Mother, Not Martyr


Being a mother is certainly not easy. As Allah describes in the Qur’an, “His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years.” (31:14). These weaknesses are often referred to as pregnancy, birthing and nursing. But that is just the beginning.

Mothers are in the daily “trenches” of changing diapers, helping with homework, cooking dinner, disciplining and running between work, picking kids up from school, and soccer games. These daily acts of service to her family can encompass her so completely that she loses balance and perspective of herself. When a woman loses the deeper spiritual significance of motherhood, she may feel that the duty of a mother is to martyr herself for her family by putting everyone else’s needs ahead of her own. But carrying all the burdens and difficulties is not the path to being a good mother. In fact it only depletes a woman, and may even build resentment, making her think that her children and her family “owe” her, as payback for her “martyrdom.”

As the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us: “A person’s wealth shall not decrease with charity.” What better charity is there than the charity of a mother helping her family? However, as with all forms of giving, the reward is in the giving, not in what is paid back to us by those we give to. Indeed all forms of giving benefit the donor, when done right.

Motherhood is a journey that allows one to witness the growth of a child as well as instill growth in women by making them stronger and wiser. Allah blesses women with children and in turn mothers make a promise to Allah to nurture children into adulthood. Through the process of parenting children, one realizes that it is also about role modeling a balanced and healthy lifestyle to children. Being a mother is not being a martyr. Rather it is respecting the trust and responsibility of raising children as well as respecting yourself as a strong woman. Children will respect their mothers as women who service their families for the sake of Allah. The responsibility of motherhood makes a woman grow stronger physically, mentally and spiritually because she is tested in all areas. She learns to stretch herself to serve those around her with the ultimate purpose of pleasing Allah, while at the same time not losing herself. A mother should not simply become weaker through her giving, but stronger and more balanced.

Here are six ways mothers can find balance and stay focused in order to get through the tough days of parenting as well as enjoy the journey of motherhood:

1. “I will remind myself daily that my time with my children is precious.”

Childhood will end one day and my “baby” will soon be an adult. Our children are changing daily and maturing into an adult. Parenting is celebrating the everyday moments more than focusing on the milestones of our children’s life. Spending quality time with our children and making time to communicate and share with our children is what will be remembered. The mundane activities in our life are the ways we connect daily with our children, so we need to see them more as experiences of connection rather than activities we just need to get through and move on to the next.

2. “I will take care of myself.”

Physically, mentally and spiritually. By constantly giving attention to our children and husband, we many times forget to take care of ourselves or we put our needs at the bottom of the list. Some mothers don’t even put themselves on the list at all. But as mothers we can only give as much as we have, and if we do not refill our own tanks then we will have nothing left to give. Taking care of our bodies through exercise is vital for our physical health as well as boosting our overall mood and energy. Spending time exercising is not selfish, unnecessary or extra. It must be seen as a priority in order to be able to do our duty as a mother. Taking care of our mental and spiritual self is also vital because this is the area that is most challenged and drained from us when raising our children. The intention of our daily prayers is to help us refocus and slow down our hectic lives, especially as mothers. Since women are the “heart” of a household, we must find inner peace in order for the family to feel in balance. Finding and sustaining self-confidence and happiness will manifest to our children and husband.

3. “I am not a perfect mother.”

Many Muslim mothers have extremely idealistic views of parenting or high expectations of themselves as mothers. Our children do not need us to be perfect and they actually will easily forgive us when we acknowledge our mistakes and show our imperfections. We must accept that we will make mistakes which will be opportunities for us to grow and become smarter moms for future challenges. We need to forgive ourselves and release ourselves of the burden of striving for perfection. We need to eliminate the thinking that other moms have attained perfection and they do everything right. We can only do the best that we can with what we have and we should focus on the things that matter – our relationships with them. Dinners won’t always be amazing, the dishes won’t always be clean, and laundry will pile up, but when our kids become adults they won’t remember any of that; rather they will remember the time they spent and the conversations they had with us.

4. “I will make my marriage a priority.”

Children place a huge strain on a marriage, especially for mothers of young children. Many mothers focus entirely on the needs of their children and in the process neglect their relationship with their husband. Physical and emotional exhaustion leave women with little energy left to give to their husband and this attitude of “nothing left to give” can cause disconnection in the marriage. It is vital that we find balance in our marriage alongside parenting because not only is it good for our children to witness a healthy relationship, but it is also good for our mental health. The companionship of a spouse is one that will supersede our relationship with our children, especially as children grow older. We must maintain a loving connection to our spouse so that we can grow old together and be further bonded to one another after the children are grown and married. This means we can’t put our marriage “on hold,” rather we must maintain a bond of friendship and love through the trying times of parenthood. It is vital we spend time alone with our husband so that we can see each other through the lens of a spouse and not only as a caregiver to our children. Going on “date nights” and weekend outings as a couple is vital for the bond to be maintained and sustained.

5. “I will value my friendships.”

Connecting and sharing with other women helps us to realize the commonality in our struggles as mothers and women. Having sisters and girlfriends in our life makes us stronger because these relationships nurture us emotionally and help us manage the stress in our lives. Our girlfriends and sisters have a special place in our lives that even our husbands cannot fill or replace. Making time to connect with our friends will help us feel happier and recharged so that we are able to give to our children and husband. Talking to and going out with girlfriends is vital for mothers to boost their connection to other women. It will improve our moods and fill our tanks so that we can give to our children and better connect with our husbands.

6. “I will prioritize family dinners.”

Eating together as a family is a daily activity of bonding. Routines in children’s lives can foster a deep sense of security. Creating traditions such as eating together is meaningful to our daily lives because it is a time the family comes together to share their day and connect with one another. Research has shown children who regularly have dinner with their families are more likely to do better and make good choices with regard to friends, drugs and sex. Bringing everyone together daily will create a more communicative family dynamic, and the tradition of food, conversations and joy will be the memories that everyone will cherish.

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27 Comments

  1. Tasneem says:

    Assalamu’alaikum wrwbth Sr. Munira,
    You have written a truly inspirational piece. All mothers can learn and benefit from your suggestions.
    I am one of those mothers who is always looking to serve my familiy. However, the children are grown and I still try to serve them as much as possible. I know all of your suggestions but never applied them. My children MashaAllah have become very successful in their deen and professions, and I always hear positive comments about my ‘ mothering.’ I srtongly identify my role as a mother than anything else. I need Allah SWT’s Help to balance all aspects of my life. Sr. Munira, your list will help me begin the process of balancing my life, InshaAllah.
    JAK and Ma’Salamah.

  2. Alhamdulillah, some great, pragmatic advice for mothers – Men, support your wives.

    Shukran sr, Munira, jazakallah khayran.

  3. sara says:

    It is a good article for an ideal muslim household provided both the spouses understand the integral role of islam in raising children and realise the importance of keeping the matrimonial connection ongoing while parenting. Unfortunately not everyone is blessed with such an understnading spouse. May allah guide us all. Ameen.

    • UmmSarah says:

      Its not just with this article. Alot of family articles on muslim sites just assume that everyone has this ‘ideal’ muslim household where wife and husband are being cooperative, successfully incorporating deen in there daily life.

    • TwoUnderTwo says:

      Great points to help us start evaluating our roles as mothers. I feel very overburdened and pressured to achieve so much in life. My father, an immigrant, pushed me greatly to achieve academically, and my non-doctor status will always be a cause of disappointment for him. My husband recently joked to a friend “I don’t want a mother as a wife” or along those lines. Obviously as a young mother of two I have my own unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. And then articles like this tell us we Must exercise, Must prioritise family dinners etc etc. Anyway, life is hard, we will all muddle through somehow and inshallah Allah will be pleased with us if we do whatever we can do, for Him only.

      • amina says:

        Assalamu aliakum,i think what your husband is trying to say by “i dont want a mother as a wife”is that,he does not want a woman that will directly tell him what,when,and how to do things or go about on things,not that he he dislikes mothers or anything.As a wife we should always mind the manner in which we speak to our husbands without showing any authourity.i must say, marriage life is not as easy as it is written in the quran…but Alhamdulilah a’la kulehalin,for it been an act of ibadah…just my thought…may Allah continue to guide us all ameen.

    • Sana says:

      Agreed with Sara.

  4. Layla says:

    Salam. I have to agree with sarah. As great as the advice is…and something we all should aspire to iA, the reality is, some don’t have the financial support or the emotional support from spouses to make some of these things a reality (like taking care of yourself, and putting time into maintaining a connection with your spouse.) and unfortunately, I still feel like, at the end of the day, the onus is on the woman to make time and put forth the effort for a relationship with her spouse, with very little (if any) discussion on how the man can work on making an effort with his wife in her times of stress and need, and being supportive in a way to make that viable. In the end…the wife still has to do everything she needs to do, AND make time to be a stellar wife (for the marriage’s sake) and find time to love and take care of herself. Still ends up making her a martyr in the end.

    • sara says:

      Couldnt agree more with you sister. Some of the comments made here are comforting to know I am not alone in feeling the emotional abandonment from the spouse while raising a family. May Allah make this easy for all of us ameen.

  5. Stranded says:

    Too idealistic for the many immigrant mothers living in various places with no supports in place whatsoever.

    • papanok says:

      I agree with Stranded. The piece I feel is geared towards mothers from a certain economic class and with certain circumstances. For poor families or families who have migrated to other countries, I don’t think these tips apply. There’s just no time for mothers to do this, and the kids will not let the mothers do this anyway as they demand all the time. Also regarding tip number one, yes while childhood will end and adulthood will follow, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the children will be less dependent on their mothers. In some regions, when children get married and are working, they leave their children’s upbringing to the grandparents! It’s crazy. It’s like now that you’re done with bringing up your children, you have to bring up your grandchildren. The cycle of dependence on the mothers is a never ending one. There’s a reason why the Prophet (saAs) said that the Jannah lies beneath our mother’s feet, because they have been so selfless over the years.

  6. Fadia says:

    What a wonderful article by Munira!

    Islam places great importance on the role of motherhood and within the Quran and Sunnah, mothers are honored again and again.

    Unfortunately, in our society today, the role and value of a mother are often unappreciated and even undermined, leaving mothers to feel like martyrs.

    Munira highlighted excellent points!

  7. Shaheen says:

    AssalamuAlaikum,
    Such a beautiful article. Highly inspirational and a good one to turn to at the toughest times of parenthood.

  8. Brazilian sister says:

    Assalamu alaikum wa ramatullah wa barakatu!

    I did like the article a lot, but in practical terms I’m not sure about how to put the six steps into practice. Steps 1 and 3 are fairly easy to understand and to address; but all the others are quite a challenge.

    I do understand that being a mother brings great happiness and fulfillment, but we can’t deny that with the woman playing other roles in today’s society, having the time to do even one third of the suggested steps is very difficult. Mothers are not martyrs, but we can’t say they have it easy.

    I do understand that being a mother is a good trial, a test of patience and an exercise of love; but this exercise was meant by Allah to take place in a family – with a husband being part of it.
    Whether we like it or not, many muslim brothers still act as if their wives are there to serve them and have little, if any, participation in household matters; leaving the heavier load to their wives.

  9. Dr Tariq says:

    Highly inpirational article. Having small children is a time for husbands to show their selfless love and care for their wives and help them regain their balance. Although idealistic advice, this is what the whole family should strive for.

  10. enie hermal says:

    Jazaakillah, Sis ur nice article. Mother is al ummu madrasatun al’ula…

  11. Sr. Soraya says:

    Sr Munira’s point is simply that if you give, give, give, and keeping on giving without nourishing the body and soul at some point there will be no more of you left to give and that will accumulate resentment and decrease self-worth, reading some of the posts that seems to have already happened to many and we need to break this pattern. To be perfectly honest no one has a perfect spouse, the woman will always compromise more, work more and give of herself more than than man. Women for centuries have dug themselves out of dire circumstances, and have done “for the sake of Allah” with little or no money or support, Allah (swt) does not give anyone more burden than they cannot bear, we live through it and give thanks to his blessings upon us. Many woman do not have children. Children are gifts from Allah (swt) whatever is going on with ourselves the environment we provide them at home is ultimately our responsibility, bad spouse, no money, no family around makes it unbearably hard at times, but if you had to do it for 1 million dollars I am sure we would all rise to the challenge. We got something way better, paradise beneth our feet! bring it on, lets raise incredible muslim children, good helpful muslim men and honourable muslim girls.

  12. Sana says:

    Motherhood has been so under-rated. I owe eveerything to Allah, then to my mother.

  13. Kagome23 says:

    The truth is that sisters are dependent on men socially and finacially… The husband can make all kinds of promises of equality before the couple are married,but after he is free to assert his dominance anyway he see’s fit…This is why the muslimah is forced to make so many sarcrifices… because she knows she will be in a bad position if the man leaves her or if the relationship does not work out… Her community will look down on her, her sons will be left without a male role model etc..Muslim women know this and are willing to do whatever it takes to avoid divorce… Even if she has an established career and money in the bank it doesn’t change things… why do you think so many muslim women are beaten black and blue before they finally file for divorce… b/c the community will hold them primarily accountable for the demise of the marriage…sorry to be so brutal in my respone.

    • UmmSarah says:

      Sr. Munira is suggesting some tips to make the job of motherhood somewhat easy and rewarding for us. She is not discussing abusive marriages and divorces which are rather different issues. The reason this article has hit some nerves is because we are not in a state of bliss in our marital life.
      I wish people with extended knowledge and experiences can write more in the areas of coping with difficult marriages, life after divorce, single motherhood.

    • sara says:

      The article is beautifully written and we are not critising it at all. Kagome you have put forward a reality of whats going on in a substantial number of muslim households . I dont know what is the solution to it. I am a victim of similar situation and still in the marriage so that the children get to have fathre figure in their lives.

  14. Karen says:

    The words are very inspiring, and I aspire to have a relationship with my husband whereby he grants me the ABILITY to have time, as much extra and free time as he does, so that I CAN take care of myself, have and enjoy friends, and avoid feelings of martyrdom. Then I would be able to give 100% more to my relationship with him and avoid feelings of mothering him as well. I work two jobs to his one. Don’t get me wrong, I value motherhood and my child and his children. I would like to see as pointed out above more articles written that focus on women’s rights and the obligations of men. There is too much focus on the reverse. Also, if there was more focus on this, maybe young men wouldn’t have such a hard time finding wives. I know I wouldn’t get married again in todays soceity knowing what I know now. Young women are afraid of the responsibility as they know they will have to go it alone, even if they work because he can’t support the family financially. They look at the examples in soceity around them. Anyway, maybe one day I will be able to attain peace in my daily struggle with motherhood. Children with disabilities also add so much more to the equation.

  15. Izhar Khan says:

    And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his parents. His mother bears him with hardship And she brings him forth with hardship, and the bearing of him, and the weaning of him is thirty months, till when he attains full strength and reaches forty years, he says: “My Lord! Grant me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds, such as please You, and make my off-spring good. Truly, I have turned to You in repentance, and truly, I am one of the Muslims (submitting to Your Will).”

  16. Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

    This article are inspiring. I agree with point 1 to 4 because I already support my wife to go to these directions. 5 is quite new for me. I didn’t really noticed the importance for my wife to share her motherhood with her friends aside from myself. Point 6 are still partially implemented in my household.

    I made a translation of this article to Bahasa Indonesia and published it in my blog. I also made reference to this original article in my blog post. I sincerely hoped the author won’t mind for the spirit of sharing. I know there will be a lot of Indonesian Muslim mothers who will benefit from this article, especially when translated to Bahasa Indonesia.

    Thank you.

    Wassalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

  17. fatima says:

    maashaa`alaah. i love this and it will actually help me becuse i was in a very danger position. when i become a mother i forgot every thing including my marriage and i didn`t know i was making a big mistake, now i know a lot alxamdulilaah, i can be a mother a wife and friend.
    thank you very much.

  18. ummnrz says:

    Will be good to see an article telling the husbands how to help their wives in implementing these in their lives. As without the support of the spouse a mother can’t do the things she would want to – like time to herself, time with friends…..sometimes mothers are burdened by the task of parenting and the balance on the scales is way off, so no surprise that it’s a give give but no take (or nourish) opportunity…
    Good article, but putting it into practice and making it work, requires a lot more effort AND cooperation – from everyone in the household – fathers included!

  19. Iris says:

    JazakAllah for the insightful discourse. I would like to add that mothers should Make an effort by themselves to not become martyrs…from the time that children start to be a bit understanding (starting teens) they should be assigned tasks and responsibilities….the husband should be encouraged to help out as much as possible too, most mothers feel that love needs to be shown through constant chores and ‘mothering’ basically….but they should have good confidence and self esteem in that making their family help out and not being the martyr won’t decrease their value as a mother…
    Also, like mentioned in this article…it’s very important for a mother(just like for every other human being) to be able to take time out for hobbies and creative activities, relaxation, exercise etc…it will bring a sense of well being which is like so essential for everyone in general..

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