Ever since I became a mother nearly 21 years ago for the first time, I’ve been intermittently reminded by your Dadima (your paternal grandmother, who was told this on numerous occasions by her mother) that the challenges and worries of raising children when they are young pale in comparison to when they grow older and physically away from you:
“When they’re young, you bathe them, dress them, change their diaper, make sure you have their milk and take them with you wherever you go. When they become young adults, they have their own schedules, personalities and wants. Guiding them at that stage and beyond is the most challenging and worrisome part of being a parent.”
There is truth to what she says, dear daughter. When you and your brothers were younger, just managing the responsibilities of raising babies, toddlers and young kids – you all needed something from me all the time – surely was difficult. And, you and I both know we could write an entire book about how your childhood was vastly different from your cousins or your peers because your older brother is autistic and continues to have profound support needs.
But this stage of life we are in now – you graduating and going off to college and me parenting older kids – should be the harder part for me (according to your Dadima). And in some ways it is. I worry about the influences to come in your life, how you will maintain your faith. I worry about keeping you grounded. I worry about your future relationships to come, about what it takes to foster communication and compromise in all relationships. I worry how you will handle defeat and despair – because they are part and parcel of life, much more so than what you’ve ever experienced.
My daughter, age two, and I. Yeah, my hijab styling left a lot to be desired! But she was sure cute!
But truth be told, even with these worries, I’m enjoying these parenting years. I feel like I was made to be a parent of older kids. I hope that’s true. However, I also feel like time is lapsing at a remarkable pace, and though you will not be geographically far away when you leave for university, it will be the first time you move out and will be largely responsible for yourself.
And, my heart and brain space is being taken over by all the things I feel like I haven’t told you or taught you. Do you know all you need to know as you venture out beyond the safety, comfort and support of our home? Do you have the emotional, spiritual, physical and faithful foundations to help you stay true to your heart and your iman?
What I know is that home isn’t a physical space – it’s nurtured around the relationships we’ve grown and cared for since you’ve been born. We are your home. Your brothers are your home. Your grandparents are your home. Your dear friends are your home. And parenting doesn’t end when you move into a dorm room. It only intensifies in ways we have yet to experience.
Those foundations have been laid – conversation by conversation, tears by tears, hugs by hugs, argument by argument, laughter by laughter, prayer by prayer, salah by salah, love by love. And we, your Baba and I, mean to keep building your foundations throughout your lifetime.
You’re in an exciting time, my Jaan (darling)! Your heart and foot are halfway out the door already. But do your Mamma a solid and absorb what I have to say. I want to share with you a few things I hope you’ll always hold in your heart.
1. Be unapologetically Muslim. You already are! But continue so throughout college and beyond. What I mean by this is never let anyone make you feel less than or ashamed for your faith and the beautiful things that make up your identity – your being Muslim. Your Indian heritage. Your American life the way you’ve forged it. Let your faith be your comfort and your touchstone.
2. Choose your friends wisely. I know, I know. This is nothing new to you. But it’s even more important now, in that you’ll be spending a lot more time with your friends. They may become a strong influence in your life. Let go of anyone who proves toxic. Choose friends whose moral center aligns with yours, who know when to call you out when you may be going astray, who lift you up when you need lifting and who will sit in the pain with you when life calls for it.
Try to connect with Muslims, but also know that not all Muslims are the same, nor do they practice Islam the same. We’ve taught you to practice your faith, to live your faith as best possible. It’s on you to keep it strong in your life. Also, look outside your bubble and embrace diversity and differences in your friendships. Some of my best friends from college days weren’t Muslim, but we shared moral and humanity connections that brought a lot of joy and learning to our lives.
Our family on Eid ul Fitr 2021.
3. Know that there isn’t just one path to success, and that success has many different looks, feels and circuitous routes. If you don’t get that internship, job or program you wanted that you felt was imperative to get you to the next step in your life plan – I promise it’s ok. You’ll figure out a different path or an altogether different life plan. In fact open yourself up to receiving new and alternative experiences that may take you in directions you didn’t even know you wanted to go in.
4. It’s not always going to make sense. It’s just not. I’m talking about the way things happen or don’t happen, your prayers that go unanswered or are answered in ways different than what you desired. One of the hardest things in life is accepting this sometimes unfulfillment of our striving, our prayers, our most intimate asks. You’re working for the dunya (world), which is good. But we will ultimately get everything if we strive for the akhirat (hereafter).
5. You can always, always, always come to me with anything. And I mean anything. I will not always agree with you. I may be upset or disappointed in things you do or decisions you make, but I’m always here for you. Whatever it is, your Baba and I are here to support you, listen to you and guide you. Just talk to us. Keep the lines of communication always open.
6. Four things will be of help to you in life: Your own hard work and striving, your salah and du’as (prayers) and the Quran. Ask Allah (S) for whatever it is you need. Be faithful in your salah. But you have to do the hard work as well. Simply sitting on a jahnimaz (prayer mat) and praying for something most likely won’t get the job done. Simply working hard won’t get the job done. Do it all.
7. The things we advise you or stop you from doing when you are at home with us, there are reasons for it. If it wasn’t something you would be doing when you are at home, maybe it’s something you shouldn’t be doing when you are not living at home. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new things, have adventures and gain new experiences. But be safe, practical, thoughtful and smart in your decision making.
One of my favorite pictures of my girl, on her 15th birthday, taken at a mom-daughter experience we shared.
8. Always start by listening. I know you’ve heard me say this many many times. But especially when you immediately disagree with what someone says or posts, or someone’s worldviews or beliefs, take some time to listen and understand that different point of view. (Honestly, some things are just a slam dunk WRONG or NO, but you know what I mean). We are quick to cancel people out or just write off, but there are deeper understandings and nuances to be learned.
9. On the heels of that, if listening or interacting with people or groups who are antithetical to your own beliefs becomes too much, too traumatic, you have every right to protect yourself. Call me and dump it out to me.
10. Give more than you receive. Give in charity or do good work such that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, as the hadith goes. Check your privilege. There’s a lot to be said for being humble. Enjoin good and forbid evil. That’s the ultimate test of living in this world.
And as I’ve always taught you and your brothers, start your day with the shahada upon waking, say Bismillah before doing anything and make good choices. Stay close to your brothers. Fight the good fights, cherish your education, prioritize your health, lead with kindness, trust in Allah (S) and put your phone down and enjoy what is all around you.