Child death, Culture, death, emotions, grief, parenting, Personal Growth, Relationships, Saudi Arabia, Women

The Club I Never Wanted to Join

11796394_10155903412155302_48111579729733954_n

 

There are those clubs in life that we join with enthusiasm, that is within our control and decision, that we decide to engage because it coincides with our interests, our hobbies, passions, joys, and identity.  Although life’s path indoctrinates us into other clubs or groups that we never sought membership for, but we received a lifetime membership that usually involves emotional fees instead of monetary fees.  Almost one  year ago, I received one of those unsolicited lifetime memberships to the Mother of Dead Children when I delivered my full term 38 week old stillborn son, Mr. Baby (aka Mohammad Hatem Mominah).   A membership card I have tried to burn, to throw away, and return to sender, but the damn gold status membership card keeps finding its way back into my hand of cards.  This unsolicited club membership likes me to invest my emotions, my cognitive energy, my time, my sleep, my lack of sleep, and at times, my sanity.   While the members of this club experience some of the same initiations, each club member also gets specialized individualized treatment dependent on their own story, their personal characteristics of the card member, but most of us get to pay the yearly premium of guilt, blame, and sadness.

There are no rules and regulations of expected behavior of carrying this card from the membership itself, but people that have not gained membership to this club have developed stereotypes of how you should “be” and what is acceptable to say to you or not say to you.  I have perfected the art of listening, and composing a smile, or at least a blank expression, but I also have a ticker tape that silently runs through my mind, that if ever was exposed, could unleash a nasty sarcastic spew of my inner coping.  As a member of this club, I have gathered support and understanding from other gold card carrying members, but those outside that club, that have never experienced what it means to lose a child, will offer their own advice of how you can be a gold star performing card carrying member.  While every parent that has lost a child has a different way of coping, my own inner dialogue, which I long ago nicknamed as my “ticker tape” has at times ran rampant in my mind in response to messages  to what others have said to me in the past year.

  1. You should be grateful that you have other children.  Yes I am selfish and ungrateful…. (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  2. You need to get over it and move on.   I am weak and sorry I have those days that I secretly wish that I could have crawled into the grave with my child….(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  3. God never gives you more than you can handle.  Really?  Ummmm….because I am about one second away of letting you see on display what falling apart looks like.….(guilt)What  is wrong with me?
  4. Far worse things have happened to other people, you  should be grateful.  Yes far worse things have happened….I did not gain membership to compare my experience with tragedies of the rest of the world.  Yeah I get that far more horrible things have happened in the world, but thank you  for your insight and wisdom, but it still doesn’t change how I feel….(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  5. Say “Thanks God” or “Al Humdallah”. I have never been one to do or say things unless I really feel that way, and  maybe I am an ungrateful,  selfish person, because I am not grateful for carrying a child for 9.5 months to hand that child over to be buried in the desert’s sand.  I am not grateful to get this unsolicited membership card……Sorry if this upsets your world view, and doesn’t coincide with your perceptions….I will not say something that I do not mean, because I do not view this as a will of God…this was because of medical human error,  my own screwed up body, my own inability to deal with stress, and because I was too physically and mentally exhausted to stand up to the voices that said a C-section could wait for a couple more days,  even though I knew it couldn’t.   I am not in the mood to make you feel better…because I feel like shit.   If it makes you feel better, please say it, but do not say it to me, and do not expect me to say it.  Special note to medical professionals….please shut up and do not even have the audacity to mention this to me…. (guilt) What  is wrong with me?
  6. At least you are still alive and here.  Really?  That could be questionable on a moment by moment basis…..(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  7. Maybe it was for the best, maybe there was something wrong with him. A doctor examined him, there was nothing wrong with him visibly, although I would not allow the hospital to dissect his little body.  Even if there was something wrong with him.  I just wanted the chance to look into his eyes…even for just a little bit.  I wanted that baby,  even if there had been issues…. (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  8. You are not the only person to lose a child.  I know that, and do you think that I don’t’ realize already that I am not handling this with grace …Do you really think that if I could I wouldn’t stand up  and be this fortress of strength? (guilt)  What is wrong with me?
  9. At least you never had the chance to get emotionally attached…it is better that he died before you had the chance to know him. Please fuck off because I did know him.  I carried him for 38 weeks… you have no idea…… (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  10. You gave yourself black eyes/ bad luck because you were so happy to have the baby.  Your statements are more of a reflection of your black  heart and how you view others as well as how you view yourself… Please…could you just please shoot me and get your freaking torture over with.  I was happy to be expecting a child…and you stand before me and say that it is my fault that I made other’s jealous……really….this is just too much….while you may think it, and that is your right….really shut the fuck up.  Trust me….I have enough guilt for not standing up to doctors, changing physicians, or dealing with stress effectively…I don’t need your negative energy to add to my black world right now.  Bad things happen in life, and death is one of the inevitable truths of our existence.   (guilt) What is wrong with me?

The only real benefit that I believe I have gained from my membership, is the right to say “Please consider what you say to someone that has lost their child”.  I know the intentions are there to try to comfort the person, but each person deals with loss and grief in their own way.  I apologize in advance to anyone that I have offended by my honesty and language, that is not my intention, but to provide an insight into the grief of one mother on a year long journey of coming to terms with the death of her child.   Entering the private thoughts of another is one way to understand a situation and have some empathy.  I am sure that in the past that I have unintentionally made statement in regards to someone’s life events that were not helpful.  This experience has taught me that sometimes words unspoken are best.  No one can tell a the person what they should feel, or how they should behave when faced with death.   Sometimes the well intentioned comments only add to feelings of guilt, sadness, selfishness, and unfairness experienced by those grieving.  What you can do…sit quietly, listen, and understand that person will never be the same in some ways.  Yes they will learn to smile again, they will learn how to live again, they will learn to breathe….but it is in their time, and in their way.  Grief is a path that each person travels differently and it is not a path that can be magically fixed.

Happy Birthday Mr. Baby.  You earned  your angel wings  before you ever had to  breathe  in the experiences of the harsh realities of life on earth. One of my favorite messages sent was “The angel opened the book of life, and  said “This one is too perfect for this world…and closed the book”.  For this, I can honestly  say “Alhumdallah” or “Thank God”.  Until we meet again my little baby.

Standard
parenting, Personal Growth, Psychology, Relationships, Saudi Arabia

Perspective: The Gift vs. the Sacrifice of Children

Image

We have all been in situations in which we talk about the “sacrifices” we make in life.  We often hear parents speak of the sacrifices they make for the sake of their children.  Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2014) defines sacrifice as “the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone”.  Whenever we speak of sacrifices made for someone, especially our children, we are inducting that child into a world of feeling guilty for their own existence (Ausubel, 1955).  When I hear parents say “Look at the sacrifices I made for you” to their children, I always cringe at the  feelings of shame and guilt the child is having imposed on them for the event of being born, which was an action brought about by the parents, and not the innocent child.   

An individual recently commented to me on their perceptions of the many “sacrifices” I had made to stay with my children.  I sat and thought about their comments for a moment, and as I thought about it, I realized I had not made personal sacrifices for my children.  I am not going to lie and admit that there have not been times when I have had the thoughts that I sacrificed my life goals for my children.  I put off pursuing a PhD for 10 years because of the age of my children.  I have moved away from my family and friends of my childhood to be with my children and husband in Saudi Arabia.  One could see these as sacrifices, but in fact, not choosing to stay with my children would be a personal sacrifice for me.  Children are gifts, although I will be the first to admit that during the toddler temper tantrums, the mood swings of pre-adolescence, and the rebelliousness of the teenage years, it is hard sometimes to keep this point of view in perspective. 

Children come into the world by the choices their parents make.  If a parent believes that they have made “sacrifices” to have children, perhaps they should reconsider the purpose of having children.  The concept of “responsibility” becomes a crucial component of this concept of “sacrifices” and “guilt” versus our “values” and “responsibilities”.  If an individual sees the sacrifice of raising children with emotional support, love, caring, and teaching them responsibility as a sacrifice, perhaps their values as well as concept of parenting needs to be re-evaluated.   

As I sat and carefully pondered this person’s perception of my sacrifice, it came to me I had made no personal sacrifices, except for the time I sent my 15 year old daughter back to the United States from Saudi Arabia to finish her education.  That was a sacrifice, because I had to let someone l loved dearly leave me, versus keeping her in a country that was not her own.  I choose to stay with my three younger children, and have her go back to the United States:  This was a personal sacrifice; I had to give up someone that I wanted with me on a daily basis, and chose my three younger children in Saudi Arabia.  Who has really sacrificed are my children because of the past choices I have made.  I looked at the person who said this comment to me and told them “Staying with my children is not a sacrifice, because my children are my gifts”.    

 

References

Ausubel, D. P. (1955). Relationships between shame and guilt in the socializing process. Psychological review, 62(5), 378.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.  (2014).  Sacrifice.  Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sacrifice

Standard
Aggression, education, Emotional abuse, parenting, Psychology, Relationships

Silencing the Generations of Emotional Abuse

balance

You are stupid!  Your are ugly!  You are fat!  You are nothing without me!  You can’t do anything right!  You are worthless!  You should have never been born!  I hate you!  My life would be so much better off without you!  Why don’t you just go kill yourself! 

If you have had someone tell you these words, you are most likely in an abusive relationship.  People often believe that an abusive relationship occurs when some type of physical abuse is occurring, but emotional and mental abuse is a form of abuse that occurs in relationships as wells.  The effects are just as devastating, in which the bruises, cuts, and scars occur on the internal psyche of the person.  Research has shown that the negative effects of individuals being in an emotionally abusive relationship can be more detrimental in terms of stress and emotional damage than an episode of being in a physically abusive relationship (Theran, Sullivan, Bogat, & Steward, 2006; & Wicks-Nelson & Israel, 2009).   Although these wounds may not be visible for others to see, they are inside the person festering, often never being exposed to the air to have a chance to heal.  As the painful messages continue to be hurled at the person, the individual internalizes these words as part of their self-image.

Emotional abuse in a relationship may not only take the form of verbal insults, but also through controlling the other person’s movement, isolating them from family and friends, withholding of affection, constant criticism,  marital infidelity, withholding of attention,  guilt, and externalizing blame of their problems to the other person.  Emotional abuse is built into the acts of physical and sexual abuse, although physical and sexual abuse may not be present when emotional abuse occurs.  Cultural variation of emotional abuse may occur in which  the abuser also extends the rights of the  emotional abuse to occur by family members (Yoshihama & Sorenson, 1994).

Abuse tends to occur in cycles, as well as there tends to be a family history of abuse that occurs.  Often when we look at the individual that is perpetrating the abuse, they themselves came from a family where they either experienced some type of abuse, or watched abuse occur on family members.  This aspect has special relevance to parents who may be in an emotionally abusive relationship.  Not only do our children learn what acceptable behavior is in a relationship, but they also learn to model our behavior of being a victim, or an abuser.  Even though a child may not directly experience the abuse, the vicarious experience of watching a loved one’s pain sends messages to the child of not only their own worth, but also a distorted image of what authentic loving relationships entail.  The children fail to learn to establish appropriate boundaries of protecting themselves emotionally from others.  I learned as a therapist that doing a family genogram, which involves engaging  with the client of constructing a family tree of sorts, to examine relationships of patterns  of abuse, mental health issues, and drug addiction that often these cycle tended to repeat themselves through generations of a family.  This historical representation often helped a client not only understand their family history, but also question their mental framework of what constituted authentic healthy relationships that had been established through their lifetime in taking in their social world around them.

At different times in our life, we may find ourselves in relationships, or loved ones that have become involved in emotionally abusive relationships.  The most helpless feeling is watching a friend, family member, or ourselves succumbing to physical or emotional abuse of others.  Social support for an individual that has been trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship is one of the key elements of that individual reaching out to empower themselves to get help out of the cycle of abuse.  The person may teeter for years on the verge of getting out of the relationship, while then returning into the cycle of abuse.  When abuse in a relationship occurs, it does not necessarily mean that the relationship needs to end, but education as well as psychological services is often needed for all parties involved to begin a process of recognizing the abuse, admitting the abuse, and coming to terms with the future implications of allowing the cycle to continue.  Failure to recognize the issue in terms of the family unit, often relates to parents developing mental health disorders, drug abuse issues, escalating forms of abuse, and children who experience academic and relationship problems, and in the future engaging in the same sort of relationships they witnessed in their family of origin.  Abuse occurs in all societies, and across the different economic social stratifications, and educational levels.

The victim and the abuser often stay in a cycle of denial of the abuse as a way to denying their own shortcomings, avoiding the hard process of change, all the while feeding another generation of pain to come to their children.  Breaking out of this cycle involves the adults in these relationships recognizing that there is an issue, which not only negatively affects them, but also younger members of the family.  If it all possible, keeping the family unit intact is the ideal outcome, while working on reconstructing healthy interaction patterns that establish individual respect, autonomy, and dignity.  In many of these situations, the abuser may not recognize the issue because of the power and control they have gained through the cycle of abuse.  Encourage and support those in abusive relationships to take back their own self-control and dignity to free them from the tyranny of emotional abuse, as well as to develop a “new family legacy” of establishing authentic, healthy, and loving relationships.  It is important for all of us to remember that while physical wounds may heal, the journey of healing the unseen internal wounds on being in an emotionally abusive relationship takes just as much courage and support.

References

Theran, S. A., Sullivan, C. M., Bogat, G. A., & Stewart, C. S. (2006). Abusive partners and ex-partners understanding the effects of relationship to the abuser on women’s well-being. Violence Against Women, 12(10), 950-969.

Wicks-Nelson, T. & Israel, A.  (2009).  Abnormal child and adolescent psychology (7th ed.).  London, England:  Pearson Corporation.

Yoshihama, M., & Sorenson, S. B. (1994). Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by male intimates: experiences of women in Japan. Violence and Victims, 9(1), 63-77.

Standard
Feminism, Humanistic Psychology, parenting, Personal Growth, Psychology, Relationships, Women

Knowledge of a Mother to her Daughter…..

mother daughter

I do not know everything, but I know that you are part of me and I am part of you by the blood that flows through our veins, and by virtue of being females.

I do not know everything, but I know that I will bestow in you the belief in yourself that you are worth respect and dignity.

I do not know everything, but I know that if you have a dream, do not let others try to dampen your inspiration, those inspirations can only become a reality by your own perspiration.

I do not know everything, but I know that you will walk through life with both sorrow and joy, embrace both emotions, because you cannot know one without the other.

I do not know everything, but I know that you are more than the face that your Creator has given you, you are more than your possessions, you are a soul filled with passions, fears, and needs that you can only fill within yourself.

I do not know everything, but I know we are more than just the titles we carry, the duties we perform, and the roles we play, we are a creation of God that gave us the ability to think, love, and live for a limited time.

I do not know everything, but I know that some other souls in the world are filled with hate, jealousy, and greed.  Do not go to their level, and learn to rise above the maleficence to find kindness, caring, compassion, and respect to other living souls.

I do not know everything, but I know that we will both make mistakes, but learning from those mistakes and taking a lesson in how to go forward is the only path to finding meaning.

I do not know everything, but I know I have been blessed by the life that I carried within me, and with the blessing of watching you grow and finding yourself becoming a woman, with your contributions that you will pass on to the next soul of what is it to be a female.

Standard
bicultural, parenting, Psychology

The Gift of Bi-Cultural Children

Image

Little Lulu, my 10-year old daughter came to snuggle in my bed the other night after the quietness of slumber time had brought peace and quiet to our home.  As she crawled into my bed, she had that “look” on her face; the look that every mother knows that a serious conversation was about to ensue that could potentially leave a lasting imprint on her child.  She had the same look on her face the day she sheepishly came home and announced to me that a girl at her school had “educated” all the other 4th graders about what mommy and daddy “do”.  I had been deep in thought working on a paper for my PhD program and literally choked on my coffee and sent a spray of coffee, milk, and sugar across the room in my shock.  I had been lulled into a false security that my children living in Saudi Arabia would be magically protected from the subjects such as sex, drugs, or other topics that parents worldwide often find a challenge to broach with their children.  I took a deep breath, preparing myself again, for how I was going to handle the subject that my child was  bringing to me, hoping NOT to replicate a similar episode of my coffee choking episode that had occurred in the previous year.   As parents, we are often put on the spot of how to instill some type of wisdom or insight to our children on those taboo subjects that through the generations have left us all in a momentary daze.

My daughters are half Saudi, and half American, which I have fondly nicknamed them “noose-nooses” which translates into English as “half/half”.  Their cultural identities are mixed between two cultures that in many ways exist on opposite sides of the cultural spectrum in relation to individuality vs. conformity.     The identity of an individual is not static but dialectical and ever changing in relation to the environment, social influences, and the people sending messages of worth regarding an identity.  Bi-cultural individuals are often presented with a more complex identity encompassing various ideals, values, and beliefs that may contradict each other (Schafer, 2010).  I have witnessed events either from both my husband’s cultural group and my own cultural group that have said disparaging remarks towards their opposing identity directly, or through indirect methods.  Being completely honest, I do prefer my American ideological upbringing, which in words at least, supports individualistic pursuits and independence.  I would be lying to others and myself if I did not acknowledge this aspect of myself.  At the same time, I recognize that my daughters are not a mirror image of their mother, and have a different world to learn to navigate.  With this said, I want my daughters to understand both sides of their cultural identity and be able to appreciate the positive aspects, as well as negative aspects that exist in both of the cultural identities.  As they develop into adults, they will have to come to terms with the divergent themes between their cultural identities and develop a lifestyle that is befitting of their essences.  Part of my struggles of being in a bi-cultural marriage, as well as parenting bi-cultural children, is I am often faced with trying to provide a response that supports my children’s bi-cultural identity.

As Lulu snuggled down into the pillows and pulled the comforter up around her neck, she tilted her head and began our conversation with an apprehensive tone.  “Mommy, what does God want a female to do?”  I felt the heaviness of the conversation increase as I thought about the various voices she was confronted with on a daily basis of what her role as a female is in relation to the Islamic faith.  While many believe outside of Saudi Arabia that women are oppressed and are served with one version of the role of women, in reality there are a multitude of views and interpretations depending on the people you speak too.  Even in the cultures that are often viewed as homogenous, heterogeneity exists in all societies. 

“Well Lulu, God/Allah wants us to be compassionate and kind to others.”  I replied hoping that his would answer her question.

She sat for a moment, contemplating what I said and then replied, “Mommy, yes I know that, but what does God want them to DO with their life?  My religious teacher told me that God only wants women to stay home and take care of their children.  You stay at home and take care of us.  She said it is against God for women to be like an engineer or something like that.”

I sat there in silence contemplating my next sentence.  To be honest I felt like I was going to explode; I was mad at myself, and mad at this teacher who had erroneously used religion as propaganda to keep little girls from developing their passion.  (By the way, for those outside the Islamic faith, there is NOTHING in the Islamic faith that prohibits women from having careers, although just as in any religion, certain fundamentalist at times try to use religious doctrine to repress a sector of the population).  Furthermore, I felt like a wave of anger wash over me as I thought of the tuition we were paying for our girls to attend this school and have this kind of message sent.  I had specifically selected this school because I knew the history of the school, and the historical struggle of this school to establish education for girls in Saudi Arabia.  I know the founders and owners of the school are pivotal players in the empowerment of women in the Kingdom.   Somehow, a woman had found her way into the classroom and delivered a message that had the potential to leave a lasting impression on the plans of these vulnerable impressionable girls. 

I tentatively asked Lulu “So if women should only be allowed to stay at home according to your teacher, how is it that she is working?”

Lulu smiled and replied, “Well she said it is ok for women to be a teacher.  Like you were a teacher mommy that is ok.”

I left my position at a private women’s university two years ago to pursue my PhD and spend more time with my children.  My children saw my position at the university as a “teacher for big girls”, which fit into one of the acceptable roles women have been allowed to take in Saudi Arabia.  I had always believed that I had instilled in my girls that they could choose a career that they were passionate about, even if it fell outside of the traditional roles that had been assigned to women.  Lulu was born in the United States, but we had moved to Saudi Arabia when she was only a year old and had never seen me in the role of a full-fledged career outside the boundaries of “acceptable women careers” in Saudi.  Furthermore, I knew she had received similar restrictive messages from her Saudi side of the family and I needed to handle this with the utmost sensitivity.  Every fiber in my body wanted to scream to her “Your teacher is a freaking idiot”, but I knew that was my feminist side waiting to be set free and attack every institution or person that had ever left me feeling repressed in my life.  Moreover, calling her teaching an “idiot” was not exactly setting a model of compassion and kindness. 

After thinking for a couple of seconds of how I was going to attempt to show some level of respect for the view her teacher had taught her, yet at the same time provide her an alternative worldview, I began to speak.  “Lulu some women prefer to stay at home, but that does not make them any less or any better than women who decide to have a career.  You know mommy’s cousin in America is an engineer….she is a good person right?  Your Auntie (from her Saudi side) is getting ready to start law school because she wants to go into the courts in Saudi and help women and children.  Aunty is a good person isn’t she?”  My dialogue continued as I continued to try examples of women from both cultures that had contributed positively to their society by taking up different occupations.  In addition, I talked to Lulu about the different positions I have held throughout my lifetime, and what they entailed to illustrate to her that women, if they chose, have a role to play in their community, as well as in their homes.

I want to empower my girls to take on roles that best suit their own hearts, and not those roles that others press upon them.  Lulu is my child that is most likely to embrace motherhood and domestic life.  She loves babies, she loves to watch the cooking channel, and she prefers the comfort of home instead of forging into new situations.  Although she is also my little entrepreneur that has recently developed an interest in creating customized hair accessories, which her father, her older adult sister, and I are encouraging her by teaching her basic business management principles to use in developing her idea.  She is only 10 years old and her identity is continuously growing right along with her physical development.  Although bi-cultural children are often faced with an identity crisis of sorts as they go through the process of figuring out who they are,  bicultural children have also been found to grow into adults who are more flexible and are able to effectively negotiate different social situations and work effectively with diverse people (Matsumoto & Juang, 2008).  Perhaps the exposure of different worldview and beliefs from an early age teaches them there is more than one “right” way to approach and live in the world, which gives them the ability to embrace and respect the diversity of others, because of their own internal diversity.     

 

References

Matsumoto, D., & Juang, L.  (2008).  Culture and psychology (4th ed.).  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing. 

Schafer, G. (2010). Multiple Identifications, movement, and place making in cross-cultural heterosexual relationships in New Zealand. New Zealand Sociology, 25(1), 4.

 

Standard