Since my daughter was born, I’ve been mostly a stay at home mother. I am in graduate school, but go part time so that I only have to leave my daughter with my mother-in-law twice a week for a few hours.
Recently I was invited to attend an out-of-town conference. In order to go, I would either have had to take my toddler and a baby-sitter (one of my younger sisters-in-law for the weekend, or leave her for one night while I attend.
She was weaned, so she didn’t depend on me for physical nourishment. She was very comfortable with our family, and of course my husband was there. I was still hesitant, but since my expenses were being paid by the conference committee, I thought it was only fair to bite the bullet – and travel alone.
Man, did I feel guilty. My family – mostly my husband – talked to me at length explaining that I had nothing to feel guilty about, that my going was making me a positive role model for her, and so on. Rationally, I agreed with everything. But I still felt unsettled.
I knew she was going to miss me and I empathized, but that wasn’t the only issue. I felt like I was shirking my responsibility as a mother. But where did I get the idea that my responsibility as a mother entailed never leaving my child’s side for more than a few hours, especially if it had to do with something “superfluous” like speaking at a conference? The Prophet (saws) was sent to the desert for years to be raised by a wetmaid, as was the custom. In India and Pakistan, caring for children is often a joint responsibility by joint families, with most of the work done by the grandmother. And by “American” standards, I am probably devoted to my daughter to the point of being “oppressed.”
Perhaps it’s an overcompensation for the reigning culture in our country in which raising kids is outsourced to others. Or perhaps it’s my obsessive-compulsive tendencies that make me uncomfortable leaving the raising of “my child” to “others” for an entire 30-hour period. I fear it may be indoctrination by a particular American-Muslim viewpoint. When I told one woman at the conference that I had left my daughter at home, she said (jokingly… but not really), “Gasp… How could you?” Whatever it is, and I’m still trying to figure it out, I need to get over it – for my daughter’s welfare as much as my own.
Bhawana Kamil lives in Santa Clara, CA with her husband and daughter. She is pursuing a Masters degree in Philosophy and is the head of her local Muslim American Society Outreach Department – but only on the side. Her real job is watching (and hopefully helping) her little girl grow up!