Parenting A Teenager To Be

My elder boy turned 11 recently and I am getting all jittery about having to parent a teenage boy. The raging hormones, the rebellions, the mood swings. It’s scary and exciting and whoever said that it’ll only get easier?!

Now that I have more than a decade of parenting experience under my belt, which makes me confident enough to write this
Yet the truth is, I still feel like a first time mom fumbling and feeling my way at each new stage my boy goes through
Parenting remains the most underrated profession. Why doesn’t anyone admit how hard it is.

With a preschooler and a preteen, gone were the days where my worries revolved round leaky diapers, breast or formula, co sleep or not, attachment parenting or cry it out. It has since progressed to structured learning or free play, tuition or not and how much ipad time they should get on a daily basis ?!

For every parenting books and advice you get from one camp, you can find an equal number of books from another camp. Bottom line, even with all the advice out there, we are still pretty much left on our own to decide what works for us and our children.

Now that definitely sounds less daunting, since we don’t have to follow any books, manual or require a phD in order to do our job as parents, yet it is exactly because there is no clear guidelines and instructions that makes it so tough. Sounds oxymoronic huh.

While I was writing the 5 Parenting Lessons From Mr Lee, I was tempted to add ‘Doing the right thing’. Mr Lee implemented many unpopular policies during the time he was in power because he believed that it was the right thing to do at that point in time. From defence to family planning to building a MRT. Some may not agree with his policies but the point is he believed that it was the best for Singapore and he did it.

Now can we do the same for parenting?

Doing the right thing when it comes to parenting would naturally mean doing what we think is in the best interest of our children. It sounds pretty absurd that a parent would choose to do otherwise, something that would be detrimental to her children. But what is best and what is right? Like many parents, we struggled with knowing what’s best for our children.

My husband and I had came to the conclusion that imparting the right values is about the only ‘right’ thing we know for sure. We believe that with the right values, everything else would fall in place. These values would eventually guide them in making decision and seeing them through hurdles and obstacles in life.

We had chosen to take a more relaxed approach to learning. I have to admit that it is not easy when most of their friends are attending 2 or 3 or 4 extra lessons every week. My boys, apart from doing their school homework, spent most of their time doing their ‘own’ things. Now that sounds pretty scary isn’t it? Am I starving them of new experiences? Are they missing out on things? I feel myself consumed by self doubt.

The boys attended soccer lesson when we were in the States but had stopped since we moved back to Singapore. A couple of months ago, we tried putting the boys in a Chinese language learning centre as they had totally missed out on the language during the entire year when we were in the States. After 1 semester, we decided to pull them out. We realised that it isn’t easy to find a suitable school and even tougher to find a good teacher or good coach.

Strangely, if you ask my boys now, their current favourite subject is Chinese. My 5 year old enjoys it because Chinese characters look like funny picture and he gained great confident and satisfaction learning how to write them. As for my elder one, he likes the subject because he likes his current Chinese teacher. As simple as that. He was so convinced by his teacher that he didn’t mind rewriting his whole page of Chinese essay. That is pretty unusual, coming from someone who rejects the conventional way of learning tingxie, that is, to write the words repeatedly.

They enjoy swimming, cycling and rollerblading. We had spent enough time in the pool and on our wheels to let them figure out these sports themselves and had saved quite a bit on coaching lessons. Weekends these days are spent exploring different parts of the island on our bikes.

We had chosen a more child directed approach to learning. Apart from school work, the boys more or less decide for themselves what they want to learn and how much they want to learn. As parents, we are there to facilitate and guide them.

Apart from being naturally fascinated with numbers and Sciences, my 11 year old enjoys reading and is currently hooked on computer programming. Recently my 5 year old is into the reproduction parts of a flower. He was surprised to find out that a flower is both female and male and is eager to explain (illustrate with drawing) to anyone who is interested, how bees help plants make babies!

I guess as parents, it’s natural for us to be constantly worrying about our children. We worry whether we have done enough, whether we had done our best or whether we have done the right thing. I believe a lot of these answers can be found in our children, through conversation with them and through their behaviour. Unfortunately, very often their voices got drowned by the noises around us, mostly peer pressure and societal expectations.

Hopefully by spending enough time and being super attentive to them, we will continue to hear those voices. I am sure the close bond we built during the early years would eventually help us ride through their turbulence adolescence years.




Malcolm Turns 11

Malcolm turned 11 over the weekend.

He had missed school for 2 weeks because he was infected with the mumps virus.
Yes he was vaccinated and we were totally clueless where or how he caught the virus.

A week before he got infected, we were just saying that we hardly see kids with mumps these days. I remember it used to be a common infection because all my siblings had it when we were young. I was explaining to the boys how the old folks believe that the ‘cure’ to mumps was to ask someone born in the year of tiger to write the Chinese character 虎 on the infected cheek with some sort of blue ink mixed in awful vinegar. The ‘tiger’ was supposed to ‘eat’ up the ‘pig’ which is what you called mumps in Hokkien, translated to  (猪头皮) in Chinese. It sounds like a silly thing to do but we all went through that when we were little, even my husband wasn’t spared. We were all laughing about it and then the next thing we know, Malcolm caught it.

We brought him to the A&E on a Saturday and the nurse immediately whisked him off to an isolated area as they already suspected it was mumps. We were out in half an hour whereas the other patients had to wait 2 hours in line. We found out that mumps was considered a highly contagious. disease.

The doctor came, had a quick look and sent him home with 2 weeks of mc and a bag of painkiller. Without any blood test or whatsoever, he concluded that ‘it was most likely mumps’. At the back of my mind I was thinking, what if it turned out to be something else? what if the swell doesn’t go away after 2 week?!

So we waited. The swell got worse. For a couple of days, he only had mushy porridge because anything else would be too difficult to chew with his very swollen and painful parotid glands.

Thankfully the swell did subside after 2 weeks but unfortunately we missed his birthday. I had his party all thought out but we were unsure whether he could recover in time and I was quite sure none of his friends’ parents would want their kids to risk an infection for a birthday party.

I did managed to bake him a cake, a very chocolatey one as per his request and we had a simple celebration with a couple of friends and family.

Happy 11th Birthday to my nerdy, smart alecky boy.
Love you loads!




5 Parenting Lessons From Mr Lee

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I was woken up by my husband who was on his way out for work and he whispered in my ear, ‘Lee Kuan Yew had passed away last night’. It was 23 March, 6.30 in the morning. I murmured a faint ‘oh’ and remained rather composed. I didn’t break down, not hysterically.

I had spent the past week, after receiving news from the Prime Minister Office that Mr Lee was critically ill, preparing for this.

For the past week, I had drifted through most days with a heavy heart. I found myself caught in a battle between my heart and my head. At 91 years old, he had lived a full life and it was only natural that this day would come. It was a stark reminder of mortality, that even the strongest man couldn’t defy death and that time would mercilessly tick on by the second, minute and hour. It won’t stop for anyone, not even for the passing of a great man.

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I remember tearing up seeing how frail he looked during the last National Day. I felt compelled to write a letter to him but never got down to doing it. I ended up writing a reflection on National Day.

My short stint overseas had made me appreciate the kind of freedom I grew up with. The kind that involved order and security.

I remember coming home to our house only to find the whole area cordoned off by heavily armed police officers because a gunman had sneaked into our backyard, I remember how I was pick pocketed in the world’s most beautiful city and I remember how we worried about being carjacked in a major city because we got lost and was driving through downtown area past midnight. I wouldn’t have questioned so much on what it meant to be a Singaporean if not for the chance to live oversea.

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Most people have written about Mr Lee’s achievements and their gratitude in building up the nation. But reading about how Mr and Mrs Lee brought up their children, it dawned upon me that rearing good kids, like building a nation does not happen by chance. It requires great clarity and conviction by the parents and leader. Mr Lee’s clarity of thought and wisdom cut across all facets of life and I think we could apply his wisdom to parenting.

1. Be fair.
Mr Lee in his fortitude decided to adopt a system of meritocracy that is blind to your skin colour and religion. He stamped out corruption, cronyism and nepotism. He recognised that not all are born equal, but all Singaporeans would be given the same access to healthcare, housing and education. He firmly believed that everyone should be given equal opportunities to succeed based on their talent and willingness to work. The same applied to parenting. Not all our children are born equal and we shouldn’t show favouritism. Instead we should help each of them find their strengths and weaknesses and provide them with equal opportunities to succeed.

2. The common interest is more important than the individual right.
Mr Lee has repeatedly rejected the western notions of the pre-dominance of individual liberties and rights over the rights of the community and society. What we have today in Singapore is a safe and secure society where you can send your children to school without worrying about guns and drugs. We don’t have to worry that the angry driver next to you will pull out a gun and put a bullet in your head neither do we need to worry about walking in the streets late at night. Similarly, in parenting, the interests of the family should come before the interests of any individual member of the family. As parents, we must prioritise making decisions that benefits the family as a whole.

3. Tolerance and mutual respect.
In Mr Lee’s conception, tolerance and mutual respect are ingredients to a harmonious society. In Singapore, the different ethnicities and religions work and play in a common space. Politics along racial and religious lines are prohibited. Like any society, underlying tensions exist. But here, they rarely escalate. Differences are largely recognised, tolerated and sometimes even celebrated. Tolerance and mutual respect are foundations of our society that have provided the environment for the nation to grow and develop without internal strife and conflict. Similarly, families need to be built on the same foundations. It is in an environment of a happy marriage and loving family, where there is mutual respect and tolerance, that children thrive and grow up into emotionally stable and successful adults.

4. A false sense of entitlement is detrimental.
Even in the 60s, Mr and Mrs Lee recognised that giving their children a false sense of entitlement would negatively impact their children. They chose to live at their Oxley Road home instead of Sri Temasek. They didn’t want their children to grow up in a place that is full of butlers and orderlies and get a false sense of life. ‘That, you play with the ball and it is okay, somebody will fetch it back.’ They taught their children that the world did not owe them a living and they must work hard for what they want in life.

This is becoming more challenging in today’s society where materialism and consumerism are prevalent. Children are overly praised and parents are overly indulgent. Children get what they want when they want it and they never learn to see the connection between making an effort and achieving success. They are led to believe that they are entitled to expensive toys, electronic gadgets, expensive holidays and fanciful birthday parties, just being who they are. We all know that the real world doesn’t work this way.

5. Teaching of values.
Even though Mr and Mrs Lee have no short of people who served them round the clock, the teaching of values to their children was never outsourced. Their children treated everyone with equal respect because they were taught not to behave like the Prime Minister’s children. They knew that it was okay if they didn’t top the classes as long as they put in their best. They were taught to turn off water taps completely. And when they left a room, they had to switch off lights and air-conditioners.

Mr Lee was meticulous and paid attention to details from an ailing rain tree to floating trash on the Singapore River. He lived simply and was never interested in material things. The children grew up in a humble house with simple furnishing and no shower. Their holidays were simple to nearby places such as Fraser’s Hill and Cameron Highlands.

As parents, it is important to emphasise on the teaching of the right values and even more important to walk the talk. I believe such consistent and disciplined upbringing will eventually shape our children’s characters and later on, influence their priorities in life.


Here’s what other mothers had written about Mr Lee
In memoriam by Lyn
A nation mourns by Angie
We will remember you by Pamela
Farewell, Mr Lee Kuan Yew by yAnn
Thank you note for Mr Lee Kuan Yew by Missus Tay
To Sir, with love by Dorothea
Goodbye and godspeed, Mr Lee by MummyBean
Thank you Mr Lee by Ai
A review of MM Lee’s Memoirs by Becky
Learning from the Lees by Adora
Your legacy will live on by Susan

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