Breaking Life Into Little Pieces

I always thought I had to find my one thing, the pursuit or career through which I would make my contribution to Islam, society, or humanity. Taught by motivational lecturers and life-planning books that a jack-of-all-trades would never make a difference, I thought that to give my life meaning I had to excel phenomenally at one thing. I panicked in college as I looked for the perfect formula—the field that I liked, full of potential, filled with passion, that I could realistically do with kids and a career-minded, activist husband.

In grad school I questioned myself over and over again—will I realistically be able to keep up with a PhD program? Six months pregnant and incredibly distracted, I couldn’t look at one more book on the history of trade in 19th century Egypt.

Never found it, the major … or that one thing. But I think I came upon a much more practical way of planning the life of a mother. It involves breaking life into pieces and being the best you can be according to where you are and doing what you can with what you have now. There are lots of mothers out there who have careers or are able to concentrate on a talent or interest that they have, but others like me cannot seem to settle down and focus on one or two pursuits for a lifetime.

Instead, I tried planning my life out for the next one or two years, and didn’t go much beyond that. There is no way I can guess what my life circumstances will be like with more children, as a homeschooling mom, in another city, if someone in the family has special needs, or when my end will come—so I stopped planning that far ahead. I tried only choosing the most uplifiting, reward-filled, and empowering activities for the next two years, in terms of my mothering, spirituality, my skills development, and my area of contribution. Whatever I did choose, it would have to be something I would be proud and fulfilled doing that for the rest of my life (in case it turns out to be the thing or I returned to my Creator tomorrow).

I made a little map for myself, and stuck it in my wallet so I don’t get sidetracked. I’m allowed to take detours and change direction, just not when I’m discouraged or demoralized.

With the pressure relieved of having to predict every bend and turn in my future, to sacrifice the cuddly, messy demands of now for a false sense of life-cohesiveness and capsulize my dreams and interests, the possibilities are unlimited. I chart the course of my next little piece of life, knowing that the winds can change and I may decide to do something totally new and unexpected tomorrow.

In the meantime, I will try to do exactly what I want to and must for my Creator, my kids, and myself. I feel free.

by Maha Ezzeddine

Maha Ezzeddine lives in Texas with her husband and two daughters.  She is a dedicated MAS worker, wannabe crunchy homemaker and part-time writer.

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  • kariman

    jak maha…this post made me feel like i can relax and can stop comparing myself to all those “successful” women out there. although i’m a mother of three and not working, i too can be successful in my own ways. thanks for the reminder and for taking that load off my shoulders:)

  • Fariha

    W O W Maha. Thank you for putting this into words. I grapple with this every day, every day I tell you. Like Kariman said, your words can help me “relax” also :) Thank you thank you!

  • Naureen

    I feel like there is this great pressure to be a mom and wife and ‘something else’. Sometimes, a home situation with kids is really so demanding that it is much more than just a ‘job’ and that phase of life just demands all your attention.

    Often times,I feel like this ‘call’ to be something more is really really destructive, because it can make you NOT perfect being a wife and a mom which are SUPER NOBLE and jobs that take more dedication than just going to work 9-5.

    Honestly, when i worked before i had kids, compared to now, the work was way easier, HANDS DOWN.

    So often now people will ask me, ‘oh how do u keep yourself busy? do you work?’ :-) I feel like the underlying understanding may be that only work can truly occupy and interest a person. Otherwise, somehow you are wasting time, bored? etc etc.

    Personally after having kids, and that’s just me I would feel stuck in a ‘job’. I love the freedom that staying home allows me. Because this way i have the ability to fill my days doing what I WANT TO do and also makes sure that I get time for rest to be refreshed for one of my kids who goes to school and my husband.

    There is a challenge ofcourse. and that is always making sure that days just dont fly by, that I really work hard to fit into them the things that are really important.

    and also the ‘work’ isn’t just given to you. you have to go find out what you’d be productive in.

  • mountaineermama

    It’s important for moms to have some outlets that allow them to “breathe.”For some this may be a”specific career” others it may be many different projects, quiet zhikr time and others it may be an afternoon nap. Or for some , it’s all the above ;-)

    Whatever it be, it must be a priority part of the family schedule. We never want “mom” to feel low about herself, because this can transfer over to mothering. Children are sponges.

    Wa Allahu Alam.

  • Sumayah

    planning the life of a mother……It involves breaking life into pieces and being the best you can be according to where you are and doing what you can with what you have now.” Very good advice, Maha!!! JAK

  • Nausheen

    Salaam Maha & thanks so much for sharing your awakening. It truly is inspirational for all moms, and especially for me -we all have been struggling I am sure, with motherhood.. but when it hits you when you least suspect it, some can handle change better than others… let’s just leave it at that! my daughter is 17months and somehow I still can’t seem to organize my life! I feel the urge to do ‘something else’ and not just ‘sit at home.’ But then I find myself daydreaming about our future and when exactly to plan out kids, work, etc. Long story short, you inspire me to RELAX :) which is what I need to do. but in a productive manner! If that makes any sense!

  • Soulafa

    Thank you dearest Maha.

    The interesting thing is – I too grapple with these thoughts whether I am among those full-time homemakers, the homeschool mom, or pretending to know how to juggle both home at work. I feel like I have tried it all, and will always feel like it’s never enough.

    What surprises me most is that the author of this post, as well as one of the commentators who expresses the same feeling, are a couple of those superwomen I look up to!

    Let’s stop putting ourselves down all the time, and instead pull each other up.

  • Hanan

    Asalaamu alaikum…I think you are on to a very important concept. Women keep reshuffling their lives every so often to accomodate the needs of many people, unique circumstances, and unexpected changes. When we look back on this reshuffling and settling pattern we see failure. BUT LOOK AGAIN… As women participating in post industrial and post feminist society, we tend to compare our life paths to those of our male counterparts especially since we have joined them in the ‘workforce’. ‘Career contribution’ has been defined for us all in the very ‘male’ sense. It goes like this…Laser in on a specific career path early on, devote all intellectual and financial resources to pursuing the educational degree needed, and then work steadily and without pause to acheive the optimal level of success in the chosen field. Anything tht diverges from this model is seen as a ‘compromise’. The model is brilliant actually and it works very well when applied. But it does not work outside of a partnership. What we forget is that the person who is applying this plan will sacrifice other perks such as having children, caring for aging parents, volunteering in the community etc…unless…this person has a partner…someone who can tune in on the unique culture of the partnership early on, apply all intellectual and financial resources to the development of the partnership and family and work steadily, without pause to maintaining a healthy balance of the myriad of factors that influence the whole. Do you see where I am going with this? Your multitasking, always adapting to change, learning and teaching, making and changing your mind, earning money and penny pinching, growing fat with pregnancy and losing it with breastfeeding, ‘working’ and ‘not working’, finding the rhythm and losing it so you can find it again…this is the necessary and ragingly successful counterpart to the ‘male’ career path and vise versa. The ‘male’ ability to target and shoot with his singleness of mind provides the solidity of our existance on so many levels. They are the hour glass, we are the sand. ‘Successful’ women are the ones who can go with it….go to college in between kids, work when it makes sense, walk away when it doesn’t, ask for alone time, take care of the lonely, enjoy an extra income when it is there and learn to love PBJs when it ain’t. The whole thing is our ‘career’. It doesn’t start and stop at the door, on the clock or the calendar. Ok…imagine it this way…pretend nobody gets paid. Neither role is attached to the paycheck. One check comes but it is written out to both partner’s for serving the family with unique and necessary gifts. Back in the day when everyone lived a farming life, there was no attaching economic value to the work of women vs men. Women cared for children who become productive members of the family, tended the near gardens and orchards, canned food for coming winters, made and mended clothing for all etc. Men managed the large animals, plowed miles of fields, brought harvest to market etc etc etc. Both worked without end like opposite sides of a river bank and both knew there is no river without the other. At the end of the season, the family got new shoes, the house got painted, more seed was purchased for next spring…the entire family benefitted from the work of all. Now our society has attached a dollar value to some of the work that gets done…no matter whether a man does it or a woman does it. Work that doesn’t earn money has become less important. Don’t fall for it…it is a lie. By devaluing the work that brings cohesion to families, raises decent human beings, reminds eachother of God, makes for happiness and creates space for hope…it is easier to control a population. Divide a man and a woman from eachother by economics and you have divided the world. We are doing all the work we need to do and exactly how it needs doing. Don’t doubt that.

    Wa salaam…Hanan

  • Fatima

    thank you maha, and hanan.