Parenting Through a Death in the Family

The inevitable reality and harsh truth of death is something we all experience at some point or another in our lives. For the fortunate this is an occurrence that waits until we are older and can grasp and grapple with the abstract concepts and feelings associated with this. For others it is something that happens when we are quite young and impressionable.

As a parent, experiencing this is not only about how we feel ourselves, it’s about understanding or being aware of the fact that it is something that is impacting our children on some level and that fact that we need to be able to handle this carefully to help them through it. Fear, grief, regret, love, sadness, concern, confusion and anger among many other feelings will surface and need to be dealt with when faced with a death in the family. Depending on the closeness of the relative who has passed, the reactions will differ but the premise is the same. Someone who was with us no longer is, and that changes things.

Now the media, video games and movies perpetuate zombies and graveyard ghosts as the stuff of cinematic drama to make death and everything that goes along with it seem like a scary or a violent thing but in reality most of the time that just isn’t the case. Death is a normal occurrence that is part of life. Life is fragile and no one knows how or when their time will come. In our faith we find the strength to believe that it has been written and fated for us to die a certain death, and that we are returning to Allah. We accept that. It doesn’t make the experience of losing someone any easier because saying goodbye is always hard, especially when losing someone who was young in age or in a sudden death, but it gives us peace and the ability to accept what has happened. We can then find comfort and hope. We can go on to remember the memories we have of those who have left us and pray for them. Talking about the departed helps to heal from the grieving process. It allows a person to cry and release some of the emotion and manage the loss.

For kids this is often a time of upheaval in the family and they need the support of the parents and caregivers to be able to navigate successfully and learn from this experience how to handle death in their lives. They need to be given the space to see what’s happening, to ask questions and get proper answers to them, no matter how ridiculous we as adults may think they are. They need to be allowed to cry and express what they are thinking and feeling, and share in the responsibilities of preparing for any wake/funeral with whatever tasks a parent sees as appropriate. They need to know what to say and do and how to accept condolences and to respond to others in these situations. Sharing prayers to read with them is also a good way to involve them, and make them feel like they are contributing something valuable. They also need to see how the adults around them take charge of the situation and handle saying goodbye and making arrangements for burial, and afterward sorting out the deceased’s affairs like personal effects, bills, debts and official paperwork. They also need to know how and when visiting the gravesite to pray is done and encouraged to do so if appropriate.

Death is never easy and can be a major milestone for a young child to experience. Our roles as parents is to understand how they are it and guide them through it pragmatically and respectfully.


Sorry is the Most Worthless Word There Is…

There are things that decrease in value with frequent use. In our family the word “sorry” has unfortunately now become worthless. There seems to be a mistaken assumption with my kids that throwing out a “sorry” is like a get out of jail free token, thereby allowing the perpetrator of {whatever} to slide.

So what’s the use if I walked up to my brother, slapped him across the face and said “sorry”, turned around and walked away? Does it change the fact that I just slapped him across the face? Does it make the sting go away? Does it change the fact that he’s been slapped by me?

So the rules of the game have to be changed to accommodate the fact that the sorry option is no longer in play. We have now graduated to compensation for crimes committed in terms of actual economic value (like allowance deductions or requirements to present a gift to the victim) in order for us to try and enforce the fact that you just can’t walk around with hands and feet flying and expect to get off scot-free. We need to control our bodies, reflexes and emotions and make sure we respect each other’s personal space, use our words to communicate and choose them wisely before we speak. If necessary a handwritten letter may also be acceptable to express sincerity and remorse for actions deemed unacceptable…

The other thing is, in a culture where money has very little value and cash is king, does it really leave an impact to ask a child to pay for a gift for someone they have hurt or offended? If children don’t get allowances regularly and parents pay for everything they ask for, does it mean anything if mom or dad takes kid to buy a present for the boy beat up at school? Isn’t that wrongly perpetuating a sense of entitlement or a my-parents-will-bail-me-out-so-what mentality?

I saw a little boy of about three years old kick a girl of about 9 at the airport. His mom was embarrassed and took out 5 Riyals and handed it to him to give to her as a peace offering. I don’t think this will encourage him to not kick anyone else again.

At a cafe on the third floor of a mall I saw a girl of about 7 years old drop a new unopened can of Pepsi over the railings, just for kicks. It didn’t fall out of her hand, because when I gasped she looked up at me and tilted her head arrogantly as if to say: “so?” I can only imagine what will happen to that can when it hits the floor from three stories up. When it hopefully hits the floor and not someone’s head…

These kids will grow up with the belief that they can buy their way out of any problem. Crashed into someone’s car? Offer them money to shut them up. Called someone a bad name on TV? Bribe them to keep them quiet. Killed someone? Pay their family and be on your way…

So how do we fix this? How can we make our kids want to be nice? To pay more attention and care to what they do? To behave in order to avoid having to apologise in the first place?


Dirty Money 💰

Money changes hands so much, I wouldn’t even be able to imagine 😏 how often the bill in my hand has been used by someone else 🤭 until it lands in my hand 🤝.

So when I see my kids start to use money, as a parent I’m hard-wired to tell them to wash their hands after they’re done. The inevitable question from them is: “but why?” 🤡 and then you’re obliged to explain the concept of germs and hygiene 👾🧼🧽 and how it really isn’t a good idea to play with coins 💰 because although they may be shiny and pretty they’re probably filthy.

According to a report by Scientific American🔬, tests of American dollar bills have found them to be filthier than toilet bowls 🚽 and contain bacteria from feces 💩, traces of drugs like cocaine and heroin ☠️, yeast, fungi and mould, along with other pathogens like staphylococcus and e.coli🧪. The flu virus can live on a bill for more than two weeks. 🦠

It’s really a circulation issue: the longer the bills have been in use in society the more likely they are to be dirty. So when we think about Riyals, the King Salman bills and coins have been out for about two years, the King Abdullah bills for about ten, and the King Fahd bills- although rarely seen now but still in circulation- were issued in 1984 🤴🏽.

I couldn’t find any data on when or if our currency is sanitised 🚿 at any particular point after it has been issued here in Saudi Arabia (if you know otherwise let me know) 👩🏻‍💻 but regardless I have to consistently instruct my kids to wash their hands. Imagine: ordering at a food court 🌯🍿🍦🍱🍕, paying for the food, taking the tray and starting to eat 👐🏼 (without washing their hands). French fries 🍟 and money germs. Delicious. Makes me queasy just imagining it 🤢. It’s not hyper-hygiene or “OCD” to require my kids to do this; it’s just common sense ✅.

The thing is although we are in many ways moving towards a cashless society 💳, we still need to teach our kids 👦🏻🧒🏽 the value of money 💰and the best way to do that it to give them cash 💵 to make them feel what it means to spend and save. To give them an amount and see what they do with it 🤔 and how they feel about it slipping through their fingers 💸 and the realisation dawning 😃 is a sight not to be missed by any parent ⌛️. To see how each of your kids develops his money IQ and personality is fascinating⚖️. It’s like a glimpse into the future🔮.

Necessary evil?👹Now go wash your hands!

Reference: Maron, DF (2017) Dirty Money: The Public Health Case for a Cashless Society. Scientific American. January 3rd 2017. Available at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dirty-money/


Joy in Perspective

I let myself get overwhelmed. I took on too much when I subscribed to the “woman can have it all” theory. I was handling three roles simultaneously at work, doing two shifts with no clear or fixed schedule, taking care of my students and my administrative responsibilities while attempting to raise the kids and take care of my home too. And I wouldn’t say I failed at any of them during this time, but I will say I was failing to enjoy anything. And I will say that I wasn’t taking care of myself.

I state now with conviction that the concept of “supermom” was planted in our heads to make us take on more than we can manage and make us feel inadequate at the same time. And we forget that one of the most important reasons we seek engagement outside of the house is to provide for our children and families alongside working to become better people, and give back to our communities and our societies. So what does it mean when our work outside the home and away from our kids takes precedence and we begin to neglect them in the most fundamental ways?

There was one particular incident that served as a catalyst for me to reassess the situation: I was called into a meeting an hour before the time I needed to leave on a day where it was my turn to pick up the kids from school, and I mentioned that to the team leader as we went in but the meeting ran over time. The kids called and the school called and I couldn’t find a way to excuse myself because when I said I needed to leave the team leader promised we would only need a few more minutes and my presence was required for the vote…I ended up being an hour late to collect them and the school had closed its gates and they were left waiting in the guardhouse. The experience caused me a great deal of anxiety and them to be confused and even panicky. It wasn’t fair to them and I was upset with myself for letting things happen when I could have exerted more control over the circumstances.

In reassessing I will be honest when I say I found myself having rushed our meals together in order to catch a work call or attend a class or a meeting, or put them to bed without a story or a cuddle because I have a headache and need to crash, or refusing a request to go out together because I have a report that needed to be submitted and recommended they watch TV instead…I’m guilty of not checking over their schoolwork or forgetting to sign a form or not getting things they needed to take with them or not having the right school uniform ready in the morning…and for what? With respect to Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean-In Ethos, I chose to lean out. Because to look like I have it together at work I ended up not having it together at home, for them…it was a balancing act gone horribly wrong.

So I decided to take a step back for a few months and be present at home. Although we took a significant financial hit with that decision, overall it was the decision that was for the benefit of the well-being of our family as well as my health. I slowed down and unwound from all the work tension and drama…I was attentive to their schoolwork, their issues, their needs and wants and I spent time with them all collectively as well as individually, connecting on a deeper level. We talked so much more and laughed about a lot of things, we sang nonsense songs and watched documentaries and explored the city and painted and made messes and cleaned them up together.

I loved the small things I noticed when I slowed down, like the smell of their freshly washed hair, popping the bubbles in the bath, the giggles, the hugs, sitting on the steps in the afternoon sunshine watching them play with their bicycles, their ability to go on the most mundane errand with me and say with conviction: “this was the best day of my life!”…I slept more too, and spent time just being by myself when they were at school, reevaluating and thinking about how I wanted to move forward. I breathed.

We all mistakenly think the world will collapse if we don’t attend the meeting or lead the work stream but in truth you would be forgotten in a flash (and this is proved by how my inbox fell asleep) and the business has not collapsed and things keep moving despite my not being there. I found my new perspective soothing to the soul. I knew that I was valuable at work but I also knew that I was a dime a dozen, but my value to my kids at home was irreplaceable.

So going back in with this renewed perspective, I have arranged for a single shift with no administrative responsibilities and fixed hours. I reschedule or decline meetings around school pickup times and events around bedtime too. I also do not work while I’m with my kids (that includes checking e-mail or work- related social media) or take work calls beyond working hours.

It is very true that they are only little for a short while and I can still have a career without letting it affect what I can offer them in terms of me as their mother or letting it take me away from me…It’s self-discipline and clear priorities. It’s common sense.


Arcade Mania

That’s the go-to standard outing here for kids and families and I personally find it frustrating and headache-inducing, not to mention ridiculously expensive for such a short time span (kind of like a brief high)…it’s very hard to keep track of more than one child and still maintain the facade of “we’re here to have fun” because every one wants to do a different thing and it’s a wide open space with game machines arranged haphazardly, too many lights and noises and entrances and exits and with the crush of all the other nannies and strollers and kids it’s all a bit like Las Vegas…very overstimulating with not much in return.

I try to avoid going but sometimes there’s just not very much else to do and after much debate and soul-searching, you give in. But the thing is; no matter how long you stay or how much you spend, when you tell the kids it’s time to leave they will without fail respond with: “aww…but we haven’t done…yet!!!” and there will be a tantrum or two or a pout at least on the way out. And there will be arguments over the useless prizes at the counter which make you wonder at how much money you just blew…

You know the exact moment I look forward to every time I hit the arcade with my kids? The second I step out back into the mall itself or out into the sunshine; I take a deep breath and send up a quick prayer that I was able to make it out of there in one piece. I savour the bliss of feeling the pinging in my ears subside and my battered brain settling down and I feel re-energised at leaving the stuffiness of the arcade behind me.

Then the moment is gone and the kids are clambering all over me asking for ice cream, cotton candy, something to drink, to go to the bathroom, to go to the toy store…deep breath mama and count to ten…it’s a few hours to bedtime yet!

Out and About

Motherhood and Traveling Pants

ImageSo it has been written, so it has been done. By others, by those more experienced and better at planning and less anxious than me. Traveling with my kids, or even contemplating the enterprise, sends me into paroxysms of list writing, over-thinking and worrying. I try not to let it show, but I think there is a positive correlation between the number of kids, the number of suitcases and associated junk, and my level of anxiety.

Especially with a young infant, the amount of baby gear is upsetting for someone like me, who is an extreme minimalist. I work hard at planning efficiently, packing effectively. But I am also practical, I think ahead of how many days we’ll be away, and the places we might go to, what the weather will be like, if we’ll be walking or riding or staying indoors. I’ll think about access to diapers, baby food, if I can prepare something to eat or if we’re ordering out. I’ll think of the sleeping arrangements and what i’ll do if we need a doctor for whatever. I’ll take light jackets and snacks and medication. I’ll take strollers and car seats. I’ll take coloring books and figurines and little games just in case of delays or looming tantrums. I end up with a mountain of clothes, a ton of baby “necessaries” and a jumble of what-if-I-need-it-its-better-to-take-it-just-in-case stuff.

I find it harder and harder to be mobile with three kids. So I do what I’m sure other moms do: I cut corners. If my 3-year old has acquiesced to pee before we head out, I’m not fussed about him having his hair brushed. That’s what baseball caps are for. If my 9-year old refuses breakfast I’ll let it slide because I know he gets motion sick and that will save me a mid-flight mop-up. If my baby is fussy I’d prefer to feed her rather than spend the few minutes putting on my makeup. I let them run ahead of me, so long as I can see them, and push the stroller if they want to, as long as we get where we’re going together with no damages. I try to enjoy our outings, but if I were to be honest, I’m usually too anxious about the what-if’s to do so.

Just going to the mall with them frightens me, so I plan my trip for the early morning, when its less crowded and less potential for getting lost, and less waiting in line to pay or eat or whatever. But I have to psych myself up for it, and even trick myself into doing it by secretly promising myself a treat (coffee, cookie, lipstick, or even a browse through my favorite shop).

But psyching myself up for an airplane trip takes me to a whole new level of nerves. I only relax when its over, when we’re all arrived and they’ve been fed and watered and changed and brushed and asleep.

I will probably have forgotten to pack my own things as usual, but that’s the way it is. Maybe that’ll be my treat for when we go to the mall tomorrow.


Bringing Up Baby

Typically, when you begin to think about buying a house, you start saving money. When you know you’re having a baby, you start setting up the nursery. When you begin to think about getting married, you start telling all your old flames that you’re off the market. When you’re launching a war, you make sure your guns and munitions are ready, and your borders are fortified.

So why is it that most women walk into pregnancy unprepared?

As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. When you begin to think about getting pregnant, you should set up the environment where your baby is going to live for those nine months (your body). Now while it is understood that not every baby is planned ahead of time, it’s definitely common sense to think about this if you are planning to conceive a child within the next year.

A good friend of mine in Jeddah recently confided that after three years of marriage, she and her husband had started seriously thinking about having their first child. She wanted to go off the pill but wasn’t sure how or when to do it. She was due to switch positions at work, and had a choice of two, and thinking smart, she opted for the one with fewer hours. She asked me if there was anything else they hadn’t thought of, and I told her that for starters, going off the pill was best done under the supervision of a doctor; because he would be able to tell her at what point during the cycle to stop, and what to expect in terms of delays in conception. I also told her that she needed to evaluate their lifestyle as a couple and hers as an individual, and make informed choices.

Opting for the less time intensive job was brilliant, because it would minimize the strain on her before, during pregnancy and after having the baby.  Less job stress when attempting to conceive was a good idea in any case, she could eat better, sleep better, make love better.

The late nights and fast food they decided to dramatically cut back on, and they also initiated the process for employing a live-in maid and driver.  They decided to start a new baby fund, pooling from their incomes at the beginning of each month. They of course, kept these thoughts to themselves, to deny people around them the pleasure of pressuring them with questions and mounting expectations.

Technically speaking, having a baby necessitates a contribution from both mother and father. So it’s not just the mother who needs to shape up, as dad contributes half of the genetic material. So if his contribution is lacking, well…

I told her that physically speaking, as a woman she already had all the eggs she would ever have in her ovaries (females are born that way) and that a man’s sperm develops during a four-month cycle. Lifestyle changes couldn’t change her eggs for the better, but they could drastically improve the quality of husband’s wrigglers. Experts advise that any lifestyle changes should be introduced around 4-6 months prior to conception, to enable the body to adjust.

Here is some of what I suggested to my friend:

  • If you or your husband smokes, stop. If you feel you can’t do that on your own, join a smoking cessation service, there are several around you, just ask.
  • Try to limit caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, energy drinks) and chocolate.
  • Try to eat healthier; more variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Try to eat at least one kind of oily fish per week (Salmon, Tuna, Cod); experts have linked seafood with higher levels of infant and child intelligence.
  • Start taking a Folic Acid supplement; 400 mcg of Folic Acid per day for 3 months prior to conception and 3 months into pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of spinal abnormalities in babies.
  • Drink more fluids; keep a bottle of water in your handbag, or invest in a juicer to try out new combinations at home. Getting into the habit of keeping yourself hydrated will lessen the risk of stretch marks and tearing, this is especially important if you live in a warm climate.
  • If you’re overweight or underweight, try to work your way to a reasonable BMI; this aids conception and will make you feel better too.
  • If you aren’t physically active, join a class or be more active at home (jump rope, swim, buy a yoga DVD, and take the stairs instead of the elevator). The more physically active and therefore healthy you are, the less difficulty you will have conceiving, carrying and giving birth to your baby. (Haven’t you heard what an easy time Gisele had when she had her baby?)

Think of it as stocking up (nutrients) in your body for winter (in this case incubating a baby). This thinking smart and especially eating well before conception will stand you in good stead as well if you suffer morning sickness the first few weeks and can’t keep anything down; there will be a nutrient store for the embryo to draw from.

Research has proven that preparing your body to carry a baby significantly improves the quality of pregnancy, the experience of delivery and postpartum recovery, and positively impacts the health of your newborn and your child’s health throughout life. The suggestions I gave to my friend were those my husband and I used ourselves, and she now is a proud mom of two healthy twin 2 year old boys.