Becoming a ScreamFree Mama

I want a ScreamFree life.

Funny that I was just thinking about that this weekend and today I came across this via facebook: Screamfree Muslims. In particular, the founder sr. Olivia is having a webinar course on screamFree parenting. I was just thinking to myself this weekend that me and the Man (aka Baba A to Z) need to work on cutting out the scream when it comes to the kids (sorry, Baba, I’m including you too!).

I’ll give myself some credit–I don’t justify screaming. I should say “emotional reactivity” instead, since that is the word that the ScreamFree program uses, and it’s a term that encompasses so much more than screaming. I know that it’s senseless to react, to blow up, and to say dumb and hurtful things in a moment of anger instead of logically handling a situation. But guess what…I do it anyway! I’m sure most parents do, it’s just a basic failing in human nature that we lose our temper. “Laa taghdab, laa taghdab, laa taghdab.” … “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.” We’ve heard that hadith a million times.

And seriously? We know deep down that screaming.doesn’ End of story. It just becomes a crutch–child doesn’t listen until screamed at, so parent screams all the time, leading to screaming not even working, and an escalating cycle of screaming between parenting and child. It takes a big leap, however to go from the acknowledgement that something is wrong, and actually learning and applying techniques on how to fix it.

I’m not sure I’ll spring for the webinar–it’s close to a hundred dollars, and I think I can check out some books and handouts and get the gist. For me, the issue is keeping my mind focused on the goal of mindful parenting, and reading books helps me to focus on that. When I found the book Raising Your Spirited Child, it really helped me improve my parenting while I was reading it because I was suddenly more aware of what my child was like and what he needed. The reminder benefits the believers–no matter what the subject is, deen or dunya (and this is akhlaaq-related so it’s definitely deeni improvement).

My current mental exercise is–why not scream? What are the harms of screaming to one’s child? (or student, I should add, for I am also guilty of that one)

  1. Raising one’s voice is explicitly condemned in the Qur’an via the words of Luqman al-Hakeem as he advises his son: “And be moderate in your walk and lower your voice. Indeed, the harshest of voices is the voice of the donkey” (Surah Luqman: 31:19). From now on, I will tell myself–“Mama, when you scream, you sound like an ass.” And it will be true, because Sadaqa-allahul-Adheem.
  2. “Emotional reactivity”, i.e. getting angry, is explicitly condemned in the Sunnah. “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.”
  3. Getting angry is in direct contradiction to the very character of RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam.)
  4. You can’t impart something you don’t have yourself. The Arabic proverb goes: Faaqid-ush-Shay laa yu’teeh…the one devoid of something cannot give it. How do we teach good-manners if we are ill-mannered? I see my son scream at his little sister and know that my own screaming is what set the example. And God forbid that our children go on to scream at their spouses, destroying their marriages and family lives, simply because we set the wrong example from the beginning.
  5. Screaming tears apart relationships. Think about a time you have been screamed at. It doesn’t even take a full-blown scream to deeply wound a person. You know this when you are having a strained conversation with your spouse–it doesn’t take much of a raise in voice and tone from the other to feel hurt. We can only imagine the pain our own children feel. I remember reading a poignant thought by Alfie Kohn where he asked in reference to discipline–before we react to behavior that we perceive as bad, ask ourselves, “Is what we are saying/doing to our child in response worth the effect it is going to have on the relationship?”
  6. Screaming doesn’t even work in the long term. If we think of discipline as merely getting our children to do what we want in the here-and-now, then screaming occasionally works. However, if we think of discipline as raising our children to be morally upright individuals who have good character, then screaming definitely does no good towards that goal.

One of the criticisms leveled against this line of thinking is that somehow kids are different, so different standards should be applied to them, and that “you need to discipline.” ScreamFree parenting is not antithetical to discipline; in fact, it is harmonious with discipline because effective discipline does not occur in a scream-based relationship. Olivia has another great post describing this: DJ Empty Threat. We end up screaming empty threats and in the end no real discipline occurs.

So…this post has been somewhat of a personal pep-talk for myself–we’ll see how long I last sane and “ScreamFree.” And if you catch me slacking (yeah, you, Baba…) then just give me a sober look and say, “This is a ScreamFree zone, mama. Take it somewhere else, woman!”


random thoughts of a tired mind…

I’m tired.

Well, not now, as in now as I speak, or I should say, as I write. I’m just a tired sort of person sometimes. I have a new sort of beast to contend with thanks to MS and that is fatigue. Apparently it’s one of the main symptoms of the disease. I’d guess that if you pulled a random person off the street and said: “Multiple Sclerosis”, the first thing that would pop into their mind is “wheelchair.” But while not most people with MS are (or ever will be) in wheelchairs, most people with MS get TIRED.

MS fatigue is a funny sort of thing. And the odd thing is that I sit writing this late and night and you’d think: “Isn’t she tired?” but no, MS fatigue is unpredictable and comes when you don’t want it to. So yeah, I’d love to be drop dead tired enough and fatigued enough at bedtime to be able to hit the pillow and snooze, but NOOOOO, the MS brain buggers have decided that my fatigue only comes at the peak times of the day like mid-day, or early evening when it’s too freaking early to turn in for the night. So at night, I end up taking half or a third of a sleeping pill in order to sleep because I have insomnia!

I thought of fatigue today because I read a study that looked at how mothers with chronic illness deal with fatigue. Apparently the MS moms tended to deal pretty well with it the study found. I found out from the report that other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (that also predominantly strikes women) cause similar fatigue.

So my mind wanders to a wonderful lady with grown up children who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis most of her adult life. She raised three kids as a stay-at-home mother and battled a horrible horrible disease that leaves her in unbelievable pain. I only know this from looking at how the disease has ravaged her hands and feet–I don’t know this from her because guess what? She never, ever complains about her health. I have sat with her on several occasions and she is the most uncomplaining, patient person I have seen. The only hint that I got of how much she deals with on a daily basis was when I asked how her recovery was from a surgery, and she said, “Thank Allah. I would never wish this disease on my worst enemy.”

I imagine sometimes what bountiful rewards such beautiful people have waiting for them in the next life. There is a wisdom in Allah’s decree. Things go wrong–way wrong, and we are left in the dark, with a seeming blight upon our life. Yet the character of a person can take that test and emerge shining with the noor (light) of patience, forbearance, and humility. I feel ashamed when I look at that sister and think of the times I complained or wept over silly, foolishly small afflictions. So yeah, being tired is not so bad of a thing after all, methinks.

Mama rocks the sling

The other day I was flying alone with A & Z in tow. It was the first time in a long while that I had not used wheelchair assistance to get to the gate at the airport. There were short lines and my tolerance level for walking had increased in the last few months, so I thought to go for it. Plus my brother was able to escort me to the gate. With a double stroller (a hawt red Maclaren at that), car seat hanging off one handle, backpack on my back, and purse slung on the shoulder, I was supermom!

Then my brother left for home, and of course that cues Kitty (li’l Z) to start whining and won’t sit in the stroller without ear-piercing yells.

Never fear, a sling can save the day. After months of not using this thing, I rocked my double-layerobscenelyexpensive-dupioni silk sling with Z up high, backpack in her seat, and hands mercifully free to handle the stroller, jackets, and boarding passes.

Yes, you can get by parenting a baby without a sling, but boy does it make it a whole lot easier if you do have one. I have never mastered the art of walking around doing things with a baby under my arm. No, no, no, I didn’t sign that part of the parenting contract that said, “you will sacrifice use of your left arm for hours at a time because your baby won’t shut up without being picked up.” I get that some babies are whinier and more high needs than others, and so need a lot of picking up, rocking, etc. etc.—but I refuse to give up what I need to do just because I have a baby in one arm.

In my healthier days I have wandered the streets of London on a trip for hours by myself with a 7 month old nursling in tow, tied on my back so I could effortlessly fold the stroller and jump on a bus, or down steps to hop on the tube. When he was fussy, I could nurse him in the sling and catch the bus at the same time.

Nightmarish nights of sickness and teething with my first babe were made bearable by the fact that I could sling him and get whatever I needed done at the time. When traveling by plane, my arms didn’t ache from carrying the sleeping lap baby because I just tied him in the sling and used my hands to read, eat, or do whatever. Public bathroom trips were a breeze because I didn’t have to wait for the handicapped stall (to fit the huge stroller)–I could leave the stroller outside the door and use the restroom with baby perched up high on my back in a sling.

Babywearing rocks.

I’m fortunate in that my second baby was one that didn’t need to be carried and soothed as much, and so the sling was not as much of a necessity because I couldn’t really do it much anyway. So it was a nice surprise for me to be able to pull it off so well the other day. I still have a lovingly gathered stash of colorful and varied styles of slings ready for a future baby…and ready for Z on those rare occasions that we use them.

A sling is a thing….

…..of beauty and love.

Held close and snug, heart to heart, face close enough to kiss… my slings have given me moments of such ethereal beauty and love that are rare to be found in this hectic world. The babywearing years are so short, that sometimes I sneak my elder son into a sling for a few precious moments just for a taste of nostalgia and the type of snuggle that only a simple piece of cloth can bring.

from July, 2006

Life grabs you by the heart
Come play, my friend.
Come dance to the music
Ecstasy in love,
In hope,
And faith.

Yet even as its thorns prick the toes
You dance,
Laugh and revel.
Even as a teardrop of pain builds,
Creasing the corner of a shining eye
Falling into the oblivion at the countless beauties at your feet.


One year has come and gone as in an instant.

It seemed like a few months ago, when, after a day of what seemed like false-alarm random labor pain that I would go to the hospital’s birthing center “just in case” and have Z in the shower half an hour after arriving.

It seems like just yesterday that I realized with a start that she was born on a Saturday, just like her brother, and three days after her 37th week, just like her brother.

It seems like mere seconds ago that I caught her, saw my husband’s teary, exited face saying, “we have a daughter, we have a daughter…” and then walked myself over to lay down with her, never letting her go for a second, Siraj by my side, as we just looked at her, the nurse still laughing that we two had “delivered” this baby before the midwife could even arrive.

Those after-birth moments are pure magic–even the nurse was so exited and congratulatory that my wishes were fulfilled, set long before the birth, that I catch her, keep her close, and attached to the cord as long as we wished.


She is named after her father’s paternal grandmother, a woman I wish I could have met, whom I know my husband loved so dearly, and she him, that I could say nothing but “yes, of course” when he proposed we name our first daughter after her.

She–the fact that she was a girl–made the horribly long, nauseating, and sometimes bedrest-bound days of her pregnancy so much more worth it.

Her birthday and my life with MS share the same timeframe, because I first started having symptoms shortly after her birth. I feel sorry for her that her early months were clouded by my own health issues, but it led to her having such a strong relationship with her father. Every time I climbed into an MRI tube or went to physical therapy, there she would be, playing with her baba. Even though she wouldn’t take a bottle and so he could not feed her, they bonded so closely and so well. A blessing in disguise from the lemons of life, indeed!

She was my comfort baby, along with her brother of course. When I would feel discouraged at my own health and well-being, when I would wonder what on earth was happening to me, I would just look at her, look at her brother and think–ah, but I have this!

IMG_7134She gives me strength, even as I will count my years with this disease by her years, it is a reminder of why I fight it every day. My mental battle is won when I look at her, look at her brother, and think, “I will be well for you two.”

I love the fact that as her early months passed, she became crazy over her brother. I love that spark of connection that exists between them two alone, and pray that it lasts like that forever.

I love that she has the best father a child could ask for, and the best brother a sister could ask for.

I love, I love, I love, and I thank Allah for the love we have, for it is what makes us human–“Whoever does not show mercy, shall not be shown mercy” (hadith).

I pray that we are blessed with a long life together, as a family, and that Allah brings us all closer to Him, and reunites us in Jannah, Aameen.

back to blogging…for now

I’ve been MIA from this place for so long. I now am no longer only “Abdullah’s mama” any more, I am the proud and grateful mama to Zaynab as well. The kids are now close to 3 and 1 year old, and our lives are still on the move as Siraj finds his niche as a new J.D., and I attempt to stay focused on my studies online with the AlHuda Institute.

My latest mama-project is providing brain-food for Abdullah by way of focusing on Qur’an memorization (and understanding!), learning Allah’s names, reading and loving learning. He’d love to go to school, but we have yet to settle down somewhere and we’re still trying to figure out how that will fit in with his Qur’an memorization.

Since Zaynab’s birth I have been battling an array of bizarre neurological symptoms which, after about 7 months of baffling everyone was finally diagnosed as Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS for short). This new beast is sort of like my third child (the black sheep of the family as it were)–always there, reminding me of its presence at the most inopportune times. Minus the love and cuddles of course (insert wan smile here). Fortunately I am doing rather well with it right now and have suffered only negligible residual damage from the attacks over the last few months. Al-Hamdulillah. I mention it because it’s become a massive part of my life, shaping my identity itself. How ironic too that my MS places me further down on the “road less traveled”, away from those fortunate enough to consider themselves “normal.” And yet… it seems that every where we turn, chronic disease afflicts so many that illness has become the new healthy, abnormal the new normal.

I don’t make any point of hiding my MS or pretending it doesn’t exist, and so I know it will come up here and there in these pages (makes a nice thing to vent about, ya know). So rather than blanching with terror if my disease comes up in petty conversation, I rather enjoy making a bit of dark humor out of it. Like if I forget something I’ll joke that perhaps a few neurons just died off or something… When I was first diagnosed I was like, okay now, I gotta go to a support group and learn the secret handshake! As sucky of a disease that MS is, it fortunately doesn’t suck too bad for me (yet!) so I am thankful for that. And I get enjoyment, actually, by keeping up with all the latest MS news and research (I’m a geek through and through, in sickness and in health!).

So–that’s basically in a nutshell, what occupies my time these days–Abdullah, Zaynab, AlHuda classes, MS… in that order I suppose 🙂 Once we settle down I hope to get back to teaching part time from home, which I had been doing until Siraj graduated.

We’ll see how much time these kids give me for my writing, but for now I thought I’d come back to this little nook of mine and spruce it up!

on writing–the secret sheets

I think about Hamlet when, confronted with the death of his father and the hasty remarriage of his mother, cried out: “O, That this too too solid flesh would melt,/Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.” Indeed, to translate such raw emotion into tangible words is itself part of the healing process.

*     *     *    *

There was a time in my life when, if thoughts, feelings, and emotions overcame me, I sat alone in my room, pulled out paper and pen and wrote. Each angry vent, each tear, each half-whispered hope found its place on the page, scribbled out tumultously behind locked doors. On to that paper went words never uttered, words and thoughts one would almost whisper even in the fully secure confines of the mind. Somehow, though, that paper was a safe place, and anything and everything went there, for the words were to be locked there in an impenetrable vault.

It was an amazing form of catharsis. And this type of writing exercise had a strange connection with du’aa, for it was understood that this written communication was not only a silent monologue with the self, but a form of silent communion with the divine, a munaajah of sorts. I am sure that fervent du’aas did even occur during these times, for in such times when one has none close by, behold, there is Allah, and prayers automatically are sent up. As Yaqub cried out, “Indeed I only complain of my sorrow and anguish to Allah.”

Those secret sheets of paper were truly safe, safer than one could imagine. After the page was completed, I would sit back to look at row upon row of taut, sloping, writing, and I would literally see the feelings jump out in the very slant of each letter. Until now, if I find something I have written from the past, something that had any touch of emotion to it, I can to this day see the emotions etched into the shaping and form of the letters and words.

I no more have these healing sheets, for after I was finished gazing over them I would slowly and deliberately shred them into tiny pieces and watch as they floated down into the trash. Their purpose served, I no longer needed them. And the fact that they were to no longer exist is what allowed me to be so forthright with my words in the first place, for I knew that true honest words would not surface on a paper that was to be kept and possibly seen one day by other eyes.

And to be truly honest, I no longer even remember the subject of even one of these papers. Their secrets were kept well, perhaps too well indeed!