Saturday, January 9, 2016

Just Be Yourself? 

With two boys at home, I have the painful privilege of watching Hollywood kid films such as How to Tame a Dragon and Brave on repeat. I’ve noticed a running theme in these movies that we didn’t get growing up. The message? “Be yourself, no matter what other people think – even your own parents.” 

Take the relationship between Hiccup and his father, Stoick, in How to Tame a Dragan. Hiccup doesn’t want to be what his father wants him to and yet he doesn’t want to let his father down. While Hiccup feels the pressure of wanting to live up to his father’s expectations, by the end, Stoick finally accepts Hiccup as he is and even learns to appreciate their differences. 

Similarly, in Kung Fu Panda, Po pursues the path he chooses for himself despite the disapproval of his adoptive father. By the end, Mr Ping accepts Po and where his passion leads him. 

In Brave, Queen Elinor loves her daughter Merida but goes to great lengths to thwart and dismiss Merida's desires for the life she wants for herself. But, of course, it’s a happy ending for everyone. 

In Mulan, the heroine refuses to fit into cultural stereotypes. The film shows the reality of worrying about social pressures, family expectations and gender inequality. 

These movies tell our kids to discover themselves, be true to whatever it is they discover and then follow their hearts. But this isn’t the message we get in our everyday lives: in fact, we’re often told to be anything but ourselves. 

Culturally, we are raised to conform to our parent’s expectations and adopt societal norms. Our child shows a natural inclination to music and the arts, but we force them to the sciences. A girl hates to wear dresses, but we put her in one anyway. Our son shows no interest in getting married, yet we pester him every day to “settle down”. Instead of being encouraged to pursue our dreams, we’re often shot down at every turn. Differences are not valued nor understood as they are in the movies our kids are watching. 

Our children don’t always turn out the way we hope or expect. The way I see it, part of my job as a parent is to study my children, determine their strengths and their gifts and nurture their interests. I don’t let my hopes for their futures cloud the vision that is naturally growing in them. I know that perfect scores at school won’t determine my children’s success and happiness in life. I want to help them be true to who they are, discover their callings in life and explore and pursue them. It’s the only way I see them developing, learning and growing from their mistakes and contributing freely and fully to our world. 

I Ask the Expert
Child Development & Parenting Specialist Sirsa Qursha 

Q: Are children exactly how they should be at a given point in time and will learn from the natural consequences of their choices or are children moulded by parental influence and it is our job to teach them how to be in this world? 

Qursha: Parents often forget that children are born with “pre-set” temperaments and abilities. Nevertheless, over the course of development, children also change due to influences from their environment (be it parenting and cultural influences or life experiences). It’s key that parents realise two very important things; accepting your child for who he is, unconditionally, is paramount. It’s the building block of a positive sense of self for your child. The other important factor to consider is the need to parent consciously, realising how our actions and reactions to our children shape their everyday development. Whether it’s accepting your child with a severe developmental delay or a defiant child who is quite headstrong, the secret of good parenting is embracing differences and assisting your child in realising his full potential – not your own version of that potential.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Winter Baking:
Warm Baked Apples
As temperatures drop in Jordan, I like to keep the cool weather at bay by indulging in simple yet decadent desserts like baked apples!

Large baking apples, washed 
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/4 cup chopped raisins (optional)
3/4 cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 190°C
2. Using an apple corer, cut out the cores, leaving the bottom 1/2 inch of the apples intact
3. Place the brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans and raisins (if using) in a small bowl and stir to combine
4. Put the apples in a baking dish and stuff each apple with the sugar stuffing mixture
5. Place a little butter on top of the sugar
6. Pour the boiling water into the bottom of the baking dish and bake for 30 to 45 minutes until the apples are cooked through and tender, but not overcooked and mushy
7. When done, remove the apples from the oven and top with vanilla sauce (you can find packs in the supermarket) or vanilla ice cream

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Best Christmas Gift?

It's the holidays and, as every year, my in-laws ask what I want for Christmas. What's the latest gadget, the latest trend, something I want and long to have? For the first 30 years of my life, I always had an answer for what I want, that gift voucher, that accessory, that camera or smart phone. Now I have my eyes on a particular watch but even that isn't so important to me as it once would have been. The best Christmas gift I know I'll be getting this year is the one I'm giving myself: Gratitude. 

Two old albums I listened to recently (one by the Indigo Girls and the other by Diana Krall) took me down memory lane as I reminisced of times I shared with the two people they remind me of. I knew each of them at different times in my life and both for a total of two years, yet those two years are worth a lifetime. I will probably never see or talk to them again but the impact they had on me is timeless. They were such an integral part of my self-exploration and self-discovery that a piece of them will remain entrenched in my mind and heart long after they exited my life. I am forever grateful. 

So who are the people you're grateful for? Why do they matter to you? And would they still hold significance to you even if they were no longer in your life? Even if they were to never reach out to you or you to them?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It’s Not About Perfect

Most mornings start the same in our apartment in West Amman. At six a.m., I fetch Omar’s undergarments and school uniform. In the kitchen, I spread paprika-seasoned hummus onto toasted German bread and top it with tomato slices. 

Guten Morgen. Hast du gut geschlafen?” I wake up Omar who's unresponsive and there begins the rush of seeing him out the door in time to catch the bus to school. 


It’s seven a.m. and Shareef has begun his morning ritual of wiggles and mumblings. “Five more minutes, habiby,” I murmur as I dry the last few dishes. At the start of “mama mama mama,” I spring to his call. 

Sabah al-khair Shareefo!” I greet him beaming. I know he needs to be changed and fed. A swarm of work emails need to be addressed. But this moment, with Shareef hanging on to me so tightly, is fleeting. With his little hands caressing my hair and hazelnut brown eyes gazing into mine, I can almost hear him say, “Mama, you are the world to me.”

It doesn’t matter to him whether I’m slender, smart, tidy or rich. He loves me just the way I am. Omar is a different story. At seven years old, he would rather watch Ninjago than read a story with me. This is the fate of most parents. Those morning smiles have all but vanished and, while he still hugs me goodnight, it’s usually prompted by his father’s insistence. With Omar, I rushed through those precious morning rituals to make sure I got to work on time. With Shareef, the world can just wait for a few minutes.

Shareef likes to take his time eating his breakfast, so between spoonfuls of oatmeal, he listens with fascination and amusement to my off-key singing of his favourite tunes, like ‘Baba wa Mama bihabuni…’. I try to savour this precious moment with him, but my to-do list starts to creep in. I have a dozen emails to write and just as many articles to edit. There’s housework. I have to give Shareef a bath, cut his nails and make his food (it’s mujadara today). Then there’s getting myself ready before we head out for errands – taking a shower and exercising are huge achievements for a work-at-home mother!


With my yellow mat out and blue dumbbells in hand, I’m set to sweat to Jillian Michaels, my kick-butt personal DVD trainer. 

I was a chubby kid who would sacrifice fun with friends and classmates to avoid being seen in a bathing suit and I never wore shorts. I don’t think I ever owned a pair. 

Just when I’m about to fold on that last core move and cave in to the inner voice that says, “You’re not worth it,” Jillian speaks to me through my television screen. “It's not about perfect,” she says. “It's about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that's where transformation happens. That's how change occurs.” 


The bus beeps, announcing Omar’s return from school. “How was your day?” I ask. “Fine.” “What did you do today?” I prompt. “Nothing,” he says. Between feeding the boys, getting Omar changed and sitting him down for homework, I try to think of other ways to ask the same question. “So, Omar, was Ms. Jackson happy or sad today?” I ask. This elicits a more specific response, if just as short. Of all the obscure courses I took during my undergraduate and graduate studies, Parenting 101 was not among them. I sure could use it now. 


With the kids tucked in bed, I unwind over back-to-back episodes of my favourite television shows. I’m supposed to be working: I should be editing articles, coordinating with writers and experts and planning future editions. When I reach for the fridge to get milk for my late-night coffee fix, the blank magnetic notepad stares me in the face. The laundry needs folding. But all of it can wait. 

After all, it’s not about perfect.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Gratitude for the New Year 

The beginning of every year is a hopeful time. We make a decision to improve something with ourselves. At the very least, we have intentions, if not an entire strategy, to edit aspects of our lives that we don’t like. 

But for 2016, I have a different kind of New Year's Resolution and that's gratitude. Rather than focus on changing the things I don’t like about myself, I'll be looking at all the things that I'm pleased with.

Being grateful for family, for deepened relationships, for good health and so on. It's about striving to embrace all that we have in life, all the people we love, and all the stories we create in the moments that we’ve been given.

In this "gratitude" post, I ask others, "What Does Family Mean To You":

Samar Sabha
Life Coach and Creativity & Design Thinking Trainer 

Family is a safe place that’s free of judgment, honours differences and is full of hugs, “I love you”, “I care about you”, “I support you”, “I will not let you down”, “I am here for you” and “You are great and beautiful as you are”. Where do I place my family according to my own definition? I give myself seven out 10. Some moments I give myself 10 out of 10 and sometimes I decide to do better next time.

Dr Sahar Jumean
Paediatric Dentist

Family is morning coffee with my spouse and mayhem trying to rush the kids out of the house in time for school. It's laughing uncontrollably with my siblings and a hug from a parent that feels like home. Family is strolling on a beach collecting seashells and opening gifts Christmas morning. It's hand-me-downs that are so precious. Family is chaotic order, it's knowing that someone is just a phone call away willing to drop everything in a heartbeat for you; unconditional love despite time or distance. 

Sheela Sheth
Food Contributor 

Family is inspiration, strength, support and providence. A light at the end of the tunnel.

Karma Khalidi
Early Childhood Teacher 

Family is all the people around me who have made a mark on who I am today – mostly in a positive way. Some of the people I consider family are actually friends who’ve shared special moments with me. As a mother, I also understand that family is unmeasurable love. I feel blessed to have a loving and supportive family that pushes me to excel and simply makes my life worth living.

Rula Wardeh Sakkab
Yoga Instructor

I see my yoga students as family – those I share similar interests, dreams and lifestyles. My second cousin is family even though we have totally different interests. My closest friend is like family because we understand and can forgive each other. With family, I don’t feel judged, even when I have unintentionally done or said something wrong. But I don’t take them for granted – family it is still a relationship that needs to be nurtured with compassion.

Dr Marwan Jumean

Family includes all those we love, trust and respect and these are the cornerstones of a happy family. My siblings and I are lucky to have been raised on such a foundation. My family is my support system; they are there for me when I need them the most. My wife and I try to raise our kids the same way our families raised us: to love, respect, motivate and support each other; what affects one family member, affects the family as a whole.

Razan Shwayhat


“My family is my life” may seem like a cliché but when you read between the lines, you understand that it means: 

“I” is no longer “myself”
I take care of myself for them
They are in my thoughts, prayers and plans – everything is oriented around them
It’s the place I always want to go to and where I feel safe

Noor Sa'adeh
Blogger & Production Manager 

The passage and journey of life is much more apparent with a family. Birth, death, marriage, successes and failures are all shared and create many opportunities to see one another to check in and check up. You are loved by family “just because”. There is no need to prove yourself or to be sought after only for what you can do for others. The unconditional love of family, even when these relationships are tested by the stresses of life, overcomes all. 

Sally Hurst

Private Chef & Food Blogger 

Family are those we depended on to be the one constant in our lives. Growing up in different countries, friends would change, apartments would be different, languages unfamiliar, schools would be new, but my parents and sisters would remain the same. My husband's Jordanian Circassian family has embraced me warmly and with enthusiasm. Their smiles, hugs and habibatees break through any cultural barriers that might exist. 

Banan Gharaibeh
Food Blogger

I realised how much my family is truly my treasure this year when my youngest son graduated. At that moment, I truly didn't regret quitting and refusing long hours at a pharmaceutical company or having my own pharmacy. Nowadays, I’m happy as a food blogger and my whole family participates with food and setup ideas! 

Zeina Shahzada-Majali
Assistant Director at National Press 

Family is my heart, my strength, my happiness. I don't only consider my kin as close family but also some of my friends who’ve been with me through thick and thin. Even colleagues I've worked with for over a decade have become my family. One of the most beautiful qualities of our part of the world is how family remains deeply rooted in our society.

Dr Josi Salem-Pickartz
Clinical Psychologist

I owe who I am, in all positive and negative aspects, to the family that I come from. In our current family, we are a great team and very good, close friends. We can rely on each other, trust each other and understand and respect each other’s unique personalities. Family is the soil in which a person grows and the water that she needs to develop her personality and potential to its fullest.

Sonia Salfity

Family is sharing of laughter and tears during good times and bad. These memories are like a beacon of light that can shine on the darkest of days, bringing joy even when things aren't going my way. Family can encompass so much when we allow ourselves to open up and be courageous and authentic. I am grateful that I belong to a God who shows me how to love and how to accept love from others. Suddenly, I don't focus on shortcomings but on the endless blessings that flow through these relationships.

Dr Amjad Jumai'an
Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

As a child psychiatrist and father, I know very well that a child’s wellbeing is dependent on his family’s wellbeing. For me, family is a group of people that work cohesively, are open to one another about their thoughts, are not afraid to share their shortcomings and to learn from their mistakes. They make decisions together and subsequently have self-respect and mutual respect.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hidden Veggie Smoothie 

We already know the importance of children getting enough fruit and vegetables into their daily diet. However, finding a way to get little ones to eat two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables every day can be tough – I know it’s tough with my two boys. Sneakiness is needed for my picky eaters. You too can help your child get the recommended daily amounts of both fruits and veggies with this smoothie.

1 cup low-fat milk 
½ cup orange juice 
1 banana, peeled
1 apple, cut up
¼ cup strawberries, blueberries or pineapple 
1 tbsp honey 
¼ cup plain yoghurt 
1 carrot, peeled 
1 cucumber 
1 cup cauliflower 

1. Pour milk into the blender
2. Add your fruits, veggies, honey and yoghurt. Add milk or orange juice if it gets too thick
3. Put blender on a high setting for a minute or two
4. Serve immediately. For toddlers, serve in a cup with a straw