“I have started noticing each and every nuance of other people’s behavior towards me, almost like I am judging them for how I presume they might be judging me,” says Jehanara Haider – a Muslim mother from Pakistan, who migrated to America…
Jehanara lives in New Milford, New Jersey, with her husband and their three-year-old son.
Being an immigrant is never an easy or comfortable position to be in (add being Muslim to the pot and it gets even more uncomfortable), it is a label heavy with responsibilities, regrets and fortitude. Sort of like motherhood except the regret part does not exist in motherhood. Both positions require great strength of character and emotional intelligence, as a mother you learn to juggle each minute of every day and make it meaningful. And as an immigrant you feel that you have sacrificed so much to get where you are so you had better make the most of it and have something to show at the end of the day.
My son is now three years old and I returned to full time work at exactly three months, carrying my pump and the associated arsenal to make sure my baby could have my milk even as I was away from him for almost eight hours each day. I had also suffered from postpartum depression (PPD) right after I had my son which caught me by total surprise even though I thought I had read all sorts of pregnancy books and working mom books.
Coming from a culture where pregnancy is regarded as highly personal and where PPD or any mental disease is never discussed, for the people around me it was perhaps unnerving to see me crumble in the way that I did. My own mother being thousands of miles away in Pakistan, could not fathom the fact that I was unable to put coherent sentences together, that I would cry for no apparent reason, that I could not sleep even when I was exhausted. She kept saying that I needed to be grateful to God for a healthy baby and I had to pull myself together.
As immigrants, the struggle is real and constant… to make sure your child does not feel torn between two opposing cultures but instead feels he is a part of them both
My hormones did balance out eventually (another story altogether), to some extent and I started the crazy whirlwind journey of being a full time working mother and raising my baby. Coming back to today and how our lives play out, I am still learning how to navigate the world of toddler parenting. I cannot help thinking about how my son’s life and day to day interactions will be determined by the color of his skin and his faith.
Call it being naïve but before the US elections of 2016 I still believed that hard work and perseverance always win in the end and that your abilities and character define you and not your name (even if it is foreign sounding) or your faith. Fast forward to now I cannot help but worry all the time about my son and how he will be treated in this world by his peers, friends, teachers and future employers.
As for me I have started noticing each and every nuance of other people’s behavior towards me, almost like I am judging them for how I presume they might be judging me. I know it sounds silly but that is how I feel. I am an introvert by nature but I have forced myself to be friendly to all the people I meet at my son’s daycare every day, I know their kids names and I make it a point to learn about them. I have even offered playdates but strangely no one has ever got back to me about them other than one mom who happens to be a Muslim too. I do not wish to generalize, I do not claim to know how people think but in some tiny corner of my heart I cannot help thinking these moms see me as different and that makes them uncomfortable.
Our children are always watching and listening so make sure that they watch and listen to what enlightens them
I miss having an extended family around as well especially on big religious holidays like Eid-ul-Fitr (which comes at the end of the month of Ramadan) and Eid-ul-Adha (focuses on Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to Allah). I want my son to grow up around family, to learn about our family history and where we came from and to feel a connection to those traditions and culture.
As immigrants, that struggle is real and constant. The struggle to make sure your child does not feel torn between two opposing cultures but instead feels he is a part of them both. We have time because my son is still young but we have thought of these issues on numerous occasions. As parents whether you are an immigrant or not, whether you are Muslim, Jewish or of any other faith, we all struggle with similar issues, this raising of children is no easy task and the path is wrought with stumbling blocks of all shapes and sizes.
My jumbling thoughts are meant to convey my uncertainties on this journey called motherhood as well as to let others know that our struggles as mothers are the same regardless of how we worship, who we pray to and what our skin color is. Let us teach our children that the world is full of different people with different and even opposing beliefs but that should not stop us from walking towards them, saying hi and getting to know them. Our children are always watching and listening so make sure that they watch and listen to what enlightens them, broadens their horizons and teaches them empathy and compassion.