23 Jan 2019

You are the best parent(s) for your child(ren): Take Care To Do These, You Must.

Every parent-child relationship is unique.

Yet all relationships thrive with the same basic ingredients.

Last year at the launch of my first children's book The Seed From Heaven, some twenty eager children, confirmed this for me as they raced to answer my question:

What makes a seed grow?

Yes they all knew - sunshine, water, fertilisers. Care. A Source that gives.

Last night I asked everyone around the dinner table to talk about their average day. Predictably, we all talked about the tasks and the events. As if we are nothing but functionaries. Yea, do you feel it too, that our conversations revolve around tasks, functions, timings? Then when you hit a pause, you feel this vast emptiness or a breathlessness? And before you can examine it, the next thing is screaming for attention?

So we move on from task to task, often not quite clear about the Why, and at times, weariness and even resentment builds up. And our best coping mechanism is to turn to our screens for distraction.

An educator shared with me how teenagers in Singapore when asked about what mattered to them, how they felt about certain things, who they deeply connect with, struggled to give coherent, convincing responses. Most of them quizzically asked if there was a 'right' answer!

Folks, we are


beings. But mostly, we Act (pun intended), and we do so without enough sensitivity to our environment: how the person is feeling, how many things we are managing at one time, what are the real costs involved (besides monetary), who may be affected in the longer-term, what is being heard and imbibed?

In Singapore (and it's spreading), when we tend to make simple equations eg. hard work = good grades, we can lose sight of so much and really mess up!

With hindsight, now that my children are 18 and 13, I believe that if we are to raise proper persons, fullsome beings, there are 5 things we must do. 5 areas we must become adept at. They aren't easy. We can protest that no one did these for us. We say 'there's no guarantee anyway'. But friends, parenting isn't easy. It's the one job you can't put a price tag on. You will tear your hair out at times, cry, be sleep deprived. worry silly... If it requires so much of us anyway, let's use the energy and make the sacrifices count!

We each have only so much energy in a day. I challenge my fellow parents to use it wisely and prudently. With your energy, would you spend it posting on Fb, creating Insta, shopping for deals, or developing your parenting wisdom and muscle? Learn to master these 5, you won't regret it.

#1 Build Emotional Bonds
I still remember asking a childcare teacher why the toddler was crying. She replied, "I don't know, she likes to cry". So I shot back, "Do you like to cry? There is always a reason."

What does an infant, a toddler, a primary school kid, a teen, an adult have in common? Emotions. The full range of it. It's just that we have to be taught the words for them, what they mean and how to master them so that they serve us.

The only way to do this is to acknowledge the emotions, connect with it and help them make sense of it. And even the infant can get this - and this is how you bond.

Emotions are ferocious things. Even adults get into tailspins from them. Affairs? Misdemeanour? Road Rage? Yup, those emotions kicked started them all.

An infant who is soothed, rocked, kissed, spoken to gently will not grow up afraid of her emotions. With each growth stage, we can teach vocabulary, coping strategies, communication skills.

You are feeling sad (to a two year old)
Tell me why are you sad (to a five year old)
What do you feel like doing when you feel this sad? (to a teen)
What is sadness really, what does it point to? (to a young adult)

The seat is saved for you, mom//dad!

When our emotions are not acknowledged, we don't connect. Cue the wife who says ruefully, "he never listens, just want to jump to a solution". Or the boss? Yes, we get it. We long for connection, to be understood, not to be fixed.

This is so foundational and so critical as connection creates a safety net.

Emotional connection is developed in myriad ways. There is a reason why the human baby is so helpless compared with all other animals. Your hug, hand-holding, pat on the back, look in the eye, gentle words, everyday things you do for them...tells the child he is not all alone in this vast and scary universe.  It tells him there is a home base he can return to after he has explored, attempted or failed.This is why it is so important not to let the maid (if you have one) do the work of caring for your child. It is easy to see feeding, diaper changing, rocking to sleep, bathing as mere chores. They are not. They are means of communicating love, affection, care, security. They say, "Your needs are valid. You are important enough for me to stop and meet your need. I want you to be clean, safe, satisfied.". They are opportunities to connect.

image from SingaporeMotherhood

Without these, parents can turn into administrators, finance officers and disciplinarians! How many of us feel a happy connection with these?

Parents, you are the real home your child needs.   

I remember that Dove once did an advertisement where they asked moms and maids questions about their young children. There was a huge outcry when the videos revealed that it was the maids who could answer

what is your child's favourite food
who is your child's best friend
what TV program does your child like to watch

I can understand the many reasons mothers go out to work and so forth. But what a sad commentary, and I fear that there may be a greater outcry later when the kids pull away from the parents or when the relationships remain largely functional and shallow.

Without oversimplification, we can see several social trends that may well be related: working women, increased anxiety in children, families characterised by stress, parents who are suing their children for neglect.

We do reap what we do
What goes round, comes round.

Fear is a bad motivator, so I prefer to tell you this: truth, fun, silliness, and authenticity characterise my relationship with my children. We are drawn to each other. There is enough safety for us to talk about our fears and flaws. As much as I pray for them, they know they can and must pray for me. We look forward to family meals and times away together. They still fight to share the bed with me. I have grown in stature and strength, wisdom and wit. I am thriving professionally.

I did not grow up with much of this. We were poor and heart-to-heart conversations were hard when your parent speaks mostly a dialect while you are more conversant in English. But I have a rich bond with my mom, and now a richer one with my children. My mom modeled amazing parenting with her limits, and I have sought to be more for I have been blessed with more.

You can start by making a simple checklist:

Have I -
_ met a physical need my child has personally with a smile
_ said something affirming and kind today
_ sat with my child quietly for a few moments
_ showered physical affection
_ observed my child carefully for her growth needs
_ done something my child enjoys

My parenting years have not been easy, especially with a back injury. There have been many sacrifices. My children were so different, I had to learn two distinct parenting styles. My marriage wasn't always strong. I have  suffered traumatic losses of loved ones. Yes, there are many fronts to battle. Forging on with some clear anchors has made all the difference. And though the entire journey, I am encouraged and enabled to take the next intentional step because there is fruit - every step of the way, and now, there is a maturing of that fruit. I look forward to the days ahead!

Your journey will be different, but the basic ingredients are the same dear fellow parent.

Please share your thoughts, and help me think stronger with any questions you have in the comments.

Watch for the next post on #2: provide a sense of safety and security: are we rich?
To be sure you don't miss it, fill in your email on the right, and the post will be in your Inbox when I post it - the wonders of technology to serve us :)

And by the way, this is how the Bible describes those who turn to God in faith:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, 
that we should be called children of God! 
~ 1 John 3v1

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