By Sumbel Gilani

This year is my first Ramadan in four years when I am neither pregnant nor breastfeeding. Consequently, it is my first time fasting as a mother. It is also the first time my two children, aged 3 years and 2 years old, are of an age where they will notice things are different around the house, Mama and Daddy are not eating with them and (I hope) are praying more than usual.

I approached the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with excitement, combined with a little fear and apprehension. The incredibly long fasts of 18 hours a day during the hot summer months, when we can neither eat nor drink, are strenuous. Combined with the sleep deprivation from the early morning meals and late dinners, this month is hard as it is. But throw young children into the mix then the challenge seems insurmountable. As I predicted, my youngest wakes up and cries out for me exactly half an hour before I am scheduled to wake up for the pre-dawn meal. My oldest stalls bedtime and refuses to sleep so that I struggle to prepare the dusk meal, with which we break our fast. And during the day they keep up their energy, tantrums and rows so that I am run off my feet and more exhausted than usual, but cannot rely on caffeine or chocolate to keep myself going.

However, I am also excited to be fasting during Ramadan after several years. I get to renew my faith and feel better spiritually, which helps me feel stronger physically and mentally. I can pick up the Qur’an, which was revealed in this month over 1400 years ago, and recite its melodious words. I get to share the community feeling with others who are also partaking in this physical form of worship. I am reminded to be grateful for all the luxuries I have as someone living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. To think less of myself and my children and more about others struggling in the world, who go hungry all year round.

Eid-decorationsA greater excitement is having a conversation with my children about Ramadan – to be able to explain and share the meaning of this special month to them. I want to make it interesting for them. As they are too young to fast, this does not mean they have to miss out entirely on the month. I can begin to teach them that there are people in the world who have very little food to eat and by fasting we experience some of the hunger pangs they do. We try to avoid excess food consumption and we give money in charity to help the poor. We discipline ourselves to follow the rules of fasting and ultimately do our bodies a favour by giving it a detox.

My children are, of course, too young to fully understand any of this, but just the act of having the discussion with them makes them feel more grown up. I already see the pride in their eyes as their Mama discusses more serious matters with them than what the plans for the day are or are they sure they don’t need a wee.

I want to build up the anticipation of our festival of Eid, which is celebrated when Ramadan comes to an end. To look forward to a celebration in which they can help decorate the house, wear new clothes and receive gifts, like their friends do at Christmas. I want them to see me and their father pay the specified charity payment per household member, due before the Eid prayer and understand how it is our duty to help those less fortunate than us.

For the first time I am seeing Ramadan from an entirely different perspective. I am probably seeing it for what it really is: less about me and more about the impact of my words and actions on those around me. And to me, in this period of my life, that may be the true message of Ramadan.

Sumbel is a mother to two beautiful, energetic and rowdy boys, born 15 months apart, because she likes a challenge! She also works as a lawyer in the not-for-profit sector. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post UK and other parenting websites. She blogs about the joys and challenges of motherhood and can be followed on her Facebook page Mama Not Dumber and Twitter.