My conversation with Maria Begum was such a humbling experience! Her courage, resilience and practical approach to life made her one of my favorite people to interview. She’s helped me look at life from a completely different perspective. I hope her wisdom continues to inspire through generations to come!
Maria Begum is a 55 year old, mother of 3. She is a stay at home mom and currently resides in Toronto, Canada.
What are your dreams for your kids?
I don’t have any particular dreams for them. What would be the point? They should have dreams for themselves. I do hope they always do what they think is right and what makes them happy…not just what makes me happy.
So you don’t have any expectations in terms of their education, or who they get married to?
No. Because it’s not fair to them. It’s their life. And who said I know what’s best for them? My job is to teach them good values, the difference between right and wrong, and try to instill the fear of God in them. That’s all I can do. I want them to think for themselves.
I didn’t learn to think for myself till after my mother passed away. Growing up, we weren’t given the opportunity to make our own decisions so I never developed that skill. I was in my 20s when all of sudden, I had to decide what’s best for me. It was a very confusing time for me.
I wonder if I would of ever started making my own decisions if my parents were still alive today. Probably not. It’s easier to just call them up and let them decide for me.
She starts laughing.
How was your relationship with your parents? Was it a very formal relationship?
No it wasn’t formal at all. I’d like to think that I was a friend to my mother. She shared a lot with me growing up, which now I think is unusual for that time. I don’t share as much with my own daughter. My mother used to tell me if she was worried about something. I remember many times when she would come to me and tell me about an argument she had with her brother or with a friend and I would just listen. I don’t remember her sharing these things with my siblings so I want to believe we had a special bond. I would be the one to drive her to the mall. We would run errands together and it made me feel useful. I’m glad I had the chance to serve her before she passed away.
What about your dad?
He spoiled us a lot. He had a temper and we all knew it but he was also the one who smothered us with hugs. His smiles were bigger than my moms. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but we never felt it. We had a happy childhood. But that time seemed much simpler. So I don’t know if we can ever create that sort of life for our children today.
How did you get through the pain of your mother’s death. You were very young…
I was in my 20s so I wasn’t that young but I wasn’t mature either. I was single and dependent on her for everything. In the beginning, I felt like I couldn’t survive without her. But with time, I just got used to being alone. It forced me to depend on myself, to trust my own judgement, my instincts. I was forced to think for myself. I’m sure most of my relatives felt offended that I didn’t blindly listen to their advice like I did my mother’s advice. But I didn’t trust them. I’m sure they thought I was being disrespectful for wanting to make my own decisions but who cares what they thought. That time is now gone.
Do you think your style of parenting is similar to your parents’?
For the most part i’d say its similar. Of course we always listened to everything they said…was there any other choice?
My mom always explained life to me in her own way but I didn’t understand most of what she said till I got married and had my own kids….now in my practical life…with real issues, I try to remember and apply whatever both my mom and dad taught us. It helps guide me even to this day.
Whenever one of my kids is disrespectful, I try to remember how my mom dealt with me. I try my best to forgive my kids and not hold onto my anger. I have to use my judgement when deciding when to discipline them and when to just let it slide. You learn as you go. But now when I think of my mom, I remember that she also had different approaches to parenting based on our personalities, ages, even gender.
My mom pressured me a lot of study and become some sort of professional. Now that i’m really thinking about this, I guess that is the only way I differ from my mom. I don’t force my kids to do anything except try their best. I place zero pressure on them to pursue a more lucrative profession because maybe that’s not what makes them happy.
Why should my son pursue medicine if he doesn’t like science? Why let him suffer and kill himself to understand something when he naturally excels in creative writing? It will just create more insecurities in him when he is struggling to compete with his classmates. He will start hating the concept of higher education all together. So that’s one key difference between my parents’ approach and mine.
I will even fight with my husband sometimes and defend my kids’ right to chose their own path. I really believe in letting kids decide for themselves. We should let them think independently and develop these crucial problem solving skills.
How is your relationship with your siblings? Has it changed as you’ve changed?
I never had a real bond with any of my siblings that people usually describe. I wasn’t necessarily “friends” with any of them. I got along with most of them growing up. I had my own friends in school.
I have realized that unless we make an effort to continue to invest in our relationships, they will die. You have to make a conscious effort to maintain a relationship with your siblings especially after you are married. We have to nurture the friendships with love and often times with compromise. You have to accept them as they are. They will never change. You have to chose to have this person in your life because they are important to you. Otherwise, you will lose any connection with that person, even if he’s your sibling. Just because you’re related to them through blood doesn’t mean that person will forever be a part of your life. You have to decide if you’re willing to sacrifice your ego to maintain that bond. Some siblings are more trouble than they’re worth but still, you try your best to serve them for the sake of Allah.
All sorts of emotions get in the way; love, jealousy, anger, insecurities, egos. You have to work with all of that and work around that. It’s not easy at all just because they are my sister or brother. After a while, that doesn’t mean much. I try on my end. I show up, I ask after them, I show my concern and love for them but I don’t expect someone else to come to me. I try to see if one brother needs my support. I just show up but I have trained myself to never expect them to show up when I’m in need…so that way i’m always happy. I don’t worry about if they asked about my kids because last month, I took interest in their kids. This sort of thinking doesn’t get you too far in any relationship.
Can you remember the last time you felt pure joy?
I don’t think I’ve ever felt pure joy, if there is such a thing. My heart did overflow once with pride…when my daughter graduated from college. Even though my older 3 boys had already graduated before her, I didn’t cry at their graduation.. I cried at my daughter’s graduation. I don’t know why. I felt different when my daughter graduated.
Is it because she’s a girl?
No, I don’t think of my kids in terms of gender. They are all just my kids. I treat them the same and have the same expectations from them. I think maybe I didn’t fully understand the importance of a college degree till my daughter graduated. I think I was too young to know the meaning of that piece of paper till it was my daughter’s turn. It’s not because she had achieved something but maybe because I had grown enough to realize the value of her education.
I am proud of all of my kids. I think people don’t realize, parents are also in a process of constant growth. So it’s natural we will feel different at different parts of our kid’s lives. I am not the same person or parent I was 10 years ago. I understand myself better now and maybe understand my kids in a way I couldn’t of 10 years ago.
How is your relationship with your husband?
My husband is husband. I don’t know what else to say. Laughs nervously.
I mean do you consider him your best friend? Your soulmate?
No, he’s not my friend. He’s my husband. Those are two different relationships.
A man has his own way of thinking. They can never really understand women and I will never understand how my husband thinks. Maybe some people have that sort of relationship with their husband but it’s rare in my opinion.
Men like to be in control. They usually have a dominating personalty which is not a bad thing. It’s just how Allah made them. It’s not their fault. Pauses
Is there something you want to add? You took a long pause.
I was thinking about my marriage. I feel like we’re more flexible as women. We have to be.
I guess some women may enjoy a friendship with their husbands…but I think that’s rare. A friend and a husband are two different relationships. My husband’s expectations are different than what my friend needs from me. Friendships are based on equal footing and its a give and take. In marriages, especially in Islam, we have to fulfill our responsibilities towards our husbands even if we’re not getting our rights. I can end a friendship if I feel i’m not being treated well but I can’t end my marriage. In order to let me husband feel he’s the one in charge of our household, I have to hold back a lot. I have to let him feel like the husband.
Describe your relationship with your husband?
I have a lot of respect for my husband. I have learned from him about life. There are plenty of things my heart doesn’t want to commit to but I force myself because i’m the woman so I have to submit. I fear I will displease Allah if I don’t give in to my husband. Some men can take advantage of that submission.
I’ve spent my entire life like this. Whether i’m valued or not, respected or not, I must respect my husband. I do it for the sake of Allah.
I feel that it took years of commitment before I earned my husband’s trust. I spent many years not fighting for my rights and just being patient. I left my affairs to Allah. Now I can say that I have the final word when it comes to my children’s affairs. I get to decide because my husband now trusts me and my judgement. But I worked for his trust and I didn’t feel entitled to it just because I married him.
He comes to me for advice and values my opinion in every aspect of his life. After 30 years of marriage, I finally feel that we’ve developed a deep bond of mutual respect and trust. But it took 30 years to build. This deep commitment to one another has to be nurtured throughout your marriage. Girls nowadays are impatient. They don’t want to wait 30 years. I can understand why. But understand this, Life is not short, its very long. So invent in the future of your marriage instead of fighting for what you think you deserve today.
And even after 30 years of commitment, don’t expect to fully understand your husband. That will never happen. You will never truly know what is in his heart. They don’t share everything with you. You will always be surprised by them no matter how long you’ve been married. Men are unpredictable.
If you could only give your kids only one piece of advice…
I would say listen to everyone’s opinion but make up your own mind. Always make your own decisions.
The most important part of making any decision is making sure your heart is at peace; that you’re satisfied with yourself. That you’re not hurting anyone else with whichever path you chose. Its when others are also happy that we can truly feel a sense of peace. I mean how can we live for just our own happiness? I’m only deeply happy when the people around me are also happy.
For me, I’ve only felt at sukoon (peace), like the type of sukoon that brings a lightness to your heart when I’ve tried to serve others. That sort of happiness cannot be compared with any other type of satisfaction. You will never regret helping others. It’s a permanent source of happiness because its from Allah. What could be better than that?