By Laura Gibb
WHEN I announced my decision to resign from my position as a pediatrician in a major Saudi hospital in order to embrace motherhood full-time, the reaction I received from my fellow female colleagues came as quite a surprise to me.
“Are you crazy?!”
“This is the worse decision you will ever make!”
“What will you do at home, you’ll be SO bored and isolated!”
“You’ll become severely depressed within a year!”
At first the reaction of these apparent well-wishers confounded me. What were these women so afraid of?
What made them view with such fear and disdain their God-given role as a mother, wife, educator, and nurturer? As this was the first time I would not be working or studying outside the home–I had been raised in a society which often looks down upon stay-at-home mothers—their questioning began to cast doubts in my mind. Could they be right? Was I making a mistake that I would later regret? Would my life become intellectually and emotionally dull? Would I become a slave to the monotony of changing diapers, cooking, and cleaning?
Allah has created men and women with their own unique qualities which makes them perfectly suited to their roles in the family and in the society. A woman’s naturally caring, nurturing, and patient nature makes her the ideal primary caregiver. Her creativity and communication skills make her the best educator, advisor and confidant for her children. Yes, these roles may be filled by the father or an outside caregiver, but they will never match up to the natural capabilities of the mother.
Islam represents “the middle way” in all matters, as it is the religion of moderation and balance.
I’m not arguing that women should never under any circumstances work outside the home. In fact any functioning society requires women to fulfill certain positions outside the home, such as being teachers, doctors, and midwives. Some women may be in a situation of such desperate financial need that they may not have the luxury to stay at home. Still others may not be blessed with children, or may have older children, and these women may want to use their skills in order to benefit the society by working outside the home in women-appropriate careers.
However, I feel the danger arises when a woman prioritizes her career over the needs of her family at home, when she becomes a slave to the never-ending pursuit of “climbing the corporate ladder.” If her responsibilities as a mother and wife are put second to her career, the house often becomes a sterile place to which a fragmented group of people return at the end of their day, rather than a warm, inviting oasis filled with love, laughter, and cohesion. Her work outside the home can never give her the fulfillment and satisfaction which can only be found in the home.
Now that I have been an official “full-time” wife and mother for almost 2 years, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every second of it and don’t have a single regret. I have not become bored, depressed, or isolated. Instead, I feel more fulfilled and content then I ever have in my entire life. I feel younger, more energetic, and healthier. My children are happier and more secure, and their behavior has even improved after being taken out of the discipline-free environment often provided by housemaids. When I hear my daughter reciting a surah from Qur’an that I just taught her; when I see her writing her name for the first time; when I receive a kiss from my baby boy or witness his first steps; or when I prepare a delicious, healthy meal for my family, it gives me a feeling of contentment I have never experienced in my work outside the home.
Although my work as a pediatrician was often rewarding, it can’t compare to the gratification I gain from loving and caring for my own children. The more time I spend at home with my children, the more I realize how much they really need me and how much they must have missed me when I was working outside the home.
When I remember my over-worked, sleep-deprived, “super-mom” colleagues who insisted I was making a huge mistake, I feel sorry for them. They have been conditioned to believe that the role of a mother and housewife is somehow “not enough.” That the tasks of raising, educating, and nurturing our children can be achieved equally well by a nanny or day-care center. That the mother’s role in transforming the home into a fountain of tranquility and comfort is expendable.
As mothers we must remember that our responsibilities towards our children are not limited to feeding and cleaning. What is even more perplexing is that my pediatrician colleagues should understand more than anyone the importance of the mother in the emotional and psychological development of children.
Most current models of development focus on the influence of the environment in which the child is reared. The first three years is the most critical time in a child’s development; he or she will learn more in the first year than in any other period of life. The first year of a child’s life has been identified as a time when ‘basic trust’ was established through the mother’s consistent responsiveness to her child’s needs. In the 1950’s, studies of infants in hospitals and foundling homes documented the devastating effects of maternal deprivation and pointed to the importance of attachment. Attachment refers to a biologically determined tendency of a young child to seek proximity with the parent during times of stress and also to the relationship that allows securely attached children to use their parents to reestablish a sense of well-being after a stressful experience. Insecure attachment may be predictive of later behavior and learning problems.
I’m sure that all mothers have witnessed this in their child: He falls and bumps his head then runs to mama for a few hugs and kisses, and after that he is on his way. He needs this reassurance in order to develop into a strong, confident adult.
Another invaluable benefit of the mother’s presence is the emotional bond she forms with her child through breastfeeding. Breast milk has even been found to have natural analgesic (pain relieving) properties and is used in hospitals as a pain-reliever for infants during medical procedures. The other numerous benefits of breastfeeding (for both the child and mother), both physically and emotionally, are indisputable.
Ask yourself sisters, Is it really worth it?
The tears of your young child when you leave her at daycare or with a helper to go to work. The inevitable friction that will arise between you and your husband over the responsibilities of the housework. Can a daycare center really love and care for your child the way you can?
We are so concerned about our children getting into the most prestigious schools, yet we neglect the most important school they will ever attend: the home.
My own mother stayed home with us when we were young, devoting all her time, energy, and love to us. I feel this was one of the greatest gifts she could have given us.
On the Day of Judgment, when you are standing before Allah, you will not be questioned about your latest promotion or your 401K plan. But you WILL be questioned about your responsibilities to your husband and children. Your children are a trust from Allah.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: “Each one of you is a shepherd. And each of you will be asked about your flock. A ruler also is a shepherd and he will be asked about his flock. And every man is a shepherd to his family. And every woman is the custodian of her husband’s house and his children. Thus each one of you is a shepherd and each one will be asked about his flock.” [Sahih Bukhari and Muslim]
Then ask yourself sisters, Doesn’t your child need a full-time mother more than the world needs another doctor or lawyer?