Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world yet can be the most rewarding as well. We all want the best for our children and our actions as a parent will always be guided by that. We seek the best way to do so – some look towards our own parents, some towards friends and experts. Experts have written tons of books dispensing advice, techniques and so on to raise children to become the best child ever, envied by friends and highly looked upon in society. Job done, pat on the shoulder – we’re good parents.
Or is it that simple and straight forward? Of course not! Bringing up a child comes with loads of responsibilities that goes beyond providing for their basic needs. In fast-paced Singapore, this can be a stressful affair especially given the rhetorical beat on societal success through good school grades. Because – good school grades allow for top school entry, which will lead to that ultimate dream job and one, is set for life. Except, I do not buy into this rhetoric. To that end, I chose to parent my kids differently. While I do not profess to be the model anti-establishment parent, I can say with pride that my children are happy and balanced teenagers. Surely then, I must be doing something right. So, allow me to share with you my approaches to parenting:
- Identify Values and Traits
When my children were very young, in the face of advice avalanche from peers, family and society, I asked myself – What kind of person do I want my kids to grow up to become? Do I want them to be strong in academics, topping their class consistently? Do I want them to be sportsman, representing their school in competitions? Or do I want them to be compassionate? Stay resilient in the face of adversity, empathize with the less privileged? In short – as a parent, how do I define success for my child? As soon as the kids were of age to attend the multitude of enrichment classes available, the husband and I agreed that we will not hot house the kids to be top academics or push them in a direction that will take away their precious childhood. As working adults, we are aware the rhetoric ‘get a good paying job with good grades from good school’ is often mired with other considerations and extremely myopic. We agreed we would not drag reluctant children to attend enrichment classes that purport to make your kids ‘gifted’ or ‘learn the syllabus in Primary school before school starts’. Nor will we spend all weekends ferrying the children to various lessons – be it piano, swimming or art. If this is how society dictates what success in a child looks like, then this is certainly not for us. Instead, I would like my children to have compassion, to stay resilient in face of adversity, to be kind to animals, to say their ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ and to possess strong work ethics, street smartness etc. Traditional as it may sound, I firmly believe these traits will give my child roots to grow and wings to fly. After all, we are nurturing a child who will be a full fledged member of society in years to come.
- Co-Create the Journey of Learning
Society now is very much different from the one we grew up in. Hence the environment where many skills or traits we learned as a child are no longer in existence. It is important that we recognize this and co-create that environment for our children as we set about nurturing or inculcating said values.
Take for example – many of us picked up traits such as cleaning up after ourselves, team work and sharing resources through doing domestic chores as a child with our siblings. But in Singapore, it is not uncommon to have live-in domestic helpers to assist in house chores and caring for our children. As such, many children grew up without needing to do any domestic chores. They are instead being served like little masters/mistresses of the house.
I foresaw how this could be a huge obstacle in inculcating those mentioned traits. I did not want my children to be ‘brain smart’ yet incapable of managing their own living space, washing and cleaning up after themselves etc. As such, certain tasks needed to be purposefully set up and taught. For example, when I needed the children to learn how to store their toys back into their designated storage space when they were done playing, I had to work with the domestic helper to ensure she doesn’t undo the lessons my children have learned by packing up after them. Likewise, clearing their dishes to the sink after they were done with a meal – the helper is not to clean up after them.
As the children grew older, school became a large part of their lives. I then sought to work with the teachers towards my definition of success for the child versus the school’s definition – which is largely guided by grades. Some school teachers looked at me in disbelief while some were relieved to find a parent who looks beyond grades. I certainly will not allow the esteem of my child be determined by his/her school grades. The societal rhetoric is one that comes from a lack mentality, of fear. I do not buy into that.
- Work on Self
The focus now turns to the parents – and this may come as a surprise to many. Given that we are the guardians of our children, I cannot emphasize how important our well-being is. Well-being extends above and beyond physical wellness; it encompasses self-esteem, self-identity and self-love. Parenting to a different beat is sometimes an upstream battle against the one set by society and really requires parents to stand firmly by their beliefs. The tidal waves created by society’s beat comes to us at all angles – propagated via the media, written about in articles, discussed in talk-shows, water cooler conversations at work and even innocent questions raised by classmates of your children. I have had to constantly fight off doubts and questions thrown my way by ‘well meaning’ friends and co-workers. Sometimes, I receive looks of disdain from parents when I disagree with their point of view. There were and still are moments where the (husband I questioned?) if we have gone off path with our decision. But doubts were quickly squashed when I see my healthy and well-adjusted teenagers interact with their peers, my friends and how they care for the neighborhood’s stray dogs and community cats. Nurturing ourselves help us grow in our wisdom, trust in our values and stand firm by the values anchored. The wisdom will also guide us to seek more information or ways to up our parenting game with better communication or listening skills. As we help our children grow, and so do we.
I am constantly inspired and humbled by the wisdom in this poem by renowned Sufi poet Kahlil Gibran. Allow me to share it with you as a parting shot and hope it sparks the wisdom in you too.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
The writer is an adjunct lecturer and an accomplished IT Marketing professional. She is happily married with two teenagers and in constant gratitude to the many angels she meets in life.