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Fighting for Motherhood: The Case for Valuing One of the most Vital Members in Society

A mother’s sole value cannot be based simply on what she does outside the home. Rather, her true value lies in the great work of raising the next generation, which must for the most part, be engaged in within the home.

Contemporary dictionaries define a mother as “a female parent; a woman who conceives, gives birth to, and raises or nurtures a child.” Yet in Islamic teachings, a mother is also considered a child’s “first teacher”. In modern societies, mothers who choose to stay at home and raise their children are more and more often considered to be “wasting their time”, and value is instead placed on a mother who works outside the home. Given that many mothers feel socially pressured to take on work outside the home and no longer have time and/or patience to properly raise their children, we find the gap between having children and properly rearing and teaching them steadily growing wider. Many parents are therefore now just “parents” in the biological sense. This article will explore why society values working mothers higher than those who stay at home, the importance that Islam gives a mother and her role in society, and what needs to change in order to bring back respect for motherhood.

Working mothers vs. stay-at-home mothers

A mother serves a vital role in our communities. Children require constant love and attention, which only a mother can provide. A mother’s sole value cannot be based simply on what she does outside the home. Rather, her true value lies in the great work of raising the next generation, which must for the most part, be engaged in within the home. However, in modern-day societies, it is found that women, and mothers specifically, are not valued if they forsake a career and choose instead to serve their home, and this puts immense social pressure on women to pursue careers at the expense of their home life.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini writes that a mother’s lap is the first “school” for a child [1]. A school is where a child gains an education and learns social skills. Hence, a mother is in charge of the great responsibility of teaching her children and imparting to them a skill set to serve them throughout their lives. When parents are choosing a school for their children, they understand that they should go through great lengths to find the best one, as the future of their child will be placed in the hands of his/her teachers; but what about when a mother is supposed to serve the function of teaching? A woman entrusted with the duty of teaching her child, just like a schoolteacher entrusted with the education of her students, must be able to focus on this work. How can a mother who is working even part time outside the home muster the focus to work on her child’s character-building or find the strength to deal with the struggles and just plain antics of children? A working mother is essentially pulled in many directions. From her outside workload to her duties in the home (including parental responsibilities and spousal obligations), she is forced to balance often conflicting priorities. It is unnerving to see that instead of supporting and encouraging women to stay at home and be the best mothers to their children, modern-day societies are instead instilling a culture of pushing mothers back into the workforce as soon as possible post-delivery. The poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal writes of the “non-woman” – essentially a woman with non-female tendencies acquired through Western civilization and education. A translation of his Urdu verses reads: “The knowledge from which a woman becomes a non-woman, this knowledge the free thinkers call death!” [2]

The importance of a mother’s attention and guidance cannot be debated. From the very beginning of a child’s life, a newborn calms down when sensing when his/her mother is near and becomes upset when she is away. Dr. Laura Schlesinger, an American physiologist and marriage and family therapist, consistently supports the view that mothers should not take on work outside the home. In an interview about her book, In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, Schlesinger states that mothers need to find their true worth elsewhere rather than at work:

“What people need to learn is that it’s not about the drudgery of housework – it’s about being at home for all of those incredible moments that make your life more valuable than the person who replaced you at work. No one can replace mom.” [3]

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 71% of U.S. mothers work outside the home [4]. But now more women are staying at home, reversing a long-term decline in the number of stay-at-home mothers. In addition, 60% of Americans say that children are better off when one parent is at home to focus on the family [5]. Therefore, even with the current trend of mothers being socially pressured to work outside the home, a majority of Americans themselves accept the importance of having a parent at home to raise children. The push for women in the American workforce essentially came out of necessity. In World War II, there was a labor shortage after men went off to war. Between 1940 to 1945, the female labor force grew by 50% [6]. While a Forbes article explains the obvious benefits of women being a larger part of the workforce, like more women getting a higher education and an increased gross domestic product, there are plenty of downsides that are affecting family life: working mothers have less time to spend with their children (increase of latch-key children), increased stress levels with the changing of roles (mothers juggling careers and home life), and difficulty getting quality child care for children (good childcare centers are few and expensive, thus making it harder even for middle-class families to afford them) [7].

It is imperative for societies to realize that a working mother will have a hard time raising her children and maintaining a successful home. Mothers working typical 8-hour days outside the home will inevitably be encroaching on the time their children demand and rightfully deserve. This adds to a family’s stress level. Naturally, most working parents will want a good quality caregiver to watch their children while they are away. But why do we forget that a mother provides the best childcare for her own children? If modern societies valued the work that a stay-at-home mother engages in and encouraged this view among their culture, then more mothers would choose to stay at home and make sure their children were being raised in the best way possible. Because the job of raising children is so physically and emotionally demanding, it is unrealistic to expect even a stay-at-home mother to always be on top of all her responsibilities. Now imagine adding a full or part-time job into the mix. Ironically, the surge in telecommuting jobs shows that more and more families are seeking flexibility, which in turn will enable them to be there for their children [8]. In the Forbes article cited above, the author Lisa Quast states that she is always being asked by working mothers about how to achieve that perfect “work-life balance”.

Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei during a speech on April 19, 2014 celebrating the birth of Lady Fatima Zahra (AS) spoke of the problems arising with the unjust burden and pressure placed on women to work outside the home, emphasizing the importance of appreciating housewives and stay-at-home mothers. The following is an excerpt from the translation of his speech: “The typical image of women at home is the image of a creature of secondary importance who is responsible for rendering services to others. This image is shared by many people. Some people openly express it and some people do not, although they believe it in their hearts. This is the exact opposite of what Islam has mentioned.” [9]

The Islamic view of a mother’s role

Just a few famous ahadith regarding mothers make it obvious that in Islam, a mother’s role is not only respected and valued, but it is also considered to be key for the survival of a family. It is unfortunate that oftentimes Muslims themselves devalue the position of women and mothers in the family.

The Holy Prophet Mohammad (SAW) has stated: “Heaven lies under the feet of mothers.” According to commentary by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, this hadith is for children to “search for happiness and the gardens of heaven under the blessed feet of their mothers, to respect them as they would Almighty God, and to seek approval and satisfaction of God the Most Holy in their approval and satisfaction.”

Even Almighty Allah mentions a mother’s hard work and why people should appreciate it; therefore, the role of a mother should be promoted in such a way.

In another popular hadith, a man asked the Holy Prophet (SAW):

“O Messenger of Allah, whom should I do goodness to?” The Holy Prophet replied, “Your mother.” The man asked again, “Who next?” The Holy Prophet replied again, “Your mother.” Again the man asked, “Who next?” The Holy Prophet again replied, “Your mother.” When the man asked a fourth time, “Who next?” the Holy Prophet replied, “Your father.” [11]

Verse 15 of Surah Al-Ahqaf of the Holy Qur’an says:

“And we have enjoined upon man, to his parents, good treatment. His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him with hardship…” [12]

We can see from just a couple of references that a mother is certainly not an undervalued member of society from the Islamic perspective. Even Almighty Allah mentions a mother’s hard work and why people should appreciate it; therefore, the role of a mother should be promoted in such a way. Perhaps mothers who feel pressured to pursue a career will, through understanding and adopting this perspective, find solace in staying at home and raising their children in the best way possible.

In just the tone of the way a mother and her nature is spoken about in the Treatise of Rights by Imam Ali ibn Al-Hussain (AS), we can clearly see the immense honor Islam places on a mother and how important her care and affection is for a growing child:

“Then the right of your mother is that you should know that she carried you where no one carries anyone, and she fed you with the fruit of her heart – that which no one feeds anyone… She was happy and eager, enduring the harm and pains, and the heaviness and the grief until the Mighty Hand expelled you out of her and delivered you out to the Earth. She did not care if she went hungry as long as you ate, and if she was naked as long as you were clothed, and if she was thirsty as long as you drank, and if she was in the sun as long as you were in the shade, and if she was miserable as long as you were happy, and if she was deprived of sleeping as long as you were resting. And her abdomen was your abode, and her lap was your seat, and her breast was your supply of drink, and her soul was your fort. She protected you from the heat and cold of this world. Then, you should thank her for all that. You will not be able to show her gratitude unless through God’s help and His granting you success.”

These beautiful words from the Treatise of Rights perfectly summarize a mother’s role and her association with her child, both before and after birth. It is a relationship based on giving and sacrifice, and it cannot be removed or replaced.

Bringing back respect for motherhood

There is no doubt that the job of a mother is tough and often underappreciated. Even with support from fathers, extended family, and friends, the task of raising children is difficult. However, the job of a parent cannot and should not be compared to a regular profession, and this is what is unfortunately occurring in our societies today. Parents, especially mothers, are tackling parenthood like a profession. If a woman tells someone that she is a stay-at-home mom, she might be met with unkind eyes. This reaction will be even worse if she states that she has a professional degree and the skill set to be a part of the workforce. Some might consider her “wasting” her education. However, parenthood is the process of raising children, and thus its value cannot be compared to an outside job where you have a final product to judge.

While a mother’s job is truly like no other, its importance surpasses that of any other profession. A mother who takes her role seriously is indeed raising the next generation.

While a mother’s job is truly like no other, its importance surpasses that of any other profession. A mother who takes her role seriously is indeed raising the next generation. In the words of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini:

“The mother in whose lap a child is reared bears the gravest of responsibilities and has the noblest of professions: that of bringing up children. The noblest profession in the world is rearing a child and handing over to society a true human being. This is why throughout history, God the Blessed and Exalted sent prophets. Throughout history, from Adam to the Seal of the Prophets (SAW), prophets came to train true human beings.” [14]

Therefore, Ayatollah Khomeini is suggesting that the value and worth of a mother’s work is comparable to the value of the work of the prophets.

In light of the rise of popular culture putting pressure on women to work outside the home, we must share the teachings of Islam that explain how noble it is for a woman to serve her family and be a good mother. By increasing awareness in families of the true importance and value of women and mothers, more people may feel inclined to change their outlook on motherhood. Through this, a healthy family atmosphere will take shape. Within the formula for a happy family is a happy mother and a happy father. Fathers can serve a good part in this if they help establish a culture within their families of respecting the mother. Children, especially young children, do not have the capacity to truly appreciate a parent’s hard work. But a mother and father who understand this concept will in turn instill it in their families and raise children who understand sacrifice. A father who acknowledges the hardships of the mother and helps her in this intensive work can create a cycle of appreciation and sacrifice in the family. Naturally, every mother needs a break, and fathers who take an active role in raising their children relieve the mother, thus giving her a chance to regroup and recharge and prevent her from feeling unappreciated. If a mother gets support at home, whether emotionally, physically, or both, she will not fall prey to the pressures of modern society to find her value in pursuing work outside the home. There will be nothing causing her to become indifferent between staying home and properly raising her children and entrusting the upbringing of her children to a stranger in order to work outside the home. Instead, this atmosphere of love and appreciation will encourage her to fervently strive for the success of her family.

Of course, in today’s world, it is important to mention that due to certain circumstances a mother might have to work outside the home. While it may be necessary, it is imperative that the family work together to make sure that children are not being neglected. A mother should seek options for part-time or flexible work. Can the father take on extra work, thus allowing the mother to stay at home and raise the children? Or instead of relying on caregivers outside of the family, perhaps the father can watch the children while the mother works. By making an arrangement of this sort, families in their times of economic hardship can be at peace knowing that their children are still getting the attention of a parent.

Conclusion

Not everything can be about the bottom line. Naturally, everyone would prefer to live a comfortable lifestyle with more than enough financial means to never worry about material things. But is a two-parent working system beneficial for the children of the family? A family might be able to afford two cars, a decent home, and all the latest electronic gadgets; but if acquiring all of that leaves no time to enjoy each other’s company, is it really worth it? If a mother now only has a fraction of her time to give to her children, is that worth the extra material comforts? Those children, if left unattended, could grow up seeking attention elsewhere from others who might not have their best interests at heart.

It is unfortunate that many societies, especially in Western countries, continue to undervalue the role of a mother, thus undermining the importance of a good upbringing. Surprisingly, America has some of the poorest maternity leave benefits in the world. It is just one of three countries in the world that has no requirement for paid maternity leave benefits. In fact, only 11 percent of Americans employed in the private sector have some sort of paid family leave [15]. On the contrary, other Western countries, like Canada and England, offer between 26-51 weeks of paid maternity leave [16]. Why would a country like America consider motherhood to be something so insignificant? These policies in turn force new mothers, especially in low-income families, to grapple with the very delicate balance of raising a newborn and trying to make ends meet. It is simply deplorable that a new mother is essentially forced to leave her infant child in the hands of someone else just so she can work. Shedding light on these issues, which unfortunately exist in many countries, reveals why it is important for societies to value motherhood and encourage women to stay at home to raise their children.

It is in these situations where one finds comfort in Islamic teachings which explain that the value of a mother is not just in the fact that she has brought children into the world. She also gets value and satisfaction by staying at home and taking care of her family. She should be supported and her work should be appreciated; she should not be pressured to take on a role that is not her responsibility. Surely this ability to be a mother is a gift from God, and it is with this gift that a woman is humbled by realizing how much influence she has on the character of the next generation. In light of Islamic teachings, she sees her status to be very lofty in the eyes of God, and again she finds solace knowing that if she performs her responsibilities correctly, she is doing very noble and honorable work.

This article was written by Samira B. Zaidi Rizvi the student, Amir-ul-Mu’minin Islamic Seminary Holy City of Qom

References

  1. Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruhollah. The Position of Women from the Viewpoint of Imam Khomeini. Juliana Shaw and Behrooz Arezoo. Tehran: The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works, 2001. Print.
  2. Iqbal, Allama Muhammad. “Aurat (Woman).” Kulliyat-e-Iqbal Urdu. Zarb-e-Kalim. 1973. Web. 3 Dec 2015. <http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00urdu/iqbal/aurat.html>
  3. Kung, Michelle. “The Mommy Wars: Dr. Laura on Stay-at-Home Moms.” Wall Street Journal. 8 April 2009. Web. 3 Dec 2015.
  4. Caumont, Andrea and Cohn, D’vera. “7 Key Findings about Stay-at-Home Moms.” Pew Research Center. 8 April 2014. Web. 3 Dec 2015.
  5. Ibid
  6. Quast, Lisa. “Causes and Consequences of the Increasing Numbers of Women in the Workforce.” 14 Feb 2011.
  7. Web. 3 Dec 2015.
  8. Tugend, Alina. “It’s Unclearly Defined, but Telecommuting is Fast on the Rise.” The New York Times. 7 March 2014. Web. 6 Dec 2015.
  9. Khamenei, Ayatollah Syed Ali. “Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei in Meeting with Women on Women’s Day/Mother’s Day.” The Office of the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei. P. 19 April 2014. Web. 3 Dec 2015.
  10. Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruhollah. “The Position of Women from the Viewpoint of Imam Khomeini (RA).” Al-Islam.org. The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works. N.D. Web. 5 Dec 2015
  11. al-Majlisi, Allamah Muhammad al-Baqir. Bihar ul Anwar. 74. Page 49. Ahadith.ir
  12. The Holy Quran: 46: 15.
  13. ibne Al-Hussain, Imam Ali. “The Right of the Mother.” A Divine Perspective on Rights. Al-Islam.org. N.D. Web. 5 Dec 2015
  14. Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruhollah. “The Position of Women from the Viewpoint of Imam Khomeini (RA).” Al-Islam.org. The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works. N.D. Web. 5 Dec 2015
  15. Rosen, Rebecca. “A Map of Maternity Leave Policies Around the World.” The Atlantic. P. 20 June 2014. Web. 5 Dec 2015.
  16. Ibid

source:amiseminary.ir

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