourself, “I feel frustrated because I am a very serious and intense person.” This state of being causes tension in your mind and in your body, making it difficult to be relaxed enough to be positively receptive to the needs of others. There is no place for joy except superficially, and it is this part of your current condition that needs attention before you are able to give to your child.
I have always found this to be the case, that until the needs of the parents are addressed, they are unable to give their children what their children need. Once this is addressed, the transformation takes place in what seems like moments.
When we feel too guilty we end up trying to over-compensate in ways that are never satisfactory either to the child or to one’s self. We do not always have our children under the best of circumstances, so what we need to learn is how to make the most of what we have—ourselves, with the tension of feeling guilty.
Patience is the keyword here, patience with one’s self and when one has a child to consider, I always find it helpful to allocate time like a schedule—time for what you have to do, time for your child, and time for yourself. Or as Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) put it, time for work, time for study, and time for the family.
Work constitutes the things that have to be done, including problems that need attention. If you have a strong idea as to the pattern of these demands on a day-to-day basis, then begin to re-organize your time (including your attention span) so that it does not interfere with a) your child and b) your personal time.
For instance, I know that this service or this utility is only available during certain hours, so those hours constitute my work time. Any preparation required beforehand should be limited to an hour, for example, so that literally your time is used to the optimum.
Not everything can be achieved at once, and with the grace that is Allah, we learn to accept and trust in Him, for everything has its time. In other words, we do our best and let Allah do the rest. We observe the pattern of things and we observe when it is the best time to direct attention towards resolution.
Another example is if you have a limited income; do what is essential without waste. Rather than see the limitations, see the challenge of providing a nutritional meal with what Allah intended; and you know, packaged processed foods only turn out to be more expensive, less nutritional, and quite wasteful.
Instead of buying that packet of biscuits, spend a little time in the kitchen with your daughter making those biscuits. She can help in so many ways that do not place her in danger with the cooker! At the same time, you will be spending time together, talking about silly little things.
Your daughter will be learning teamwork, she will also be learning math (weights and measures), how different properties combine together under varying conditions (science), and how to clean up afterwards (responsibility). Besides, you will be learning about each other.
*Your daughter. I assume from the information you have provided that your daughter is attending school or some sort of daycare facility. This means the late afternoon and the early evening constitutes her time with you. Being with children can be quite educational if we realize that they have a lot to offer—they can teach us, adults, a few lessons.
*If you daughter cannot swim, now is a good time to teach her, and if she can, it is a good opportunity for the both of you to go swimming together on women’s only day for an hour. Swimming not only exercises the whole body, but it stimulates the mind. It relaxes both the mind and the body, and with relaxation we are more able to share, to give and receive, to laugh at silly little things, and to learn from each other as well as learn about each other.
This is not about your daughter, this about the both of you, so join in.
*Practice listening to her and finding out what interests her, what makes her laugh and how she sees the world around her. When she says something, ask her why she says that. Listen to her response and ask moreopen-endedd questions. Do not cut her conversation, simply learn to listen, discover, and then, eventually, reason with each other.
*When your daughter gets tense, tickle her gently. If she stiffens out of stubbornness, keep tickling her until she gives in; then present her with something creative or helpful that she can do, instead of just being awkward
*Take a walk together, even if it just down the road or around your block. A slow walk will allow for conversation to take place. “What are you looking at? Are you warm enough? What is she wearing?” As you have mentioned, you brought up your siblings, so what silly things did they do? “You know, your uncle/aunt… he/she used to give me a hard time when…. Or he/she never used to like the color/like wearing/like eating and so on.”
*You see a bird flying, play a guessing game, where is it flying to/what kind of bird is it…. When you go to the local library you can try to look up the information together
*As I said, you are not alone, so try to find out about a Palestinian social/cultural group where you can take your daughter so that she can learn about her heritage, above and beyond what gets repeated on the news. Teach her that she does belong somewhere.
*Also, in this way, you will form a support group of friends who are also learning to cope with the past and how to be parents in an alien environment.
All of the above would not take place everyday. An hour for swimming, half-an-hour down the road, an hour at a social cultural group, and still enough time for your daughter to be in bed by 9.00 pm at the latest! Think about it!
Many things could transpire from the social group alone that you could do at home, like singing a traditional song, a recipe that you could make together, a handicraft or a form of art that you could work on together, or a family tree that you could make together so that your daughter would know where she came from, or a folk story that you could tell her as you put her to bed at night.
Give a thought to the father’s role in all of this and see if you cannot convince him to spend one day of his weekend with her at least twice a month. He is still an important part of her life, albeit that you are divorced. It is her right.
Your time. Once you put your daughter to bed at a reasonable time, you will be more able to divide your time between your studies and time for yourself, which is just as important as all the other things you have to do.
Even if you can only dedicate one hour to yourself before you go to bed, it will be a very important hour of learning how to relax. After your `Isha’ (Night) Prayers and after yourdu`aa’ (supplications), in fact after all your prayers, instead of getting up straight away, you could do some simple breathing exercises.
Sit cross-legged with a straight back and place your hands on your knees. Observe your breath flowing out of your lungs. Do not change your breathing; just observe how your abdomen moves with your breathing. Then, while breathing in, allow your abdominal wall to move out, and while breathing out, let your abdominal wall move in. This is how a child breathes whilst asleep as Allah intended.
Keeping your mind clear of cluttered thoughts, only observe (that is your whole mind) your breathing. While inhaling, feel your life force flow and while exhaling, imagine throwing out what makes you tense, what makes you feel stressed and ill at ease. What does this do?
This helps to:
- Oxygenate your blood, and consequently, all your organs work more efficiently.
- Increase relaxation of the body and the mind
- Strengthen the nervous and respiratory systems
- Improve concentration
- Reduce stress and hypertension
In fact, if you do this breathing exercise before you begin your studies, it will help to improve the quality of studying; reducing the amount of time you spend on studying. Then you can always repeat the breathing exercise before you go to bed, to improve the quality of sleep, waking up less tired.
This will allow you to be more alert for Fajr (Dawn) Prayers and more able to spend not less than 15 minutes reading a passage from the Qur’an, helping you to be more focused for the day, long before your daughter wakes up!
Once you get into the routine and adapt it to other ideas that you might have, you will find that eventually you will be more relaxed, less pressured for time, and more able to communicate with your daughter at her level.
Through this communication a closeness/bonding will develop. We will all be driven into an early grave if we spend all our energy, everyday, worrying and pressured by the clock. One has to learn to balance the part of the day spent rushing with a more calm and natural rhythm.
I apologize for not being able to recommend a book. There are many books on parental bonding which, I have to admit, I have not read. Allah does not give us more than we can bear, it is just that sometimes we underestimate how much we can bear and rise above the situation we find ourselves in:
“The similitude of a believer is that of (a standing) crop which the air continues to toss from one side to another; in the same way, a believer always (receives the strokes) of misfortune. The similitude of a hypocrite is that of a cypress tree, which does not move until it is uprooted.” (Muslim 39 #6742).
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