Motherhood

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.

 

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I Have A Teenager In The House

My elder boy turned 13 this week and he is now officially a teenager! Gawk!

At 52 kg and 170 cm, he looks like a grown man with a baby face (well, maybe not so baby anymore!) People think he is sporty but we often tease that he is actually a nerd in disguise. We tell him that we should probably thank us for his sporty look. Since young, we made him go outdoor and he now enjoys swimming, biking, hiking and skiing. Recently he was identified to be ‘Track and Field worthy’ in his school and was made captain for the sports he does. Our jaws dropped when he told us that.

‘Sorry Son, our reaction wasn’t sarcasm, your Dad and I were just too proud of you.’

He loves Maths and Science and given a choice he would stay home to read his books and play his games. He reads ‘History of Pi’ and ‘A Brief History of Time’ but he doesn’t bring these books to school because it’s not very cool. He still struggles with Chinese but is fascinated with Conlang and is considering picking up Sindarin this school holiday. For a long time JRR Tolkien was unmatched until recently, he discovered more books by Orson Scott Card.

He is big on computer games but he would emphasize, only the types that require ‘brain’. He is allowed to play his games during the time when I cook dinner, which is EVERYDAY. The rule is simple, finish your work and you get to play. We have this arrangement for a long time now and it applies even during exam periods. There are times when it gets out of hand, when he rushes through his work or produces shabby work and we would ban him from his computer.

Recently, it’s been working well and he has managed to secure this privilege even now in Secondary school because he was able to bring home his As and A*s for his PSLE. He learned to manage his time and that includes doing his Maths homework way ahead so that he can free up more time! Gosh. And now he thinks aiming for 75 is good enough since getting 90 will only earn you the same grade. The Law of Diminishing Returns, he got it figured out while playing Vainglory and I was like, seriously?!

Apart from computer games and YouTube videos, he fiddles with some programming on his own. He doesn’t attend any tuition, so other than schoolwork and CCA, he is pretty much left to do his own things.

His younger brother has a Math test coming up and the school requires him to answer 60 Multiplication questions in 5 minutes. Frankly I was too lazy to write out every 60 questions to test him and his elder brother swiftly suggested a computer program to take over the job. He created a simple Scratch program that randomly generates 60 Multiplication questions that expires in 5 minutes.

It was a very basic program and I thought it could be refined to make it more interactive and interesting so that his brother will have more ‘fun’ doing it but he thought it was too much work!

‘Son, you are given a good brain and it is good that you put it into good use. Remember that the best way to pursue happiness is to help others. Take pride in your appearance and that applies to the work you do.’

He has outgrown themed birthday parties and I was glad we did an epic one for him 4 years back and this Minecraft Birthday cake was probably the last theme birthday cake I baked for him. Last year, he was a great help when we prepared for his brother’s Harry Potter birthday party.

So this year, I got him to plan for his own birthday party. His idea was simple, a pool party with some pizzas thrown in, best if we allowed them to end it with gaming session, having a cake wasn’t even in his list!

We realised that he had his friends grouped according to the types of games they played, the Clash Royale and the Vainglory clan. He almost wanted different parties for the different groups because he was worried that it would be awkward for them to mix. He can be thoughtful to a fault.

One of his friend gifted him a Google Play prepaid card and he explained that this friend was trying to turn him to the ‘dark side’. I was horrified! What ‘dark side’?! Apparently, he is known for paying ZERO dollars to play games. He only download free games and he doesn’t spend money on aesthetic upgrades. He doesn’t pay much attention to looking good but spend his time thinking and researching on good strategies and brushing up skills.

‘Dear Son, I know, peer pressure is a scary thing and I am glad that you are handling it well. Work towards being a good leader and others will follow you.’

So we did go according to his plan, we had some of his friends over, they were shooed off to the pool to get their outdoor time before given access to free Wi-Fi for the rest of the party. It was a simple party, the kind a teenager would like, hanging out with friends and doing their favourite thing!

And I almost took his ‘NO CAKE’ suggestion seriously. Thankfully my common sense got the better of me. I baked him his favourite cheesecake at the very last minute, the serious looking kind with no fanciful frosting! It was a perfect choice because one can NEVER go wrong with an Orea Cheesecake, especially with a bunch of teenage boys!

 

 

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A Good School

Few months ago, we were in the process of looking for a Secondary school for our elder boy. He has done considerably well for his PSLE. Though we can’t claim much credit for his results, we did put in effort in finding a good school for him.

Despite MOE’s goal to make every school in Singapore a good school, our own experience showed that the reality is not quite as such. Each year, the heightened anxiety during school registration might be a good indicator to support our sentiment.

We didn’t know any better 7 years ago and we just went for a school that is nearest to our home. It was quite a popular school in our neighbourhood probably due to the awards the school had clinched and the past years’ PSLE results of students. It was then that I realised that different parents may have very different judging criteria for a good school.

I was the parent who questioned when my boy brought home too much homework or when they were not allowed to run in the field during recess time or when they can’t buy a bottle of mineral water from the drink stall because the school doesn’t sell them. That was despite the school being in the Healthy Meals Program. Apparently, sweet drinks made it into the school’s list of healthy drinks but not mineral water.

Our experience with our boys’ school has given us a clearer idea what to look out for when choosing a school. But the truth is, to really know the inside working of the school, we have to go beyond reading the schools’ vibrant web pages and glossy pages of the schools’ journal.

While MOE’s website has given a good list on what makes a good school, the question lies with how well can schools achieve those goals.

We went through the grey handbook that was given to every Singaporean kids registering for Secondary 1. It gives the list of schools in every part of Singapore and all the CCAs and special programs offered by different schools. The book gives a good summary of what each school offers but little about what we really need to know about the schools.

We decided to visit some of the schools and eventually it was these visits that helped us decide on our 6 choices of schools to put in his posting form.

Here are the 4 things we look out for in a school that goes beyond A* and PSLE cutoff point.

Trust and Respect

During our visits, some schools welcomed us onto their premises when we told them we were considering putting our kids in the school and wanted to take a look around, others were suspicious and unwelcome. We understand the need for security in the school, but what threat can a mother with two young kids in tow pose to a school during the December holidays?

We believe that a school with a culture of trust and respect can be observed through the non teaching staff in the school, from administrative staff to security guards and general cleaners. When students grow and learn in an environment where every individual is trusted and respected, the same attitude will be cascaded down to the students. If the general belief is that students are pesky troublemakers, they WILL be pesky troublemakers.

A Caring School

Are school decisions made through careful consideration on what is the best for the students, guided by a consistent value system and principles? Or does the school implement (MOE) policies but fail to achieve the intent of the policy? Does the school hold itself to its own values? Does the school pay lip service to what it says it will do?

For example, I think it is futile to teach students the school’s values by doing worksheets. Can we teach leadership skills and values by having the students do more worksheets? Don’t be surprised that some schools actually do that. As parents, we teach good values by modeling them and setting good examples. We make tough decisions based on our values in our everyday lives and during our daily interactions with the children.

I believe that a school that cares enough will also put some thought into the kind of food they serve in the canteen. When students are expected to spend long hours in schools, I would think that schools have the responsibility to give students the option of buying healthy food during recess and lunch.

The selection of food in my kids’ Primary School is dismaying. Our request for a microwave to be placed in the canteen so that children can bring their own food to heat up during recess was turned down. Speaking to the school and Health Promotion Board people who came by to audit the school canteen proved to be futile in improving the quality of food sold in the canteen. I learned about the problems faced by the school and stall holders. I concluded that the school either lacks interest or believes in different things.

My advice is, check out the food in the canteen when visiting the schools. The rule of thumb, if you think you wouldn’t eat there, why should we expect the students to do so.

Empowerment

One of the things that we want is for schools to empower their students. Empowerment makes the students take charge and take ownership of the things that they do. However it can be risky because things can go awry and the school ultimately needs to take responsibility. It can also be scary for the student because it forces them to try something new, go outside their comfort zones, and they can fail. Failure, can be scary, but a necessary ingredient to success. After all, we only learn how to walk by falling countless times.

During one of the visits to my son’s current school, I was taken aback by a student’s speech. He had said something which I thought wasn’t really appropriate. The principal later clarified that he did not vet through his speech and had only given the student a few pointers on what to talk about.

The principal gained my admiration because of how he chose to give his students free rein to do his speech. I see a principal who values the learning experience of his students over the image of his school. How many principals will risk having his students give a lousy speech that will make his school look bad?

This is probably hard to tell from a walk-in-visit but a school that often let its students be in charge of school’s event such as open house and orientation might be a tell tale sign that the school is unafraid to let the students make mistake and learn from their mistakes. Both failure and success build learning confidence. When students feel confident about decision-making and feel recognized as capable by the school, they gain the confidence and skill to “take” control of their own learning.

Positive Experience

There are many insights that can be gleaned by simply talking to or observing the current students. Are the students generally negative or positive about their school? Are the students proud of their school and its values? Do they come forth to defend the image of the school? Do they behave themselves in public? Students who behave themselves even when their teachers are not around show a high level of maturity and self discipline. Sure, there will be outliers but the trend will always tend towards the mean.

And I think our intuition about my son’s Secondary school had been right. Just 3 months into his new school and my son has everything good to say about his school. It is a big contrast from his 6 years of experience in his Primary school. What his Primary school couldn’t achieved in 6 years was accomplished in 3 months in his new school.

His current school invested significant resources to organize orientation and school camp within the first month of school year. I think the investment had paid off. It fostered camaraderie amongst the students, created a common sense of identity and ownership. Though still new to the school, my son feels that he belongs to the school and is also responsible to uphold the school’s values. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that your children is in good hands and that you have a found a partner to journey through this turbulent teenage years.

Our experience with our son’s new secondary school has given us hope that making every school a good school is achievable. However it is only possible under a capable principal and a team of dedicated teachers. Like any organisation, it takes good leadership with effective execution skills and sound strategy to bring vision to fruition.

 
 

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