17 May 2018

You are the best parents for your child(ren): what if our children are "maid in Singapore" products, & the future of Singapore.

Which came first? The child or the maid?

I am teasing (although I know there is serious planning that goes into this sequence, and for good reason) but this is a serious subject about our economy, our reflexes and our future.

The rhetoric in our bones: We cannot afford to lag behind, lose, get lost in a rapidly changing world. This sounds logical enough and frightening enough to keep us all marching to its beat. Our wondrous progress and all-around affluence attest to it, and we are loathe to 'downgrade', naturally.

We all get used to things, to our lifestyles; and our expectations and sense of entitlement keep us strapped to the treadmill.

I did not have live-in help at first. Then I did. Now I have part-time help. So I have experienced the range.

All the issues relating to finding, training and living with a stranger won't be the subject here. But two stories will suffice to make a point:

With my firstborn, our world revolved fairly between us and the people who came and went: grandparents, friends, neighbours, people needing a listening ear or help. I had every incentive to train her towards independence and ownership fast! I abide by the rule: if she can take it out, she can put it back. Packing, cleaning, and arranging were often done together, and turned into a game. By age five, she washed her own pair of white shoes that she wore to kindergarten each weekend. When we moved to a larger flat, she was in charge of the back toilet. I would hand her a scrub, a rag and a small amount of soap detergent. Her toilet was consistently cleaner than mine. She did not fuss, she did not whine, she did not protest and cry it was unfair.

I embraced the ordinary that needed to be done each day, the repetitive that makes a life and a home possible. Bed making, meal preparation, bedtime routines, prayer, conversations about everything. This is a quiet and insistent way of saying that life is a gift, God has blessed us, and we are able to build a life that is purposeful and joyful.

To be fair, my mother came by once a week and her presence and cooking abilities made a huge difference. The inter-generational teamwork, mutual delight, and sharing in the fruit of her labours brought a special warmth, even if that having another person also means more attention and relationship dynamics to negotiate.

We waited five long years for the next child. A beloved church community bade us welcome and I took on an official portfolio. We loved the community and the work was exciting, until it hit a very serious snag. That was when I conceived my son.

As my back has been weak due to an accident, my mother solemnly insisted that I hire a maid. This meant that my son now grew up in a completely different way. It also meant an end practically to all the usual chores my daughter did.

Between sorting out my work, re-learning parenting, being an employer for the first time, preparing my girl for school, I shifted from visionary mode to survival mode.

I tried to stick to my rule that if "they can toddle, they can clear"... but it was hard to enforce. I was more tired than before, and it was enough to default to getting the maid to do it. Both my children were fussy eaters, and my son also did not have my attention the way my girl did. We were so busy we did not realise he was becoming underweight until he was hospitalised and the doctor wanted to tube feed him!

What is truly instructive is this undeniable reality: we truly shape the lives of our children. 

The question is, what are they the products of?
Our busyness, our ambition, our lack of harmony, our relinquishment to maids?

As our ministers argue for a new narrative for Singapore, I want to ask this Q:

How successful are we: in terms of families staying together, mental health, meaningful employment, and social cohesion?

I also want to say this, having lived for half a century:

Life is about -
.... habits, repetitions and mundane stuff, far more than excitement. If we do not embrace and embody a vivre de joie regarding our daily lives, what are we left with really? A begrudging, dragging of feet, the whine that invariably escape from our pores and lips (sounds like so many of our children!)?

I suspect God gave us children precisely to yank us back to this reality. We get so carried away with our illusory sense of importance with our board meetings, coffee meet-up, start-up hungers, exotic vacations, exquisite dining experiences... that we keep needing more kick and fix to float our boats.

Babies hold us hostage with their ongoing needs and demands for security, love, comfort and an endless need to pay attention, adapt and solve problems. It is the bondage that fosters the bond of love. The strong parent-child relationships we see are all outcomes of parents who refuse to delegate these small things away, thinking they are insignificant.

My dh once remarked that he felt eminently jealous about why the kids gravitate to me so much. I wondered about it for a while, and then said matter-of-factly, "I have been their entire world. I am the face they see when they awake, the voice they hear, the touch they feel, the understanding they experience, the music, laughter, order... I feed them, clean their bottoms, read, pray, play with them... Do I need to go on?". He was suitably awakened, and a few years later tried to take my 'job' from me (but that's another story)!

Life is held up by repeat motions. Just try not showing up for work at the appointed time, messing with your meal times, refusing to talk with your friend or spouse.

That's why this Navy Seal Admiral actually said something totally brilliant when he exhorted the graduating cohort of Austin that if they want to change the world, they are to begin by making their beds!

Make your bed! (6min with subtitles)

Admiral McRaven: make your bed!

For families to stay together, we need to put up with each other. That takes forgiveness and it takes grit.
For us to be mentally robust, we need to grounded with a positive outlook daily. That takes joy and it takes grit.
For us to have meaningful employment, we need to be courageous to drop our labels and celebrate the diversity. That takes security and it takes grit.
For great social cohesion, we need to be unafraid of our differences and be willing to make sacrifices. That takes patience and it takes grit.

Grit, is about bed-making. Going at it, again and again.

As a teen, I once had such an acedic season I refused to make my bed and even lost interest in food (naturally, paying attention in class went first). It all felt pretty pointless to me. "Why make the bed if I am going to sleep in it again?" My questioning was cut short when my mom scolded me good and proper.! But also, I began to realise that a made bed is so much better to return to and rest in. twenty years later, my own teen would pose this question to me: mom, why bother? Thankfully I could answer with conviction.
Grit is taught and caught and if our children sees it in the maids and not the parents, we have lost something very profound.

Hands by Leong Kah Wai

A closely related value that we have to watch is Consumer Mentality.

This acts in direct opposition to all that we cherish: love, close and lasting relationships. meaningful work and social cohesion.

The world shifted on its axis when economics moved centre-stage and big corporations and advertising became the norm. There are so many repercussions from this, the most insidious one is a shift where we see ourselves mainly as consumers.

Here is a test for whether you do:

1. When you look at a situation, is your go-to mode of evaluation 'cost-benefit'?
2. Do you feel an emotional need to buy stuff?
3. Are you tempted to complain about service?
4. Is your response to "What a nice..",  typically, "It's only X dollars!"
5. Do thoughts of baling out of your relationships feature in your brain regularly?

Consumers are driven by the best price, being noticed for what we own or experience, expecting to be served, a sense of entitlement, a preference for a newer, faster model.

It is a very self-centred way to live.

People become evaluated based on whether they are thus useful to us or not. The scary implications and extensions of this are many indeed, especially as we begin to see each other as 'products' to be deployed, used, or discarded (for better models).

Emotionally, we feel empty
Relationally, we feel dissatisfied.
Physically, we feel drained.
Spiritually, we feel bedraggled.

We cannot have a different Singapore story, a different family life, and a different state of emotions, even if refuse to courageously ask some hard questions and seek some answers.

Come, let's think, pray and work at this together.

Please share how you 'make your bed' each day with your children over at: Simple Tips Community  and how you defy the pull to reduce you to a mere consumer over at: Truth, Beauty & Love.

And here are words of truth that will settle your soul:

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers
—most of which are never even seen—
don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? 
What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, 
so you can respond to God’s giving. 
People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, 
but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in 
God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. 
Don’t worry about missing out. 
You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, 
and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. 
God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

~ Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 6 v30-34

Anais Nin

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