Advice to moms of young children during Ramadan
When I moved to the Middle East I was delighted to see how family-centered life was. I loved watching large extended families spending afternoons and evenings in the park. The children would run around and play and the adults relaxed and chatted. The sense of family and community was strong.
For our Ramadan series I interviewed Shireen about her memories of Ramadan. Shireen is a full-time working mother with one adult child finishing university and one child finishing high school. When I spoke to Shireen, it was clear that connection with family, friends and the wider community is at the center of Ramadan.
I loved Shireen’s story about going to the mosque with her children and them running around while the mothers prayed. Adults did not complain about the sounds of laughter and joy. Shireen also stressed that Ramadan is not about creating something big and flashy. At the heart of the celebration is building strong values and the loving connection between family members.
How did you involve your children in Ramadan when they were little?
The first thing that comes to mind is going to Taraweeh prayer after iftar. It’s the long prayer, it takes one hour. Especially in the first week of Ramadan I wanted all of us to go to the mosque. When my children were young sometimes they would pray and sometimes they would play with the other children there. For them it was like a festival.
The children would not sit through the whole payer, of course. They would maybe pray for three, four minutes and after that they would start playing, running around with the other children. And it was welcomed, most of the time it is welcomed by the adults. So no one was annoyed. Sometimes, yes, some incidents happened but usually they were welcomed so it was fun for them.
We also used to decorate the house with lights to receive Ramadan. It’s not our tradition, we borrowed this from other cultures who celebrate their holidays and we started to use these lights, fairy lights and lanterns. When I was a child we didn’t use these kinds of decorations. I introduced them to our celebrations. It became common for everyone to use and now it is even more common.
What are your best memories of Ramadan when your children were young?
For me the best memories are from suhoor, the small meal just before dawn. I used to wake up, prepare the food and gently wake up the children and embrace them . We’d be together in the middle of the night eating. Sometimes they fell asleep while eating!
I also remember one night for some reason my son didn’t have to go to school and I didn’t have to go to work the next day but my daughter had to go to school. So my son and I decided to stay up and prepare suhoor together. For him it was a big adventure that he could stay up all night.
Ramadan is holy. It has a special vibe. I was raised to feel the holiness of the month. We lived this vibe of holiness, celebrating. It’s a peaceful vibe.
What advice would you give your younger self or a young mother today about celebrating Ramadan with young children?
I don’t remember myself being strict about fasting or pushing the children to fast. If I wanted to encourage them to try, usually when they were little, six or seven years old, they would start with half a day or fast as long as they could manage.
My advice is to involve the children more in the kitchen in cooking. I don’t have memories of this. The children could prepare the salad, choose the oranges, or something like that.
How was observing Ramadan changed over the years in your family?
We have given up the decoration part. Last year, we had almost nothing. I don’t want to stress about having to decorate. I find that it has become more about bragging and showing off. There are special tea and coffee cups for Ramadan with Ramadan Kareem on them. I don’t like how Ramadan has become more commercial and I have stepped away from it. I prefer to cultivate the spiritual meaning, the discipline of Ramadan. If one of my children wants to decorate for Ramadan, I would welcome it but I’d want them to use the decorations we have from previous years.
I have also stopped preparing suhoor. I prefer to sleep and go to work while having had enough sleep. Now my children prepare suhoor. During the pandemic the children could stay up until suhoor. My daughter would wake me up and bring me water.
What would you like your children to take away from their childhood experiences of Ramadan?
Most of all I would like them to take away the discipline and willpower that they practice during Ramadan. I don’t push anybody to fast. We don’t know if someone fasts. It’s about self-discipline. This is what I want them to take away. When my children live on their own, in their own homes, they will live according to their own rules. Self-discipline and willpower are values, something to live with every day. Fasting is a great chance to practice these values for 30 days from morning till evening.
Another thing I would like them to take away with them is the family gatherings and gatherings with friends.
Read Huda’s thoughts about Ramadan with young children here.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.