I was six years old when my family moved to England to join our father. My daughters were born here. I am British, but I am also immensely proud of my Pakistani cultural heritage. I believe that living in one country while preserving the cultural heritage of another is an advantage because you can take the best out of both cultures. However, children can sometimes suffer from an identity crisis since we all need a sense of belonging. It tends to be the mother’s role to provide that loving environment and a positive understanding of their cultural heritage.
Pakistani Muslim culture has a sense of community, spirit of sharing and generosity, whilst the western culture gives you the sense of independence and freedom to determine and follow your own destiny. I have tried to instil community values from my cultural background whilst adopting western values of being independent and free so that my daughters can live their life on their own terms.
I believe that living in one country while preserving the cultural heritage of another is an advantage because you can take the best out of both cultures.
When my children were small, I used to go to my parents house every day for a couple of hours, and my brother and sister would turn up with their kids at the same time. We often sat and ate together. It gave my parents the chance to see all of their children and grandchildren, whilst the kids could play with their cousins. Those were special times of bonding as a family.
As my daughters have got older, they have their own friends. I have encouraged them to do so since ultimately you have to find your own place in the world and develop as a person through friendships and peer groups.
Like many parents, I was clear about how I wanted to bring them up. Looking back, I see in them a reflection of my own values. I wanted them to have the freedom to think, do and be whatever they wanted with the backbone of being respectful and kind towards others.
It is natural for parents to want to protect their children, and my parents certainly sheltered us from the dark aspects of my own culture. For instance, I had never come across or heard about honour killing until I saw it in the media. I realised that I did the same with my children. When my daughters went to Pakistan, they were shocked that men and women were treated so differently and had to be in separate rooms, and that in some households men were fed before the women. They both felt outraged and a bit depressed about the way in which society was set up. We can have an idealistic view of our culture when we are not living in it.
The most difficult time and the biggest challenge as a mother:
One of the most difficult times was when my daughter was being bullied at primary school. I had gone to an exclusively white school, had mostly white friends and two of my brothers married white women, so we have a healthy inter-racial family. However, I wanted to send my daughters to a multicultural school. The primary schools that my daughter attended comprised of a large percentage of Muslim children.
I decided that it was better for my children to be in an environment that was in line with my own values and I changed their school.
I found out that a group of girls had decided that since my daughter wore her school uniform, PE skirt and showing her legs, she was not a Muslim, so they initiated a bullying campaign against her, aggressively kicking her bare legs. She didn’t tell me, and at first I assumed the bruises were from falling down since she was an active child. It was my mother who questioned her and also cross questioned her sister when the truth finally came out. I found out who the ring leader was and visited her parents who felt embarrassed. The girl owned up.
I had to make the decision if she should stay in the same school because I didn’t want her to be pressured into covering them up. I also didn’t want my daughters to be bullied for wearing their school uniform. I decided that it was better for my children to be in an environment that was in line with my own values and I changed their school.
Getting divorced was a particularly difficult period, even more so because I was in my final year at University and had to go through the Court in between giving in essays. I don’t know how I managed. I failed some of my subjects in my Solicitors Finals. Everything seemed to go wrong all at the same time. I lost the comfort of my parents looking after the kids because they had retired and gone back to Pakistan. I ended up putting my older daughter into a boarding school for a short period. All the while, I was worrying about her emotional wellbeing so, after two terms, I decided to take her out because she looked very miserable.
As a mother, when it comes to your children, you have a huge amount of love for them and assume that they know how much you love them – unconditionally and always.
On the advice of a friend, I undertook some family counselling. Noreen, my eldest daughter, felt that I had put her into boarding school because I didn’t love her. I can still remember her exact words. That was the most unexpected and shocking thing that I had heard from her. As a mother, when it comes to your children, you have a huge amount of love for them and assume that they know how much you love them – unconditionally and always. But I realised that children can quickly doubt it too, so I made a decision to tell them often how much I loved them.
My relationship with my daughters over the years has evolved. I was 21 years old when I had Noreen, and fifteen months later I had Nadia. From the beginning we had a lot of fun and laughter. I used to race the girls. They would pick me up when I came back from work and we would collapse on the sofa, have a big hug with them at either side of me and a brief catch up, both of them talking enthusiastically and loudly at the same time of course!
Compared to my sister, I was not strict and embraced their cheekiness since it was a sign of confidence. They often made me laugh with some of their antics.
We have enjoyed Christmases where the girls have taken charge, and I have been ordered to just relax.
My relationship with my daughters has blossomed and got better and better over the years. It is very different from my relationship with my mother. Noreen decided to tell me about her first crush before she told her best friend. Even now we help each other in choosing outfits.
There comes a period when they appreciate how much you do for them and they want to reciprocate. We have enjoyed Christmases where the girls have taken charge, and I have been ordered to just relax. Slowly and surely the roles have reversed. It has become more of an equal relationship, and it feels good to have a mature relationship with my daughters who are now grown up women themselves.
I come from a family of seven siblings. My sister had her children before me, and I remember laughing at my younger brother when he was going through his teenage strops. It is still surprising how stunned you can be when your children learn to say ‘no’, or when they don’t want to be seen with you. I learned from my own parents that when your children are being difficult, you have to spend more quality time with them rather than get into your own drama and expectations of them. That was my strategy and we had a few lunches talking and trying to see things from each other’s perspective.
I think most children come out of their teenage tantrums stage, look back and realise that they were a bit bratty at times.
I remember coming back from a two weeks holiday in Italy with my friends and both the girls actually wanted to go out with me. They had missed me and I laughed and teased them: ‘really, you don’t mind being seen with me, your mother, not cool’. That period didn’t last too long.
I think most children come out of their teenage tantrums stage, look back and realise that they were a bit bratty at times.
The biggest lesson I have learned from them
I think that the biggest lesson that my children have taught me is love. It is one relationship where love is the only currency. There are certain fundamental relationships where you can never “unlove”, and the one with your children falls into that category. Whether you like it or not, you have to iron out any problems with your children, if you have any, because you cannot live without them. Well, not happily anyway.
The daughter’s view of the relationship with their mother
Nadia (the youngest) – I have a close relationship with my mother, and we enjoy spending time together. I have always known that my relationship with her was different from other people since she was a young mum, and we were brought up in a sociable environment with lots of fun and laughter. It is a strange thing to say but true – my mother didn’t really fit into any type because she was more liberated, open minded and non-judgmental than anyone I knew.
I remember a gay couple, who were really close friends of my mother, who were babysitting us when we were really small. Another friend of mine was a gay Muslim and wanted to speak to my sister and I about her sexuality when she came out because she had become a family friend. I was introduced to different cultures from an early age and went to all kinds of different weddings and festivals. It was a natural way of acceptance of others via friendships. My mother provided an inclusive environment for us, which shaped me as a person.
My mother has been a role model for me in many ways. She is very decisive, and will take action and not allow anyone to put her off.
As I got older, my relationship with mother has also grown. We have similar views on politics, and I am inspired by and support her vision for peace. She also encourages me to take action on my goals.
My mother has been a role model for me in many ways. She is very decisive, and will take action and not allow anyone to put her off. She is made of steel and resilience in bringing us up in an environment where there can be clash of cultures. She never weakened to other people’s ignorance or tried to fit in to please others.
She is the first person that I will turn to for advice, and the times that she has pushed me outside of my comfort zone I have progressed further.
Noreen (the eldest) – My mother is a wonderful caring person and we have a strong relationship. Even when I was at university, I would speak to my mother every day without fail. I can talk to her about everything, and I mean everything! We’ve got a lot in common and we can spend hours chatting.
I don’t open up to people straight away, and it takes time for me to build relationships and trust. My mother is the only person that I know whom I can talk to about anything. We don’t have any secrets from each other.
I find her inspirational, and always turn to her if I have a challenge because I know that she will help me find a solution, and coach me to overcome any obstacles. My mother has taught me to be open minded, and although she is quite nurturing, she is also one of the strongest people I know.
The biggest challenge of our relationship
Nadia – We are both strong women and sometimes our personalities clash. My mother was brought up with lots of siblings and many rules, and under no circumstances could they answer their parents back. As a result, my mother is very non confrontational.
…if I agree with my mother on something, I will do it straight away without thinking too much about it, because she makes her point clearly without raising her voice.
On the contrary, I was encouraged by her to be expressive, have opinions and a strong voice. At times, I can come across as domineering and my way of persuading my mother is to use that strong voice, particularly when I think I am right. Sometimes, I feel that my mother stops listening to me because she thinks that I am having a rant. The more I am trying to be heard, the less I am being listened to but if she agrees with me, she will tell me the next day or so when she has had time to digest the point that I was trying to make. Whereas, if I agree with my mother on something, I will do it straight away without thinking too much about it, because she makes her point clearly without raising her voice. When I am passionately expressing myself, it may seem to others that I am shouting, but I am not: I’ve just got a big mouth!
Noreen – I have told my mother that when she is old, I will be the one to look after her because we hardly ever argue. Our relationship is quite easy going and relaxed.
The biggest challenge is when I am working with her. My mother lives her life on fast forward so she does everything at 100 miles an hour. If she has a business associate that has arrived in the UK, and he has a slot to have a quick meeting, my mother will jump on the train in a whirlwind. By contrast, I will just stand back because I personally cannot cope unless things have been scheduled and have had time to do my preparation. At times, she expects me to be able to do the same as her and it becomes a yo-yo of ‘no I can’t’ ‘yes you can, just get on with it’. I am a planner, and she is a doer. If I stick to what I am good at and she does the same, it is perfect.
The biggest lesson I have learned from my mother
Nadia – The biggest lesson is seeing how far she has come from a culture that can be restraining for women, and the positive impact it has had on my own life. I take so many things for granted, and it is only when I see how much I have compared to others that I can appreciate it.
My mother would never turn anyone away, and seeing how loyal and dedicated she is in helping those who cannot help themselves, has made me more sensitive to the needs of others. My mother is strong for others and literally pulls them up. Where she can see a solution, she will support and coach her friends step by step.
My mother’s mantra has always been that if you can help someone, you should, because there will be other times that you can’t do anything.
I remember one Christmas when one of her friends had a breakdown and was hospitalised. She cooked Christmas lunch, picked up her friend’s children and we all went to visit and spend some time with my mother’s friend, on Christmas day, in a psychiatric hospital. This kind of thing would be natural for my mother. As we have got older we tried to persuade her to be a bit more selfish, but she is not easily persuaded when she believes that it is the right thing to do.
My mother’s mantra has always been that if you can help someone, you should, because there will be other times that you can’t do anything. If someone is dying of cancer, you can’t help them, but if there is anything you can do, then you should do it.
I remember telling my mother, when we were living in Maida Vale, that she should write a letter of complaint to the management company on behalf of one of our neighbours who was being bullied by a cranky and nosey neighbour. It is true what they say that sooner or later you will start to turn into your mother, and I have started behaving similarly. I can see in myself that I have the same compassion towards people that are less able to help themselves.
Noreen – I used to be shy and reserved, and lacked confidence. I admire my mother’s charismatic personality. She can make anyone like her; she can attract a crowd of friendships. I have seen how, when she has just met someone, that person instantly wants to be her best friend. I think that without people around her, my mother would be a fish without water. She really is a people’s person. For instance, even in a supermarket queue, if my mother strikes up a conversation she will be talking all the way to the till, whilst I have my head in a magazine.
You have one life and should not waste it, but get involved. For instance, I love animals and I have spent time in animal sanctuaries as a volunteer.
That is why she has always found it easy to be successful. People that she meets love her and want to help her, but she is also a big giver. I have learned the lesson that life is always more interesting when you know people, whether of your own nationality or not, because it helps you to grow as a person and experience so much more.
You have one life and should not waste it, but get involved. For instance, I love animals and I have spent time in animal sanctuaries as a volunteer. I went to Pakistan when I was 18 years old for six months and saw how badly dogs were treated. I used to take our family dog for a walk even though everyone thought I was a bit strange: the girl from England walking a dog in a culture where touching dogs is a taboo, and you have to wash your hands afterwards. Being away from home, I realised that not everyone can do what they want because they have been suppressed or are scared to do things that are deemed to be unacceptable. Through my upbringing and the relationship with my mother, I have found my passions, developed my own individual values and the inner strength to do what I feel is right, even if others don’t agree.