Wild abandon

On why I try to practice respectful parenting.

I remember growing up and being in awe of certain “cool kids.” People who were just absolutely comfortable in their skins. They didn’t need to project a certain image or be “pleasers.” I’m not talking about popular kids who were slightly cliquey and meaner and with whom you could only dream of being friends. I mean the kids who were fuss-free, no drama and just open with who they truly were. I think we are all this way with the people we are most comfortable with like our best friends who know us at our best and worst and love us anyway. But these kids acted like they were comfortable being who they were in front of anyone–teachers, parents, friends, strangers. They were not teacher’s pets like I was but that wasn’t something they aspired to. The kids I have in mind often aspired to be great at their chosen niche, sometimes academics but usually a sport or some sort of sport or art. I’m sure nobody grows up without conflict and difficulty in one area or another but I always admired the kids who seemed in some sense, above it all. They had a certain air of wild abandon but also calm collectedness that I was in awe of.

These kids could talk to their parents about anything. Their crushes, their first kiss, their worst grades, their experimentation with sex and alcohol. Things I would actively try to hide from my parents. I would have been mortified for my mum to think I liked a boy or know if I got into trouble with a teacher. In front of her, I acted like I was the kid I thought she wanted me to be. I smiled politely at all her friends, I dressed conservatively, got good enough grades, I babysat for my younger siblings, I went to church with my grandparents and even sang in the church choir. But I was compartmentalised. I had sides of myself that I thought I needed to hide from my family. I was ashamed that I liked boys and had crushes and boyfriends, and even when my mum told me it was ok, I didn’t believe her because I had been playing this double-game for too long. I didn’t even know my true self anymore by the time I reached my late teens. It took me until well into my twenties to be comfortable in my skin in front of my parents.

After having a daughter of my own I wanted to have a different relationship with her. I decided I would be ok with her personality no matter what and banish shame from my parenting arsenal. Did I have expectations of what having a daughter would be like? Sure! I thought I would have this tiny, delicate, sweet-tempered child who loved pink and fairies. Instead, I got a super-stubborn, chunky, wild little thing coming into this world feet first and making her mind known from day one. She made it pretty clear she would do things her way and that was that. I was floored…but I admired her spunk and ferocity and decided to nurture it rather than fight it.

She’s grown up tough as nails, sleeping only on her schedule as a baby, eating only what she pleases as a pre-schooler and kicking all things she didn’t embrace to the curb. Forget pink, or anything “girly,” bring on the black (much to her grandparents’ despair) and blue, no long hair (too much in the way and takes too long to comb), forget accessories (too fussy)!

I’ve had to learn to stick to my boundaries no matter how much she rails at them. With help from RIE parenting resources, I decided to let her express her displeasure. Has it always been fun? No! I’ve broken down in tears from our battles with food, her kicking, hitting and yelling in anger when she encounters what she sees as an injustice. But I’ve learned how to stay strong even though I don’t always succeed and I’m still learning every day. She needs strong clear guidelines but once those are established she will stick to them. She craves them even.

On the other hand, she loves fiercely. She defends her inner circle and makes mostly good choices. She experiments with manipulation in ways that are appropriate for her age but I can count on her to stick to her word when it’s important and to follow complex instructions. She displays a maturity well above what she should for a 7-year-old. She is a model student in school and respects and listens to her teachers and is caring toward her classmates. She’s got a solid moral compass even when she knows she’s bending it to get what she wants (ice-cream! toys!). She’s extremely responsible for herself and her belongings. She’s passionate about animals and the environment and conservation and recycling. She reads 4-5 chapter books per week.

Do I sometimes wish  I had an “easier” child? Yes! On those occasions when she won’t just go the-fudge-to-sleep or take that damn shower or just quickly pack her school bag before bedtime I do wish she was a tad less wilful. But then I remember she will never take shit from anyone, speak up for herself and others if they are bullied (as she had done many times), never flounder over making decisions like I do and I breathe a sigh of relief. Things I need to look out for are whether she is being tolerant and kind enough, working on patience and forgiveness (of herself and others) and maintaining focus on the task at hand. I still work on these things for myself so why would I expect her to be able to do them perfectly at her age? I think we will get there eventually.

Most importantly, she knows that I love her and appreciate her just the way she is and she doesn’t have to hide her feelings no matter how ugly they are. Hopefully this will allow her to grow into a person who can truly be herself with wild abandon.

In my next posts, I will talk about some of the basic rules I try to follow in my parenting adventures and misadventures.


Radical Acceptance

Doing a doctorate is a lot like the process of growing up. You begin from a place where you know a little about your field. You have some questions you’re excited to try to answer and you have some hunches about how they’re going to turn out. An academic advisor’s job is something like a parent’s…to accompany you through the process and steer you away from any gaping holes you’re about to step into while at the same time letting you find your own way.

There are things I’ve learnt from my relationship with my mentor that I’ll keep with me forever.

  1. Let me vent: Acknowledging feelings
    When I first started this journey, I was exhilarated. I was so excited to be able to pursue my academic interests full-time. I was even excited about marking my students exam papers in my first semester as a TA. My advisor just grinned at me and told me that was great. He let me sit in on all the extra classes I wanted to.
    When I got an A- on one of my courses, I was devastated. I saw it as a mark of being not good enough. This was to be my profession, shouldn’t I have gotten top marks? I cried for a week. My husband and friends thought I was nuts (because obviously, I am). My advisor just said, “it can feel like it is the end of the world can’t it?” He even read my term paper for the other class and said it was good and talked to me endlessly about this course which was completely unrelated to anything to do with his job as my advisor. He never once said, maybe it was the grading curve, or, she should have given you an A (implying I had been wronged in any way), or, implied that I was overreacting. He simply acknowledged that I care deeply about my work and that I was upset. He encouraged me to publish my paper and prove it was good. To let my shortcomings push me to work toward future success.
  2. Let me save face: showing grace
    Once, when I was taking an advanced course with my supervisor on my chosen topic of research, he suggested I read this particular book. In the heat of in-class discussion, I wanted to prove how committed I was to this topic. I blurted out that I had ordered the book off of Amazon and was just waiting for it to arrive. He gave a slight smirk and continued on with the discussion. That week I went onto Amazon to order the book and learnt it was out of print and was only available pre-owned for 100USD or more. I was mortified. He obviously knew I was lying. He didn’t call me out in front of my peers nor did he ever bring it up again. I also believe he never allowed that incident to change his opinion or regard of me. After I got over my absolute abjection, it was humbling to realize I was so completely accepted, even with my imperfections. I borrowed the book from the library and moved on.
  3. Let me shine: providing silent support
    The second year of my study, I was rejected from an application to a summer school in my field. I was devastated. My mentor invited me to a group meeting in another location where I could present a paper and be considered a junior scholar in my own right. I borrowed cold-weather clothes and stylish luggage from friends, packed my bags and traveled by myself for the first time since I’d become a frazzled working mother. When I met up with my mentor, I was strutting down the cobblestone path wearing a hat, boots, a sweater, and a scarf, all perfectly matched of course. It was June in Europe. There was that smirk again that I had glimpsed when I had mentioned buying the out-of-print book on Amazon. I realised I was a trifle over-enthusiastic and rather overheated. However, I delivered a well-received paper and had tremendous fun learning from the people there. Borrowed boots notwithstanding.
  4. Asking for help: showing confidence
    Whenever he travelled, he asked me to teach one of his classes. It was a simple act of faith that has done more for my confidence in myself as a scholar and teacher than anything anyone has ever said to me about the quality of my work. He acted like I was doing him the favour when he could have asked half a dozen others in my place.
  5. Believing in the outcome before it is accomplished: trust
    I spent the better part of over a year not writing anything. I was stuck. Paralysed by my need for perfection, every time I looked at the blank page I just found more reasons why I didn’t know anything about my topic even though I had passed my qualifying exams and proposals etc. with flying colours. There was no way I could do this. Every time I read something it confirmed I knew nothing. I obsessed over everything else in my life–my kid’s preschool education, my husband’s food allergies, my diet and lack of exercise. I sat for hours at my desk moving five sentences around a page for months.
    I begged my advisor for a deadline. He simply said I already knew everything I needed to know about the topic and how to write it up. He suggested I write about the difference between “A” and “B.” He signed my papers for taking on extra part-time work. He supported my presenting work at conferences. He never pressured me to submit my writing to him. He just gave me tips like i. write in a notebook if a computer isn’t working ii. a PhD is not something you just complete one afternoon iii. it’s not called lowering your standards, it’s called adjusting expectations. He gave me books completely unrelated to my research that might be models of how to construct an approach. He always gave me a wonderful progress report. I cringe whenever I think of the numerous emails I sent him–I’ve discovered something! Page 111 or XX says this! To many of these rambles he, kindly, was too busy to reply (“what are you going on about, crazy person?!”).
    Eventually, more than a year later, I found my way on my OWN. When I eventually submitted a tenth of what was needed to complete a PhD thesis, he congratulated me and told me I’d done it–my whole PhD was contained in this submission. All I had to do now was to edit. He said sometimes editing means adding things. He said it was great that I’d taken this long to start writing and that my project was better for it.

He never doubted me, or at least never let on that he was concerned about my ability to complete this work. He gently told me commas had a grammatical purpose but nobody would care if I didn’t really master them. He told me it was good practice to lay my footnotes out properly the first time, and not to use a noun as a verb or get caught using the passive voice too often. He acted as if these things were not going to make-or-break my success. He told me to enjoy myself while writing.

I must have done something good along the way to deserve such an amazing human being in my life.

He showed me what radical acceptance looks like. It’s not about thinking someone is perfect or brilliant. I think if I had decided to quit academia and pursue juggling in the circus he would have supported me and said something like “keeping several objects in the air is actually the hardest workout for the brain there is.”

He was not invested in me becoming something because I didn’t have anything to prove to him. I already just was.

If I’ve learnt anything at all being a doctoral student, I’ve learnt this. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful.

P1 Sports Day

Why I loved my Darling Daughter’s school sports day.

  1. The Principal started off by saying not everyone can be winners
    In a move that was painful to parents but so great for the kids, the principal told the kids at the start that not everyone could win but that playing was worth it anyway. DD came away with no medal that day and I think she learned more that way, about grit and resilience. Hers was the only team in her class who did not win a medal and it was a little sad but we got through it with a little chat and an outing for lunch.
  2. Team games
    Many schools only do “proper” sports for their sports day for P3 upwards. I’m not sure if it was because ours is a new school that only goes up to P4 but all the games were team games with the classes competing against each other. Everyone got to participate. That meant kids were on teams with some not-so-athletically talented classmates. This was a great experience of learning empathy and patience. All the kids gave it their all and had so much fun.
  3. No separation by gender
    Girls and boys at 6-8 years old do not have much physical difference in their abilities and they were treated as equals. I think this is really progressive of the school. Lays down a foundation for mutual respect between the sexes at an early age.

Being a “neighborhood school” where we receive this education for pennies and tax dollars, I couldn’t be more grateful for the culture and ethos of our school.

Primary school: with a Singapore school system newbie

We (mostly me #number1kiasumum) had been researching primary schools since Darling Daughter was 2 years old. Not having gone to school in Singapore until University, I pored over every article at that number 1 forum for helicopter parents, trying to understand the lay of the land.

With no affiliation, no prior knowledge of the system and one crazy kid, the system left me feeling like a muggle who found out she had a wizard in the family. We might as well have been aiming for this:

Hogwarts model studio tour

Perhaps by sheer dumb luck, we seemed to have BTOd* into an apartment complex with two schools within the 1km radius required for an almost certainly guaranteed spot. One of these is a new neighbourhood school that is just a few years old. Now, I do not know how this game works for sure but this is the kind of school that says all the right things–we believe in a component of movement with every lesson, we teach through games and gardening, we involve parents in school activities as much as possible.

Now, I do not know how this game works for sure but this is the kind of school that says all the right things–we believe in a component of movement with every lesson, we teach through games and gardening, we involve parents in school activities as much as possible.

So far we have been invited to several school events (1 parent only), general celebrations, breakfast with the principal, and to volunteer at recess and general school activities. Homework seems manageable in the first term of Primary 1 and the teachers seem supportive and loving even.

As much as the adjustment to early morning waking, afternoon routines and manipulating numbers up to 20 has been a steep learning curve. So-far-so-good.

Darling Daughter’s favorite subject is still PE though – insert roll -eyes emoticon here


*Built-to-Order is a type of apartment sold by the Singapore government to its citizens. You queue up for it and then they build it and 3-4 years later you get to move into a brand new flat.

I’ll cop to that

These are the things I’ll admit to doing when my helper is on her (much deserved) annual holiday.

– I’ll put clean clothes straight out of the washing machine into a baking dish in order to stash them somewhere clean so I can hang them up “later”

– I will leave dishes in the sink overnight

– leave the milk carton with expired milk in the fridge so I don’t have to empty the garbage till later

– beds need to be made?!?

– what is ironing?

– serve potato chips as a “side dish” to dinner

– nonchalantly tell mother-in-law she can have the darling girl after school. Y’know…only if she wants the pleasure of her company of course. Not as a favour to me or anything…

– beg the McHubby to stop at the grocery store on the way home to get (more) wine and chocolate