SINGAPORE: My friend recently posted on social media a side-by-side photo of her six-year-old on her first day at kindergarten and her last.
Kid’s grown up a lot, more mature, her face having lost its distinct toddler-ness; rounded cheeks giving way to a leaner form that seems to hide a small measure of minx.
Her accompanying post lamented that in any other given year, she would be posting the photo en-route to the airport. They traditionally leave for their annual family holiday immediately when the academic term ends. But this year is different.
Like my friend, many of us are feeling a huge dose of wanderlust. Of being boxed in. Even if Singapore’s COVID-19 situation has improved tremendously and we await Phase Three with bated breath, it merely means restrictions internally might be lessened.
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Save for a few work travel-bubbles and a tourist one to Hong Kong, we are still stuck here for the foreseeable future.
COVID-19 restrictions, travel limitations and, the coup de grace to round up the trifecta, schools closed this week: The long year-end school holidays are upon us all.
HELP, THE CHILDREN ARE AFOOT
The school holidays in the best of times are mildly anxiety-causing for many parents anyway. You can tell because there is an uptake in the number of text messages pinging back and forth on the class chats.
For several weeks now, the parental chat groups I am in have been busy. They fluctuate between shared lists of holiday camps to sign the kids up for, discussions on which child is joining, what, when, where; and exclamations of distress on the prospects of having bored children about the house.
Adding to that, is the invariable administrative things that need to be sorted at the end of each school year: New books, new classes and new friends. New class chats and many school updates over several platforms: Email, the Parent Gateway app, Class Dojo.
Then, requests for playdates, a flurry of extracurricular classes, many held over from the long circuit breaker season.
Elizabeth Wu, educator and parenting-coach calls this the Invisible Load of Parenthood. Hashtag The struggle is real and Parenting Realities.
This year, unsurprisingly, the texts are laced with a hint of anxiety that sometimes borders on desperation.
Without the ritual of the year-end annual overseas vacation, parents are themselves straining at the edge of a long coronavirus new normal where work and home collides in a manner, intensity and for such a long period of time with little end in sight.
So, for many families, we are in for what some people have called, tongue-in-cheek, a year-end Singapoliday. I wonder how much of the government’s S$100 SingapoRediscovers vouchers is a valiant band-aid on an industry in tirage, or, maybe, it’s a slight “there-there” pat on the head on a nation long used to the need to be entertained.
BEING COMFORTABLE WITH BOREDOM
Emily Flake, in writing for the New York Times reminds us that there’s an art to being gentle with yourself and with others in a way that doesn’t cancel out the idea of expectations and responsibilities of keeping yourself in some semblance of order even if it feels like the world is falling apart.
But it does seem mildly disconcerting that our mobile generation has become deeply uncomfortable with having nothing to do. We fear boredom, for all its uninstagrammable moments and more.
Furthermore, we live in a society that makes parents feel like we have to ensure our children are duly entertained. We seek to fill their time with activity, playdates and enrichment lessons so that we feel they are using their time wisely.
Not letting the holiday go to waste. No idle brain, thank you very much. Some version of a scripted life where its action after action.
In a commentary for CNA in May, psychologist Dr Sanveen Kang explained that children can also naturally tap into their creative minds and they do not need structure or learning for that.
“Psychological approaches will tell you that it is important to allow your child the free time to play and be creative. Playing is not a passive act. Children do not play idly. During play, children think, connect and create,” she wrote.
When parents say that they need to find things to entertain their children, it fosters the perpetuation of an artificial world of endless fun where there are no dull moments.
When one activity ends, we feel the need to run and entertain them again because it is as though in not doing so, we are robbing them of an enrichment of childhood they need to become a version of a well-rounded, functioning adult.
The irony is the more parents interfere with childhood, the less independent, successful and happy kids actually are.
BUT DO WE DARE LET KIDS JUST BE
If the COVID-19 situation has shown us anything, our children have displayed much resilience, adaptability and flexibility in the face of all this newness. It is us parents that need to change our response and take this holiday conversation on a different trajectory.
We need to step away from feeling the added pressure of needing to make up for the shortfall in our children’s life that was incurred this past COVID-19-riddled year. It has been a less than stellar year, for all of us.
Just as we banded together in these miserable times, we can collectively adjust too, perhaps beginning with a reframing of what this new season of yet more change brings.
“Parents may want to be mindful of the kind of messaging that they are sending to their kids about this year’s holiday plans. It’s natural to feel disappointed if we’re used to travelling overseas. Unlike going on a holiday where every experience is novel and interesting, there are going to be some fun days filled with new and exciting experiences, and there are going to be some relatively quieter days filled with rest or engaging in fun but familiar activities,” reminds Jolie Tan, Principal Trainer and Consultant at Actualise!
And maybe on some level, it is us parents that need to come to terms with things. It is exhausting and untenable in the best of times for us to go one up on ourselves where holidays are concerned. Much less this year.
We need to accept that we may be unable to make up for the shortfall in our children’s 2020 childhood holiday experience.
In previous years, the Chang family have been taking road trips to Thailand, most recently to Koh Samui.
“We’ll miss our usual year-end holiday, but I guess this current season gives all of us the opportunity to check out all the other places in Singapore that we’ve not been. Perhaps more than just checking off places, it can be a little more fun when it’s turned into an experience like eating at a notable hawker stall across the island, or biking at a new park connector,” says Roy Chang, father of five school going children.
“The challenge is to not take the lazy way out of turning to Netflix and plan together at the family dinner table where we might want to go and what we like to experience.”
There’s loads our little island has to offer, far beyond the usual cruises to nowhere and staycations.
Go on a street art mural hunt across the island, stalk otters at the parks and ponds, write letters to your neighbours and take part in a community project like a beach clean-up. Design your own ABC family adventure: A for Arab street, B for Bras Basah, C for Chinese garden.
This pandemic has taken a lot from us but what it has given us is the latitude to make some big changes on how we might parent, to reassess what seems to be the normal and the expectations we are inheriting or creating in how we interact with our children.
Maybe it is time we rediscover the beauty in the seemingly boring and the magic in the mundane.
Cherie Tseng is Chief Operations Officer at a local fintech company, a mother of three and editor with The Birthday Collective.