Of parents and children

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to observe different sets of parents and their young children in my condo and at the supermarkets on weekends. Even just those few short moments of observation can say so much about their families. Sometimes I really wonder what adults are thinking when they interact with their offspring.

Take the block I live in for example. Every day without fail, I (and I bet many other people) will hear a mother yelling at her child or children. I don’t know how many children she has cos I’ve never heard the child. I can’t always make out what the woman is saying, but just the tone itself is frightening. I can hear fury and even hatred. And if I, a stranger, can feel chilled by the venom in her voice, I can only wonder how her child feels. Sometimes I can’t help feeling angry at that unknown woman, for who knows how much emotional and psychological damage she is unleashing on her family members. Whatever the matter is, there is no excuse for venting anger so irresponsibly!

Fortunately for me, living just beside my apartment is an adorable young family of 4. My kitchen looks into their kitchen and often I’ll see the goings on at their place. The children (9 and 8 yrs old) are always all-smiles. Impressively, I often see them at the sink washing their own dishes and then wiping off the sink! Once, when I dropped in for a visit to thank the mother for her gift of mooncakes, I saw the kids busy in the kitchen making cupcakes for their father who was returning to Singapore the next day. Their mom let them help as much as they like even though it meant more cleaning up for her later on. The children smiled and spoke to me with confidence, and I could just feel the warmth in their home. These are happy children who are loved and who obviously felt they are loved.

Then last night, at the supermarket, I overheard a father talking to his very young son (4 or 5 years old?) just behind me. They were talking about who should get to watch TV that night. Here’s some of what the father said in a rather forbidding and even petulant tone:

“It’s unfair that you get to watch TV tonight. How come you always get to watch TV? No, it’s my turn tonight!”
“I don’t care what you want to watch. You got to watch TV just now already!”
“Do you know who bought the TV?!”

I couldn’t bear to turn around to look at the kid’s expression. He didn’t have much chance to get his words in… but I could sense the tentativeness in his voice as he tried to reply his father.

Seriously, it’s fine if the father wants to teach the son about sharing. But surely, there’s a better way than to engage in what only seems to be a petty competition of wills with your son?! That last line, “do you know who bought the TV?” was just so pathetic.

And then, as we were going to the car park, we came across another young family. The mother was walking ahead empty-handed with the younger daughter while her older child was struggling to keep up with several big grocery bags that were nearly reaching the ground because she was still pretty short. Whether it was a punishment or not, the scene just seemed… wrong.

Ever since I was a little girl myself, I’ve always been an attentive observer of interpersonal dynamics. I used to observe my relatives and friends, and how parent-child relationships were manifest. From a very young age, my own mother would often teach me about child-rearing and how to teach a child in such a way that the child would improve while still always feeling loved. As I grew older, I realized that the bottom line was that the parent should love the child so much that they truly put the child’s interests before their own. Looking around, that happens very rarely.

Human beings can be so self-centered and deluded about their own self-centeredness that they can claim they’re doing things for their children’s sakes when really, it really stems from their own ego and desires. Sadly, I know how easily that can come about, and I worry that I will also fall prey to that mistake.

I am blessed to have a really selfless, warm and loving mother whose spirit of service never quails. A mother who handled her ridiculously rebellious and mischief-oriented imp of a daughter so well that I am where I am today (i.e. pretty much on the straight and narrow path with lots of love :P).

So often I’ve asked my mom who took care of me and John on her own with such attention to detail, patience and energy if it was tiring raising us on her own (because really, my busy father was hardly ever there when it came to child-rearing). Every time, her answer was ‘no’. She said that when your heart is really in something, you won’t feel tired no matter how much you have to do.

I think the answer goes deeper. It’s because my mother is someone who really lives to serve others. Nothing comes between her and her heart of service – not convenience, not pride.

It’s a very tough act to follow. But somehow, I’ll have to pick it up. I have to learn to empty myself and to serve others tirelessly and without expectation in return.

Fortunately for my future children, Zibin is already pretty much there…

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