14 years ago, during my job exit interview, my lady boss asked me blatantly ‘Are you sure you want to quit your job and stay at home?’
She was in her 40s, probably had more experience raising kids than I had working as an IT consultant. I could almost sense her subtle hint, that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
I was 3 months pregnant with my first child, spending long hours at work, stressed and unhappy. I foresaw myself going through an unhappy pregnancy if I were to stay on. I chose to quit and I was lucky I had a choice. The decision was for myself though I did consider the ill effects an unhappy pregnancy would have to the unborn baby.
2 years later, we were uprooted from the comfort of our home to live in a foreign land. I realised it was a matter of time that I had to leave my job and I was glad I made the decision earlier. If I had made the same decision any later, I might have confused it as being a sacrifice made to accommodate my husband’s career and things might have turned out differently now.
Being a new mom was tough and it was even tougher living in a foreign land, away from family and friends. Some of these tips helped me through my early days as a new mother, some are still relevant today. I realised there are new challenges at every stage of parenting and having the chance to live overseas has helped shaped some of our parenting decisions.
Here are some challenges we faced.
1. Battling the FOMO monster
Should they learn to play the violin at 3 and paint like Picasso at 4? Do we need to send them for brain training? Are we short changing them if we can afford to but choose not to sign them up for that holiday Science camp or not buy them that latest LeapFrog toy?
Though my husband and I have made a conscious decision not to jump on the bandwagon, I have to admit that the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) monster rears its ugly head too often.
Most of their friends have their days packed with lessons. The local kids in our neighborhood hardly come out and play because everyone is busy learning something after school!
Do we give in to the monster or should we get a hold of ourselves? It’s a constant struggle.
We realised that it takes a relatively strong heart these days to let our children be children.
2. Letting them learn at their own pace
Both my boys weren’t early readers. When they were in preschool, their teachers feedback that their inability to do phonics might be a concern. It was hard not to panic when everyone is rushing. Even the teachers are rushing.
Should we send them for reading classes? Should we assure the teachers that our kids will be ok? Oh, I tell you. It was tough It almost felt like we had to stand up for our children to protect their childhood. They were 5 and I knew I couldn’t read when I was 5!
We knew that they enjoyed story time and they loved having us read to them. We were concerned that rushing them to read when they weren’t ready might do them more harm than good. We continued to read to them and we read any books that interest them. They eventually started reading independently when they were 7.
My younger one started reading chapter books recently. My elder boy who is a voracious reader started reading at about the same age.
3 years ago when he was 10, he topped his school’s reading score that year when we were in the States. The students had to sit for a reading test for every book they read to test out their understanding. I didn’t keep track on how much he read but the school recorded 9,030,416 words (I just asked him to pull this out from his school’s FB page!) which is equivalent to 100 full-length novels. He set a new reading record for the school and made the school librarian shaved off his beard on stage because he lost his bet. Nobody expects an Asian boy to beat them at reading. It was hilarious.
So moral of the story, they will catch up and they will get there, at their own pace.
3. How much screen time
Kids today grow up in a very different world from our times. With the advent of the smartphone, they have access to almost anything and everything. As a parent, I continue to struggle with how much screen time should they be allowed.
On one hand, we think we should allow them to play video games. It improves their motor skills, hand eye coordination and it’s fun! They watch YouTube videos on improving their gameplay which also opens up a whole wide range of ideas on Science, creativity and learning.
On the other hand, too much screen time cannot be that good. Especially when they keep clamoring for the iPad, rushing through their homework and refusing to play outdoors. In situations like these, we cannot help but feel a little frustrated and question ourselves whether we should have even opened the Pandora’s box in the first place.
The fact is, creativity and technology is going to be the world of their future and at the moment, the schools don’t seem to be able to keep up with the rapid changes in learning. So it does fall on the parents and the kids themselves to find the latest tools for learning.
While watching and playing Minecraft videos and games, the kids learn about logic gates and binary code. Just the other day, my 7 year old was bored and decided to make something he saw on YouTube. A ‘robotic’ arm using cardboard, strings and straws.
It was a tedious process and we spent many hours working on it. Apart from learning that the little skeletal bones around our hands play an important role in the movement of the fingers, he also learned how complex the whole skeletal system is and it is not easy to make a robotic arm work like a human one!
Ultimately we hope that they will learn to self regulate, practice self restraint and learn to balance between work and play. But it’s a lofty goal because we know even adults struggle with these skills.
4. Teaching them Responsibility
As a Stay-At-Home-Mum, it is tempting to hire a helper to do the menial chores at home. But it will be too easy to slip into dependency and laziness. There will always be someone to clean and tidy up after us, to fetch the glass of water, to iron our clothes, to cook the dinner, to wash up, to pick up the toys, etc etc.
We tell the children that the home is a place for people who do work. Everyone in the house has responsibilities.
For them, their responsibility is their schoolwork. It is their responsibility to do their homework and understand what the teachers teach in class, not Mom’s and Dad’s. Their responsibility also includes cleaning after themselves, setting up the dinner table, putting their dirty clothes into the laundry basket, keeping their room clean and helping to change their bed sheets every fortnightly.
We decided that we will not have a maid at home because it will be hard for us to teach the kids about responsibility. They must learn to fend for themselves. That also means that we set ourselves up for a lot more work at home.
5. Restraining ourselves from spending
How do you teach the kids the value of money when they easily get what they want because the adults are willing to buy them the latest and greatest? Wouldn’t it be nice to see the kids happy just by spending a little money? Wouldn’t it be nice to eat in a air conditioned restaurant than to sit in a stuffy hawker centre?
Teaching them the value of money requires conscious effort and it can be challenging.
We have two iPads at home – about 2 and 5 years old. My younger boy had dropped the older iPad and cracked the screen. The other iPad is in dire need of a new cover. They were complete eye sores. We probably should fix the iPads or buy a new one. Their friends and cousins all have newer iPads. We could probably afford it too.
We told them that when the iPads die, there will not be another one for them to play. Now they are more careful and they take better care of their iPads. We want them to learn that having an iPad is a privilege and not an entitlement. Just because everyone has it doesn’t mean they will get one too. Same goes for smartphones, my son got his first smartphone when he turned 13.
Refraining from spending when we know we can afford it can be one of the hardest things to do.
6. Letting go
We were just watching Nemo the other day and I chuckled as Nemo’s dad asked the old sea turtle “How do we know they are ready?”. The old sea turtle’s reply was a empathetic “You just know…”.
But in the real world, things don’t work out like that. We know that our poor judgement can cause the kids to get hurt. From the playground to getting to school for the first time on their own, it is tempting to sneak behind them and watch over them like a drone.
The boys started roller blading recently. Last weekend, we decided to let them venture onto the cycling track. It was my husband’s idea and I wished I wasn’t there to watch.
What if they go too fast? What if they lose control? What if they can’t brake in time? It was nerve racking to watch them fumble with their blades surrounded by cyclists, joggers and pedestrians. Danger was lurking everywhere.
We eventually made it to the cafeteria for lunch. They had a few falls, some minor bruises but no broken bones. In that few hours, apart from figuring how to be more efficient in moving their roller blades, they learned about their own limits, how to spot a potential danger and test out their decision making skills. These lessons are invaluable.
The truth for us parents is this – we never really know whether they are ready or not until we let go. But it is hard to let go unless we know they are ready. So it’s a chicken and egg problem. How do we break out of this cycle?
Perhaps the toughest part about modern parenting isn’t just the day to day challenges of taking care of another human being. It is the endless decisions that we need to make starting from day 1. To breastfeed or not, to co-sleep or not, to let them cry it out or stick to attachment parenting and the number of decisions we need to make just piles up along the way.
We basically have to decide what’s best for another human being when sometimes, we can’t even figure out what is best for ourselves. What if we aren’t good decision maker ourselves? What if we can’t even sort out our own lives?
I came into my role as a mother, clueless yet wanting to be perfect. But like all things in life, nothing is perfect nor will it ever be. Some days we’ll mess up, and some days are worse than others. The important thing is that we are doing the best we can from where we are with what we have.
It wasn’t this clear when I walked into my boss’s office 14 years ago but I wish I could tell her now that leaving my job was one of the best decision I’ve made. Being a mother is the most humbling job I’ve had. My children have taught me to be the person I am today. It was a hard lesson sometimes, but so very worth it.
In this month of May, whether you are a single mom, foster mom, adoptive mom, helicopter mom. free-range mom, breastfeeding mom. formula-feeding mom, working mom, stay home mom, rich mom, poor mom, chill mom, tiger mom, c-section mom, epidural mom…No matter what decisions you’ve made to bring you where you are today, you’ve done an amazing job. You are enough, you are important and you are worth it. Happy Mother’s Day in advance.
This post is part of the ‘Mothers Make It Work!’ Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories please click on the picture below.
At next week’s stop we will be visiting Angie at Life’s Tiny Miracles. Angie is the Mommy behind the Life’s Tiny Miracles blog. The journey to Motherhood has been a bittersweet experience. As a mom of 5 kids (3 in Heaven), Angie embraces every bit of this season: the tears, the insanity, the sacrifices and the joy that comes from knowing she’s loved as a wife, a friend, a daughter and a Mom.