Parents Talk Back: Bittersweet middle-age milestones (2024)

This week marked a bittersweet milestone for my husband and me: the first time we celebrated our biggest religious holiday without our children.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims rejoice by feasting with family and friends for the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Because we follow a lunar calendar like the Jewish faith, our holidays rotate through the Gregorian calendar. This year, Eid fell in the middle of the week. Both our kids study in colleges out of state. It was impossible for them to fly home for a single day, especially since it’s nearing the end of the semester.

In the years with kids at home, our Eid mornings were rushed and hectic. My husband, who likes to leave super early for the morning prayer, would anxiously wait for me and our daughter to get ready in time.

Loud words were often spoken during this process. Sometimes, the car ride might be a little tense until everyone got over their feelings.

I can’t tell you how much I missed that yelling this year.

I woke up on this Eid morning less festive than ever. Maybe you’ve experienced a Christmas without your children and know this feeling.

This was also the first Eid that my father was in the hospital. He’s a cancer survivor and has Parkinson’s, and after weeks of severe pain, he had finally agreed to go to the hospital. For days, we waited on test results and for his pain to improve.

On Eid morning, I asked my siblings in Houston to FaceTime me when they visited him. Thankfully, he was feeling much better and expecting to be discharged in a day or two.

As soon as I saw him on the hospital bed and heard his voice, I burst into tears.

All week I had been worrying about him and my mother, who is his primary caretaker. I had been calling and texting my siblings constantly about what his care would look like when he eventually got home. Even though I visit them frequently, it’s hard to face your parents’ aging and health issues from a distance. I didn’t expect that when I would no longer be preoccupied on a daily basis with my kids, my thoughts would be preoccupied by my aging parents.

When I was a parent of young children, I looked forward to all the milestones ahead: first steps, first days of school, first performances and games. It didn’t hit me that all those firsts inevitably lead to moments like this: holiday FaceTime calls with young adult children whom we would much rather have home with us.

The call with my bedridden father also reminded me that a much more difficult Eid lies in the years ahead — the first one without my parents.

My kind and cheerful husband took over the call with my dad until I composed myself. He lost his own father when he was in his early 20s, and my mother-in-law also died far too young, so my husband has already been through the difficult holidays when grief is fresh. His experience reminds me to appreciate the blessing of having loving parents around as long as I have.

Constantly in the background is my awareness of the unimaginable suffering of the people in Gaza — the bombings, the destruction, the starvation. It cast a somber pall over Ramadan and Eid.

We spent the rest of the day visiting the homes of friends who had invited us to their Eid open houses and meals — with scrumptious feasts laid before us — reminders of the vast disparities in the world in which we live.

I’m unsure of how to respond to these moments. I think I should be even more grateful and try harder to work toward alleviating the suffering around me. But I really don’t know.

In prior years, I forced the kids to take Eid selfies with me, so this year I took screenshots of our video calls. I also took selfies with Frankie, my needy dog child, and the orchids, my plant children.

I sent Eid gifts to the kids via Venmo. My husband and I don’t exchange Eid gifts with each other anymore.

We figured out a while ago that we’ve gotten the best ones already.

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Kendra Phipps at



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Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age while trying to keep up with her tech-savvy children. Find her on Twitter: @AishaS.

Parents Talk Back: Bittersweet middle-age milestones (2024)
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