‘Life has changed for the better’ - SHANIERA AKRAM

on motherhood, little princess Aiyla, her special bond with the children and much more

You don’t get to meet people very often who are friendly, cooperative and easy to work with, but Shaniera Akram is an exception. She has an aura of happiness that surrounds her no matter what she does, and this very quality makes her a super cool mom.
This Mother’s Day, MAG decides to reveal the motherly side of this dynamic personality who is always on her toes when it comes to balancing work, children and her husband, Wasim Akram. She feels proud of herself about raising two boys and a little girl in Pakistan.
MAG takes exclusive notes as she talks at length about how mothers are the key to the future, why her mother deserves a lifetime achievement award, how she bonds with her little princess Aiyla and how motherhood has changed her priorities.

What is it like being a mother? How has Aiyla changed you as a person?

Most mothers say that life doesn’t really start until you have children, and I agree with the notion. But at the same time, I also think that it is better for women to discover their inner selves first before they have children. Becoming a mother is important but it should not be taken as the only thing that completes your existence because I believe that we need to constantly keep evolving as women, keep learning and strive to be the best without losing our identity along the way.

I was lucky enough to have a whole life before I had children which I think was so important for me. I believe that I am a good mother now because I have grown as an individual and know who I am as a person which reflects a lot on my behaviour as a parent. I became a mother of two boys first who tragically lost their mother, and there was no room for friendship I wanted to be a mother to them because that’s what they needed. For me, it was one of the hardest things I had to do because I had to make decisions and raise two growing boys at a crucial and impressionable time of their life. So I did it the only way I knew how and that was to follow my heart. I am very lucky to have two amazing sons and I give all the credit to Huma who was not just a great woman but an awesome mom. I hope that I have made her happy with the love I have given to the boys since I arrived.

Aiyla is like my third child, my boys are grown up now and my husband is home with us more, so I think life is a little easier now. We are very lucky to have had Aiyla come in to our lives and we all love her very much.

Babies go through different stages as they develop. Which has been the most challenging for you so far?

Having a baby is such a special time for a mother, but I think sometimes we constantly feel as though we are being tested or on trial, and battle between what is right and what is wrong. Should I listen to my mother, or should I listen to my husband? The book says I’m doing it wrong. These days there is so much information and not enough encouragement. My biggest challenge was listening to myself and believing in myself as a mother. The way I see it, everyday of life is like a challenge, it’s the way you handle it when it comes your way is what makes the difference.

After Aiyla’s birth, how have your life and priorities changed?

When Wasim and I decided to have a child, we discussed the pros and cons of having a baby who will also adopt our lifestyle and travel routines. It really is difficult to travel or to be away from your children even for a day. We knew Aiyla won’t have a normal day-to-day life, but we wanted her in our life because we knew we would adjust. Life has changed, but for the better, and jobs and travelling have become less mundane and more adventurous now, thanks to Aiyla. When you have a baby in your life, no matter who you are, you are consumed with its presence and overwhelmed with love. You just adapt naturally to whatever direction life starts to go.

What do you do very often to show her that you love her to the stars?

I think most mothers have a special bond with their children, and it’s not just the words you say, it’s the things we do, the sacrifices we make, all the worrying, the situations we find ourselves in and hours of undivided attention. When I was pregnant, I didn’t just want to give her a baby book or a photo album, I wanted it to be more personal, so I opened an email account for her and have been writing letters to her since the first scan. One day I will give her the password and she can read the letters I have been writing to her and see the photos. No one remembers much from the early days of their life, so I thought that would be one of the most amazing gifts I could give her, as she will know what life was like when she was little, the challenges I faced, and our journey together.

How is it like being a famous mom? How do you manage your routine as a mother?

Ha, that’s so cute! A famous mom! Well, I’m also a working and a hands-on mother, so it can be tough dividing my time between my children, work and my social life… and yes, my husband! (smiles) But I made a deal with myself that I need to justify the time when I am away from Aiyla and for that I need to do something that makes my daughter proud of me. Only then it’s worth it! I am passionate about The Akram Foundation and working towards a better future of people in Pakistan. I hope one day Aiyla will be proud of her mama!

Are you an overprotective mother?

When I got married to Wasim, I was overprotective for our boys. But later on I realised that you can’t protect your children from everything. Our job is to raise children who are able to make good decisions and deal with situations on their own. If we shelter our children too much, it will actually work against them.

Do you believe in helicopter parenting?

I think in some parts of the world, this may be acceptable in a positive way. As far as I am concerned, I don’t believe that we should smother our children by standing on their head.

How do you think children complete a woman as a human being?

It’s the circle of life, isn’t it? It’s important at some time in a woman’s life that she has that opportunity. But I don’t think that a woman is incomplete if she doesn’t have children. There are many ways in which we can express love and I suppose you just have to find what is right for you.

Quality or quantity; what do you prefer when it comes to the time that you spend with Aiyla?

Definitely quality! I am very lucky because I have extremely amazing help from our nanny and housekeeper. When I come home from work, I’m so excited to see Aiyla. I play with her, read books to her and we organise play dates together. We go to cafes, libraries, play centre, parks or swim and just chill in the garden. But I also have times when we are travelling and it’s just me and Aiyla and we try to be more constructive with our time.

How do you want your relationship with your daughter to be like?

Besties. [smiles] I know we will have a bumpy road here and there like all mother-daughter relationships do but I’m looking forward to the whole lot, the ups and downs!

As you are from Australia and there are so many cultural differences between your home country and Pakistan; do you think there are any differences between a western mother and an eastern one?

I can’t really compare east or west but I can tell you that back in Australia mothers probably have less help because there is less family around. But they have really strong support from their husbands. I know so many men in Australia who take kids to sport, do homework with them, cook, bathe the kids and also put them to bed which I think is a great thing. Children really need their father around just as much as their mom.

How do you define your relationship with your mother? Is it helpful when it comes to your equation with Aiyla?

My mother is amazing. She raised four girls mostly on her own as my dad was working to provide for our family. My mother would cook, clean the house, do the washing, take us to school, drive us to our extra-curricular activities, help with our homework and still looked glamourous every minute of the day. She gave her life to her children and did an amazing job (with us). She gave us all the opportunity to discover who we are and encouraged us to be the best we could be. And now, she is an even better grandma not just to Aiyla but also to Akbar and Taimoor. Everything I am as a mother is because of her. Back then there was no Google or support network, no babysitters or nannies, she did it all on her own in the best way she knew. If their was a lifetime achievement award for being a mother, she would win it hands down.

Do you believe in you being a strict mom or are you okay with the idea of being friends with kids?

I’m somewhere in between. It’s a lot harder to say ‘no’ to your children than it is to say ‘yes’. Children don’t understand why parents say ‘no’ and will always challenge you. It’s hard to see your child upset but if you know what’s right for them then it is okay. Children need to know their boundaries, they need limitations and structure and rules especially to grow into well-adjusted adults. Our job is to love them the right way and trust me, they will appreciate it later in life.

My boys always say to me if I had not been tough on them, they wouldn’t be who they are today. That warms my heart because I know that I did my best, even though it was hard at times, but I knew it was what was right for them.

Any advise to new mothers?

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Your baby comes from you so do what you feel is best for you and the child. Remember, a lot has changed since your mother had you, and Google is not necessarily always right for what you may be going through. Find a support group with other mothers and talk about whatever you may be experiencing. No one is perfect, problems and challenges will always arise in parenting. You need to be confident that you are doing the right thing for your child.

Listen more to your children, talk to them about current issues, let them debate with you and challenge you, raise them to be considerate, sensitive and in-tune with their emotions. If you have boys, raise them to be respectful of women, to be attentive, helpful and loving. If you have girls, empower them to believe in themselves, make them realise that brains is much more important than beauty. Let’s raise healthy, strong, understanding, independent, educated children together!

Any message for soon-to-be moms?

Being a mother is the most challenging and rewarding job of all. It tests you in ways you wouldn’t even imagine. But don’t let motherhood overwhelm you. Just listen to your instincts, love them (your child) with all your heart, protect them with your primal instincts, be tough when you need to be and don’t be afraid of saying ‘no’. Appreciate every day as it comes, learn from your mistakes and never lose sight of who you are. Your child is going to love you more than anything else in this world, it is your job to return that love to them.

Hair & make-up: N-Pro Photography: Rohail Khalid