25 May 2016

you are the best parents for your child(ren): raising children to contribute

Do you feel like you need a break? Do you ever wonder if your children are wishing (or they may have told you) that they want a break?

Is breathlessness, sleeplessness, even a sense of pointlessness pervading our souls?

The last post on Beating Competition brought in this story from reader Kenneth:

"I grew up in a loving and close-knit family, with parents who cared deeply about my well-being and my future. I have two sisters, one a year younger than me, and another fourteen years younger. Growing up, I was always in competition with the first sister. My parents spurred us on by pitting us against each other in our grades, and it also didn't help that my sister was taller than me all the way until Junior College! 

Not only was I competing with my sister, I was competing with many of my classmates in school. Parents would share their children's test scores with one another, keeping track of everyone's performance. It stressed me out immensely, but in the end I achieved the consistent good results that my parents hoped for. So did my sister, who consistently did better than me each year! For me at least, it was almost entirely because of the competitive environment and the tireless pushing from my parents that I achieved the academic success of my youth. 

Fast forward many years - I was awarded an overseas scholarship and studied at a good university in the States. But after completing my bond of seven and a half years in a stable corporate environment, I resigned - with great relief...."
relief   rɪˈliːf/
  1.  noun. a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress.

We need relief when we feel held, strained, pressed: I am guessing that's too many of us. 

And relief comes when we dare to see it. Kenneth did.

This young man blessedly met, loved and married a beautiful lady and shares ~
"...the moment we got married, we realized the utter pointlessness of living a life in constant competition with man. Experiencing love convinced us that life was too precious to be spent chasing something that seemed to have little purpose beyond being a means to satisfy the dream of eventual happiness, something that we could already enjoy in our love for each other. And as we grew in our understanding of God's love for us, it made us even more bewildered about our previous desires to become richer, smarter, or better looking than the people around us.
So we have both left our "promising" careers behind, satisfied that we no longer have any desire for what they promised."

Thanks to Scotsman Adam Smith (died 1790), our economies are built on the basic premise that everything proceeds and is governed by self-interest and competition; that is, we act for our own gains and we improve what we do because we don't want to lose the ability to work/sell/buy...it is the survival of the fittest in economic terms - except - by now, we must come to realise that while he isn't totally wrong; competition favours those with resources to begin with.

One of Singapore's core values is meritocracy; and many of us are children of this wonderful value that has allowed us to become socially and economically mobile. But as a nation, we realise too that we no longer begin at the same starting line these days. While disparity and inequality has always existed, the gap is so large these days, it's as if we hark back to feudal days of dismal poverty versus extreme displays of wealth.

We were watching TV the other night and CNA ran two adverts back to back: India's Stolen Generation showed a young lady speaking of rape, images of children being herded while an activist declares that child disappearances are a daily occurrence. Immediately after that came an advertisement about a travel show, the hosts hamming it up and plying the good life. I muttered to my mighty teen, "this doesn't feel right", and she replied, "this is the world what".
As it had been a particularly hot day, we turned on the aircon - aware that we are living under the shadow of looming global crises that can no longer be sorted with simple measures.

Findings from other fields also highlight to us how interconnected and interdependent we really are. Certainly, instability that arises from disenchantment, anger, and a sense of futility upsets everyone - and is a key cause for religious radicalization.

When we scratch the surface, it's easy to see that our current systems predicates upon selfishness and greed -- and look where that has led us.

So perhaps it is time for a new paradigm; and it may not need to come from a thinker. It can come from us - who raise and shape the coming generations.

Let's hear the rest of Kenneth's story:
"I decided to join my wife in our small pottery business*, with a total family income of less than half my original individual salary. We have spend the past year creating works of ceramic art that are, although lacking in technical mastery, reflective of our new journey of faith and joy. As we share this journey with our pottery workshop participants, our lives present an alternative for their consideration. The local ceramics market is very small... but we plan our work to avoid  competition with fellow artists; instead seeing them as collaborators in the push for a more vibrant local art culture. We continue to study under Mr Lim Kim Hui, one of the established local potters in Singapore, because we admire his love for the art form and his willingness to share his vast experience with his students.

I'm only 34, and with only 8 years of working experience mainly in a competitive corporate environment ....  But what I know is that all the years of being a successful student and professional has never once delivered on its promise of happiness. But every ceramic vessel I have made; every moment I spend helping our workshop participants make theirs; every time I see the smile on my wife's face, gives me the kind of joy that no amount of academic, financial or material achievement can give."

 But it isn't easy, at all.

Just take the matter of household chores. I am guessing your kids are not jumping at the chance to do them, much notice things that need a little tidying, neatening, care....and take the initiative to do them?

Recently, I am troubled afresh that my children's lives revolve around themselves; specifically since school is so demanding. I have met so many parents who serve their children: chauffeuring, cooking, planning, studying alongside... the mantra is"the poor kids are so stressed already, they can't do anything else". This leads them to a lifestyle that basically revolves around them surviving a system and finding relief through entertainment and vacation.

It's all good if their hardwork pays off. But not all enjoy academic success. And do we really want our children's lives to be all about study (and resting from it)? Many of them find it rather pointless too!

I remember being told when I was young that doing well in school would bring us a better future. I wanted that better future. My parents were struggling to make ends meet. The entire family shared one wardrobe. Everything was scarce. A better future with more food, clothes, and options was good and needful. But today, what do our children aspire towards? Parents tell me they are raising children who want to become Youtube sensations!

I don't think we want our children to inherit a world marked by more strife.

Rather, we want them to learn to contribute, to collaborate, to problem-solve, to make a difference by using their gifts and pursuing their interests. We want them to be mission-al, not adrift. We want them to have hope, not feel and learn helplessness. We want them to study and shape the systems of society not extract what they can and leave others lagging behind. We want them to have friends, know laughter, and manage losses with an upbeat spirit.

We know it's a bitter life when we compete. So why foist it upon our children? And how will it turn around in the end? Will we be bitten by a system that indoctrinates us that each man must be for himself?

The ramifications go way beyond career choice - and - the decisions about the future are always made today.

2 boys find a way to rescue pup

Share your ideas:
How can we help our children not to fear the future, to be future-ready?
What changes must we make to help our children live with a more outward orientation, to see themselves as contributors and not mere consumers?
And, 3 anchors to hold us steady 

So much thanks & shout out to Kenneth & Huiwen {what a beautiful couple right?} 

must check out their amazing pottery here -} Asobi

17 May 2016

You are the best parents: Helping our children beat the competition {i mean the 'competition'}!

So in school they talk to our kids about work, jobs, the future.

My mighty teen as with most teens waffle every other month about what she wishes to do. Some days she's totally unsure of her own abilities and interests even. But the other day we had a conversation that surprised me. She talked about how the economy is changing and how there will be so much competition.

Knowing this isn't something we talk about, not in this way at home anyway, I knew she had been subject to some serious talking-to in school. She likes being a nice person and I could tell this notion sat uncomfortably with her.

In fact, it sits uncomfortably with me too!

Did God create a world of scant resources where we must fight, outwit, outstrip, even kill in order to live and thrive? This is not the narrative I read in the Book. Our economic model based on limited resources and unlimited wants may well be faulty. We all laugh at the basic premise of Economics: humans are rational; for clearly it's not so straightforward.

But not being fully rational isn't a bad thing. Idealism, altruism, selflessness all trump rationality (sorry for the unfortunate connection to the US elections; a clear case of irrationality of the bad kind by the way).

What do Airbnb, Uber, Queri and many ideas that are springing up to challenge the traditional economy have in common? Collaboration, sharing, and the maximizing of existing resources - why leave a home empty, a car unused, your well-worked out answers laying about when it can meet another's need, and in the process earn you a buck or more?

Of course, everyone joins the latest bandwagon because it's novel, exciting and promising. But I would like to believe that many are genuinely interested to share, to collaborate, and to better steward our resources. I would like to believe that we are maturing to grapple with the reality that the earth's resources are being plundered and our current economic model isn't sustainable; so we have to rethink our positions: perhaps like the child who realises that he actually has more varied toys to play with, and gain some friends along the way; when he shares his toys.

Of course, sharing both generates and depends on trust and goodwill. It also depends on appreciation. The more we appreciate what others are sharing and express our appreciation, the more we will cultivate the possibility of a new way of life.  But trust, goodwill and appreciation can be the true scarce commodity. So it isn't for everyone, sadly.

Speaking of appreciation, today I expressed appreciation to a school principal, a teacher, a businessman and a doctor. Each of them found it hard to respond to the appreciation. Even a simple "thank you" wasn't readily forthcoming. Perhaps it just doesn't happen enough. We expect people to do their job (they are paid for it after all) and that's that.

So the road to new ways of living that may help us as a civilization isn't going to be an easy one. The old message of competition is too hardwired into our consciousness; and is a lived reality for many who have been dislodged by it and suffer daily with indignity, abuse, neglect, and inadequacy.

The old economy's mantra is one of competition. When we look at others as competitors we must beat them; and it works against the grain of trust, vulnerability and community.

cool right? at the mighty teen's school

Singapore is known to be kiasu and kiasi (the double whammy of fearing to lose out and to die) and our national narrative is evolutionary theory's heartbeat: survival of the fittest. There is certainly plenty of evidence to bear out the theory of survival in kingdom anmialia, I do think that homo sapiens have far more within us.

So this is what I told my teen.

"Why don't you think in terms of the contribution you would like to make? What difference would you like to see in others' lives, and in our society or world? What abilities do you now have and what else do you need?"

I happen to have a younger child who loves to win. Competition would be second nature to him. But I can easily see how that slides into an unhealthy view of others. I read somewhere that we should teach our child to compete against themselves. This means that winning is overcoming their personal odds and mastering themselves. I love this approach far better.

What do you think will happen if parent our children differently then? To compete against their own selves; to collaborate with others, and to live their lives as a contribution.

related posts:
3 anchors for our children's future
future ready?

scripture references:

Ecclesiastes 4v4 "I have seen that every labour and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbour. This too is vanity and striving after wind."

Ecclesiastes 5v18: "Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward."

5 May 2016

You are the best parents for your child(ren): how to bless your children

Mom bless
Pop bless
We bless you!

Every parent wants to bless their child(ren). But sometimes it can be hard.

It can be hard when you find your resources limited, you simply cannot afford what is touted as 'advanced, best, enlightened'.

It can be hard when they irk us with their demands, expectations, and what feels to us like pathetic levels of endurance and patience - these softies raised on a diet of fast, quick, and easy.

It can be hard if our picture of blessing is a plump and statuesque pronouncement that their future is secure because we have an estate or because, like those grand biblical figures, we call upon the Almighty and our word is good as gold.

It sure can be hard. It's hard to bless our children when we wonder if we are blessed.

To bless is a soul exchange. It is to impart and leave something that will live on. It is an extension of one's substance, a sharing of one's joys, an offering of one's life; so that another will thrive and exceed us.

What do we have within us and our means that can do that for our children?

1. We bless our children when we live blessed.

Every home is defined ultimately by the choices parents make. If a home is filled with anger, tension, a sense of lack and frustration; it is how the parents have chosen to live. A home that resonates with peace, joy, and abundance begins with parents who know how to find and fill themselves up with the these gifts of life. We cannot give what we don't already own.

2. We bless our children when we build them up.

God has shown me that parents are trailblazers. Each unique life is a fresh trail of possibility and love. Each child God's imprint of hope upon our worn ways and days. Parenting is about finding a whole dimension of yourself as you make sacrifices to help your child find his feet, his shoes, his path in life. I am mot thinking of sitting in hours reading the papers while waiting for your child to emerge from enrichment. I am not sure if that is sacrifice. But all parents have to say 'no' to some things in order to say 'yes' to their children's needs, requests and growth struggles.

It takes homework and housework to feed and fit a child for life. It takes targetted prayer and persistent effort to discover strengths, overcome weaknesses and explore territories.

Do you know what milestone is coming up for your child? What he may find overwhelming, difficult, enjoyable? We cannot anticipate every outcome and should not; but we should track where we are on the trail and find resources to keep going in the right direction.

3. We bless our children when we bless the LORD.

Recently, I have been coming up against a new kind of hard too. The voice that whispers, "You never had all of this. Kids these days are so 'spoilt'. Time to dish out the tough stuff..."

It's hard to be a blessing when you are assailed by doubts; and we all have doubts. After all, the terrain is new. The world is changing ever so fast. We expect too much or too little. We try too hard or not enough....

But precisely so, we need to find anchors and a compass to navigate our way.

Also I notice that this voice always makes me pull back from being trusting, generous and joyful: indicators that I should beware of its source.

The voice of dubious origin (perhaps not so dubious) often has some ground to stand on. In this case, it is true that our children have a lot more provided and going for them. Just consider the wonderful reality that is the air-conditioning. I did not have that. Even without global warming, I remember sweating and soaking through some nights.

Yes it is true that our children seem to have nothing to worry about except their studies (friendships, skin condition, clothes), but the more I recognise how the lack I grew up with impacted me; I am glad they have a secure base with which to venture forth from.

But generations come and go; and life will go on until it is time for The Total Re-haul when Christ comes again. In the meantime, all of our movements and crazy spinning can go off orbit unless we set in our hearts that our lives will bless God and that becomes our true north.

I know as a young person I struggled with what felt like a restrictive notion: living for God. But now, I discover how freeing it is, what focus it gives, and how fruitful life can be when we have a way to gauge the value and quality of our days without being bombarded by the whims of our unsteady hearts and the winds of change around us.

Psalm 100

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.

Serve the Lord with gladness and delight;
Come before His presence with joyful singing.

Know and fully recognize with gratitude that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, [a]not we ourselves [and we are His]. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with a song of thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, bless and praise His name.

For the Lord is good;
His mercy and lovingkindness are everlasting,
His faithfulness [endures] to all generations. {Amp version}

Mom bless
Pop bless
We bless you!

Because, God has declared it so.

And o, here is something...especially for fathers !