Motherhood – where do we start? It’s such a splendid yet nerve-wrecking journey.
Mothers make things work out for our family despite it all — despite the different challenges that life throws us all, despite naysayers, despite our own self-doubt and oft-disproportionate guilt, and despite the constantly changing circumstances just when we think we’ve gotten a grasp on this season of motherhood.
I guess what I’ve learnt is that for most circumstances, there is no one right way. And that is part of the beauty of the journey as well, figuring out what works best for your unique circumstances, the priorities of your immediate family, your personality and your children’s needs.
I’m always amazed at mothers who persevere through the most dire situations, fighting poverty or sheer bad luck in the card of hands dealt to them in this fallen world, to give their children all that they possibly can, so that their children can have a chance at a better life, due to their sacrifice. To such, a deep debt of gratitude is owed.
My maternal and paternal grandmothers were such women. Their husbands passed when their brood was still young, and they never re-married. My maternal grandma had to single-handedly bring up 8 children, the youngest of whom was under 10 when her dad passed. She also had to suffer the anguish of watching two elder sons die during the war years, due to lack of food.
It is a life that I cannot imagine. Her sacrifice, and the sacrifice of her older surviving children who helped contribute to the family expenses once they chose to start working as early as they could, helped the entire family stay afloat. Every child managed to get enough education to hold down a stable job, and in her later years she had the joy of having 15 grandchildren to dote upon.
My paternal grandma had 6 boys and 1 daughter (she persevered till she got the daughter she wanted! Then close shop, haha.) and my grandpa passed when their children were in their teens. Nonetheless, she nurtured a close family of filial children, and one of my earliest childhood memories are of our weekly gatherings at my paternal grandma’s home every Sunday afternoon, till she passed when I was in my teens.
Life was hard when the kids were young, and both my grandmas had to borrow money from their relatives or kind neighbours many a time for school fees and to keep their families afloat.
Despite all these odds, both grandmas brought up their kids with good values, taught them to steer clear of vices such as gambling and alcoholism, such that all of them turned out to be responsible adults who care well for their immediate families.
Personally, I count myself very blessed that I am able to parent my children in far less arduous circumstances.
I have a very supportive village, which allows me to hold down a full-time job in this season of my life. From my wonderful helper, who has become more of an aunt than an employee, to my parents and in-laws who are very involved in their grandkids’ lives, to my granduncle and grandaunt who help out and dote on the kids, and last but certainly not least, a very supportive and hands-on hubby who is very stretched with responsibilities at work and in church, but never fails to connect with the children daily and spend time leading us in family devotions weekly. For all this, I am grateful, every single day.
Sometimes, I feel that although the challenges facing a mother today are more trivial in some ways, they are difficult in other ways. The dilemmas we face require a lot of soul-searching and are less straightforward than for instance, simply ensuring there is enough rice on the table.
For the hubs and I, we hold a worldview that is shaped by our core Christian beliefs. Basically, that ‘this world is not our home, we’re just a-passing through’. Hence, we try not to hold too tightly to what we have or own, and try to live our lives in the light of eternity. We hope this cascades down to our parenting as well, in terms of our priorities for our children and our parenting styles.
In Singapore today, I feel that there is a stark imbalance towards the relentless pursuit of academic success. It almost borders on fanaticism, and Christian parents seem as caught up in it, if not more so (propelled by the ‘Christian ethic of work’, some may say).
The standards in our schools are very high, and I feel it even in the non-elite school that my kid is in. Whilst stress can be managed by parent and child regardless of school, I can’t imagine the all round pressure that my friends have to withstand to ‘choose the path less travelled’, if their kids are in elite schools, which inevitably have a larger proportion of helicopter parents and competitive kids by the sheer effect of self-selection.
As a mother, how do I make it work? How do I balance the difficult path between encouraging industry and doing one’s best for the Lord, yet not over-emphasising the pursuit of academic results?
All I can say is that it’s a fine balance, and depending on the day, I could feel that I am veering off in either direction. But that’s parenthood, isn’t it? Reflecting such that we know which direction we want to take, and then calibrating the rudder now and then, whilst trying our best to keep our eyes on our ultimate vision.
And to those who say that we have ‘no choice’ in Singapore, I believe that every parent has a choice. We can choose to live counter-culturally, we can choose which school to enrol our kids in, and we can choose how much to focus (in our daily conversation, in how much time we spend every week on academic enrichment classes) on chasing stellar results.
Sure, we want the best for our children, but is chasing academic success as a prelude to career success really ‘the best’ path?
So I try, in my conversation with my kids, to strike a balance such that our conversation does not always focus on school work, and I consciously ensure that it is not the first topic when I get home from work. We encourage them to work hard, to stay within the school average for exam results and ensure that they have a certain level of mastery of a topic, and help when they ask for assistance with homework. We try to reinforce in conversations and through actions on what we believe truly matters in life.
Sure, every kid can achieve more if we plough in more resources, more time, more energy, more focus on school work or any specific sport or skill. But is that what we really want them to remember of their growing up years? The endless pursuit of results? Not to mention what such prolonged conditioning does to their mental psyche, and how they define themselves.
Ultimately, we depend on the grace of God on our kids’ lives, and seek His wisdom on how best to calibrate our parenting styles.
No one has a monopoly on the ‘right way’, and we can only pray that we do our best to maintain the right balance, given our family circumstances and our kids’ personalities, within our convictions on how to live our lives, and what truly matters on the final day, according to our beliefs.