Nothing can prepare you to be a parent except the lived experience of being a parent. I remember the feeling of horror that overcame me at the hospital when my gynaecologist joyfully informed me that I could go home and take my kids with me. Too soon, I told myself. I opted to extend another day at the hospital and told the doctor I was still in pain, but the reality was I didn’t feel ready. The thought that I would be responsible for two tiny creatures’ survival filled me with dread.
I experienced what can be called cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, the biological process of giving birth automatically granted me the title of a mother. On the other hand, at the time, I didn’t feel like I deserved the title. I felt like an impostor, and not even a good one. My experience and other factors led me to conclude that being a parent isn’t an innate quality but an arduous practice.
Perhaps this could help us understand the nuances of a recent case in Egypt. A 23-year-old woman named Nora Essam was kidnapped, held and tortured by her biological father. It was because Nora’s paternal grandfather, who raised her since she was five months, left her an endowment in his will. Nora’s grandfather knew that his son, Nora’s father, would not give Nora any money after his death.
Under the rules of the Islamic law that guide Egyptian family law, a grandchild cannot inherit anything from grandparents unless the parent is deceased. Accordingly, the grandfather, wanting to remain within the permissible parameters of Islamic law, wrote off one-third of his estate to Nora. Nora’s father was unaware of an action that aggravated him to the extent that he decided to take what he believed should be his by force.
Nora was found and returned to her grandfather’s home thanks to the efforts of her friends and her grandfather’s wife. They alerted the authorities while launching a social media campaign to ensure her return. After her release, Nora filed a case against her father, accusing him of kidnap, torturing and holding her captive against her will. The court confirmed Nora’s accusations except kidnapping, in what has been called a historical ruling. The case provides essential precedence where a child’s right is granted priority over their parent’s.
When we routinely wake up to the news of parents physically abusing their children, sometimes till the child dies, Nora’s case doesn’t surprise us. I admit that it does seem perplexing. To understand the father’s motives, I will posit that he didn’t see himself as her father. Or to be more accurate, he relieved himself from the father’s role as soon as he forsook his infant daughter and decided to pursue other interests.
For him, Nora isn’t his daughter but an adversary. An unexpected person who took a piece of the inheritance he had long waited for. And as soon as he mentally went through the process of stripping her from her daughter status and cast her in the role of the aggressor who took away what was always meant to be his father’s estate, he retaliated. In his mind, Nora isn’t a daughter who lost her father twice; once when he gave her up and another when her grandfather died. She jeopardized his potential wealth.
With the pervasiveness of child abuse and domestic violence cases, one always wonders about the factors that can lead an individual to hurt a loved one actively. Though the particularity of each case presents a different set of elements and challenges that endanger the abused, the core factor that could be found in each case is the abuser’s narcissism. One could claim that parenting as an act of love and care, as exhibited in the continuous prioritization of another’s needs and wants above one’s own, doesn’t occur automatically but takes practice.
The ruling in Nora’s case articulates, in legal terms, that once you’ve been blessed with the incredible gift and responsibility of becoming a parent, your child should always come first.