School Stories #2: My son the loanshark

Last week, I got a call from #5’s teacher. Again. This time, it was not for fighting nor for disturbing his classmates. He was being an ah long in school. Apparently, he had lent his classmate 20 cents. The boy returned him $2 the next day and #5 told him, “You give me $2, I’m not giving you change”, and he promptly pocketed the money. The boy related the incident to his mum who called up their form teacher. His teacher told him to return the $1.80 the next day, and that even loansharks don’t charge such exorbitant interest.

The hubs and I talked to him about it but as usual, he clammed up and refused to tell us why he did it. The only thing I could think of to explain his actions was a discussion I had with the girls about CCAs in secondary school. The younger ones were asking what “Entrepreneur club” was all about and I explained something about entrepreneurship being “You buy some items from someone who makes them and you sell it at a higher price to others”. His eyes opened wide and he said firmly, “I’m going to be a businessman like my ah gong”. Perhaps he thought he could ‘charge’ his friend a higher price. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt this time. Hopefully, he really wasn’t intentionally trying to cheat his friend.
We explained to him that we don’t make money from friends and that he was to give or receive the exact amount if he borrowed or lent money from his friends. I decided that this simple explanation would suffice for now so that there was no room for misinterpretation. And as a punishment, the hubs made him return his friend the full $2 so that he would feel the pinch. Ah well, I would never really know what he was thinking. All I know is that with this boy, I have to be constantly on my toes.

PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child
My teen in a neighbourhood school
PSC Scholarship? Wow
What the PSLE is really aboutWho is behind MOE

PSLE results: A test of the parents more than the child

ECHA – The mother of all awards

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thankful… for #4’s resilience and forgiveness

#4 has always been a very sensitive child. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice it when she was younger. During the crazy days when it was a daily challenge taking care of the 5 of them, I would scream at them when I got angry. And that happened ALOT. Poor #4 was the most affected because of her sensitive nature. Thank goodness children are resilient, and are able to bounce back even when assaulted by our bad parenting.

These past few years, I have gradually come to see her beautiful nature. She has become my morale compass. When I am mean or getting too wound up and treating everyone around me harshly, she will write me little notes which never fail to stop me in my tracks and re-centre me. A few weeks ago when I was feeling down, she wrote me notes with such sincerity and concern that it made me feel better.
When I watch her looking after Kate or her little cousin, my heart fills with pride and joy. She handles them with such gentleness, patience, and care. This child has a heart of gold. I’m so ashamed that for most of the past 10 years of her life, I haven’t helped her to blossom and shine but instead have neglected her in my busyness. Even her kindergarten teachers noticed it and advised me to spend more time with her. I kept telling myself to do that, but life has a way of pushing you around with more pressing things which need your attention. She was never demanding and quietly followed along in the background. Yet, despite all that, she has still managed to cling on to the beauty of her soul.

There was one time, when she first entered Primary 1. She cried every single day for about two months. Not only because of the transition into a big school, but I had made the very tough decision to put her in a different school from her 3 older sisters. To make matters worse, the adults kept praising her for getting into this ‘good’ school, and her siblings retaliated by telling her “what’s so good about your school, etc” and gave her a hard time. Her crying spells got on everybody’s nerves and #2 said in exasperation, “You are her mum. Can’t you make her stop?!” I tried all means to get her to stop but to no avail and I ended up ignoring her because I was at my wit’s end. I wished she could be more like her sisters.

One evening, the whole family had to go for a dinner party and we left her at home with our helper as she had a fever. I scolded her for not listening to me and drinking enough water and sleeping on time, and added in harsh words for good measure about always crying and being so hard to handle. The next morning, her fever broke and I said “Oh great! Your fever’s gone.” She told me that when she went to bed, she prayed that she will get well the next day. I asked her what else did she pray for? And she quietly replied, “That all of you will enjoy yourselves at the party.” I was stunned. A sick 6-year-old, home alone, having been miserable for weeks, yet her concern was still for others. I’m sure if my boss had given me a good dressing down and told me to work overtime while he went off for a party, wishing him a good time would be the furthest thing from my mind.

As I am writing this, the memories are slowly returning and it saddens me to think that I have been such a horrible mum to her and how much emotional turmoil she must have gone through. I spoke to her about the past and was dismayed that she remembered many of the incidences (which some I have even forgotten). Sigh. I must guard my harsh words more carefully as it could stay on with them forever. I asked her if she will forgive me for being a bad mummy in the past and she nodded.

Indeed, I have much to learn from her.

Thankful Tuesdays:

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has” – Epictetus

Thankful… for the hub’s cooking
Thankful… for #5’s cooking and caring of Kate
Thankful… for #3 in so many ways
Thankful… for sister-in-law #1

Thankful… for our helper
Thankful… for my family
Thankful… for my mum-in-law

Linking up with:

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Discipline #6: Ban books? What are you gonna do about phones?

I was reading about the saga following the National Library Board’s (NLB) removal of 3 seemingly ‘unacceptable’ books regarding homosexuality. Apparently it has been confirmed that at least 6 books have recently been pulled off the shelves.

While this issue of censorship has been debated furiously on social media, I have also been facing the same issue of censorship with my teens. And the more I think about it, the more worried I’m getting.

It all began with giving them their iPhones and iPads (which by the way, was both the hub’s idea).
The 2 oldest kids got their first phones when they were 12, as a reward for doing well in their PSLE. If I had my way, I would hold out as long as possible. Unfortunately, the hubs is a huge fan of gadgets, and he enjoys buying them for the kids. His rationale? “You can’t shield them forever”. So his job was to make that 1 awesome purchase, with the kids hailing him as hero, thereafter, the onerous job of instilling limits and rules on gadget use fell on me.

As with most parents, my top 2 concerns were duration of use (not too long and not too late), and usage (the apps they were downloading).

When #1 was first given her phone, my concerns and rules were relatively straightforward.

1) Phones out in the living room at 8.30pm every night (I didn’t want them to be using their phones instead of sleeping)

2) Limit amount of talking on the phone (exorbitant phone bills)

3) Monitor their Facebook use (concerned about internet safety)

4) Limit amount of YouTube use (content and too tiny screen)

How naive I was. Fast forward 4 years later, and I have totally lost control. #1 and #2 are now 15 and 13 years old respectively, and their phones are almost like an extension of their hands. Not only are they constantly on it, but talking on their phone has now become the least of my concerns. In fact, I am happy to see them talking on the phone (the house phone, that is). These days, kids hardly even communicate verbally. They spend a large part of their time communicating digitally. Facebook is also not much of an issue, because as any ‘cool’ teen will tell you, “Who even uses Facebook? Get with the times, mum.”

So now, what is worrying me? One main thing is Twitter. Firstly, they can ‘Follow’ anyone they want to ‘Follow’, and that is where they get a lot of their information. Believe me, your hair will stand if you read some of the tweets. Your teens will be exposed to the opinions and ideology of literally any other teen or celebrity in the world. Secondly, the tweets happen every other second, so before they know it, your teens will be addicted to these tweets. Remember how in our time, we went crazy over pop stars or movie stars? Well, they have certainly taken crazy to new heights. I can accept the posters all over their bedroom walls, and their ears constantly plugged in to music. But now they also have ‘fandoms’ on Twitter, where a community of people who admire the same idol come together to discuss and rave about that celebrity. They end up getting addicted and spend a whole lot of time on Twitter sharing information about their idol. They then become friends with a whole array of teens hailing from different countries as they feel a connection with them, and move on to communicate one-to-one via Whatsapp.

Then there is Snapchat. I have been watching my teens using Snapchat for some time now. They will take fun shots of where they are or what they are doing (eating, shopping, playing) and it will be sent to their circle of friends. It is however not quite like normal photo sharing. You can allocate a certain time for your recipient to view it (1-10 seconds) and the photo will vanish after that. However, the party you have sent the image to can save it if they quickly screenshot it or use another device to take a picture of it before it disappears. It did seem relatively harmless to me, but when I was reading an article on this issue, it describes Snapchat as dangerous. Yes, now that they mention it, I can see how this can get dangerous if they start to snap indiscriminate photos of themselves, and of their locations. And what if their friends turn against them one day and start to disseminate their photos.

Needless to say, the phone is seriously one potentially dangerous piece of gadget you will be giving to your child. And the scary thing is, you will not be able to see the dangers until it is much too late. By that time, the amount of uncensored information that has entered your teen’s head is astronomical, and it is insidious. One day, you will be having a conversation with your teen and you will suddenly think to yourself “Is this my kid? The kid that I raised under my roof?” And that will be a sad, sad day for you. I just experienced that, and was disconcerted and depressed for a whole week. I couldn’t place my finger on the reason I was feeling down, but now I think I know why. You give of your best and try to bring them up well, but all comes to naught as their minds are gradually brainwashed by social media and the friends they make online.

I understand the sentiments of those parents who are fighting for the books to be kept away. That was my first response when I realised my teens were getting access to so much unregulated information on the internet via their phones and iPads. Yes, we can fight to take away 3, 6 or even 60 books. But how are you going to fight to take away all the information on the internet and on social media that goes against your values?

As I was mulling over this, not only with my mind but with my heart, and wondering how I was going to re-address the issue with my teens, yesterday’s article in The Straits Times provided me with my answer.

Dr Lim Sun Sun (associate professor in the Department of Communications and New Media at the NUS) says that a ‘Cot bumper approach’ to raising kids won’t work. 

“You hold the key to building your child’s defences against perspectives that contradict the beliefs that you subscribe to, and that you want your children to subscribe to. You can interpret, moderate and mediate for your child the media content that he is confronted with…. It is an ongoing journey of trust, sharing, discussion, and debate. Rather than obliterate all opinions that you consider deleterious, embrace each alternative view as an opportunity to rationalise to your child why you disagree with it. Foster a relationship of mutual respect and understanding where your child knows that she can turn to you when she encounters messages that are confusing or upsetting. Instil in your child the skills of discernment that will see him through every PG movie, First-Person shooter video game or inflammatory online comment.”

At the beginning of the year, I had a conversation about LGBT relationships with #2. I was surprised that she had such strong opinions on the issue and she felt that it doesn’t matter whether it was between heterosexuals or homosexuals, but if they loved each other, what was wrong? And why must you judge them? I went on to explain to her our values and our religious stance and finally I said that what her friends are doing or what their orientations are are not of my concern, but because all of you are my children, I expect you to get married to a person of the opposite sex and have children. Then she replied, “Oh, then what are we arguing about? I thought you were against other people being gays and lesbians.”

Times have definitely changed. For every standpoint you make, they would have heard a hundred other counter opinions of it. And trust me, they would not be as subtle as 2 male penguins raising a baby penguin. It will be direct, passionate, in-your-face statements.

I’m going to need to take a deep breath and psych myself up to face this new wave of challenges I can see heading my way. And we all thought it was tough dealing with the terrible twos.

Sane tip: Before you even hand them their very first phone, find out all the current apps that teens are using. Sit down with them and set limits on which apps you allow and explain to them why you do not allow them certain apps. Also set basic rules on time limits such as no phone use after 9pm, during mealtimes and homework time. I wish someone had enlightened me about all this before I gave #1 her phone. It is so much harder both for me and for them to re-negotiate their gadget use after they have been on those apps for so long.

The good news is that there is an app called TimeAway which was created by an American working at Google. She is now living in Singapore and noticed that the kids were glued to their gadgets. She spoke to many parents and realised that while they wanted to give their kids phones for various reasons, they also wanted to prevent addiction and social isolation. TimeAway was created to solve the problem as it allows the parents to monitor and control device usage and app downloads. It is able to pause devices, set time limits and even block apps that cause concern like Snap chat (gulp!)

Save tip: If I had my way, I’ll be giving them flip phones! Although as #1 informed me, “they are obsolete mum”.

I would love to hear from parents who have some good ideas on how you work this out with your children.

Other discipline tips (which I’ve learnt after having 6 kids):

Discipline #8: What do you do when your 2-year old lies?
Discipline #9: When the gramps can’t say ‘no’
Discipline #10: 6 Tips to stop tantrums in toddlers

Discipline #11: Who has the energy to discipline our kids

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Happy birthday… to me

Birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions, right? For many years, my birthday was just another ordinary day. There would still be babies to be fed, crying toddlers to be carried, squabbles to be settled. And a dinner celebration would still entail lots of work taking care of them. But I didn’t mind, because that’s how it is with young kids. After about a decade of such non-existent birthdays, when they were finally older, I decided to go out for lunch with my friends and give myself a break. Then it extended to lunch followed by a peaceful day of shopping all by myself. Strangely, after a few years of that, I started to wonder what on earth was I doing by myself on my birthday. When I saw families together, I wanted to go back and be with my kids. But after half an hour of being with them, I wanted to be alone.

The hubs also told me that the kids were asking how come mummy spends the most part of her birthday with her friends instead of us. So this year, I figured I should be able to spend an enjoyable day with them as the oldest is already 15. The weekend before my birthday, the hubs prepared a lovely BBQ and we had a nice little party.

Our fave salmon dish

On my birthday itself, the kids and I decided that we would watch a movie and take some fun photos at the photo booth. The day started well, with homemade breakfast, wishes and very thoughtful presents from my girls.

Earl grey cupcake baked by #1

When I asked #5 if he had made a card for me, he said, “Oh, it’s your birthday?”  and ran off to make me a Lego card. It was really cute and could even be opened and closed!

#5’s special birthday card to me

We went for lunch, then watched Malificent, and we laughed ourselves silly fooling around before the movie started. After the show, we hopped over to the photo booth and that’s when I got upset with the 3 older girls. One of them doesn’t like taking pictures, so after 1 shot, she refused to take anymore even though I asked her to. Then when it was time to decorate the photos, one of them wanted to draw ridiculous things on the photos which I didn’t allow her to. And then the other quarrelled with another about decorating the photos. That was it. I yelled at them, that just for 1 day in a year, couldn’t they get along without quarrelling and accede to my simple requests when I do so much for them the whole year round.

Popcorn buckets

I did some soul-searching. Was I being unrealistic to expect that from the 4 older ones? And why was I so angry? This little incident must have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Was my anger fuelled by other issues? Perhaps that I had spent 15 years of my life taking care of them and I expected gratitude in return? Or that my every thought is always for the good of them, yet they mostly see it as mummy nagging or being mean.

The next few days, I was angry at them no more. But the anger was replaced by a heavy heart, though I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. At lunch, the younger ones asked me to play ‘I-spy’ but I didn’t feel like it. When we got home, they asked me to play Monopoly with them, but I couldn’t bring myself to oblige them. At dinner, they kept rambling and expected me to reply, but I just wasn’t in the mood to entertain them. I was very quiet the entire day, and sat around them but had no energy to respond to them. And looking at their disappointed faces, I felt miserable.

Being a mum, it is natural to give them your attention when they ask you so earnestly to. To play Lego with them even when you would rather not, to fold origami when you struggle with the intricate steps (and end up with a headache), to force yourself to get up and read to them when you almost fell asleep putting another child to sleep. And it is draining. I looked at the younger ones, then at the older ones. I shudder to see the cycle happening to the rest of them. You keep giving and giving, but sometimes the well runs dry. Every decision I make, both big and small, are always made after considering their needs. But when they morph into teenagers, they suddenly become separate entities from you and sometimes say hurtful things and are stubborn with their own ideas. When the kids are young, even how hard things were, when your little one puts her chubby little arms around you and smile at you with all her heart and soul, all the tiredness is forgotten. But now that the kids are teenagers, there is no cute face or chubby arms to remind you that all your sacrifices are worth it. In it’s place, there are faces buried in digital gadgets, closed doors, and unspoken words.

The scary thing is that it’s not that I need a break from them to re-charge. That is easy to fix. I just had a long and lovely holiday away from them and I was re-charged. And everyday I take time out from the kids, be it a walk, quiet time alone, or having coffee with a friend. This time, it is something more that is bugging me. Was I completely drained from taking care of so many of them for so many years? And yet the outcome is not what I envisioned? It felt like I had run a long and gruelling race yet the finishing line was murky. Was I feeling sorry for myself for this thankless job? 

The hubs took me out for a very lovely dinner but still I was troubled. Oh, how difficult it is to keep sacrificing selflessly without expecting anything in return. It’s been a long while since I felt down like this. Maybe I should just embrace the sadness. For I know it will soon pass. Maybe I’m on the cusp of the next phase of the motherhood journey. Of dealing with teenagers. Of raising young adults. Of sleepless nights. Of heartbreak.

I have deep respect for mothers who have emerged from this journey unscathed and who have kids who are unscarred.

Perhaps next year, I should go on a holiday on my birthday. Because if I hear them bickering, it will make me angry, and lead to another round of rumination. What is it about birthdays? Is it just me?

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Discipline #5: How to talk to boys vs girls

My first 4 kids were girls. Being a mother, I had no problems communicating with them. Then along came my son. I would be nagging him constantly to tidy up his room to no avail. Finally one day, I was having a conversation with some friends who only had boys. They told me their house sounds like a military base, where orders are given straight and curt. I was telling them how my nagging seems to be falling on deaf ears. I would be standing at the doorway to his room saying, “Look how messy your room is! How many times must I tell you to clear up the mess? Why don’t you ever listen to me?” With my girls, they understand these implicit instructions and immediately they will start to tidy up their room. However, my friends laughed and told me that with boys, I had to be direct. And explicit. With my earlier instructions, #5 must have been thinking, “Ok, I’m looking. I’m not sure how many times. I am listening.”

They said that with their boys, getting them to tidy their room sounds more like this: “Ben, pack all the Lego into the blue box now.” Clear, precise instructions.

For showering, I would tell my girls, “Why haven’t you showered?” And into the bathroom they would go. For the boys? They taught me that I should be saying: “Ben, take off your clothes and go and shower now.” 

When I was sharing this with some other friends over breakfast (who also had girls first), one of them told me that her son was the same. He would constantly forget to close the cupboard doors and she decided to nag him incessantly until he remembers to do so. Obviously, that isn’t working, and he has probably learnt how to tune out her voice.

On the other hand, for those of you who had boys first and are used to the command driven method of communication, take more care when you speak to your girl. My friend who had 2 boys followed by a girl was so used to ‘commanding’ her boys that she automatically did that with her girl. And the poor 2 year old used to break down in tears when her mum forgot and said to her in a stern voice, “Girl, go and bathe now.” Her hubby chided her gently and told her not to speak to their daughter so firmly, and when she spoke to her girl in a nice and gentle tone, her girl smiled, said “Ok mummy” and happily went in to shower.

We also realised that boys are generally not able to multi-task. If they were thoroughly absorbed in playing their Lego, they can’t hear you speaking to them even if you were right next to them. Once, when Kate was just a few months old, she was crying in the room next to where #5 was engrossed with his Lego. I was showering upstairs and heard her cries. When I went down and asked him why didn’t he go to her when she was crying so hard, he replied: “Oh really? She was crying?” Sigh. But at least now I know why the hubs doesn’t reply me when he is engrossed in his movie. And all along I thought he was pretending not to hear me…

Other discipline tips (which I’ve learnt after having 6 kids):

Discipline #8: What do you do when your 2-year old lies?
Discipline #9: When the gramps can’t say ‘no’
Discipline #10: 6 Tips to stop tantrums in toddlers

Discipline #11: Who has the energy to discipline our kids

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Life Lesson #5: A lesson on sincerity taught to me by #1

#1 had to do an assignment on social causes. They had to choose 1 social cause which they feel strongly about and to give a speech on it. When I read it, I was flabbergasted.

Her choice of topic: INSINCERITY

Dear friends,

I’d like to address you as the insincere future of humanity which I unfortunately belong to. 

I have always treasured sincerity but the fact that it is a rarity among many, even amidst those close to me, has sent me into resignation. Let me relate a recent incident that happened in the security and comfort of my own home – a place where we should all feel safe.

I know I have introduced myself as the girl who hates band. However, when I was tasked with a possible solo piece, I suddenly felt important. Needed. Brave even. With my joyous news, I went home and shared it with my second sister, in the hope of receiving a genuine expression of happiness for me and perhaps admiration (if I was lucky). I shared the piece which was a recording of the segment that I was responsible for. What I received in return was unexpected. She grinned and in her most insincere, superficial and pretentious manner said, “Oh ya, cool! Very nice!” I was not prepared for the feelings of the aftermath. I expected a certain degree of sincerity from someone whom I seek advice from and the fact that she is my sister makes it that much worse. 

This brings me to the topic of sincerity, or lack thereof. When did people stop appreciating sincerity? When did people stop practicing sincerity? And when did insincerity become unimportant? 

One masterpiece of insincerity is known to be the ‘power hug’. Have you ever been hugged by someone with an ulterior motive? Someone who hugged you for the selfish reason of winning you over? It basically tears down your walls, leaving you defenceless. If you look at the position of the person receiving the hug, the body language of arms outstretched signifies acceptance and openness; it is symbolic of a person’s vulnerability. She seeks comfort in the hugger who then takes advantage of that unarmed emotional state and easily convinces you to do their bidding. 

Now, think about it. How often do you give sincere hugs? Think about the last hug you recently gave to someone. Did it mean anything? Was it to comfort that person? Was it a means of strengthening your friendship or was it out of pure insincerity? 

Insincerity is now so rampant that people might not even be concerned about the fact that sincerity is so rare in society at this point in time. I am concerned over the triviality of sincerity, and it’s unimportance in society is somewhat alarming. These insincere gestures, fulfilled by many, might contribute to the reason why families grow apart. An insincere comment from a mother to her daughter can hurt deeply. And if such comments are received all the time, it might very well be all it takes to make the child stop confiding in her mother. I want you to be completely honest and think about the last time you hugged your mother and meant it.

Sincerity should help you sleep better at night. You know that the hug you gave earlier that day was completely out of sincerity and that you only meant to provide care, concern and comfort. Giving your unconditional love while expecting nothing in return is possibly one of the most relieving feelings you can experience.

Today, I appeal to you not to give out that one insincere hug, refrain from saying that one insincere comment, and learn to incorporate sincerity into your thoughts, words and deeds.

All these might seem slightly idealistic but it is completely true that a little sincerity goes a long way. No man is an island and to receive, you must first give. As Confucius once said, “To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of the soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness. Thus, I pray that sincerity, appreciating sincerity, and practicing sincerity will not be cast aside.

Thank you.


Wow. So many thoughts were floating through my mind while reading it. The idealism and passion of youths. The sensitivity and maturity of my eldest child. Has she really grown up? But the most nagging thought I had was “had I been insincere to my kids”? And the answer, sadly, is yes. There were definitely times when I was busy or had too many things to think about that when they were relating some long drawn out story about something that happened, and when they asked me a question at the end of it, with their expectant faces, I just answered them with a ” Ya!” although I hadn’t got a clue what they had just said as I was deep in my own thoughts. Or I would answer them with a distracted “Uh-huh”. How that must have deflated their ego and enthusiasm. Or sometimes if they asked me if something was nice, I just gave them an offhanded “Nice!”

So I have decided that from this very moment, if I am not 100% present to them, I shall quickly stop them, ask them to give me a minute, finish whatever I’m doing or clear my mind of my own thoughts, then return to them fully present to listen to what they have to say, and to reply with sincerity.

After reading her impassioned speech, I am equally proud yet humbled at the same time. Ah, I still have so much to learn from my children.

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

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family

Linking up with:


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