Emily is an educator turned homeschooling mother to three boys and co-founder of Tender Sapling, a Baha’i inspired online shop and blog. She can also be found teaching Children’s Classes, serving as Organizational Change Facilitator for Best for Babes Foundation, and writing about creating a breastfeeding-friendly world. Emily has a master’s degree in education from Harvard and has designed and managed educational programs in the United States, Asia, and Europe.
In this interview we will talk with Emily about how the Baha’i Faith has shaped her role as a mother, and influences her home life as well as her business.
Q: Tell us a bit about your family.
A: The seed of my family was planted when my husband Scott, born in Japan, and I, born in Shiraz, Iran, met in the United States at university. After we married, we lived in China, Switzerland, and several areas of the US before starting our family and returning to Virginia, where all of our parents still live. We’re back in the town where we met twenty years ago, blessed with three children in this world – boys ages 9, 5, and 2 – and two in the next.
Our journey as parents has transformed us in every way. When our first baby was born, we’d just completed a Baha’i Spiritual Parenting course and felt so uplifted by the guidance from the Baha’i Writings and the stories parents had shared. But we had only a faint inkling of what lay ahead – both the challenges and the incredible gift of living life with a pure, new soul.
Q: How do the Baha’i Writings inspire you as a mom?
A: We are so fortunate to have the incredible ocean of inspiration from the Baha’i Writings at our fingertips to guide us as parents. In addition to reading daily from the Writings, Scott and I regularly turn to Baha’i publications geared for parents, as well as blogs like EMTG. We have gained a lot from the Study Circles we’ve been able to participate in.
[one_half][testimonial company=”” author= “”]When I’m having a rough moment as a mother I find it so helpful not only to pray, but also to reflect on a quote that helps reorient my thinking and get me back on track.[/testimonial][/one_half]
Most of all, we love to sing Baha’i prayers and verses and weave these into our days with the children. We also love displaying favorite quotes from the Baha’i Writings on our walls. While I like doing this for the benefit of the family, it’s also important to me personally.
I dearly love being a mother. One reason is because of the incredibly rich Baha’i Writings related to mothering, starting with pregnancy and breastfeeding. The prayers for children are also so heart-warming. I’m so grateful to be able to tap into such loving and supportive energy through the Creative Word.
Q: Can you share a quote that helps you in your mothering?
A: There are so many quotes I love about the noble station of mothering and the vital role we first educators play as gardeners. But one that’s been helpful to me lately is this quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that reminds me that mothering can feel hard because it really is hard work:
[quote]Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abhá Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory.
It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God’s abounding grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All-Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world.[/quote]
Q: Can you give an example of how you use the Writings in your homeschooling?
A: This year we’ve retraced the steps of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s 1912 travels to America on a daily and weekly basis, reflecting on lessons from His interactions with all He met. We have read many passages of His talks and used them for our oldest son’s memorization and copy work.
This photo shows one of many art projects the children did inspired by ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to America. My five-year-old son was painting the SS Cedric, the ship that brought ‘Abdu’l-Baha from the Middle East to America.
Studying the Master’s guidance within its historical context has uncovered new layers of meaning for us. Plus, we’ve learned more about the United States, that time in world history, race relations, the women’s movement, and so on. Field trips to various sites the Master visited have further deepened our appreciation for the gift of His travels to the US.
Recently I’ve created new lessons for our Children’s Classes, structured along the lines of the Ruhi lessons and centered around stories of The Master in America, quotes that relate to the virtue demonstrated by the story, and games and crafts to reinforce the theme. I’m so grateful for the many resources commemorating ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s travels in the West, especially ‘Abdu’l–Bahá in Their Midst and www.239days.com.
Q: Many Baha’i mothers with young children struggle with teaching their children to pray reverently. How do you manage prayer time with such a wide age spread in your family?
A: Like many families, we’ve had years worth of a toddler or preschooler not wanting to sit through prayers, interrupting us, and so on. This used to really test me as a mother, leaving me worried that I was not training my children well. But I’ve seen my kinesthetic children mature and learn reverence over many years. This has freed me to enjoy our child-friendly prayer time and appreciate my little ones’ spiritual growth.
Scott and I learned that forcing prayers and reverence did not work with our children. So we got creative and flexible with how to facilitate prayers as a joyful experience. We looked at what was developmentally appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers, and worked that into prayer time. For us that included imaginative play, singing, movement, and so on.
For example, from time to time, we allow stuffed animals to attend as guests of a “Devotional Gathering.” The children can invite their guests, but we ask that they model lovely prayer behavior. The kids get excited about which prayer books their guests might like to use and announce which prayers they would like to say. Sometimes all of us will help them say or sing their prayers. And then we end with our children showering hospitality on their guests by preparing and serving “refreshments” for them. They feel proud of their role in making devotions special and it helps ready them for opportunities to host our friends, family, and community.
When prayer time seems a little loud or active, I try to keep in mind ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s guidance regarding Shoghi Effendi’s behavior at a young age, as described in The Guardian of the Faith. In His first tablet to Shoghi Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote in His own hand: “Now is not the time for you to read and write, it is the time for jumping about and chanting “O my God!”, therefore memorize the prayers of the Blessed Beauty and chant them that I may hear them, because there is no time for anything else.” Then, Ruhiyyiah Khanum explains:
[quote]It seems that when this wonderful gift reached the child he set himself to memorize a number of Bahá’u’lláh’s prayers and would chant them so loudly that the entire neighbourhood could hear his voice; when his parents and other members of the Master’s family remonstrated with him, Shoghi Effendi replied, according to Dr. Bagdadi, “The Master wrote to me to chant that He may hear me! I am doing my best!” and he kept on chanting at the top of his voice for many hours every day. Finally his parents begged the Master to stop him, but He told them to let Shoghi Effendi alone.[/quote]
Q: Will you tell us a bit about your business Tender Sapling and how the Baha’i Writings have shaped it?
A: Tender Sapling features fun, eco-friendly products, ideas, and resources to help parents and educators nurture kids (ages 0-12) to grow noble – cultivate virtues, world citizenship, and environmental sustainability.
Over the years, of the many prayers and images that have left a great impression on us as parents, the analogy of a tender sapling stood out when it came time to name our business endeavor. This is an excerpt from one of the prayers Scott and I often share when we sit down to work on Tender Sapling:
[quote]We are saplings which have been planted by the fingers of Thy bounty and have been formed out of the water and clay of Thy tender affection… Grant that from the clouds of Thy mercy may fall copious rain so that the trees of our lives may bring forth fruit and we may obtain the most cherished desire of our hearts.
The Baha’i Writings have also inspired each of our designs. Like the Love All the World theme reflects the beauty of: “Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind.” And there are so many beautiful selections from the Baha’i Writings that inspired us in the Love in Henna and With All Your Heart designs. For example:
- “In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love.”
- “In the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love.”
- “My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart…”
- “Strive ye then with all your heart to treat compassionately all humankind…”
Q: If you could give one message to new parents, what might it be?
A: Embrace all that makes the parenting chapter of your life so different from previous chapters! It’s designed that way to help us grow spiritually, so go with the flow and enjoy every bit of it, while still taking good care of yourself in the process. A favorite poem I love and share with all new moms, that even hangs now in my midwife’s office is:
“While they are at your side, love these little ones to the uttermost. Forget yourself. Serve them; care for them; lavish all your tenderness on them. Value your good fortune while it is with you, and let nothing of the sweetness of their babyhood go unprized. Not for long will you keep the happiness that now lies within your reach. You will not always walk in the sunshine with a little warm, soft hand nestling in each of yours, nor hear little feet pattering beside you, and eager baby voices questioning and prattling of a thousand things with ceaseless excitement. Not always will you see that trusting face upturned to yours, feel those little arms about your neck, and those tender lips pressed upon your cheek, nor will you have that tiny form to kneel beside you, and murmur baby prayers in your ear. Love them and win their love, and shower on them all the treasures of your heart. Fill up their days with happiness, and share with them their mirth and innocent delights. Childhood is but for a day. Ere you are aware it will be gone with all its gifts forever.”
-George Townshend (1876 – 1957)
Thanks to those of you who entered the contest. The contest below is now finished. Congrats to Elham Z for being chosen at random to be the winner!
Tender Sapling is offering a bodysuit or tee from any of their styles (size infant to 12) to one of our readers. To be entered into the random drawing, simply add a comment below answering one of the following questions:
Do you have any tips for or experiences about improving prayer time with little ones?
How does your faith inspire your interactions with your family each day?
What is your favorite quote from the Baha’i Writings about parenting?
The contest ends at 12 midnight EST (Eastern Standard Time) on Wednesday 5 December 2012. We will announce the winner on this post and on Facebook, and they will then be mailed the bodysuit or tee of their choice.
Even though the contest is over, you are still free to answer the questions above!