Are we slowly killing ourselves?

We are just into the second week of January and I need a break. A vacation. The kind where you don’t bring the kids so you can chill at a secluded beach, let the sound of the waves wash over you, and let your mind wander.

It’s been a pretty full-on week. On top of working full-time, I squeezed in a JC Open House, charity event, orthodontic visit, church group discussion and met up with friends over dinner. And then there’s the weekend with a meet-the-principal session, University open house, two birthday parties and a dinner. All while juggling the kids.

We are trying to fit too much into our lives, aren’t we?

I was telling some mums who were concerned about their kids being over-scheduled that they are like sponges. There is only so much they can absorb and everything else will spill over.

It is no different with us. We are rushing from one place to another. Have we stopped to think about our lives? The quality of it? Our connection with others? Our connection with our kids? Are we always barking at them to hurry up? Ferrying them from one activity to another without spending time with them? Do we know what is on their minds and in their hearts?

It’s funny how every time someone asks us, “How are you?” Somewhere in our answer will be “Busy lor, with work, kids, and whatever million other things we have on our plate.”

Since when has being busy become a badge of honour?

Have we given much thought about how we really are feeling? C’mon, there’s so much to do, who has time to stop to think if this is what we really want our lives to be, or if we are deep-down-contented happy.

There are bills to be paid, a household to run. And say, if we did reflect on how our lives are going, do we have the luxury to stop, if we find this is not how we want to live our lives?

#2 has been doing the JC Open house rounds with her schoolmates these past few days. They have 4 days to make a decision and fill in their 12 choices. She invited me to join her to check out her top choice (yes, now mummy can’t just barge in to the teenagers’ activities).

It was a vibrant scene. The aspirants were eager-faced and excited to join the big new JC world and the seniors and teachers were enthusiastic in answering their questions and encouraging them to join the school.

As I looked around the bustling hall filled with students, parents and teachers, as much as a part of me felt joyous that #2 will be embarking on a pivotal and memorable 2 years of her life where they will study hard, play hard and form solid friendships, I had a nagging feeling.

What have we, as a society, driven ourselves to?

Hearing about how hectic their week is going to be made me wonder if there can be another way.

Seems that for the subject combination she intends to choose, classes will end at 5pm most days, and CCAs are at 5-7pm on 2 days. #1’s school was along this bus route, and even though it is 4 bus stops away, during peak hour the buses don’t stop if they are full. Thus we expect #2 to be home between 7-8.30pm. Given that they leave the house at 7.30am, that is longer than a working day for adults! Factor in dinner, shower and homework, and it is beyond what a healthy day should look like.

I’ve heard from many that the weekends are not spared, and they spend it catching up on sleep, revising their work or meeting classmates for group work. My uncles who have been teaching in JCs for the past 30 years concur that times have changed and things have become much tougher than when we were in JC.

It is the same story for #1 who is in poly. She leaves the house at 8am and on days when she has CCA, she is back at 10pm.

This, my dear friends, is our school and work culture. We start over-scheduling our kids when they are in pre-school, the schools take over that job soon enough, and we enter the workforce where it is the norm. Somewhere down the line, we pause and wonder, how did we get here? This is not what I envisioned my life to be.

It is like the speedometer where you rev the car, the pointer is going up up up, and we keep revving, until it reaches the red point. It is no surprise that we have kids attempting suicide. There is only so much a person can take.

Something is seriously wrong. We are advancing so rapidly, but getting nowhere.

What can we do?

How can we slow down?

What can we cut out?

Running at full speed for months on end with only 2 long breaks in a year is hardly sufficient. How can we put more weekly breaks into our schedules so we don’t become over-stretched. Both as parents, and for our children.

As parents, we don’t even get the break we need (and truly deserve) during the weekends. There are still children to tend to and activities to get done.

I don’t have the answers. It is even harder for us with big families as things are multiplied and magnified. The good, the bad, the busy.

All I know is I need to not stop searching for a better way. I hope never to fall into the trap of going with the flow and end up feeling tired, overwhelmed and dejected. Because if we, who are supposed to be the pillars for our children, are ourselves overburdened, how can we support them?

Everyone is running on their own treadmill. In a big family, yes, there are more siblings to share their worries and keep an eye on one another, but there are also more children, more unique personalities and a higher probability of one falling through the cracks. And I only have so many hours in a day, and too many kids who need my attention (although I hear the same cry from parents with only 2 kids!) I do worry.

I guess I’ll start with baby steps. Spending time in silence always helps me to recalibrate. I need to be intentional about scheduling that at the end of every week to remove the build up of stress that has accumulated over the week of madness. And I have to engineer the weekends to be rejuvenating, instead of cramming too much in. Some things have to be relinquished.

The big question is, which ones?

You know what comes to mind? The story of the frogs. The one where if you throw a bunch of frogs into a pot of boiling water, they will jump out. But if you put them in water and slowly boil them, they wouldn’t know any better as the temperature slowly creeps up on them.

Are we slowly killing ourselves?


Other lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Lesson #15: What are we worth, mums?
Lesson #16: What do you do when you get sick of parenting?
Lesson #17: The tragedy of our society


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #17: The tragedy of our society

I read about the double tragedy of a straight ‘A’s student committing suicide after hours of receiving her O level results because she had 2 ‘B’s, and of her heart-broken mother following suit 3 months later.

The pressure seems to be getting worse and worse for our children. On all fronts.

Just last week, some mums were talking about how a student from a top school had committed suicide.

We were very heavy-hearted and in an attempt to make sense of the situation, generalisations started surfacing. 

“Grades are not everything. Better not put our kids in top schools. So stressful. Neighbourhood schools better.”

“But in mixed school will have BGR problems. Also headache.”

The common reasons for suicide in our children and youths seem to be disappointing parents with poor grades, family problems and relationship/bullying issues.

As we were quiet and letting it sink in, a friend shared something even more disturbing.

Her daughter was in the same school as the child who committed suicide and she was very concerned about how she has been affected. She raised the issue with her daughter and this was the reply.

“I’m ok mum. Like that lor. She committed suicide.”

Have our young people been numbed?


In this rush of life, of me, myself and I, of gadgets in our faces. Have we lost our connectedness with one another? 

That scares me plenty.

As our country turns 50, we have a lot to ponder.

Yes, our country is prosperous.

Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for.

But dig deeper. What do we find inside ourselves? Inside our youths?

We need to put a stop to the endless and mindless pursuit of more. Of one-upmanship. When will it end?

We need to come back to a life of contentment.


Maybe it’s time we stop thinking about bigger and better.

Maybe it’s time we start thinking about what really, really matters.

Other lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Lesson #15: What are we worth, mums?
Lesson #16: What do you do when you get sick of parenting?

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #22: Confronting death teaches you about life

I’ve been volunteering at a hospice as I’ve always been drawn to palliative care from the time I was a student. This morning, I was pushing an elderly lady around the gardens and she asked me to stop to gaze at the colourful flowers. They brought a smile to her face. Then she spotted 2 little sparrows and she was delighted.


It struck me how alike she is to my kids when they were young. How they would stop to inspect the flowers and burst into childlike wonderment at the beauty of a flower.

It got me thinking. At the beginning of our lives, it’s the simplest things like having the love of mummy and daddy which is most important.

At the end of our lives it is again the warmth of family that we need most. 

How do we end up chasing after all the wrong things throughout our lives? How do we allow our priorities to shift so dramatically?

As I left the hospice, I asked myself, if I was on my deathbed what would I regret? Most likely, I would regret being overly harsh on my kids and yelling at them so much, instead of disciplining them with gentleness and love. Most likely, I would regret the many times I brushed them aside while I tend to all my seemingly more ‘important’ work. Most likely, I would regret choosing to be angry at them instead of immediately forgiving them and hugging them tightly in my arms.


And I asked myself, if I was on my deathbed, what would I be thinking about? Would I be able to easily bring up all the beautiful and happy moments with my family? Would I have uncountable memories of good times, filled with fun and laughter, tears and joy with my closest friends?

At the end of my life, what would I be left with? Things? Titles? Or People?

It takes death to put life into perspective.

And I know, it is the little things which make up L I F E.

However, to live life fully like there is no tomorrow, that is the hard part.


Linking up with:

mamawearpapashirt


Other Thursday lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):



~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #9: What must kids do for us to stop pushing them over the edge

Last week, a P5 child attempted suicide in my child’s school. Hopefully after this episode the child’s parents will heed this cry for help. Last year, a Sec 4 child in my other child’s school committed suicide.


A close friend was sharing with me that her 8-year old wanted to run away from home. And take the cab to her best friends house. Of course she wasn’t seriously going to carry out her plan but she was so terrified of her mummy’s anger that she wanted to escape from it. Only then did my friend realise that although she doesn’t use the cane on her kids, sometimes, her wrath is much more fearsome and hurtful to them.

A police friend told me that kids are now running away from home younger and younger and they have found 8 and 9-year olds on the street. How terrifying. A home doesn’t seem to be a haven for some children anymore.

Many years ago, when I reached out to hold one of my daughter’s hand to cross the road, she said, “Let the car knock me down better. I’d rather die.” I literally stopped in my tracks.
Our kids are crying out to us. What must they do for us to stop pushing them over the edge?

In a recent study of over 600 primary school children in Singapore, a group of doctors from IMH found that more than 20% indicated they wanted to kill themselves or harboured suicidal thoughts at one time. I highly recommend parents and teachers read “The Day the Ball Didn’t Bounce” which is based on a true story, written by Dr Peter Mack.

A friend’s sister bravely shared her personal story of how she thought of killing herself from the time she was in primary school. It’s time we stop hushing such topics because the only way of even beginning to address it is to “recognise the existence of problems… and particularly remind parents what they can do towards preventing future tragedies among our young” – S R Nathan, 6th President of the Republic of Singapore.


Linking up with:
mamawearpapashirt


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #8: What have we done to our children

Last week I attended Brahm Centre’s charity dinner and I’m glad I went. It was immensely inspiring to witness the many men and women who contribute their time, money and effort for such a good cause. This voluntary organisation’s mission is to offer educational programs and activities to promote happier and healthier living. It was at this centre where I shared my personal experiences during my talk on Parenting 6 kids without going mad or broke in April.

Group MD of American International Industries & Board Member of Brahm Centre, Brahm Centre’s yoga instructor, International speaker & author of ‘Search inside yourself’, CEO of Tan Chin Tuan Foundation

There were so many prominent business leaders and luminaries yet they selflessly give of their time in voluntary work. See the photo above? So many cool people. Coincidentally, one is my ex-classmate, one an ex-neighbour, and one a cousin-in-law. And me? Maybe I should give myself a title – CEO of the Wee kids (after all, we are almost a SME). Then at least it would seem like I have achieved something.

Brahm Centre published a book The day the ball didn’t bounce written by Dr Peter Mack, with a forward by our 6th President, S.R. Nathan. I read it in one sitting and it really tore at my heart. It tells the true story of a 16-year old boy who committed suicide last year. It troubles me that a child or teen would even contemplate wanting to end his or her life. According to statistics, 20% of primary school children in Singapore have harboured suicidal thoughts. That is simply alarming.

A secondary 4 girl in #2’s school committed suicide last year. The principal gave instructions that the students are not to talk about it at all. Will hushing it up and hiding from it help? Perhaps it was out of respect for the family. But as a society don’t we need to talk about it? We need to have our kids know that they can turn to someone for support, that problems can be worked through. In many cases, such as the one highlighted in the book, the cause of suicide is unknown. Could it be due to the academic stress of the ‘O’ levels? Could it be relationship problems? Could it have anything to do with the family?

Sadly, many parents these days are overly concerned about one thing. That is, the achievement of stellar results. But at what cost? Are we literally driving our kids to their graves? I heard with disbelief about a primary 5 boy who committed suicide over his spelling marks. I know of parents who give their kids a tight slap in front of their friends if the grades fall below a certain expected mark. I have even heard one story where the parents told their son not to come home if he doesn’t score above 90 for his exams. In the end, a police report had to be made because the child was afraid to come home and couldn’t be found. Strangely, or perhaps it is not so strange after all, these stories come mostly from top schools.

Are we taking the easy way out by blaming the competitive system? Are our hands really tied? As parents, we do have more control than we think. If our child came back with 60 marks, we can choose one of two responses: “Why so bad? Your cousin always gets above 80. You are such a disappointment. So useless!” or “That’s an improvement over your last exam. I can see that your effort has paid off. Well done!”

If we choose the former, what are we inadvertently telling our kids? That their self-worth is linked to a grade on a piece of paper? That we love them only based on their achievements? It is no wonder many children grow up with such hurt, bitterness, and a sense of worthlessness. And many become adults who are searching for ways to fill that emotional void as they never had a sense of security for being good enough just as they are. There is such a delicate line between wanting to motivate them by pushing them harder, and breaking their spirit with harsh words.

My heart aches for the children of this generation. Many may look rich with materialism but are poor and broken inside. For every child who unfortunately succeeds in committing suicide, there are more who attempted suicide but did not succeed. Something has gone wrong. What can we do? How can we stop their pain?

Invisible sufferings

It was heartwarming to hear from Tan Chade-Meng, the keynote speaker at this event, who is a Singaporean working in Google. I love his self-depreciating humour. It takes an incredibly self-assured person not to take himself seriously. You won’t believe it, but his official title on his name card says “Jolly Good Fellow”. And his job description is ‘Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace’. His story is truly inspiring. He started out as a software engineer at Google and spent his leisure hours studying meditation and mindfulness. He managed to create such an impact that he headed GoogleEDU’s head of personal growth and went on to deliver a TED talk at the United Nations and even gave a speech at the White House! You can learn how to transform your life with his book Search Inside Yourself – The unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace).

I was really impressed at his rise to fame, so during the Q & A, I asked him what was the 1 thing which contributed to his success. I’m sure there are a lot of other mindfulness speakers out there, so how did he get to be where he is today?

His answer was “Luck”. I was taken aback, but he went on to explain. Behind his “luck” are 3 important factors.


1) Being at the right place at the right time, and always being prepared.

2) Giving his best effort in everything he does. Thus when an opportunity arises and the people above are looking for someone, they will say “How about Meng? He’s very dependable”.

3) Being surrounded by good people. He believes in treating every single person with kindness, no matter who they are. As it turned out, there were many people he met who were prominent people. I experienced this firsthand during the Q & A, as when I started with a “Hi”, he immediately replied, “You’re Michelle, right?” Wow. Talk about treating everyone with compassion and respect.
I’m taking his advice and ‘surrounding’ myself with good people!
Sane tip: I left the dinner with a renewed sense of wanting to reach out more to those around us, and was reminded of the notion that nothing is impossible. No matter what our age, we can still dream big dreams, believe in ourselves and perservere. I have been trying to instil in my kids the importance of giving to those less fortunate than ourselves, and we attempt to do some charity work together every school holiday. I guess we need to look into ways to do more. Dr Peter Mack puts it so eloquently:


Charity Begins at Home:

Many other little actions go a long way towards establishing the child’s resilience, including developing the habit of expressing gratitude. The ability to express gratitude is a strong asset in life. Let the child learn to be charitable because it is the antidote to selfishness and self-centredness. Donating money for a good cause is fine but it is the charitable work that makes the greatest impression in developing the child’s identity. This is because charity work allows the child to see himself as part of a greater whole in society.

Being involved in voluntary causes also gives the child circumspection – a perspective of how fortunate he is compared to many others. Through charitable activities done with friends or family, the adolescent can see first-hand for himself that it is possible to survive tough times by reaching out to others in times of need. By giving back to society, the adolescent comprehends that it is possible to survive with much less, and that it is possible to smile through turbulent periods by learning to rely not only on his own abilities, but also on other people in times of need.

Dr Peter Mack in The day the ball didn’t bounce

Save  tip: We were each given a copy of The day the ball didn’t bounce at the charity dinner. As President Nathan wrote in the forward,


“It should be evident to the reader that the main tool, in our hands, to prevent a suicide would be to recognise the early signs of stress that appear from behaviour and make the person aware that you care enough to want to listen to his or her troubles and want to work together to resolve them… I believe this book will be an easy and yet valuable read for all parents and teachers.”

I have 3 copies with me which I am happy to give away. Just leave a comment here or on my FB page with your email so that I can contact you if the book is yours. If there are more than 3 readers, I’ll get Kate to pick 3 names randomly. The book can also be purchased from Brahm Centre (free with a $10 donation).

This August, the talks lined up at Brahm Centre includes topics such as ‘Laughter and Happy Living’, ‘Back pain – When is it serious?’, and ‘”Pa and Ma, I love you!” How to Engage our elderly loved ones meaningfully’. Hop over to their website for the dates and times. Admission is free.

If you are looking to do some meaningful volunteer work, why not consider their Youth Program (coaching, skills training, leading activities), Virtual Hospital Program (befriending, cooking, coordinating) or if you have expertise in such areas, you could give a talk on various happiness or health topics. Just fill in their online form.



~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~