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  • Daughters: Our Biggest Teachers


    Daughters: Our Biggest Teachers

    Dr. Najmun Riyaz

    As parents, we feel an obligation to guide our children and be their role models. But only when we emerge from our own anxieties and perfectionism, even if for a little while, we can see how our children may teach us much more about life than we can.

    When I was pregnant with my daughter, I dreamt one night that a beautiful baby was placed in my arms and someone whispered, “Here is Medina”. Medina is a city in Saudi Arabia, a sacred place to Muslims worldwide, where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) took refuge when he escaped the terror and torture of the disbelievers in Mecca. I knew from the moment I woke up that night that we have to name our baby girl “Medina”. In my husband’s family, it was expected that the first grandchild be named by the paternal grandparents- a practice common in our culture. I remember not giving them any choice, I just announced as to what we were going to name our daughter. To this day, I am not sure how they perceived that announcement, but I know they just love her and her name as much as we do.

    That was the first lesson on assertiveness and advocacy which my daughter taught me, even before entering this world.

    Once she got a little older, around her early teens, she taught us how to open our home and heart to Pet animals. Coming from a part of the world where things were scarce, and the focus was mostly on meeting our own basic needs, it wasn’t common to keep pets inside the home. Sure, we’d feed stray cats occasionally, but having them as part of our family? To cuddle them, make them feel loved, cherish them through touch and sweet talk was a foreign concept to us. When our daughter decided to foster little kittens, she taught us how they need same affection and care as their human counterparts. Seeing her take such good care of them filled our hearts with pride for her.

    She slowly taught us to open our hearts to a little kitten that she was fostering, and we ended up adopting her. While this all sounds like something a parent should and usually does for their children, our cultural norms were starkly different. It is this uniqueness- and our children teaching us new things- which makes first-generation Americans stand out from their regular American counterparts. They learn to navigate the real world and take up leadership qualities very early on in their lives, and as long as parents are open to embracing the change and willing to see the world through their lens. Our daughter, like scores of many such first-generation Americans, also had to pick up these traits from a very young age.

    My anxiety for her future made me push her to attend the Muslim youth groups so that she could make friends from her religious and cultural background. I was worried that she may feel confused growing up in a world where she was one of the only Muslims in her school. But she proved me wrong, and I am so glad she did. Where I was worried that she would lack a strong identity, she was focused on her wisdom, intuition, and self-awareness, creating a beautiful world for herself. She taught us what it means to be a real human being in a real-world full of diversity, just the way God created it. She has friends from all backgrounds and all faiths yet she is so dedicated to learning about her own. 

    Coming from a culture where the birth of a male child was celebrated and the birth of a female child was a liability, my own father had celebrated my birth by distributing sweets to the entire hospital staff. From those early seeds of feminism that my father instilled in me, to watching my daughter’s commitment to making this world a better place is a journey worth sharing. All it takes is for us parents to keep an open mind, love them unconditionally, and trust them. Allow them to find their own voice, let them make choices- even if they make mistakes- and above all to be willing to learn from them.

    I am thankful for my daughter for giving me new insights, new reflections, new opportunities for self-awareness. For challenging my beliefs, my opinions, and even my parenting skills. And mostly just for being her own self!

    Happy Women’s Day! ( March 8th, 2021)

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