Welcome to my new feature guest blog series ‘More than a Mother.’ For the longest time, I have wanted to get behind the mothering stories and explore the wholeness of you, the mother. We become so easily defined by our role, how many children we have, what our parenting philosophy is and whilst all of this is so important, there is so much more to us than this. So in this series, I hope to introduce you to a range of wonderful women, who also happen to be mothers. Let’s get to know them, what has shaped and defined them and what makes them tick!
I am kick-starting ‘More than a Mother’ with my good friend, Zainab Shamis-Saleem, founder of The Montessori Studio where she aims to make the Montessori approach more accessible and demystify some of the ‘elitist’ stereotypes of this way of learning, particularly to those for whom looking after young children feels like a whole new world. She is a mum of two under 4 and an all-round amazing human. She has very generously shared her reflections with us and I can’t wait for you to read what she has to say!
Tell us a little about your current mama status, are you working, freelancing, staying at home and what is the best thing about this season of your life?
Both my children are under 4 (just) and my husband and I try to share the childcare as much as possible, with some help from our mums if we really need it. I work one day a week in a nursery, and the rest of the week I fit writing and workshops around family life. This season has seen me learning about being present, aware to notice the lashes on her lids, the dimples in his knuckles, their freckles, their favourite things to spot on walks to the park, to the post office, to the grocery shop. I love all of these moments overwhelmingly.
Can you give us a snapshot of what your life was like in the year leading up to becoming a mother? What were you doing and how were you living your life?
The year before I had my daughter, I just finished 3 months Jury service and decided it was a good pause in life to start wearing a head scarf – mainly as a turban. I was working in a nursery locally, and it felt like I could almost experiment with that – alhamdulillah, I am still covering my hair. We wanted to try for a child, and Subhanallah we were truly blessed, but only after I had handed in my notice with aims to set up my own business. Pregnancy had less work which saw it being restful, however, it was, in hindsight, full of anxiety – I’m sure work stability and the lack of it contributed. I set up The Montessori Studio in the October before I had my daughter.
How do you feel about where you are in your professional development? Do you think it’s important to continue to have career goals, despite being in the thick of motherhood?
I feel, currently, quite insecure about work. My business has had some really positive reaction but has been quite time consuming as working with the community often is. We don’t have paid childcare so juggling the children has its hurdles. I also feel that it has distracted me from my family life, as well as taken me down a social media black hole which I’m trying to figure out whether it’s really the way I want to go, is it sustainable. However, saying that, I have had some great work come through, writing too which was not really my intention, and recognition which has been really wonderful to experience. I am an artist at heart, I want to explore academia, I want to learn and read and paint and create. So for me – I have many goals constantly changing and growing! I do feel it’s important to have those goals, especially in the thick of motherhood. Here in the trenches, daydreams are many, and sleep is scarce, so time is abundant to take inspiration from others. However, it can lead to being lost in the dreams of others, as it can be hard to find the solid time to get to work, hands-on paper, brush in hand so to speak.
Has motherhood been what you were expecting and what have been the biggest surprises to you?
I have wanted to become a mother for all the years I can remember. My maternal drive was always strong, so it’s no surprise that my work has also taken me into the world of teaching children. Alhamdulillah I have been truly, truly blessed. The biggest shock, I suppose, was my labour and births. 2 emergency c-sections has really shaken my faith in my body, my physical strength so I am working on that continuously. With the children, I think it’s the unexplainable that is the biggest surprise. How they grow out of love and fresh air sprinkled with a few calories always blows my mind!
Do you feel like motherhood has had an impact on your spirituality? How does your faith affect your role as a mother?
Yes – I am at my lowest spiritual state ever!!! I joke, because I know it’s common to feel this way, but it really is a time where I have little concentration, little drive, little practice, after many years of having a stable personal practice. I am at the beginning to trying to claw it back, I hope. My faith is a big drive. I am lucky to have a family, close and extended who all practice Islam inwardly and outwardly, they are engaged with their community, they see the world through progressive Muslim eyes. This is a huge support for me. As a mother, it really guides me in my deepest confusion, it holds me in my most tired of states. It gives me answers for my daughter’s journalist-style questions and gives me solace when I am overwhelmed with undeserving awe at their very presence.
Where have you found your sources of support since becoming a mother? Have you got a village, worked hard to build a village or been completely isolated from any sort of village?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever had from my mother was “Make friends with your neighbours. You will need them and they will be close by to borrow food, ask for help, have them look after your kids. And you for them.” This was such sage advice and I put it into practice – now having some incredible neighbours as best friends alhamdulillah. As time has passed, some have moved, but yet still I consider them close friends. Being able to make friends as an adult is something I think everyone should try because it almost always is fruitful. I am also incredibly blessed to have two wonderful friends at the similar stage of life as me, whom I met over social media who I would call my village. Those friends for whom nothing is too taboo, no time is too late, no hug left open-ended.
Outside of being a mother, are there any experiences in your life that you feel have really shaped the woman that you are today?
I feel very changed by so many experiences. I had a whole different career to the one I now practice for around 6 years, and with that brought a parallel world. I am often changed by relationships – I invest a lot and hold them close. I have been changed by a few in particular. I also travelled alone and lived abroad for a while which was so growing for me.
How do you show your children that there are different sides to you, outside of being their mum and primary caregiver?
When you have an active social world, children see you through the eyes of other people, so this definitely shapes how they see me. They ask many questions about where I know people from, or where I work. I also try to vocalise, tell stories, explain my likes and dislikes. I share my experiences from before motherhood, which is beneficial to both them and I. I may start sharing photos soon too. I also try to practice my hobbies in front of them. Sewing, reading, painting, writing. Things which are not immediately servicing them or the family life. Things that are private for me, but which they are privy to. I often don’t explain these things, I just present to them.
What is your current read or a book that has hit hard for you?
I have only just begun to read again after the earthquake that is sleep deprivation and 4 years of breastfeeding. I just finished a parenting book – but I have Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro waiting for me at my bedside for my fiction read. I’m ready to devour books again.
What steps do you take to wind down and to fill your cup?
This is very hard for me. I never even understood the concept of winding down until this year. I have some things in the armoury like reading, yoga, painting. But I am yet to master the art of it – an evening without the phone on is my current start!
Can you think of 2 things that you would like to achieve within the next 5 years?
I would like to complete some further education and some semblance of a happy, stable, nourished Islamic childhood for my children. For my husband and I to look back and feel bathed in liquid gold of love with the knowledge that we are giving them the best of us, and that our Islam has grown accordingly, inshallah.
If you could give one positive message to other mothers out there, what would it be?
Make friends. Don’t worry about finding common ground with new people, you can still make friends with them. Take people for who they are, take the best of them and leave the rest of it. Sew a foundation for yourself and your family nearby. You’ll see how much you do have in common with them once you give it time.
I would like to thank Zainab for such a beautiful contribution to this series, I am sure you will all agree that her responses were enriching and thought provoking.
You can find Zainab at:
IG: @themontessoristudio / www.themontessoristudio.com