The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is a time of prayer, fasting and worship that commemorates Muhammad receiving the initial revelations of the Quran, the holy book for Muslims. It's a time for introspection, sacrifice and feeling closer to God for Muslims all over the world, but day-long fasting, worship and prayer — usually performed in solitude and silence — doesn't always combine well with having children.
What is it like to parent during Ramadan? And what's the key to finding joy in the holy month while maintaining a grip on your parenting sanity? Mariam M., a Palestinian mom of three from Texas, says it's all about compromise.
Mariam, who prefers to keep her last name anonymous for privacy reasons, runs an Instagram account focused on raising children who practice Islam. She tells Yahoo Life that, as a mom to young kids, she's realized the years where she observes Ramadan with children underfoot will be fleeting. She tries to remember this when her to-do list during the holy month feels overwhelming.
"This is the most special month of the year for Muslims," she says. "While our parental tasks don't stop, something's gotta give if you want to make time to enjoy the month. Parenting young children is just a season in our lives. [While our kids are small], we're going to miss out a little bit, and that's OK."
Make small compromises to keep your cool while fasting
The Ramadan fast, one of the five pillars of Islam, is called sawm. Sawm starts at daybreak and ends at sunset, with two meals bookending the fast: suhoor in the morning and iftar at night. These are traditionally large meals, but when you're a parent, Ramadan meal times may look a little different.
"Keep it simple," says Mariam. "Putting pressure on yourself to cook extravagant meals will just add to the pressure you already feel, so you may have to adjust course." She suggests having kids help prepare pre- and post-fast meals by setting the table, filling water glasses and putting out the traditional dates eaten before the meal (a practice taken from the traditional teachings of Muhammad). Older kids can also help cook if interested, even if just stirring a pot or keeping track of an oven timer.
Not partaking of as many calories during the day can mean patience wears thin with children more quickly than usual, so Mariam suggests sending kids to bed a little earlier and enjoying the evening meal as relaxed as possible.
"Some parents like to involve their children in suhoor and iftar, but I prefer to eat alone in peace," she admits. "I'm just not there yet with having my little kids be a part of it. Plus, with daylight saving time occasionally occurring at the same time as the holy month, sometimes iftar interferes with the kids' sleep schedules, and keeping them on a schedule is essential for us."
Most Muslim children are not required to fast during Ramadan until they've experienced puberty, but for fasting tweens and teens, it can be difficult to watch their friends eat during lunch or snack time.
"Growing up," says Dr. Fatima Daoud, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology based in New York, "my siblings and I felt like the 'odd kids out' since we were just a few of the handful of kids fasting. My parents tried to compensate by helping us identify our community and build connections."
Daoud, who debunks common women's health myths on her Instagram account, says the most important thing her parents did for them was to explain the reasons for the fast and provide tools to answer the questions they'd inevitably get from classmates.
Children approaching their teens are encouraged to start fasting for a few hours or half-days before they fully participate. "It wasn't easy,” Daoud recalls, "But the purpose of the fast is that it's not easy. Kids still have to participate in school and go to gym class and that can be hard when you're hungry."
Mariam suggests parents send a note at the beginning of Ramadan for their child to be excused during lunchtime to go to the library. "Not being around food helps with feeling sad or lacking or like you're missing out by practicing your religion," she says, "and it helps avoid whining when they get home from school."
Get support during worship and prayer times
"Most of the time, women are the homemaker and full-time parent, so it's hard to get the same amount of time for worship and prayer as we would before we became parents," Mariam says. "This doesn't mean you should use your family as an excuse as to why you can't enjoy Ramadan, though."
Instead, she suggests enlisting a partner to help split parenting duties and knowing your limits. "We try our best to do our kids' nighttime routine before the fourth prayer of the day," she says. "Some families will take their children with them to the mosque to pray and I admire that, but that means keeping them awake much longer than usual, so we don't do it with our 6, 4 and 1 year olds."
Mariam also uses an app called Athan by IslamicFinder.org to keep track of prayer times and stay on track with worship. "As soon as it goes off, drop everything and do the prayer, even if your kids are around you," she says. "Praying alone is nice, but not always possible."
Daoud says while children may not developmentally be able to understand every part of Ramadan, parents can meet them where they are and provide age-appropriate examples of how to practice. "As they grow and develop, it's easier for them to understand complex topics in religion," she explains.
Mariam says her husband will often put the children to bed so she can have time to read the Quran and pray in silence. He occasionally takes the kids to the mosque for afternoon prayer — when it's less crowded and the kids are less likely to disrupt — so she can have an hour to herself.
"Me relying on him and him relying on me means open communication," she says. "You can't just expect things to happen and then be disappointed when they don't."
Pregnant, menstruating and breastfeeding women and Ramadan
There are certain times in the practice of Islam when women are exempt from fasting or given the option to fast only if they choose. When a woman is pregnant or menstruating, they are exempt entirely from the fast, as are people of all genders who are sick or traveling.
And what about pregnant women? "The most important thing is the health and well-being of the mother and baby," Daoud says. "If there are any concerns, the woman should not participate in the fast."
Breastfeeding moms should also consider opting out of the fast if they are concerned about milk production. "That said," Daoud offers, "It is possible to get all the calories you need, plus the extra 500 or so to support breastfeeding, during suhoor and iftar. Just focus on more calorie-dense highly nutritious foods."
Whether they fast or not, Daoud encourages pregnant, menstruating and breastfeeding women to participate in other Ramadan traditions, including going to the mosque for prayers, participating in family and community meals, refraining from bad habits and participating in charity work. "The only reason we fast during Ramadan is to make us more God-conscious," she says. "But it's not the only thing we do to mark the holy month and rededicate ourselves to God."
Mariam says because the way families celebrate Ramadan can vary, each family should figure out what will work for them. "I like to tell other struggling parents that it's OK to teach your kids that, yes, they are missing out, but that doesn't necessarily need to be a bad thing," says Mariam. "We can be proud of who we are and the faith we practice while appreciating closeness to God, our families and our communities during Ramadan."
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.