Editorial Note: As part of Haute Hijab Academy, we are running a series on “building confidence” at various stages of our lives, talking about what deters us or takes away our confidence, why being confident is an important life tool and how to nurture confidence within ourselves and the women and girls in our lives.
Raise your hand if it took you well into middle age to feel confident about yourself, who you are, what you’ve accomplished in life, what you’re capable of, and all those beautiful things?
Please tell me I’m not the only one.
Salams friends - it's me again. The Muslim woman hiding behind anonymity who brought you the story last May about "Wedding Night Do-Overs
Let me tell you something: When you’re firmly planted in middle-age ground, like myself, most likely you are some sort of Gen X-er and therefore this post I pulled from Instagram applies to you:
I was raised in that in-between ground of traditional female roles coupled with encouragement to pursue education and set myself up for a good career, but also make sure that family and everyone else’s needs come first. While this was a great step towards giving importance to a woman’s pursuit of knowledge and career (if she so desired), it was coupled with an often patriarchally-driven (whether on purpose or unwittingly so) lifestyle, which plays into the tweet shared above.
My marriage was match-made, which is how pretty much all the marriages in my family and social circles came about in those years. And much of the advice we were given as young brides back then (and I can only speak about the South Asian culture from which I came) focused around centering the feelings and needs of our new husbands (and their family) as a means to establish a steady, strong and loving relationship and building our new family.
This is important to note, because while there is good that comes from this (if husbands and wives and their respective families build relationships on respect and love), the flip side was sort of making ourselves secondary to everyone else. And honestly, especially if one has children, this kind of has to happen - to an extent. Mothering is a lot of things, including centering the needs of our children, and that can be done in very healthy ways. But it can also come, if one is not careful and doesn’t have the right kind of partnership and support, at the expense of one’s self.
All this is to say that for me, self-confidence and inner strength really took hold in my fourth decade of life. It took a number of life experiences to help me feel solid. This kind of confidence came with age and my teaching myself to not be my own worst critic, which helped me realize what was important to me as well as for my family and marriage,
A few important and key things came into play as my self-confidence finally emerged, and this is how confidence looks like in my fourth decade of life.
1. I feel more comfortable saying “no” to people, things, activities and opportunities that come my way if I didn’t have the mental/physical capacity and willingness to take it on.
2. I feel more confident in my ability to parent and my parenting choices regardless of the advice I read/see online and the well-meaning things my elders would say or comment to me.
Image source: Pexels; This woman is having a "serenity now" kind of moment.
3. I feel more at peace with how the path of my life and the loved ones around me had unfolded. This doesn't mean I don't continue to do whatever I can to make those paths the smoothest, safest, joy-filled and forward-moving paths I can. It means that I am more at peace with the things that were out of my control, that don't make sense to me.
4. I've learned to communicate better with my loved ones.
5. I've learned not to take so many things personally. I can’t be responsible for what other people think or feel about me. I can be responsible for living a life that centers care and kindness, establishes reasonable boundaries, and makes space for grace and shortcomings.
6. I've learned to trust in Allah (S). Like in a way that was way more unconditional than how I was trusting Him in previous decades.
How did I get to this point? Well, that’s a long convoluted story, and this post unfortunately doesn’t have a list of things you can do to get more confident in middle age. Why? Because it is my sincere du’a and hope that you get there way sooner than I did.
There’s such beauty in getting to the middle ages in life and feeling confident in oneself, one’s choices, the life one has built. There’s so much strength in learning how to put up manageable boundaries while still being open to the ones who need us. I still put my family first, because it has to be that way due to the different things we are managing, and because that is important to me. I still care for my in-laws, parents and loved ones as best as I can.
Prioritizing all that has meant de-prioritizing things that I wish I could do for me. That’s life and Allah (S) life making those choices for me, and it’s also MY choice. I’m confident in that.