My Thoughts on Motherhood and the Mother

I’ve been thinking about why Egyptian women tend to let themselves go after having children.  You know the drill, you’ve seen it so many times and it is certainly a very easy trap to fall into (I fell in head first, thinking I never would have).  I don’t just mean weight gain or physical changes, I am thinking about the total mentality change.  At first the changes are subtle and small then suddenly everything has changed and going back to who and what you used to be becomes a seemingly impossible uphill battle.

I keep toying with the idea that perhaps it is a cultural thing, that as young Egyptian girls we all grew up watching our moms sacrifice their time, energy, youth and everything else to bring up the family.  They don’t care about how they look, how they dress and themselves in general.  A woman setting aside time for herself is a rare thing.  I don’t like generalizations and by no means am I trying to say that “all” women do this, but it does appear to be a trend.  Before getting married and having my daughter I had a weekly pedicure, now I am lucky if I can make it once a month, it’s more like once every two months these days.  It is not about the time, because I am sure I do have enough time to do everything.  After all I am a stay at home mom.  It is about the attitude.  The reason I keep thinking it is cultural is because I see the differences in the other nationalities living in Kuwait.  You have the Lebanese mommas, towing 3 and 4 kids and still managing to look good.  And then you see the Egyptian mothers, lets just say they are my worst nightmare, and if I don’t do something soon, I could easily walk down that same road easily.

Why do some mothers forget to smile?  It is like they have painted a permanent frown or scowl on their face, it is scary.  It is also a shame and very very sad.  Women, in my opinion, sometimes do end up with the short end of the stick.  The burden of raising children is a great one.  Or, is it?  Perhaps it is how we choose to raise our children and live our lives that make it burdensome.  Can we change our attitude and outlook and turn it into a fun one?  Ever since I gave birth my mother has been advising me to take better care of myself, which is just great advice, but, I have to also look at the fact that growing up I rarely saw her doing that.  She gave up everything easily for us, but in doing so she forgot to do stuff for herself and robbed us of the chance of setting that bar in the right place.  I am in no way blaming her or even accusing her of doing anything wrong, I am just trying to pinpoint a cycle that needs to be broken.

We try to teach our children the value of sharing, caring and being compassionate towards other people’s needs, but if we do not set an example by placing our own needs as a priority how will they learn to be compassionate towards their mothers and in turn how to value their own needs and make sure they are met.  We want them to learn how to say please, thank you, not to take what is not theirs and to be polite.  That should start at home.  If we do not demand it from them, how will they ever learn.  Their expectations will become skewed if we do not clearly define the concepts of boundaries.  Telling a child no when they ask for a toy they do not need, should be the same as saying no when they ask for time or attention they do not need either.

Another part of the cultural equation is how we look at women who take care of themselves as spoiled, irresponsible or airheads.  There seems to be a general stereotype that a well preserved woman has no brains.  It is like if a mother does not look frumpy and miserable then she must be selfish, self centered and a fool.

Men are also sort of bitten by this bug but in a totally different way.  They get lost in the rat race to provide for their families and forget that they too need some fun in their lives, which usually leads to the infamous midlife crisis, when men buy Ferrari’s and chase younger women.

What should we do now?  Do you agree?  What is your take on this?


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    • At 2009.11.08 22:22, Organica said:

      I think it’s about being happy. I haven’t seen many functional and happy Egyptian marriages in my life time. The marriage that once started with love and affection turns into the mundane life of responsibilities and duties. The husband expects, the children expect and society expects. Women are torn between the tree and often have to put themselves last to fulfill the expectations.

      I was once at an Egyptian dinner and we were clearing up the table, the usual occurs, the men get up and sit expecting to be served tea and dessert while us the women scramble to make everything clean for our kind hostess and getting out the tea on time. My American friend mentioned something to one of the husbands, “You know, my husband helps with the dishes and stuff.” The Egyptian macho husband responded, “I work hard all day, women can take care of a few mere, have you not read the ayah in the Quran that mentions that the rijaal are qawamoon 3ala il nisaa.”

      There isn’t much to look good for when your life as you know it ends with marriage.

      • At 2009.11.09 13:12, Shimaa Gamal said:

        Please the next time some man mention this ayah in front of you tell him to complete it else he will be like those who use the ayah “la takrabo el salah” and completely forget to complete it!

        • At 2009.11.11 11:46, jessyz said:

          This is what I am most curious about, why does everything have to become either a duty or a responsibility of some sort. It is like we stop having fun and just have to do stuff. I think it is like this mental cage that Egyptian couples believe they have to live in.
          It is true that men work hard all day, but they have no idea how hard a woman works too, even if she is just a stay at home mom. Women who do not work are expected to run their households perfectly, unlike a working woman, who also has an excuse for hiring help (at least that is what most people think).

          Marriage should be the beginning of a wonderful new life not the end.

          • At 2009.11.08 22:22, Organica said:


            • At 2009.11.08 23:17, ibhog said:

              It’s like you said, there’s a circle that needs to be broken. We always take it for granted and then regret that we had later.

              I believe we need professional help in this. It’s not a simple endeavor, to ‘break the cycle’ that is, it’s very complicated actually, because we’ve seen samples who bulged out of the society and went to other extremes.

              In Egypt, sociology and anthropology as sciences are just missing, people live to no goals, interact according to no specific means, and hence, happiness is a shot of mere luck. And it all goes misinterpreted.

              We need to study us. But how?

              liked the post dozens,

              • At 2009.11.11 11:50, jessyz said:

                True about the study of sociology and anthropology. I think because mostly people would not answer any research or polls as honestly as they should, not because they are dishonest people but because we have many social taboos that people would be too embarrassed to break or talk about.
                The problem is also that women tend to make the sacrifice and then feel resentful towards herself and family later, which is why couples who have been together for decades end up getting divorced, it is rarely some reason that just happened all of a sudden, but the build up of many years of unhappiness.

                • At 2009.11.09 01:56, asoom said:

                  I love this post!

                  You’ve accurately described one of my greatest fears in life. I don’t want to turn into one of those “typical” arab housewives/mothers. When I was young I said I’m never going to get married. Now I just settled on I never want to have kids.

                  I have an aunt that didn’t follow the typical mold (she’s actually my oldest aunt). She does her own thing and follows her own passions and interests and always looks hot despite being a grandma of 3. Growing up my mom (and other aunts) used to always imply that she was the selfish one of the bunch and I actually used to believe that and think bad thoughts about her. Now that I’m an adult though I have so much admiration for her and I wish I can have the amount of energy and passion for life she has when I’m her age. Now I defend her and I’ve argued with my mom a couple times when my mom tries to dismiss her extracurricular activities as stupid nonsense.

                  But look at you though! I don’t know you but you’re blogging intellectual posts, you’re reading books. I’m pretty sure you’re not one of those “typical” arab mommies you’re speaking of.

                  • At 2009.11.11 11:54, jessyz said:

                    I love the example of your aunt. Probably the biggest obstacle in all of this is not what society expects of us, but our own baggage and pre conceived beliefs that might not be the best for us. I am glad that you realized now that your aunt might have been the smartest of the bunch. I am not your typical Arab mom, but I am nowhere near where I really want to be either.

                    • At 2009.11.12 06:34, Organica said:

                      I feel the same way about the kid thing for now.

                      • At 2009.11.12 09:15, jessyz said:

                        I used to feel the same way too.

                        • At 2009.11.09 02:57, Mona said:

                          Good post! I think a lot of it has to do with guilt. Like you said women feel bad taking care of themselves, like they don’t deserve it. Or when women don’t spend money or attention on themselves because they kids come first.

                          I think you have to train your family not to expect you to do everything. It’s insane how some Egyptian women will pick out the bones on fish for their 10 year old, very capable son or even their husband! They have to know that mom is also a person in her own right. She has needs and wants and it doesn’t mean she loves them any less. It’s only fair.

                          • At 2009.11.11 12:06, jessyz said:

                            Guilt is a huge motivator I guess. I also think that like you said you have to train them into not over expecting too much.

                            • At 2009.11.09 10:42, Summer said:

                              No need to wonder…its all in YOUR hands( with your husband’s support)
                              in the Arab society, mothers typically are expected to take care of their families by themselves even if they work outside the home…it is a tough job to raise kids, maintain a household, and have a good meal on the table at the end of the day AND look good too! this puts a huge burden on all of us. as joyful as it is to be a mother, it is also stressful especially if you have to do it all alone…so even if you are a stay at home mom, your husband’s support is essential.
                              But, no excuses! no matter what, moms should take care of themselves as females first then as a partner in a reltionship. its all about how a woman keeps herself “happy” from the inside out…for example, if a short visit to the spa makes her feel good, then she should go for it (if she can afford it and justify the expense without making her feel guilty!)
                              I am not saying that moms should not care about how their husbands perceive them after having babies, but its nice to try to look good for him too, it boosts the mom’s ego, as a female first, and maintains her marriage in a way because part of it is that men love with their eyes, so looking and smelling good for him is part of it(although many men stray no matter how good looking or sweet smelling their wives are! but this is another subject deals with the individuals characters)
                              most importantly if the thought of a “typical Arab mothers” scares you , then break the mold and work at it as best as you can…not hard at all and it can be done, BUT with support from your husband.
                              i believe that “Modern Arab Moms” are different than their mothers and they are breaking the mold in a way.
                              Remember, kids grow up so you will not be in physical demand all the time…you will have a lot of spare time when they are older. try to enjoy motherhood with your baby because the first few years go by fast, but look good at it too :)
                              enjoy your life!

                              • At 2009.11.11 12:11, jessyz said:

                                I totally agree that the Modern Arab Mom is different from the older generation of moms. But here’s what I also think. My grandmother’s generation in Egypt was better off. They went to the hairdresser every week, had weekly pedicures and manicures and care about their looks more than the generation after them. So I definitely think that something happened in the middle. Maybe it was the economic and socioeconomic changes in the 60s and 70s that cause this change, I am not sure. Support from my husband would be awesome, but he’s already swamped with work and does not really have the time or energy to do anything. Which, by the way I also think is wrong for him, I wish he would slow down a bit and enjoy life more.
                                Thankfully I usually smell nice :-) showering and perfume help.

                                • At 2009.11.09 13:32, Shimaa Gamal said:

                                  Really interesting post Jessy, I will get back to you 3ala rawa2a

                                  • At 2009.11.11 12:12, jessyz said:

                                    Waiting for your 3ala rawa2a comment

                                    • At 2009.11.09 19:15, هوندا said:

                                      انا مبسوطة انك طرحتى الفكرة دى لأنى كنت بفكر فيها ديما وكنت ناوية اتكلم عنها قدام وانتى شجعتينى

                                      المشكله زى ماقلتى انها ثقافة شعب للأسف .. محدش بيهتم انه يتعلم ازاى يبنى حياته الأسرية متكاملة بنتربى على ان الجواز مطبخ وغسيل ومتقوليش لجوزك لا

                                      لكن للأسف محدش بيعملنا ازاى نفهم الزوج .. واربى طفلى صح واكون ست بيت نجحة وامرأة مثقفة ومتطورة الموازنة دى مش مطروحة أصلا فى ساحة النقاش عشان كده كل بنت بتكون شايفة ان ده مسار البنت الطبيعى فى بيت زوجها وانها مش لاقية وقت تسرح شعرها :S

                                      وللأسف لان محدش بيهتم بنقطة احتياجتها بتطلعهم على العيال وتبقا مكلضمة ومتنرفزة اغلب الوقت بسب شد الأعصاب الى حطت نفسها فيه

                                      منكرش ان فى أول الزواج الدنيا بتكون ملخبطة ومريت بده بس رغبتك فى انك تنظم حياتك بتقلل فترة اللخبطة وبيتقسم وقت البيت والزوج ووقتك انتى

                                      • At 2009.11.11 12:14, jessyz said:

                                        It is true that in any marriage at first , the first year really is the second hardest, the hardest year in my opinion is the year after the first baby is born, because it is just like the first year but you also have a screaming baby to feed, change diapers and generally serve. We need lots of education for young adults on dealing with marriage and children, it might help alot in my opinion.

                                        • At 2009.11.10 13:06, inas said:

                                          i like this post as i am 55years old i went through this i can just tell you that you can be a mom and a personn and take care of yourself phyically and spiritually and intellectually and this is thest you can teach to your kids live and let them watch go back to the post you inspirational women in your family they all were great moms and very interresting people may be some times the priorities change thier order no problem only keep in mind to raise interresting kid you have to be interresting mom and caring and feeding the child can be done by any one but raising a happy productive balanced efficient person can only be don by ahppy interresting balanced productive efficient mother and cleaver wife to put her husband on the right track of life men can provide and protect women care and make a social life .

                                          • At 2009.11.11 12:17, jessyz said:

                                            True, but it takes a lot of practice and trial and error. We all go into marriage thinking we won’t be like everyone else, but we end up going through the same problems and issues.

                                            • At 2009.11.22 14:44, Annie @ PhD in Parenting said:

                                              I think there is a difference between not obsessing about your looks and not taking care of yourself. I don’t feel the need to look perfect all the time. However, I do take time for myself to do things for myself. If a pedicure is what makes a woman feel great, then she should do that. But if playing sports, having coffee with friends, joining a book club, or something else is what makes a woman feel great, then she should take time to do that. We all need balance in our lives and that doesn’t end when we become mothers.

                                              • At 2009.11.23 09:21, jessyz said:

                                                I didn’t just mean looks, I meant the whole deal. It is also a little cultural thing that mothers in Egypt think they have to be self-sacrificing to be good mothers. I think a woman can be a good caring mother and at the same time doing something for herself whatever it is. It just takes some time to achieve that balance. Part of the problem is that the initial shock of becoming a mother is hard on most women. Personally when I was pregnant I read loads of books, blogs and listened to so many mothers but I still never imagined what was really waiting for me. The first few months are the hardest and most exhausting. Then things become easier but more challenging in other ways. Mothering in itself is always evolving and it takes a lot of energy to keep up with it.

                                                • At 2009.11.22 23:13, IComLeavWe: Day 2 | PhD in Parenting said:

                                                  […] Chocolate Mints in a Jar: Thoughts on Motherhood and the Mother […]

                                                  • At 2009.12.19 23:25, Validation! « IBHOG said:

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