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Five Practical Steps to Escape the Superwoman Syndrome

Aaminah Bilal shares her tools to stop the overwhelming cycle so many of us know too well.

I just want to cry my heart out and be alone, oh wait – but nobody told me there’s no being alone once the kids arrive. Ok, maybe take a pause then? Can’t my life pause for a moment so I can at least make sense of what’s happening in this rush, grab a minute and allow everything to sink in? No? O’ Lord. What do I do? I need a break, please. Really.


Unfinished projects, constant exhaustion, demanding and screaming children, and a house that feels like it’s gonna fall apart any time soon with all this chaos have become my norm. I recently began questioning and doubting myself once again, my abilities and my aims for a truly remarkable life. Can I really do all this?
I am seeking to be a spiritually strong Muslimah, working on my various deen and ‘ilm related goals. I’m also trying to get on a healthier lifestyle: all natural, organic, avoiding chemicals, making my own products, growing my own veggies and raising our own animals… ok maybe not all at the moment but I definitely have it all in my future plans. As well as becoming minimalist. And a wonderful mom, who is emotionally attuned, reading with my kids, giving them maximum exposure, giving them homemade food totally from scratch. No bottles, no formulas, no junk, no screen time. I’m also enrolled in a self development course, a time management course, and a writing workshop. Add to it the work I’m trying to put into my marriage, becoming a dream wife, igniting the spark back, bridging the gaps. Then there are the emotional and spiritual battles I have to fight with every single day to become the superstar heroine I want to be. Add to it the reading and WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages I want to keep up with to learn how to do all of the above.  All of this with a very achy body, sleep and rest deprived mind, malnourished soul and dealing with the sibling rivalry of two very young kids who are just over a year apart, both born with cesareans and exclusively breastfed. Oh and not to mention the frequent travels and plethora of guests along with many other unexpected changes in our family since last year when my husband’s family moved in with us.


Now, is it rocket science that I set myself up for failure while giving it a go all at once? And absolutely no wonder I’m in a constant cycle of crashing. When I take on so much simultaneously it is only natural that I can’t keep up with the fast pace I set myself up for. I run a few blocks, stumble and fall badly ending up hurting myself in the process. Just like a baby trying to run before he is able to walk. I then start seeing my children as a burden I just can’t seem to handle, I criticise myself harshly and become utterly confused as to why this happens with me every time. Why can’t I steadily work towards my dream life before falling every mile or so ?


I have been feeling really low these days, on the verge of sinking into a familiar depression that I took myself out from after much hard work. And this is how I feel every time after I fall and drop from my perfectionista statue. Total failure. After being unable to do three assignments in a row of the writing workshop that I’m in, just when I was beginning to give up hope on myself once again, I started to deeply ponder over my situation during every nursing session and reflect on why this vicious cycle keeps on repeating with me. Am I really a loser or is there something to learn from here and change my strategy? Here’s what I recall from less harried moments – “moments of clarity” some people call them – and am putting down here or all of us wannabe, but shouldn’t-be superwomen, in no particular order:


1. Don’t compare

Please. How many times have we been a victim of this? I know looking at other inspirational women does me good and it really helps me to aim high, but I shouldn’t be comparing my life to theirs as no two women are on the same pace. I look at strong Muslimahs with many kids, homeschooling, pursuing their own passions and interests… and tell myself if they can do so much with so many kids I can do it too with only two kids. But the truth is, we are all on separate journeys of our lives and I really don’t have any idea how long it took them to come to this point of life, which I am now trying to copy while I’m still a toddler in this journey. So yes, look around and be inspired to live a fulfilled life, observe them and learn from them but never compare.


2. Intend big but know your limits

In this age of the ever changing and challenging world, the image portrayed of an ideal Muslimah is that homemaking and child rearing is the minimal performance, as if it’s the least bit that we should be doing anyway. As if it is not big enough. We are made to believe that we ought to have huge dreams and chase them while working on building happy homes and families at the same time. And yes we really do. I’m all for an accomplished life of a Muslimah, but I have now come to realize it might not be everything for everyone and at least not feasible on all stages. Raising young kids to be true followers of Islam is not an easy job. Some women are designed by Allah (SWT) to have and care for many children while others find it too challenging to just deal with a few. It is our uniqueness that makes us special and valuable, we shouldn’t strive to sameness as that uniqueness is what gives us each something to offer the ummah.


You are being enough. Don’t let people convince you otherwise. You aren’t in a competition with anyone. Know that you are beautiful with your mummy body, pouch belly, bulging arms and all, with a messy home and stacks of unfolded laundry. Know it and take heart. It’s not the end of the world if you decide to take a day off and serve your kids leftovers while you enjoy a book with a cup of coffee.


Most of the burdens we put on ourselves are because of our cultures’ fixated version of an ideal wife and mother. You are expected to do so much and be so much. Cooking elaborate meals daily, serving big feasts to guests, keeping your house and raising your children a certain way. If you are being an amazing hostess but a bitter wife and an annoyed mama, then maybe you need to reevaluate your life. Let go of absolutely everything that’s unnecessarily eating up on your resources. Work for what truly matters to you. Focus on it, let the rest go and be proud. Know where your strengths lie and serve through them.


3. Integrate and celebrate little successes.

Every day. A couple of days ago I was listening to a video on how to take your life to the next level from the world’s most sought after performance coach, and I was shocked at what he said. He said we should integrate and celebrate little successes everyday, even if it is celebrating not screaming at your child. I was like woah! Did I ever do that for myself?! I have been trying so hard the last few years to be what I want to be, and although I still have a long way to go,I did achieve, dare I say, many many milestones, small and big, alhamdulillah. Did I ever stop for a moment and appreciated myself? Never! If anything I only focused on what I couldn’t  or didn’t  achieve. While I was training my brain to only look for good in others I was doing the exact opposite to myself.


When we link these small everyday successes with pleasure our brain is wired to do more of them, that is how Allah (SWT) has designed it to be. And as they say the thing with the focus expands. If we focus on the right stuff, on our achievements throughout the day, they will expand. And if on the negative stuff they will expand too. Ouch. Do what you want more of.


4. Aim high but work in bite sized chunks.

We, as Muslims especially, should always be dreaming and aiming big. That’s not even debatable. But take it one bite at a time and properly chew or you will choke. Last month I signed up for a famous/results guaranteed time management workshop after deciding that if only I could learn to manage my time better then I could really do it all. I shared this idea with one of the ex students, Sr Khafayah Abdussalam, who I have personally come to know since last year, and who is an amazing Muslimah by the way, masha Allah. Khafayah is in her forties and always eager to work on improving herself and her skills, she is a parenting coach, certified family therapist and founder of UmmuKa (which is Arabic for “Your mother”) an organisation to help Muslim mothers. I asked her how can I make the most of the workshop and her answer left me amazed, yet again, when she said look for a few areas of your life where you need most improvement, take the tips and apply them in those areas. “That’s how I do it,” she said.


And here I am, always wanting everything to be implemented everywhere straight away. I want to grab all the good opportunities with both hands, I want to do all and be all. All at once. That has lead me to disasters (read “experiences”). I have a huge craving for learning and studying. I can’t  be the best me if I’m  being stagnant  with my real self. I tried and the results were not so pleasant for anyone, including my husband and kids. I was bitter, sulky and irritated to be around, but who said I have to aim for full? Maybe at this stage in my life, taking a workshop and aiming for doing half the assignments is better than not taking it.


5. Be realistic and prioritise

I’m sure many women will agree that one of the toughest thing in the life of a Muslimah with many roles and responsibilities is to learn how to balance them all. This is where the beautiful gift of prioritising comes to our rescue. Sometimes our kids need all our attention and we can let other things slide for a while, instead of yelling at them when they interrupt us over and over again. Being very realistic of one’s situation is also very important. Stay in touch with your inner self and carefully analyse where your energies are needed most and then plan accordingly. Is it the time to quit some roles or get extra help with the housework, homework or other tasks? Only you can decide.


In the end whatever you do, it is really important that we make an effort to know our true selves so we can be clear on our needs and desires as well as our limitations. We need to learn to be accepting,  loving and compassionate towards ourselves too. We are bound to make mistakes while ploughing through this journey of life but it’s imperative that we stay kind and be forgiving towards ourselves. Allah (SWT) it the Most Merciful, but you can strive to be more merciful to yourself.


Aaminah Bilal is a stay at home wife, a student for life and mommy to an infant and a spirited toddler. She loves to read, reflect and spend time with her husband.