Women's Empowerment

To My Mum: Thank You for Being Our Good Ancestor, the Glue That Holds Our Family Together

Layla F. Saad

Photo: Getty Images/d3sign; Graphic: W+G Creative
Who has inspired you? Challenged you? Shaped you? In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re recognizing the women who made us who we are today. To all who came before, the mothers, grandmothers, mentors, teachers, and trailblazers… thank you. Here, best-selling author Layla F. Saad pens a letter of thanks to her mother.

Dear Mum,

On my Good Ancestor Podcast I ask all my guests the same question to begin our interviews:

“Who are some of the ancestors, living or transitioned, familial or societal, who have influenced you on your journey?”

When I think about the good ancestor who has influenced me most on my journey, it’s not my favorite Black women writers like Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler. It’s not my favorite Black women entrepreneurs and artists like Oprah, Beyonce, or Viola Davis. While these women inspire me greatly, and make me want to be the best version of myself that I can be, there is only one woman who has had the most influence on my journey, and that is you.

You. An East African Arab woman who immigrated to Cardiff, Wales, in the 1970s in search of a better life, where you met and married dad, and had me and my brothers.

I’ll be honest and say that growing up as your daughter wasn’t always easy. You were strict. I didn’t see you smile often. And me being the highly sensitive kid that I was, and you being the strong Black woman you were, it was often hard to feel like you understood me. It’s only as an adult now, and a mother of two myself, that I’m truly able to understand just how much of an incredible mother and woman you are.

It’s only as an adult now, and a mother of two myself, that I’m truly able to understand just how much of an incredible mother and woman you are.

For all intents and purposes, you raised us mostly as a single parent because of dad’s job that took him all over the world for months at a time. You raised three kids, alone, in a country that wasn’t your homeland, away from your mother and husband, and in an environment that saw Black people as inferior. You cooked, cleaned, fed and changed babies, taught us, raised us, protected us, and did everything you could to give us a home and a life that was safe, loving, and abundant. At home you created a space where we could learn about our religion and our culture, which has stayed with me till this day. I know who I am and whose I am because of you.

Your primary focus was our education, which was heaven for me as a kid (and now adult!) who loves to learn. My earliest memories are of walking to the library at the Maelfa shopping centre in Cardiff with you every week with Arif in the pram or pushchair, and sitting on the tiny orange chairs in the children’s section where I would choose my favourite books. Then we would take the books home and I would read them all within a day! Though it must have been exhausting to you to read me books again and again while trying to take care of Arif, and later Ali, you never stopped. And when I grew older and we lived in Swindon, Arif and I would bike across to the library every week by ourselves and I would get eight books on my library card, and six on his. I’d be done reading them within days.

I’m now a 37-year-old woman who continues to do the same thing. Though your dream for me was to become a doctor or a lawyer (secure and respectable jobs!), I know that I became a writer because of the love of reading that you instilled in me. I’m a voracious reader, which is what makes me a voracious writer. And though my early career started out in law, I came back to writing because it’s my true love. Thanks to you.

One of my most treasured memories of you will be the day you called me after you finished reading Me and White Supremacy. I picked up the phone and you were crying hysterically. I thought something had happened to dad. I asked you what was wrong and through sobs and tears you told me that you had finished reading my book. You told me that it was amazing, and that it was going to change the world. You told me that it helped you to understand your own experiences as an immigrant to the UK, and then raising three Black children in that environment. You told me that it validated the experiences that you had that you couldn’t put words to.

You told me that you were proud of me. I will always remember that because making you proud is how I know I am doing something right. Making you proud is how I can say thank you for raising me to become the woman that I have become.

Making you proud is how I can say thank you for raising me to become the woman that I have become.

Mum, you always say that the boys and I will appreciate you when you are gone. I want you to know that we appreciate you now while you are still here. I know I speak for the entire family when I say you are the glue that holds us all together. You’re the one we come to when we want advice, a laugh, support with our kids. You and dad are the ones we come to when we want the courage to try something new, or need the push to grow outside our comfort zone. You remind us again and again that we can do anything we set our minds to, and that nothing good is out of limit for us. You inspire us to strive to be the best that we can be, and to give our families the best that they can have. Just like you did for us.

I didn’t appreciate how hard it must have been for you to raise us while we were growing up, but I see it now and I am in awe of what you have accomplished. You have raised three amazing people who stand in the world with dignity, self-respect, and a sense of inner excellence. You have raised us to be leaders who are values-driven, God conscious, and family-oriented.

You are the funniest person I know (you love to make me laugh!), and after my husband, the second person with whom I share my good and bad news. Above all, I am so grateful that my children have always known you as their second mother. Your grandchildren are lucky to have you as their Bibi.

Your family is everything to you and you are everything to your family. Thank you for being my mother. You are the good ancestor that your grandchildren and descendants will remember for generations to come.

Love,
Layla

Looking for more Strong As Her? Check out these letters from chronic illness advocate Nitika Chopra and Emmy-Award-winning broadcast journalist Mara Schiavocampo

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