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MUM TRAVELER by Umm Safiyyah

by Blessed Ummi

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We try to inculcate the love for the Quran, the Prophet and his companions in most that we do. – Umm Safiyyah

In the latest edition of the Inspirational Ummi series, we chat with Nur Suliani Md Noor (also known as Umm Safiyyah), a Singaporean entrepreneur-turned-homeschooling mother. Together with her husband, Umm Safiyyah decided to take a leap of faith and begin life anew in Jordan together with their two children, aged 4 years old and 18 months. Get ready to be humbled and blown away by Umm Safiyyah as we learn more about why her family is in Jordan, her parenting principles centred on faith and her amazing struggles as a young, pregnant mother in a foreign country. 

Tell us more about yourself.

Umm Safiyyah's children at a mosque during one of their travels from Jordan

Umm Safiyyah’s children at a mosque during one of their travels from Jordan

I am mum to 4 year old Furqan and 18 months old Safiyyah. For the last several years, I co-ran an education business with my spouse and enjoyed my work tremendously. Later on, we saw a need for me to be around the children more during their core developing years and we made that very important decision for me to stop work to care for them. Alhamdulillah, that decision has led to some of the most meaningful and beautiful memories made in my journey of motherhood. I have never quite visualised myself to be a stay-at-home mother but as time flew by, I knew that my family comes first and that I can never gain any time I have missed out when they are young. It was not an easy adjustment, though. Truth to be told, it has at times made me lose my mind but more than that, I found greater purpose in life and instead found my soul, most settled to be where it is.

 

Tell us how you ended up in Jordan! What was the inspiration that propelled you and husband to take this leap of faith? Tell us about the goals that you and husband have in mind for the family.

My husband and I have always enjoyed traveling. There’s just so much to explore and learn from Allah’s vastness of this Earth. But traveling in short periods and totally uprooting oneself is not the same thing. The latter involves a lot of adjustment and requires one to step out of his comfort zone. We have been very fortunate to be living in Singapore, but at the same time, we also yearn for that opportunity to seek our own family adventures away. Into the 4th year of our marriage, my husband wanted to spend some time learning Arabic and seek more knowledge in the deen. We explored our options and knew that we wanted to be in an Arabic-speaking country. With so much going on in the middle east, we decided that Jordan would be our best option. It took a while for us to get our plans moving but Alhamdulillah, we managed to sort the major issues out and before we knew it, we were packing to leave Singapore. This, of course, would not be possible without the support and du’as of our family members. We felt that it was an ideal time to do this since the children are still young. We were excited about giving them that chance to explore a different culture and environment away from home. I have observed that children learn patience and resilience better through traveling as they adapt through changes. We wanted to take advantage of that and also show them that the world is their playground and that all of Allah’s land is their home.

Our main goal was and still is to create a god conscious environment wherever we are for the family, one that focuses on the main purpose of our existence in this world, which is to serve Allah SWT. Plans may change but our goal will always remain the same. For my husband and I, having been through secular education, we knew that we needed to have more knowledge before we can educate our children. What is more important is to try to always become better and continue learning for Allah’s sake and for the benefit of our children as well. We had no foundation at all in Arabic but we knew we had to start somewhere as after all it is the language of our holy book, the Quran and it is the door of knowledge. We hope that what we can show our children that it is never too late to start or do something we strongly believe in and instilling that strong sense of exploration in them, that it is perfectly alright to step put of our comfort zones.

During this period of time there may be uncertainties for you and family. What are some of them and how do you cope? 

Su family mosque

There were indeed several challenges and uncertainties which we faced. After all, we were all used to a comfortable and familiar lifestyle back in Singapore. I remember the feeling when we first arrived in Amman. As much as I was excited to start a brand new adventure, I was also anxious about being able to settle down as many things were different. But masyaAllah, it turned out that the children had no problems adjusting themselves to a new environment. Honestly, I feel that it was the adults who took time to adapt.

One challenge was to cope without having a strong support network which I was used to back home. I came to realise that I was on my own in managing my family and that perhaps was a little intimidating. However, it also taught me to garner my inner strength and rely on Allah for help more than ever and spiritually, this was very uplifting. I learned from being away that many things are beyond our control and that the best guardian is our Lord. I also learned a lot about independence and this helped me to be conscious about my parenting skills as well. Also, down the road, the longer you spend in a place, the more relationships you form and I was lucky to meet very kind individuals in Amman. These relationships built when you are away are indeed special as these people become your next-of-kin whereever you are and we know that no matter where life brings us next, these relationships will last, insyaAllah.

Your parents and in-laws must surely miss the kids! How do you manage the expectations of your family back home? 

Our parents have a very close-knitted relationship with their children and grandchildren, so naturally we knew that this separation will not be easy especially during the initial stages. Alhamdulillah for technology though! With ‘Whatsapp’ and ‘Skype’, communicating with one another has never been an issue. We just had to remain committed in sending news and updates of our family. Sending photos of the children regularly helped a lot to ease the grandparents’ minds. We will also get our first-born to chat with their grandparents regularly over video calls. We try not to make them worry and we do this by letting them know that our family is doing good over on the other side. Before we left, each set of parents also had their own advice and reminders for both my husband and I. This, we held on to strongly and always reminded ourselves of their words before we left.

You can never really prepare fully for a separation I guess but over the months before we left, we tried our best to prep and speak to them about our plans to live overseas. It helps that they know what your plans are when you are away as this puts a part of them at ease. ( Parents will always be parents who will certainly worry about their children no matter how grown up their children are and where they are :) ) We also shared with them our reasons and objectives behind the move.

What are some of the experiences you have gained while in Jordan that have impacted you? Has your worldview of things been challenged?

Jordan is a developing country. As much as Amman, where we are in, is a city, the country is still building itself up. Coming from Singapore, we were very much used to conveniences and comfort. This however, does not exist (or at least in the same way) when you move overseas. For instance, the very first time we lost electricity at home, I was pretty restless about it as I was in the midst of my chores and needed the power to be up, a very typical reaction from someone who came from a developed country. I realised later that I was indeed fretting over a very small issue. Yes, I may have to get by the day without electricity but it only reminded me of many others who were just across the border in the midst of wars and not even having a roof over their heads. What was a day without electricity compared to that? The same goes with accessibility to clean water. In Singapore, the possibility of running out of tap water is very low but in Jordan, each home is given a tank of water to be consumed within the week. If this runs out, then your supply for the week is also gone. You can try to get them to replenish your water tank but this takes time. This only taught us to be more careful of our water consumption and I must say, it indirectly helped us to think of ways to be water-savvy. Though this, we also learn and are able to teach our children more about proper usage of resources. We are able to talk more about how it is discouraged to be wasteful through our actions rather than just words. Many other people do not even have access to clean drinkable water all over the world, for example. A lot of us are busy trying to attain luxuries when many others do not even have basic necessities. This puts a lot of perspective on how we view the world.

We also saw that we do not need a lot to get by in this world, that happiness comes from contentment.

Being away, specifically in Jordan, has taught us not to take things or people around us for granted and that everyday given to us is an opportunity to improve ourselves and quality of life. It has opened our eyes to how material possessions can never replace the very existence of our loved ones. We also saw that we do not need a lot to get by in this world, that happiness comes from contentment. We have seen for ourselves how other families who have much lesser than us getting by with lots of gratitude and a cheerful disposition. This comes from their ultimate faith in Allah, that everything has been written and ordained and that Allah will not burden us with more than we can shoulder. This impacted us very much in ways no formal education could have and we hope that our children will remember these experiences as they are growing up, especially our first born, Furqan. We want our children to learn that life has its share of ups and downs, which all come from Allah azza wa jal and that what matters most is how we react to unfavourable circumstances and challenges. We must always have faith that Allah knows what is best for us.

Moving has definitely challenged our worldview of things, especially on how we see ourselves and our roles in this world. The land of Allah is huge and it is full of incredible things, amazing people and beautiful spots. At the same time, widespread poverty, tragic wars and unjust actions plague the world. We start questioning ourselves on how we can better serve Allah in this life with so much going on. The best we can do now is to try to equip our children with the right tools for them to have with them as they mature into adults who will be able to bring positive changes to the world, be it small or big.

How has shifting overseas impacted your parenting?

Furqan and Safiyyah learn the names of body parts in Arabic

Furqan and Safiyyah learn the names of body parts in Arabic

Shifting overseas has made me become more aware of my parenting skills (but I am very much still learning and have a long way to go) and I believe it has helped me to have a stronger sense of who I am as a parent; that my role is not to teach my children about life skills or theories but to facilitate and provide windows of exploration and opportunities for them. I have learned that I need to be more conscious of their interests, learning styles, strengths and weaknesses. This will enable me to guide them through life with more understanding and purpose. I have also learned that it is important to educate them that their reliance should not be on me or on their father, but their Creator, Allah for one day they may not have us in this world but they will always have Allah. Sometimes we find ourselves too wrapped up in parenting and tend to shelter our children from uncertainties but this will not help them grow as independent and productive adults. Hence, we need to learn when to let go and allow our children to learn from mistakes which in turn makes them learn perseverance and determination.

…that my role is not to teach my children about life skills or theories but to facilitate and provide windows of exploration and opportunities for them.

It has also made me become more focused on my priorities. I used to be very distracted with things going on around me and sometimes this affects the family. When we were away, there were only us to manage ourselves in an unfamiliar land. So naturally, we were forced to anchor all our time and resources into our family. With this, we are constantly reminded of our goals and vision of parenting for our children. Another valuable effect it has on me as a parent is that it has taught me to appreciate my parents’ sacrifices and efforts in raising my siblings and I up. Their endless sacrifices for us and their limitless love showered on us all these years humble me. This helps to give me the strength to have more patience when I am parenting my own children. It was only when I became a stay-at-home mother that I realised how big a sacrifice my mum has made to care and always put her family first. Parenting is a fulfilling job, albeit one that comes with its fair share of difficulties but my parents showed me that they could do it with their share of challenges as well and so this motivates me to be try to become better parents for my own children.

Why did you choose to homeschool your children?

It is the most suitable arrangement for our family now, one that allows us to be close to our children and focus on our objectives of education for them. It also allows flexibility of time and freedom of learning approaches. Homeschooling permits us to personalise our lessons or sessions we have for the little ones and this, to me, aids in a lot of the reduction of time wastage. Through homeschooling, we are able to achieve a balance of child-led learning and infusing part of our structured sessions. This is something we truly appreciate and find beneficial.

Having said the above, it is important to note that homeschooling may not work for all families. Even for us, in the long run, we may have our children attend school depending on their needs when they are older. What is key is to know exactly what you and your spouse would like to achieve in your child’s learning journey because you will have to depend on these goals especially during trying times. It helps you stay focused.

Furqan building a rocket during a session on space and galaxies

Furqan building a rocket during a session on space and galaxies

Tell us about a typical day there. How do you juggle between lessons and the household chores?

A mess! Hehe. Life with children is always unpredictable and I have learned (perhaps still am) to take things within my stride and multi-task. We are usually most occupied in the mornings where after breakfast, we will sit for a session of Quran reading. For now, I have given up on schedules and rely on routines instead. After lunch, we will have a session of Math / Science / Languages. My husband has also stepped in to do Quran memorisation with Furqan so depending on his schedule, they will have their session together either in the morning or after Maghrib prayers. Honestly, there have been many times when I would be cooking or doing other chores and at the same time, being in the midst of a learning session with the children. Sometimes, I forget that I even have the stove on (which is totally dangerous!) But I take what I can have and tell myself that consistency is key.

What is the focus in your homeschooling sessions? How did you shape your lessons?

The core of our children’s learning is the Quran. So our focus for now is to help them read, understand and practice the beautiful lessons in it. This of course takes time, and is a lifelong journey. We try to inculcate the love for the Quran, the Prophet and his companions in most that we do. For instance, we can be learning about nature and I will try to insert key points in how Allah has made and created the wonders that we are learning about.

I cannot really say I have ‘lessons’ because the type of activity we do depends on what we are learning and his interest for the day. Hence I prefer to call them ‘sessions’ instead. And mostly, these can be very impromptu because I have learned that children are naturally what we can call a captive audience. Our sessions may consist of painting while telling stories, building with manipulatives while discovering mathematical concepts, learning how to use the vacuum cleaner or cooking pasta while  introducing toyyiban (good and pure) foods, watching documentaries and creating posters, mapping out the wonders of the world and sitting down for written work.

What advice would you give to any mother who wishes to homeschool, especially if they live overseas?

I am certainly not qualified to give any advice as I consider myself to be very new in this. All I can share is that it helps is to know what you as parents want for your children precisely and explicitly. This will be the grounding and motivating factors that will assist you to come to a decision about your child’s learning journey. There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to this and every family will have to work out what is best for them, with Allah’s help and guidance. When you decide to homeschool, this decision has to be achieved by both you and your spouse together. I am grateful that I have a supportive husband who participates actively in parenting the children and backs me up on days when I need a breather.

Consistency (istiqomah) is utmost importance in the long run and all success stories of homeschooling will have this as a common ground. Which reminds me that in this journey of motherhood and homeschooling, I have learned to rely on Allah more than ever because it tests you a whole 360 degrees, often throwing you curve balls. And I see myself as simply a tool to help my child with his learning, that the only one who brings success is Allah ta’ala. We also need to keep on renewing our intentions when we are in the midst of challenges.

Umm Safiyyah uses a lot of simple, hand-drawn activity sheets for her sessions

Umm Safiyyah uses a lot of simple, hand-drawn activity sheets for her sessions

For those who are residing overseas, it helps if you can find a support network of other moms who are also homeschooling but if you can’t, then that’s perfectly fine too because I have realised that your child doesn’t need a lot to learn with you or vice versa. All he needs is you to be present with him and be involved in his daily activities. Back in Singapore, I was spoilt for choice when it comes to learning resources because it was easy to get our hands on many learning aids and materials but in Amman, I didn’t have this luxury and had to depend a lot on my own creativity (which trust me, I do not have a lot of. Hehe). I ended up writing my own handouts for him, made our own posters and that’s when I realise that sometimes the simplest tools work best and that homeschooling does not require you to spend a lot on learning resources. We also need to make our homes as our haven where the family members can seek peace from as this is where learning begins. Sometimes we overlook this factor and try to find fancy places of learning to send our child to when he can also reap the same benefits from the home, with us, his parents.

Tell us about another mother who has inspired you.

My inspirations are my mother and my mother-in-law, for being very selfless in all that they do. We can never repay them for all that we have done for them and in trying times, I get reminded of how tirelessly they workday in and day out to serve the family. Their focus and their utmost dedication in caring for the family always propel me to strive to be a better mother myself. 

 
Any last words?

Every day we have with our children is a gift from Allah.

Umm Safiyyah Floral DressIt has certainly been an enlightening and enriching conversation with the beautiful Umm Safiyyah! To honour her, we have named our Umm Safiyyah Floral Dress after her. We hope that her sharing has benefited you significantly and we hope that you will keep her and her family in your du’as, especially for her imminent delivery for her third baby inshaaAllah. Blessed Ummi also prays that Umm Safiyyah will constantly thrive in this world together with her family and may their goals of becoming good servants to Allah be achieved! May they receive constant reward for their noble intentions, in this world and in the Hereafter!

The Inspirational Ummi Project was born out of a desire to share the secret stories that mothers hold behind their everyday struggles. Mothers are known for their quiet strength, and every mother is inspirational. Blessed Ummi hopes to share more of such stories because we know that sharing makes the motherhood journey less lonely, because we know that struggle is the middle name of motherhood. Struggle can be beautiful, and struggle need not be lonely. There is much we can learn from one another.

All ummis we feature will be honoured by having a collection named after her and all stories will be permanently on the web :) Just a little something we can do to leave behind a legacy of stories to empower current and future mothers, and to inspire all of us to live life to the fullest despite our own personal life journeys.

Read about other mothers we have featured before:

  • Raudah Laza – a young mother who juggles degree, a teaching career and an online educational print shop
  • Ildasolha Jamari – Singapore’s first Malay boardbook for children author
  • Azlina Abdul Samat – A reflective educator and mother who delved into the world of essential oils for her family and practices simplicity as her parenting principle
  • Norlizan Mohidu Kunyalee – A mother of 4 who who believes in involving her children to care for their special needs sibling

About The Blessed Ummi

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Umm Iman says:

Very inspiring. Always in awe of mothers who take a step / many steps to adapt life in a foreign land. 😀

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