For me, there are many benefits to being an older mum. First and foremost, I did not convert until my late thirties; if I had had children earlier, they would not have been raised Muslim from the start. Unlike my Muslim counterparts, I was not particularly mature in my twenties, and even into my early thirties. As a non-religious college student, I was completely distracted by the amusements of this world. And, although after college I went to graduate school, held down good jobs, paid bills, and submitted my taxes like many non-Muslim “yuppies” (young middle-class professionals) living in the West, I was still affected by mainstream material values and “the pursuit of happiness,” which turns out not to be as happy as promised. I also had to acquire some traits that are essential to parenthood: extreme patience, selflessness, and how to function with little or no sleep. Looking back at my circumstances, I believe I am a much better mum today than I could have ever been when I was younger.
Of course, there are downsides to being an older mum as well. I may function with little or no sleep, but I get more tired than I did years ago. Sometimes, I think that I can do what I used to do, only to wake up sore in places where I never knew I had muscles. And although some of my younger friends comment on how much energy I have and how much I get accomplished, I am in a constant state of catch-up – like I am studying for a final exam every day, pulling late-night hours.
I also spent years and years doing what I wanted to do. Prior to kids, my husband’s and my Saturdays consisted of leisurely perusing the newspaper in the morning while enjoying freshly brewed coffee and a warm croissant at our favourite market, followed by a relaxing walk in nature, a light lunch, pleasure reading, and then a much-loved afternoon nap; the day continued more or less like that – you get the idea. As you can imagine, Saturdays are much different now. And it is not that I want to return to that lifestyle at all, but there are those occasional Saturdays when I don’t have a moment to sit because of activities, errands, washing clothes, cleaning, etc. that I look back fondly on when I had free time.
My children also notice the age difference between their friends’ mothers and me. They love to tease me about my age when my birthday comes around, threatening to divulge my ‘secret’. And while several friends know my exact age, a blessed few others are barely in the ballpark. I still get great joy (clearly a disease of the heart I need to work on) when someone thinks I am significantly younger than I am – it does not happen often, but I do enjoy it when it does.
I also worry about what will happen to my children when I die. I understand that death can come at any time, and we all should prepare for the Akhira (Hereafter) at any age, but I will be very old if I am alive when my children are my age. Statistics, for whatever they are worth, do not appear to be on my side. A few years ago, I had a health scare for a day or two (that turned out to be a malfunction of Dr. Google more than anything else). My number one concern, as both my husband and I are converts, was who would homeschool our girls and bring them up with the Islamic values we hope to instill. Far from worrying about my husband getting a new, younger, prettier, better wife, I was surprised to learn that I would really want him to remarry so our girls could be raised by a Muslim mum.
Being an older mum also means that you have many new younger friends and much less time for friends of your own age. Indeed, I could easily be the auntie of many of my friends and the mother of a few. Living in both worlds, so to speak, has been insightful. On the one hand, there is more drama with my younger friends. I have to wonder whether exhaustion is a factor. Maybe when you’re older you are just too tired to get worked up about things that would have bothered you earlier. Or maybe when you’re older, you have put things more into perspective. Or maybe when you’re older you have lost some of your idealism and your expectations are more practical. But perhaps when you’re younger you are less willing to compromise and at times, that is a good thing.
Younger moms are far more sociable as well and, as I age, I realise how much I love my solitude. But that’s hard to find when there are so many play dates and activities that your children want to participate in with their friends. And maybe it’s just Muslim hospitality, but when the kids get together the mums tend to visit with each other as well. There is always something delicious and tempting to eat. It has been stated by some scholars that we should eat less, sleep less, and talk less for spiritual development. The abundance of play dates and social gatherings makes those goals more difficult to obtain.
There is also an enthusiasm and willingness to learn about and try new things with my younger friends that is less so in those of my own age. For example, a couple of years ago I went on a “juice fast” to cleanse my system when several of my younger friends decided to try it. I read books that I would never have chosen myself and I visit places and participate in activities that I would not have done with my older friends. My mind, beliefs, and body have been challenged and that is always beneficial.
And I am constantly amazed by the maturity, grace, and piety of these younger Muslim mums. When I think about myself at their age, I am ashamed. One tends to think of role models as being older, but that is not always the case. I am reminded of the hadith of our beloved Messenger (SAW) related from Abu Hurayra (RA) about the seven whom Allah I will shade with His shade on the Day of Judgment when there will be no shade, “…a youth who grows up worshipping Allah”. Of course, I have plenty of role models who are my age, but I find it so inspiring to see these traits among the young.
I never thought I would be an older mum, hanging around younger sisters, some nearly half my age. I miss spending more time with my older friends, who have also experienced life at various stages, who can relate to me as only a peer can and who can share the wisdom that comes with age. I look forward to spending more time with them as my children get older. But I also love having younger friends as well, which has given me insights and afforded me opportunities that I otherwise might not have had. Subhan Allah, Allah (SWT) puts us in situations that are best for us. I am right where I should be.
J. Samia Mair is the author of two recent children’s books, a chapter book entitled The Great Race to Sycamore Street, released in July 2013, and a book for younger children, Zak and His Good Intentions (2013). She is the author of three other children’s books, Amira’s Totally Chocolate World, The Perfect Gift and How I Help My Neighbors, and is currently working on a historical novel. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.