SINGAPORE: Growing up, my mother, who worked a 12-hour shift in retail, wasn’t a prominent figure at home.
The only times my siblings and I saw her were before school and just before bed. Our dad who worked “regular” hours was around more.
Still, she was fully involved in our childhood. Before leaving for work, she’ll prepare lunch for us to eat after school. At work, she answered our calls – even for a short while. And during her off days, she would sometimes take us out.
I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said I wasn’t bothered by her absence then. There were times I was jealous of my peers whose mums were there to pick them up from school.
It wasn’t until I was older that I understood the trade-offs.
Busy with their jobs, my dual-income parents were unintentionally less involved in school matters.
It may go against the grain of contemporary conventional parenting advice, which has led in more cases to many getting heavily involved in their children's lives, but the autonomy my parents gave us allowed me to escape the academic pressures many of my peers had to face.
There were no expectations on the kind of grades that I should get, or which after-school activities I should participate in.
I might been competitive at times, but the pressure to do well in school never came from my parents.
Researchers have warned that high expectations from pushy parents can create performance anxiety in kids, and potentially tip them into depression.
Brian Poh, a senior clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), pointed out that academic-based stress is a common issue that the IMH sees in many patients, in a commentary for CNA.
While this stress can be partly attributed to Singapore’s competitive culture, parents who place great emphasis on academic achievement add fuel to the fire, he said.
One may argue that some kids turn out well because of such pressures from parents.
Sophia and Lulu, daughters of Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, got into prestigious colleges. Sophia admitted that her parents had high expectations, but said that it was only because of her parent’s confidence in her that she could do “amazing things”.
Lulu said that she had a “tough childhood, but (it was) a happy one”, even when she was made to play the violin for six hours a day.
Still, I’m not sure I would be happy if I had to play a musical instrument for so many hours each day or that it would have benefited me in the way it did Lulu.
Much can also be lost with “overparenting”.
Amy Brown, a public health professor at Swansea University, has pointed out that a heavily involved parenting style, also known as helicopter parenting, can have adverse effects on a child’s development.
Singaporean parents have been said to “helicopter” around their children. Even the Ministry of Education (MOE) stepped in to advise parents that “constantly hovering over your child may hurt his development” in 2017.
A series of illustrations on MOE’s Facebook page suggests that a helicopter parent can be recognised by the way he/she debates with teachers for extra marks to increase their child’s grades, does homework on behalf of their child, and “flies” to school with their child’s homework when they forget to bring it – all of which my working parents thankfully never did.
Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam also cautioned earlier this year against helicopter parenting. Citing studies in the United States, he said that such behaviour can have long-term psychological effects on children including “a greater sense of anxiety, a loss of a sense of individuality or independence, and greater stress”.
NOT A ‘SUPER MUM’, BUT STILL AMAZING
While my parents weren’t helicopter parents, they were still involved in our lives. Dad drove us to school each morning. Mum came to support us every Sports Day. During her days off, we spent afternoon picnics at the beach, we went cycling at the park, and we took many trips to local attractions. These fond memories are firmly etched in my mind.
How mum made time for us taught me an important thing about family time – that it’s not the quantity but quality that matters.
When she was away, I had the space to be independent.
Mum also showed how one doesn’t have to be constantly present to show that they care, because love can manifest in many different ways – like a pot of curry or a clean home.
My mother isn’t like the “super mum” common in many media report profiles – she’s not one who juggles multiple jobs, a business and a family and she didn’t pack our days with enrichment classes. But she raised five kids well while working in the same company, and taught us how to be adaptive and resilient in small ways. That to me is already amazing.
Now a housewife, my mother is very much present in our lives. When she’s not at her part-time job, she spends her time knitting, or playing with our cat at home.
This Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate the various, everyday roles mums play in our lives, the quality time they spend with us, and the space they give us to grow into the adults we’ve become.