Pathways to (Redefining Traditional) Parenthood

By Yusur Al-Salman, Redefining Traditional Project Member 

Hello everyone! My name is Yusur Al-Salman. I’m a graduate student at OISE, in the Adult Education and Community Development program. I’m the newest member joining Redefining Traditional Initiative, and I wanted to share how my journey led me to it. 

Yusur sitting in front of a colourful, textured backdrop, smiling to the camera.

Uncertainty has followed most of us diligently into this academic year. I only recently started remembering what it’s like to plan for the coming month, instead of the coming week. In addition to that, I don’t know what pre-pandemic Canada looks like. I landed in one of the evacuation flights in spring of 2020 and it [still] doesn’t make sense that I was seeing snow in April. But the slowness of life at that period allowed many feelings and plans to simmer, between half-thoughts and half-actions. And as life picked up pace now, I find myself carefully opening a tightly shut Pandora’s box. I now allow fears and more distant plans to come up once again, to be acknowledged and discussed. One such plan is motherhood.  

I haven’t started my journey with motherhood yet, for many reasons. One is my relative newness to Canada, where I cannot still rely upon an established community, present family or institutional knowledge of where to seek help, and especially under the uncertain times of the pandemic. I still volunteered last year at a local community center, where I took a step back and just listened to newcomer mothers’ trials and tribulations as the pandemic exacerbated the burdens of care they carried on daily basis. I also fell back on my research inclinations, which are to read and to listen carefully to people’s experiences, and especially to new parents who have wildly different concerns and challenges than our parents’ generation. That’s only way I know to quell my fears for now, listen, keep an eye out and learn about any resource I heard about that will be useful to me or others around planning on taking that major step in their life.  

An individual interacting with their phone on social media. Sourced from:

I remember accidentally coming across a post on twitter, with contributions from graduate students (even academics who reflected on when they were student parents), about how their colleagues/staff/faculty responded to their family planning/childcare concerns and responsibilities. The discussion took off from individual encounters to how academia’s culture can present having children as a hinderance to academic career development.  It me pause and think – is this even do-able? Is it unrealistic for me to have a child while still dealing with the full-time academic workload, let alone my for my partner who is planning a career in academia? I try answer that question every day, even if it’s just lighting a small, dark corner in my mind, now illuminated with new information about how do-able it is, with empathy and support. I quell my fears with listening, learning, and through Redefining Traditional initiative, also with sharing.

Redefining traditional logo: a illustration of a tree growing outside of its box

My motivation to join Redefining Traditional is two-fold. I want to learn about the many systems, global or Canadian, that will structure my parenting experience; whether it’s the government, university, workplace or social forces. I ask how do young families, like mine, without an established, or accessible, traditional social support system do it? What support they need to do it better, with less cost to their mental and physical health? How is traditional parenting being redefined? One way we hope to share that with you this November, which is Indigenous Education Month, is to share resources with the aim of decolonizing our understanding of parenthood. While we will address the forms of Indigenous parenthood, kinship systems and child-rearing practices that were impacted by settler-colonialism, we will also widen the scope of what it means to decolonizing parenthood to include how immigrant ways of childcare have be dismissed due to white-supremacy and colonialism. I hope to touch upon related themes later, but until then, take care and enjoy Halloween! 

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