About to SNAP: Parents and the Stretched out Piece of Gum
You know how some moms feel an instant connection to their babies right when they hold them? Like a heart-melting moment of pure, fierce love? I didn’t. Not exactly anyway.
That’s not to say I didn’t love my daughter or cherish her or wouldn’t die defending her if I had to. I would have. But in that first moment of holding her, I was scared out of my mind. I suddenly had this tiny life in my arms that was my responsibility. I was still in so much physical pain from a difficult delivery and I just didn’t feel ready.
The good news is that my love for her grew. It grew and it grew until we were very nearly the same soul. Until our hearts, mine, hers, and her father Amr’s, were just three thirds of one, living in three separate bodies. Was it Maya Angelou who said to enter motherhood means that you consent to having your heart walking outside your body? It is exactly so.
Then we lost one third of our heart when my husband passed away. My daughter was just nine months old.
In the years that have followed my husband’s death, I’ve changed. A lot.
I’ve had to expand my heart to fill the part that’s missing. I’ve had to balloon my love to fill the void of love from Baba, because the last thing I want is for our daughter to feel like she didn’t have enough love in her life.
When you stretch a piece of bubble gum, you can get it to be really long – an adult’s entire arm-span if it’s good quality gum. But in the process of stretching it, it becomes thin and easy to snap in two. Stretch it just a millimeter too much and that’s exactly what it does: snap.
When you need to grow your heart so suddenly, it also stretches you thin. Parenthood means you have to abruptly accommodate more responsibility, love, and accountability, so your patience for everything and everyone else wears thin.
The energy I need for all the extra things I used to do has been absorbed by my daughter: loving her, dressing her every day, making sure she doesn’t jump off of something too high, making sure she doesn’t colour every wall with every permanent marker, taking care of her when she’s sick, worrying about her, trying to save money for her future, etc.
Lots of those things aren’t actions of the body or limbs. Many of them are actions of the heart and mind: thinking, stressing, planning. But the extra emotional work is just as taxing on the body as physical lifting, dressing, shushing, brushing, washing, and reading.
All of those things build up. All of those sacrifices stretch me – sometimes to a point that I don’t even recognize myself anymore.
Aisha (ra) reports, “A poor woman came to me carrying her two daughters. I gave her three dates to eat. She gave each child a date, and raised the third to her own mouth to eat it. Her daughters asked her to give it to them, so she split the date that she had wanted to eat between them. I was impressed by what she had done, and told the Messenger of Allah about it. He said, ‘Allah has decreed Paradise for her because of it.'”
One (seemingly) small sacrifice for her children earned this woman paradise. How many times have we sacrificed things for the sake of our children?
There are parents who literally take the food out of their mouths so that their children can eat. There are parents who move across continents and cultures, living in difficulty and surrounded by unfamiliar languages, just so that their children will be safer, happier, more successful. How many of our parents did this for us?
The truth is, every day we sacrifice something for the benefit of our children.
Sometimes it’s conscious, sometimes not. When you’re putting that morsel of food in your child’s mouth, or giving up that extra hour of sleep in the morning, or canceling your plans because your child is sick…when you’re doing all of that, it’s not for nothing.
Our sacrifices don’t go unnoticed.
It always astounds me how “little” we actually have to do in order to earn Allah’s pleasure. We’re shown again and again in the teachings of Muhammad (saw) that it’s the simple acts that often come with the greatest reward.
The prostitute who gave a thirsty dog water. She was forgiven for all her past sins because of that one act.
The man who killed 100 people, but was seeking forgiveness and journeying to a land of purity. He died before he could even get there, but he was forgiven.
The condition always was – they knew sincerity. We have to know sincerity, and it has to know us.
We’re not tasked with having to change the whole world, we just have to be willing to fulfill our immediate responsibilities with love, sincerity, and ihsan. Sometimes that means giving charity, or doing community work, or traveling to do speeches…
But sometimes feeding our children is enough, if our hearts are truly present. (Is your heart truly present?)
Sometimes we’re pulled and stretched beyond recognition, until we are no more than one single thread of strength and love.
Sometimes that strength snaps. Sometimes it holds.
But never, never, does our effort or sincerity go to waste. And never is it unaccounted for in our record with Allah.
We ask Allah (swt) to forgive us when our patience snaps, and take into account the sacrifices that we make for our children. May Allah allow us to fulfill this amanah.