Dear Single Muslim Mother - Suma Din

Najah, friend and attendee at
The Bread & Pastry Masterclass (Level 1) Thursday evenings

Salaam Dearest Heba,

I know we’ve only known each other a short while, on our cookery course, (and we never get to finish our conversations), so I decided to write to you. It’s about what you told me – your biggest challenge: life as a single mother.

This is new for you.

It was a shock to my system when it happened to me. I wasn’t prepared at all. In the beginning I was just trying to survive mentally and physically, battling all the opinions and judgements, befriending that faithful loneliness that comes to stay. That was years ago, thank God. Since I’ve raised my children as a sole parent, I’ve learnt a few things along the way, and I don’t hesitate to share my experience if I’m asked anything about it. It’s not like there are teams of people out there to cheer us on.

I became a single mother through divorce, and so I can only talk about it coming from that experience. Becoming a single mother from widowhood is completely different with its own heartbreaking challenges. I hope there’s less of the judgements passed for mothers in such tragic circumstances.

In my case, I wish someone had told me what I’m going to say to you. I wish someone had been bold enough to sit with me and share what it’s like. But I know people get shy to speak up, in case they might offend. I’m glad I know you well enough, even if it is just through our rushed chats in the class. Here’s what I didn’t finish saying last Wednesday.

The first is to be kind to yourself.

Being a single mother isn’t something we dreamt we’d be; no one does. Once we’re here though, we need some kindness, to ourselves first and foremost. It’s so natural to be flat out protecting our children through the huge effect the parents’ break up has on them that we forget we are human too.

You don’t have to be so hard on yourself twenty-four hours a day like it’s a continuous job interview; as though you are getting marks out of ten for everything you do. Kindness to ourselves is taking the time to find help to heal from whatever led to our situation. Kindness is not blaming ourselves for everything that doesn’t go right. Kindness is not expecting all the resources to come from within us, but reaching out for our needs. Kindness is making sure we consciously rest, eat mindfully, get some exercise and time outdoors, or whatever helps us.

You’re human, so it’s ok to be who you are and do the best you can within that, not the best you can in some imaginary fantasy of the ‘ideal mother’. She doesn’t exist.


She never has.

You’ve got what it takes already, to be a good mother: caring, devoted and present. If the world has made the list for what a ‘good mother’ is, ten times longer than what it was in the past, then we need to fold that list up and let it fly off somewhere far away. Being a ‘good mother’ was never that complicated centuries ago. If you’re there for your children, no matter what, nurturing them the best you can, then accept you’re doing well.

And that takes me to my second point: make that village. I wish I was told this as bluntly as I’ll say it here. You know people plaster the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ thing all over Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest? Well, it seems like a nice idea and nothing to do with the reality we single mothers face at first. I thought a lot about it over the years, especially when I struggled to do it all myself.

I broke down so many times because it wasn’t possible for one body to be in so many places and be so many things for the kids. It just wasn’t possible. That’s when I’d think most about this village – and wonder, where the heck is it?
The likelihood is you might not be sat in the middle of wonderful elders and co-parents to raise your children with you, but you can definitely go out there and stitch together your own version. That’s what I realised: pull together a spider’s web of different sorts of people that you can rely on.

It might start with one other mother, then a couple of their friends, a relative if you’re lucky to have a helpful one, and then build on that. You can help and lean on each other to survive those tough days. People who live nearby and who aren’t clones of each other. Different is good – it’s a mix of strengths. The mother who likes staying indoors and the mother who loves being out. One who’s a good driver and one who’s got the most patience when it rains for a week and you’re all stuck inside. By the time we’ve finished this course, your baking skills will stand out for sure – a strength you can offer!

Slowly but surely, one by one, making our own support network is a positive step. We might get disappointed in between, but we have to learn from those episodes, get back up and keep building our version of a village that works for us.

The third thing is to keep hopeful. Instead of the many unhelpful and scaremongering comments, I wish someone had given me some hope: that successful, kind and compassionate children are also raised by single mothers. People are only too ready to project doom and gloom for our children on to us. There was so much guilt, fear, and a type of grief for what had changed in all our lives (not all divorce is angry, mine wasn’t) that it looked like we were not coping at first. Learning to accept the new normal, gradually takes its toll.

It takes time to live through it day by day; to spar with the negativity until it gets smaller. Bit by bit the creases of hurt disappear as time steams over them. Each week, each day, the emotional scars get fainter. Until the eye can hardly see it: it’s ironed out.

Part of the grief and sadness is the fear that gets mixed in. Even if you don’t start off with much, people around you will make sure you’re afraid for your children’s future. It would have helped me keep my chin up if instead someone had said to me great single mothers have raised great men and women that history has recorded as scholars, hafizs of Qur’an, leaders, scientists. A single parent is no less of a parent.

Often the efforts and sacrifices our children witness in us are what builds their character. I wish I had been reassured with this. I’d tried so often to hide my hardships from my children, but looking back I see now that their strength is due to the fact they learnt to survive and find their abilities while still young. Over time, my children became my strength and I’m thankful and proud of who they have become. Please don’t let unhelpful voices of misery snatch your hope and joy away from a future you can build.

And well, there’s so much more to say. But for today, I’ll end with this. We both have our faith and so we are never alone for a moment. Allah (swt) is with us. He is al- Fatih – The One Who opens. He is the Most Trustworthy Who we can rely upon to open doors to sustain us – body and soul – with rizq and knowledge. He is the Ultimate Judge over our affairs; we need to keep this attribute alive in our minds daily. How can we feel weak for too long when we remember He is al-Aziz – the Most Powerful – and al-Rahman – the All-Merciful

We know the challenges won’t cease and the difficult days will come and go, but we can strengthen ourselves by knowing that our struggles are supported by the Owner, al-Malik, of everyone and everything.

I gave you my number last week, please ring or message me when you’re feeling lonely. I’d like to introduce you to a couple of friends when you’re ready.

Ma'a al-Salamah With much love,



Excerpt is from Dear Mother: Letters From the Heart by Suma Din

9781847742032 - Hardback