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.

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.

~ – 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…

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Discipline #4: 6 common sleep mistakes for babies

One of the biggest parenting mistakes we made was not knowing anything about babies and their sleep. I did read a few books such as Babywise and What to Expect in the First year and knew about routines and bedtimes. However, I didn’t know just how absolutely important this whole business of sleep is. It was only after I had #5 and a close friend pointed out a very good book to me that I was enlightened.

I went on to read a few more books on the subject, and have come to thoroughly respect a child’s need for good, proper sleep. There is a lot of information to digest, so I’ll start with the 6 most common sleep mistakes for babies that parents unintentionally make.

1. Keeping them awake for too long

Babies can only tolerate a very short amount of awake time when they are young. Once you pass this time, they will start to get cranky and it will be harder to get them to sleep. There is a ‘magic’ window of opportunity when it is easiest for baby to sleep. You have to catch that window before they get over-tired. You know how it is that sometimes we feel drowsy, and suddenly our eyelids start to droop and we really feel like sleeping? That’s the window period where baby will easily fall asleep. If you ignore this time frame and keep baby up, she will start to fuss and get cranky. If you continue to ignore it and baby is not put to sleep, hormones will kick in and it becomes even harder for baby to get to sleep because the hormones drive her into a hyperactive state.

So how long should babies be awake for? Here is a general guide, but observe your own baby for their sleepy signs.

Birth – 6 weeks  : 45 mins
2 – 3 months     : 1 hour
4 – 5 months     : 1.5 hours
6 – 7 months     : 2 hours
8 – 9 months     : 2.5 hours
10 – 12 months  : 3 hours

2. Not watching out for sleepy signs e.g. yawning

I didn’t know about these signs to watch for until I had #5. Well, nobody told me, so how was I supposed to know right? All babies have a signal that it’s time to hit the cot. It could be rubbing their eyes, swiping their ear or pulling at their hair. Watch your baby. You will notice a pattern they display just before they are ready to sleep. Once you identify it, put them straight to bed when you see it displayed.

3. Going to them between sleep cycles

Babies’ sleep cycles last for one and a half hours with a little break at 45 minutes. They will stir, cry or make a bit of noise at this juncture. DO NOT go in to your baby. Give them the opportunity to fall back asleep by themselves. If you go in, they will be disturbed by your presence and will not want to go back to sleep. And it will likely result in a bad habit of wanting you to go in and carry or rock them back to sleep. After about 5 – 10 minutes of fussing, they will fall asleep again for the next cycle.
Kate woke up very early to send us off
4. Too late bedtime

Most people think that by keeping the baby awake later, she will sleep better at night. We thought that too, and our babies used to go to bed around 8 or 9pm. When they were waking up in the middle of the night or waking up too early, the hubs suggested putting them to bed even later so that they would be so tired they would sleep properly. What happened was that they woke up even earlier! I remember #4 used to sleep at 10pm and began her day at 5.30am. It seems like an illogical explanation, but sleep begets sleep, and the later the baby sleeps at night, the earlier she will wake up. After I read about sleep, I shared the information with friends who had babies the same age, and all our babies (from the time they were 6 months to around 4 or 5 years old) went to bed at 7pm and woke up slightly before 7am! We are now firm believers of giving our kids adequate sleep.

5. Sleeping in motion during naps

Sleeping while in the stroller when you are shopping, or in a carrier does not allow the baby to have the necessary deep sleep she needs. Babies have to be placed in the cot or bed to sleep properly. It is akin to us sleeping on the public bus vs sleeping on our own beds. Having said that, we have to balance this with living our lives. We shouldn’t be a ‘slave’ to their schedule and end up being stuck at home all the time and being resentful of it. It’s just to have an awareness of what is happening. I didn’t know all this in the early years and I deliberately took the baby out in the stroller at nap time as it was easiest to put them to sleep that way.
Sleeping like a baby
6. Attributing the crying to colic or other reasons

Many people simply attribute their baby’s constant crying to having colic, being night owls, or that their baby is very naughty. I suggest you try your very best to implement the strategies and allow your baby the opportunity to have adequate sleep before you come to such a conclusion. In most cases, your baby will surprise you. And you’ll have your nights back! 🙂

Do read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr Marc Weissbluth for a better understanding and some case studies of babies. 

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #12: When your son gets into fights in school

As my first 4 kids are girls, problems in school usually revolve around friendships and ‘girl-type’ situations which I can handle and advice them on. However when #5 entered P1 last year, it was a shock for me as it was the first time that I received calls from his teacher telling me he was getting into fights. I know that boys fight all the time, but you are never ready to hear that such things involve your own son.

He got into 3 fights last year, and this year, he’s already gotten into 1 or 2 fights (I’m losing track of his fights). I’m sure he’s sounding like a big bully, but actually, he is really tiny. He’s the shortest in class and most of his friends are a good head taller than him. So what happened?

The first time I got a call, it was because he was playing with a friend and his friend was accidentally hit by him. While waiting at the pick-up point after school, they have about 15 minutes before parents are allowed in. Bored boys, 15 minutes and ‘weapons’ can only mean trouble waiting to happen. The boy started sparring with him using their calligraphy scroll case, and soon enough #5 accidentally hit him on the ear and it bled! The boy’s mum only found out when she was showering him and noticed the wound, so she called the teacher to inform her. I was worried about the boy and asked if his mum wanted to speak to me. The teacher said she did not, as no one was at fault (although they shouldn’t have been playing with the scroll cases) and it happened accidentally. 

Shortly after that incident, his teacher called me again. This time, he had shoved a boy and he fell and scrapped his knee and again, there was blood. Apparently, the boy kept taunting him and called him names like ‘baby’ and ‘shortie’ until he lost it and pushed him. I had taught him time and again never to start a fight, but he said that the boy started the fight using words. I explained to him that using words and using hands was different. If he used words, you can only use words to tell him to stop. And if he were to continue, then learn to walk away instead of retaliating. 

The third time his teacher called me, I could tell that she was getting exasperated at the fights which were occurring with more regularity, and that it always involved #5. This time, some boys were playing ball, and the ball rolled to #5’s feet. In trying to retrieve the ball, the boy somehow shoved him. He probably assumed the boy did it on purpose (as it was probably from behind) and he shoved back. Somehow, it turned into a fight, and 3 boys started to restrain #5. In trying to free himself, he wrestled his arm away and it accidentally hit a boy square on the nose, and again, it started bleeding. So as the teacher put it, “Your son keeps getting into fights.” I felt so sorry for the poor boys, and every time, I asked if the parents wanted to speak to me, but they didn’t. 

All the hubs and I could do was to again explain to him that no matter under what circumstances, it is wrong to get into a fight, unless of course the other person is going overboard and there are no teachers or adults in sight and you have to defend yourself. We think that because of his tiny size, he uses all his might in a fight to try and prove himself. We tried using both the carrots and sticks method, by stating our punishments if he were to get into another fight, and also telling him his reward if he doesn’t get into anymore fights. It seemed to work, and he didn’t get into anymore fights last year.

However, this year he got into a fight. He fought with 4 boys and ended up scratching one of them quite badly. The strange thing was that after the fight during recess, they all returned to class and everything was back to normal. The boys were still best friends and when questioned by the teacher, nobody said that #5 started it and nobody even admitted that they were hurt in anyway. It was the girls who informed the teachers that 5 boys were fighting during recess, and that #5 started it. Apparently, they were all playing with a plastic bottle and one of the boys called him a cheater and said he was not following the rules. Somehow, that ended up in a fight. A friend who has 2 boys tell me that that’s how boys solve their problems. Have a problem? Fight it out there and then and then it’s settled. No hard feelings.

His teacher called me to inform me about it as per protocol. I told her honestly, the hubs and I don’t know how else to handle this. I asked her if there was a school counsellor and I would like him to see the counsellor. I would be more than happy to work with him and enforce any skills and strategies at home. She said there is and will arrange for it.

Sometime after that, I bumped into his VP in the corridors and I took the opportunity to speak to her as he was sent to her after the fights. She was grateful that I touched base with her and told me that I was doing the right thing. She had seen many boys in secondary school get into much worse trouble and by then, the boys are bigger, stronger and more defiant and it is extremely challenging to deal with them.

I think in Singapore, many people are still not comfortable with the idea of seeing counsellors or psychologists whether for ourselves or our children. I have spoken to many foreigners and they don’t see it as having any sort of stigma attached. They describe it as akin to taking our car for servicing, to make sure that everything is working properly and to deal with issues before they escalate. Sometimes, it is hard for us to see the problems and it helps for a professional to point it out and to work through the issues together.

#5 has just started seeing his school counsellor, so let’s see how that goes. And hopefully I won’t get anymore calls from his teacher.

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

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #7: Teach our children compassion by little actions

Many friends who have been to Taiwan tell me how impressed they are by the kindness of the Taiwanese people. They relate stories of how at the train station, once they approach a flight of stairs, many pairs of hands will miraculously appear to help them carry their stroller down. When they have kids in tow or are pregnant, it is common for passer-bys to help them hail a taxi or give them a hand with their luggage.

I finally had a chance to speak to a Taiwanese lady whom I met at the playground. I was really curious as to how this culture of kindness and compassion was imbued in their people. She explained to me that from the time they are young, they see such kind acts modelled all around them, and they are also explicitly taught by their parents and teachers in schools until it becomes second nature to them. She gave me an example of a rule they had in school. If you were sitting in a public bus and managed to get a seat, you had to help hold the school bags of fellow schoolmates who were standing. This was because the bags were heavy and the buses were usually very crowded and jerky.

She said that in the village where she grew up in, if a stranger was cycling to get to another place and ended up near someone’s house when it got dark, the occupants will offer him a meal and allow him to stay in their house until the next morning. Wow, wonderful kampung spirit. I’m sure it was like that here during our grandparents’ time. My mum told me that when she was little, one neighbour held the keys to the entire floor’s apartments. All the other adults were out working and that ‘auntie’ would be in charge of opening the doors to delivery people, repairmen, or to check in on the school-going children.

However, in present day Singapore the majority of people are self-sufficient, so hardly anyone needs to rely on strangers for help. Children thus grow up without much firsthand experiences of charitable acts towards strangers.
Kate’s cousin sharing her fruit with her

So what can we do? For me, I try to extend simple gestures of kindness to people I come into contact with on a daily basis. For example, we were at our neighbourhood provision shop and I was having a conversation with the owner’s 8-year-old son. Somehow we started talking about cooking and he said he wished he could learn to cook but his mum did not have time to teach him. I told him #5 was able to follow the kids cookbook, but he said he didn’t have any. Simple. I lent him our Geronimo Stilton cookbook, but his mum was apprehensive that the recipes might call for expensive ingredients. I told her that after he had decided on what he wanted to cook and if he needed stuff like a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, I could bring it over.

Just last week, I was at #1’s school fun-fair with the kids. As we were leaving, I saw a group of youths hanging around under the void deck. I don’t exactly know what had transpired, but suddenly I realised that one boy had been punched in the eye and was bleeding. He did look like the typical punk, with shaven head, tattoos, and low slung jeans. There was a clinic right where we were and they went in. Apparently, the doctor instructed them to go to the hospital. I saw them trying to hail a cab, but when I had made a u-turn to go home, they still hadn’t managed to get a cab. I drove over and sent them to the hospital. As a mother, my heart went out to him and all I could do was to pray for him. I asked if any of their parents had been called and they said no. Kate was crying the whole journey because she was probably distressed by the bunch of them suddenly entering the car. I started to sing a nursery rhyme to calm her down and they joined in! Needless to say, they were immensely thankful for the ride.

The hubs and I never set out to show kindness to those around us for the sake of teaching our kids compassion. But I have come to realise that because they are around us and observing what we do, they are slowly catching it. How wonderful if the children of today were constantly surrounded with acts of kindness and compassion.

I was heartened to hear #1 share with me her little kind act while on her way to school one morning. She saw an elderly lady pushing a heavy trolley and she helped her to carry it up the stairs and to her destination before walking back to school. (I’m not sure if I would have been so forthcoming with my energy at 6.30am in the morning!) #1 was beaming and I could see how proud of herself she was.

She also related another little incident which made me laugh. One morning upon reaching the bus stop, she realised that she had left her wallet at home. I knew she wouldn’t have had time to go home so I asked her what did she do? She said in a very matter-of-fact manner that she simply approached an elderly lady to ask for $1 (because they are usually very kind), which she gave. After that, she was on the lookout for that old lady every morning, and finally she saw her again and returned the dollar. What struck me was that she must have considered kindness and compassion as a normal part of life to have approached a stranger for money. Her siblings asked her in disbelief, “You seriously did that?” And her reply: “Ya, why not?” Ah, the kampung spirit is alive and well.

The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. ~ William Wordsworth

Linking up with:

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #6: Finding our children’s gifts and talents

In last week’s post on Passion vs Family, I mentioned how a lot of people have to give up their passions and settle for a ‘proper job’ to feed their family, and how ideally, we could have the best of both worlds where our passions can generate sufficient income.

Looking forward for the future of my 6 children, I think one of the most important things for me to do is to help them along in identifying their interests and talents early so that we can let it blossom. Because if in their primary and secondary days, all we do is focus on their academic studies, before we know it, they would have reached Secondary 4 where they would have to make a decision as to the next course of action.

Today I went for the post-secondary education talk in #1’s school. The HOD was explaining to us all the different pathways open for the students after their ‘O’ levels. #1 will be taking her exams in a few month’s time and she still doesn’t know what she wants to do in future or what she wants to study. These days, the polytechnic route is just as attractive as the junior college path and some top scorers even opt to enrol in poly instead of doing the ‘A’ levels, and they continue with their undergraduate course after graduating from poly. Throw in the relatively new IB (International Baccalaureate) route into the mix and it is now a case of having too many options open to our youths. The question then becomes even more pressing. Where do they want to end up finally and which route should they take? If we do not know where the end point is, it is very difficult to decide which course or which subjects to take. 

It is the classic case we see happening all around us. After getting our degrees we start exploring several jobs to find our feet. Great if we discover that we love our jobs. However, for a lot of people, by the time they figure out that they don’t like the jobs they are in, (or worse, that they don’t even want to work in the area of their study) they will be in their 30s and starting their families. They will be stuck just like many people in our generation are finding themselves in. And if at that juncture, they quit their jobs and start a business in something they believe in, there is so much at stake financially, and it gets very stressful. (We have been there, done that. Start ups are no walk in the park and I’ve read that 9 in 10 businesses fail within the first 3 years). Many others are now going for their ‘second career’ in more meaningful jobs such as teaching or health care. Why is that so? They have not found meaning in their previous jobs and their passions have not been ignited. 

I eschew the conventional thinking of just letting them get a ‘safe’ degree so that they are guaranteed a job in future. Because if they are not happy in what they are doing, they may follow along to please us as parents, but somewhere down the line, when they are 30 or 40, they will have had enough and will leave whatever profession we have forced upon them, in a bid to do something they really enjoy. I truly believe that each and every one of us, and our children, are born with unique gifts and talents and if we use our gifts to the fullest, we will find much fulfilment and happiness in our careers and our lives.

So I have concluded that the only way to try and prevent that dismal scenario from happening to my kids, is to think a few steps ahead. I shall step up my efforts in endeavouring to discover their talents and gifts which are uniquely theirs and to guide them along in exploring ways to nurture their talents and see where it leads them. This will enable them to have ample time to dabble in different areas, learn from their mistakes and find their feet while time is still on their side.

I just met an old schoolmate today at the talk in #1’s school. We are not yet 40 and she is already the Principal of my daughter’s school! Wow. It really drove home the message that if we know what we love to do very early on, and what career we want to get into, we can focus on it and go very far in that area, instead of wasting many years figuring out what we want to do.


As the saying goes, if you love what you do, you will never have to work a day in your life. My wish for the 6 of them is that they will always love what they do and to never have to give up on their passions.

Linking up with:

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

Lesson #9: Passion vs Family

In one of my previous lessons, I mentioned that as mothers, we tend to over-sacrifice for our children at the expense of our own needs. Recently, I had a rather interesting conversation with a friend’s husband, and it got me thinking about a different kind of sacrifice. What happens when your hobby is in direct conflict with your family life? His hobby is mountaineering, and now that he has children, he is in a dilemma. Does he forgo his passion for the sake of his family? Because there is definitely an element of danger attached to his hobby. The obvious thing for him to do, as some people would conclude, is to give up his hobby as the risk is not worth it. However, as any avid adventurer would explain, their hobby is so much a part of their lives that after some months of staying at home, it feels as if something is not quite right. And like he says, he misses the mountains, the freedom of the space, the exhilaration.

As the conversation went on, he pointed out that actually, a lot of people are in a somewhat similar situation, where they have to consider giving up one for the other. He gave an example of a freelance artist. This person may have been very happy doing commissioned paintings every now and then. However, after the children came along, the irregular pay check starts to be a problem for the family and he is pressured into ‘looking for a proper job that can pay the bills’. I’m sure there are lots of people facing such a scenario. And they probably end up in a ‘proper job’ which they don’t look forward to. If only we could marry the two. Where our passions can generate sufficient income for the family. 

For us stay-at-home-mums, it’s a tough job where we go to work with no knock-off time. Don’t even think about hobbies and passions. However, after recognising that I need to spare a thought for myself and subsequently penning down my bucket list in my previous post, things started churning. A friend read that I wanted to give talks and told me about the charity centre where she had been giving talks. So the date is set, and I’m going to give my first talk in more than 10 years! Guess what the topic is? Parenting 6 kids without going mad or broke! Hope that people will actually turn up to listen to what I have to share. I have also booked a trip to take my mum on a pilgrimage next month. This is all so exciting. I was just declaring to a close friend, “I feel alive!”

Now I am starting to get an inkling of how people who have to give up their hobbies and passions feel. And I realise just how important it is to have passion in our lives. It drives us, motivates us, makes us come alive!

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living” – Nelson Mandela

P.S: For those of you SAHMs where your hands are full, don’t think too much about it. All in good time. There’s a season for everything. Now is your season to nurture your children and plant deep roots. Throw your passion into being the best mum you can be! There is nothing like parenthood to grow a person. I’m sure you will emerge from this wiser, more giving, and more humane. 

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

Linking up with:

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