Nadia Jamil sits with Motherhood and talks about Resilience, Strength, and Hope
Actor, child rights activist, mother, and friend, among many other roles - and yet perhaps the most appropriate way we can describe Nadia Jamil is a fighter, determined to make the most of anything life throws at her and come out of the other side smiling and stronger than ever before.
We have followed Nadia every step of the way throughout her recent, painful journey of having been diagnosed with and battling cancer. The positivity, strength, and humility she exudes, while also keeping it real and showing us that it's okay to be vulnerable shows character beyond description.
We decided to talk to Nadia about love, motherhood, and how to maintain a positive outlook on life despite the circumstances.
Positivity and Other Lessons from Life
Most human beings follow a set journey in life, despite its polarity and complexity: from a silly, adventurous, free child to a mature adult, riddled with responsibility yet equipped to fulfil it. But Nadia looks at life differently, in the process opening our eyes to a profound truth.
As she explains it, "we all have within our souls - our subconscious - a child, a nurturing parent, and a wise adult." For years, she let the child in her reign supreme. She played with the kids, jumped up and down on castles, flew freely. At the same time, however, the fear of the harm other adults could do to her stayed with her, weighing her down at times, holding her back.
She often needed emotional support and got it from those closest to her. But her emotional dependency and expectations from others took their toll. Finally, when she had been hurt enough, she recollects the parent in her rising to the occasion and taking care of herself. "The adult in me had to be wise and take responsibility. To this date, the adult wakes up the nurturer in me and guides Parent Me to take care of Little me. Big, adult Nado takes care of little Nado."
Nadia explains that life pulls you down in the most unexpected of ways. Whether it is suffering from abuse as a child or fighting a terrifying illness when you grow up, low points are inevitable. But Nadia derives her positive energy from none other than herself. "The adult in me leads me to disengage from negative emotions, people, and situations. She keeps an objective, guarding eye on my emotional landscape. I like her and I trust her. I feel safe with her and have faith in the decisions she makes for me and my life."
Pillars of Strength
Having said that, Nadia also reflects on the emotional support she couldn't have done without - throughout her life and during this particularly tough phase. The first person she is thankful to have in her life is none other than her maa. Nadia's sweet mother was there to hold her together during the toughest times of her cancer diagnosis and treatment, leaving everything else behind. For a mother, no matter how old her child gets, they're still her little baby boy or girl. And no one can wipe away one's tears and pick one up like one's mum. It was no different for Nadia.
But here's what is really interesting about Nadia. She doesn't derive her strength from people alone - she also looks to nature to support her and help her see the good in life. Trees are some of her best friends - she describes them as incredible pillars of strength and symbols of wisdom, nurturing, and protection. She tells us, "They have always been incredible mentors and nurturing friends to me. Today, as I inhale their oxygen with awareness and gratitude and they take in my carbon dioxide, we are more connected than ever before."
Nadia goes on to tell us that even people can be "trees" for others. "I've had many in my lifetime in different capacities. My father, mother, father-in-law, brothers, cousins, friends, teachers, even my social media families - they nurture me and offer me the shade of love and friendship. There are trees everywhere that you can sit under for a while in this journey but the strongest tree that grows from your own roots and is strengthened by your own core is your Self. As has been mine."
Motherhood in All Its Glory
Being a mother has always been Nadia's calling, a goal she has always held close to her heart. "I was a mother. That was the only definition I truly related to." She had found her purpose in the service of children when she was 17 but with the birth of her sons, which she describes as the "anchoring of her soul," she also found love. Today, she is happily fulfilling her life's purpose by raising four wonderful young men - her two sons, as well as her two foster sons.
Nadia's younger child, Mir Vali, has been by her side throughout her cancer journey, holding her together, especially when it was just the two of them. Her older one, Rakae, unfortunately, is in Pakistan (while Nadia is in the U.K.) and the two haven't met since the diagnosis. Yet, Nadia talks with pride about how she finds strength and peace in him, the kind that makes her forget every worry in the world. Her sons are her friends, the loves of her life - they take care of her whether they are near or far.
While Nadia describes herself as a "nest" to her sons, someone they can always come back to when life gets a bit much, she also acknowledges how much they have taught her. In particular, what they have taught her not to be. "I have learned I need to be more patient, accepting, flexible, and giving. I have also learned to draw boundaries, so there is something left for me, myself, and my journey with me."
The hardest thing for a parent to do is to let go of their children as they go about their life. And it is no different for Nadia, who hasn't seen her oldest son for 7 months. She reminisces about their childhood, when they were in her arms and her home and life revolved around them and their needs. But life moves on and children become independent and busy with their own lives. Nadia, like any parent, watches from a distance, praying - far away enough to not interfere, yet close enough so they can call out to her for support when things get hard.
Nadia also talks about her foster sons, Sabir and Azaad with love and pride. "My foster sons taught me the meaning of resilience and strength. They are my mentors in so many ways. They teach me what it means to be committed and responsible and they open the doors of my heart to make me learn that loving is infinite. There is always more love - and more and more. Their smiles light up my day and give me so much hope and strength. I have a deep respect for their resolve and their grit. They are survivors with such happy smiles and big dreams. May Allah lead them to success and keep them safe and happy."
Working Towards a Safer World for Children
Nadia talks about her growth and says, "Today I am more than a mother. As I self-parent myself, I am also ME. A woman who is escaping labels and definitions to free herself of stereotypes and be a stronger, clearer version of herself. Cancer gave me the gift of self-preservation."
Someone once told Nadia she had a rescue complex. She took it as a compliment and used that need to rescue other children, as well as use it on the child within her. She thinks back to her childhood and tells us, "The child within me needed to be heard and protected when she was being abused and hurt as a kid. Today I've got her back." And that gives her strength to truly take care of other children as well. "There are millions of children out there. If we all commit ourselves to at least one, imagine how much happier the world would be."
In line with this mission, Nadia has dedicated her life to protecting young children from any evils that can come their way. She has recently been appointed the Goodwill Ambassador for the Punjab Child Protection and Welfare Bureau. While Nadia applauds the work being done by the organisation under the able leadership of Sarah Ahmad, she emphasises that the problem of child protection is not only limited to Lahore or Punjab. And it certainly cannot be resolved through the work of one agency. She says, "I will keep trying to make the media understand that without their support, the children of Pakistan have a tough future ahead of them. We need more laws to be implemented to protect kids and prevent abuse. We need better education in small towns and rural areas, and we also need stronger databases and child protection services. There is a lot of work but it can be done through baby steps and lots of hope and unity."
Nadia's aim is to protect as many children as she possibly can from the trauma of any kind of child abuse. And that starts at home. She tells us, "I spoke to my children from the ages of four every few months about good touch and bad touch. I reminded them they had their dad and me to talk to and turn to for anything and everything. It's a talk that needs to be tackled in a way that preserves their innocence while also giving them an understanding of what counts as inappropriate touch, looks, and even conversations, as well as how to prevent them. Your children should know what to do if they are, God forbid, harassed by someone. It's an important talk for both girls and boys. Awareness campaigns need to be set up in the media and in every town, city, and village to teach parents, children, teachers, and relatives that they are ALL being watched, as well as to share information on how they can protect children."
Nadia's Advice for Raising Good Human Beings
Nadia tells us she follows some great mothers and learns from them, from nature, and from the wisdom of the children in her life. And in doing that, she has learned some timeless lessons that she shares with us.
First of all, she reflects on the need to take responsibility for oneself. "We should not feel entitled to someone else taking responsibility for our emotional landscapes when we have become adults. If we learn to self-parent, we become better parents to our own children, teaching them inner independence. We also learn that anything given to us is a bonus to be grateful for, not a right we were entitled to. It leads to gratitude in our other relationships and takes the burden of expectation off them."
She goes on to share some words of wisdom with young parents (and otherwise) and she tells us,
"Stay positive and disengage from toxic people, foods, and environments to protect yourself from them. That's what your children will learn to do as well.
The only way to raise kind, compassionate kids in ANY age is to be kind and compassionate yourself. To love yourself and others around you. To respect yourself, your children, and others around you.
Your children will follow your lead, not your lectures."