Leaving your children behind can be one of the most difficult and challenging parts of Hajj preparation – for child and parent alike. However, you can take some practical steps to minimise the heartache, leaving you to enjoy your Hajj journey.
The first thing to do is to have a good talk to… yourself! It’s no good trying to convince your children why it is important for you take this trip, if in your heart you haven’t confronted your own fears about leaving them behind. Think of this journey as the best thing you can possibly do for your child – making a temporary sacrifice to ask for their happiness, good health, success and a place in Jannah. A parent’s supplication for their children is always answered and where better than the ‘House of Allah’ to ask. Speak to someone who has also left their children behind for Hajj to get their personal insight and advice. Work through your feelings so you can focus on the journey ahead.
Once you’ve decided you are going, tell your children – no matter how young they are. Let them hear it from you first and allow plenty of time for questions. Use age-appropriate children’s books and photographs in travel guides to explain the various rites, and involve them in your research by getting them to enact the various rituals with you and learn the different prayers.
Have faith in the guardians or carers that you have appointed for your child. Although it’s a good idea to provide your child’s timetable, allow them the flexibility to parent your children as they see fit. It is unreasonable to ask them to stick solidly to rigid guidelines. Remember, they are already undertaking a huge task in stepping into your shoes for several weeks to become your child’s parent, friend and confidante. It may be hard to completely put your trust in someone else to look after your child but trust in Allah I to look after your child whilst you seek to please Him.
Practice spending time away from your child in small incremental stages, to prepare both yourself and your child. If you have never been apart, start with an hour or two and increase the time to an overnight stay or a weekend with their appointed carers, giving them a chance to bond as well. Don’t be tempted to ‘rescue’ them if they become upset. It will be far more damaging if you return before the agreed time as they will learn that you can return on demand. Book an activity for yourself to quell your anxieties about leaving your children with someone else: a date, beauty treatment, memorising Hajj du’as.To prevent your mind from wandering, imagining all sorts of mishaps, keep yourself focused on other activities.
Give each child an increased level of responsibility. So for example, a young child that can take items of clothing off and hand them to you can be trained to put them in the laundry basket, a child that usually needs daily reminders to complete school or madrassah homework, can be given visual reminder lists. The aim is to put the onus on to your child to complete age-appropriate tasks. Give older, independent children the responsibility to look after their younger siblings. Discuss what role they can play when you are away and train them to offer emotional support and practical help.
If your child has sleep issues, gentle adaptations to their usual routine may be helpful – delay introducing radical new sleep strategies until your return. If children are staying in their own beds, inform the carer about the usual bed and nap time routines and normal sleep allowances. If children are temporarily moving to a different home, allow them to take their own bedding, trinkets and cuddle toys, as well as favourite bedtime books.
Food for thought
If you are planning to switch to packed lunches or school dinners, ensure that your child has a few trial runs. For babies and toddlers, ensure that you provide their carers with their favourite plates, cutlery and special cups. Agree limits on treats before you go and make sure everyone knows the rules about teeth brushing. It is inevitable that your child will eat differently in your absence; whether it’s by being given different food choices, altered timings or different attitudes to food. Don’t worry about your child’s diet – the important thing to remember is that they are fed and watered by well-meaning people.
Wear it well
Make things easy for children and carers by organising clothes before you leave. Have more than one set of school uniform for each child and prepare weekend outfits, already hung or bundled into piles for each day. Ensure your child can easily handle their fastenings and provide them with adapted items such as shoes with velcro fastenings and zippered clothing if they struggle with laces and buttons. Educate your children in laundry sorting, folding and ironing safely (older children). Remember to prepare a whole set of clothes for ‘Eid day, including accessories and occasional shoes.
Get the boys hair cut before you go. For girls with long hair, consider shortening it depending on their age and capability of looking after their hair. Other considerations could be headlice, tangling, or going for longer in between washes, especially if the carer has a lot of children to look after. Train older siblings to braid their sister’s hair. Provide plenty of brushes, combs, hair bobbles, undercaps, headscarves and hijab pins; ensure that they have enough to tide them over for the weeks that you are away.
Discuss which method of communication will be best – Skype, email, texting, social media, phone calls, postcards or handwritten letters. Prepare in advance (e.g. set up secure email addresses) and ensure your child’s carer knows how to access the technology. Be realistic about how much time will be spent communicating and remind your child you are primarily there to fulfil a necessary pillar of Islam and your focus will be on prayers. Explain the time difference and that at certain times, you may be uncontactable. Educate carers about online safety if they are unfamiliar with the Internet and make sure they know screen and device time limits.
However difficult and emotional it may seem, always say goodbye to your child and don’t sneak away quietly hoping it will save on tears. It is important that your child understands that you are leaving and haven’t just suddenly disappeared. This is particularly important for babies and young children. Even if you think they cannot understand your words, say the words anyway – they are more attuned to your ways than you think. Let your own intuition guide you as to how and when to say farewell, but bear in mind that long drawn out goodbyes can be counterproductive.
It’s perfectly OK to miss your children whilst you are away and don’t let other parents make you feel guilty or less dedicated because they have seemingly left their children behind with relative ease. Remember your purpose and intention and don’t worry if you or your children express their feelings by crying or other behaviour. Pray for whatever they request and let them know that you are making du’a for them.
You have been blessed with the wealth, ability and opportunity to perform Hajj – with it will come the sabr (patience) to endure the separation from your child – which is a test in itself.
Your riches and your children may be but a trial: but in the Presence of Allah, is the highest, Reward. (At-Taghabun:15)
Sazida Desai lives in the north west of England and works as a press and community liaison officer for a British Member of Parliament. In her spare time, she volunteers as a school governor and likes to write, sew, knit, blog and garden. Sazida completed her Hajj in October 2014 with her husband, leaving her two children behind.