This quote from Pamela Lim has been making its rounds:
A mother’s job is not nudging your kids to conform to what the world thinks they should be. It’s about helping them find their calling in life and supporting them through their endeavours, whatever it is. Even if it’s to be a plumber.
I had quite a few thoughts about that when I first read it, but can’t help but put them in writing today when I saw it being lauded again by a friend on FB…
The quote does sound great, doesn’t it? In our pressure cooker, cookie-cutter society it even sounds right. Eschew the pursuit of materialism. Just go be what you want to be.
But there is good reason why parents hold out certain goals in mind or threaten/nag/prophesise doom to their kids as all of us have heard at one point or another.
– If you don’t study, you’ll become a road sweeper
– If you don’t work hard, you’ll have no job
– If you don’t get a degree, you won’t have a cushy office job
Underlying these “if-you-don’ts”, is a real desire for them to find jobs that pay good wages so that their families can access better opportunities. And no one knows how hard a cleaner’s life is, than well, a cleaner. For every hawker who has made it big, there are dozens more who toil, day after day, for wages that barely help them make ends meet. Even for the successful, this career is hard physical work. Most parents would wish a slightly more comfortable future for their children.
So beneath the ‘if you don’t’ lies the ‘you may become like me’ or more achingly ‘don’t become like me – it’s an exceedingly hard life. You can do better, you should do better. I have given up so much FOR you to do better.’
It is almost the privilege of the moneyed classes to say ‘you can be anything you want to be’, without having to contemplate practical consequences. Even if the parent says you’re on your own if your venture does not work out, if you cannot feed yourself as a plumber, heart and head knows that there is always a fallback plan, a safety net held by kin, blood relations who will not let you starve.
With real low-wage families, this is not the case. Which is why they strive. Which is why they tell their children that they MUST strive.
There is nothing wrong with being a plumber. Cleaner. Even roadside sweeper. There is dignity in every job no matter how menial.
But it is wishful thinking at best, total hogwash at present, to think that these jobs pay wages that can easily support an entire family’s needs. Thus I felt that line was too glib, flippant almost. “Go be a plumber, you have Mummy’s support.” *cue thunderous applause for the enlightened mum*
Dream? Certainly. But let these dreams be tempered with reality. Be very aware that in the real world, being in artistic industries, sports, menial work means lower wages. Whether these wages are just, whether a Singaporean plumber should be paid as much as an Australian one, is a separate post in itself.
I am not saying that we should only pursue lucrative careers, betraying our true passion or things that we are good at, simply because they do not pay. But to say that “I will support my child’s calling whatever it may be” smacks of being somewhat blinkered, ensconced in a bubble, far removed from reality.
Not everyone will have the luxury of pursuing and fulfilling their dreams. Even if they don’t mind starving, it is unfair to expect their family to starve with them, especially if their parents have worked hard all their lives to give their children access to education, in the hope of a better life for the entire family. Some will have to consider their responsibilities, and as such not be free to choose to pursue some pipedream that can’t even guarantee a steady stream of income. So go ahead and dream all you want, but the child I would like our society to nurture, is a child keenly aware of his/her responsibilities.
Every parent hopes to help their children fulfil their dreams, and more importantly perhaps, help them reach their potential. But a parent is not lousy if he or she does not say “you have my blessings to be a plumber”. That parent might just not have the middle-income pedestal from which to say that.