A Loving Mother Worries about Her Son (Part II)

Continuation from A Loving Mother Worries about Her Son

Dear Nix

Hope this email reads you well. Thank you for your honest reply. I appreciate your insightful sharing.

I actually didn't know you replied via your blog until an unexpected message from S came. To be honest, I am really embarrassed myself.

Anyways, I read your entry over and over again, and I sat on it for quite some time the whole day. While I am trying to comprehend what you are trying to say and do some reflective practice (with great help from S), I do not think your approach will work for kids in Singapore. Please do not get me wrong. With true honesty, I respect your sharing but it takes a bit for it to get to me. Well, not nearly a bit, it took a lot. I read your replies more than 20 times today and I am still trying to figure out what you are trying to say. Again, you are spot- on, and you are so right you couldn't be more specific in what you wanted to tell me. I am slower, I need time to process.

What if Albany have stayed in Singapore (hypothetically of course), would you have enrolled her in any courses at all? Do you think a normal kid will learn to cope well with everything society throws at them(including SG)? The mental baggage that I carry is wrong, and I cannot justify it in any way possible but hear me out, I may be a worrisome mother but I have the best interests for my son.

Shichida Method is a right brain training enrichment most optimal for children between 0 to 3 years old. It may be some form of commercial gimmicks, many may argue that Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking doesn't do flashcards but they turned out to be two of the greatest physicists around. Well, good for them, not everyone is Einstein or Hawking. What I am trying to say is, relaxed parenting do not work here, at least not today. Some may argue that instead of blaming the SG system, young (and older) parents should do some soul- searching. All parents want the best for their children, nobody would have done the things I did if they know things will be okay even if they'd not tried at all. Thing is, you won't know. So you rather die trying, or not try at all. Having the kid go through tons of enrichment is painful, having the kid not do well in future is worst. I know, cuz I didn't do well and it is painful. Okay, let me reiterate, I understand going through all these is bad, I have since stopped (not all, but I am under control) demanding so much from le son. I am not trying to justify what I have done (or am still doing), but all these is because I painstakingly hope he will have a competitive edge over the others.

Ahhh, yes, competition. I shall not dwell on this.

Nix, I understand where you are coming from. I do. I can visualize how you'd endured the physical work with pride and love because I love my son all the same. It is because I love him so much that I want him to learn to love and love to learn. It is because I want him to understand how it feels like to love learning again that I am leaving. The mental baggage that I carry, will still be lingering after I left. Not as daunting, but it will always be there. They say Tiger Mums, but they don't say Tiger Dads.

Given a choice, who would want to be PV? For a top school with abundant resources and money? You may want to know almost every school in Singapore requires parents who are not PVs or alumni to ballot for a space.

The decision to opt out is truly for the best interests of our son, being a PV is stupid, We are done with it. I do not blame the system nor SG, but I think I will be subjecting him to more lessons if we had stayed a couple more years. Not that we wouldn't do the same elsewhere, but I am hopeful that I can put a halt to what I think is important here once I see what truly matters when I am somewhere else. I believe my lens will be less fogged with the stigma that doing well academically equates success when I come to value varying cultures, expectations and systems. I have not seen enough to let go but I am particularly touched by your words here 'we held our hands together and kept walking'. They made a lot of sense. Thank you.

You are right, preparing to uproot ourselves in an alienated soil should be what we should worry about. The uncertainties do create this fear and anxiety in us. We are set to leave, of course. Thank you for your insightful sharing, I hope I do not risk another outburst from you. Some people take longer to see things but they will eventually make sense of everything.


Dear G,

I publish all emails but I never give away any identities. Apologies if I gave you a shock.

In an ideal world, consumers are rational. In reality as we know it, unfortunately markets are based on well researched advertising playing on people's impulses and targeting their weaknesses in precision in order to for them to make irrational decisions. When it comes to tangible products such as chocolates, a consumer knows consuming chocolate makes him feel good so he buys it. Even so, marketers don't have a problem to make a consumer pay 10, 20 or 100 times more than the regular chocolate by making it look sweet and dainty, completed with intricate fillings or toppings wrapped in gold foil. The designer chocolate does not make one feel 10 times better compared to eating regular chocolate. Neither is it more nutritious nor filling. So what have we paid for? Emotions?

The point which I was trying to put across was, if consumers like us were not able to differentiate value from price for tangible products, what about intangible products or worse, services? If we adopt a 另可信其有 attitude towards every marketable services thrown at us, each citing it's a 'must' for kids of today, is the sky the limit to these indulgence? In the case of an 'enrichment training', how do you measure the effectiveness of this service as claimed by the marketers? How would we know if it will significantly contribute to a kid's future success? What if it does nothing for your purpose? Would it be a 'it's ok, at least we tried?' I called this faith marketing. It's almost the same as how some entities ask us to believe in God with one hand rested on our heart and the other buried in a pocket. As long as you feel good about it, it's cool. From the way I look at it, we Singaporean parents spam enrichment on our children as an act of insurance, an act of guilt reduction. So in the regrettable event when our children 'fail', we could console themselves that we had almost died trying our best to prevent that. Else, I could not understand the irrationality of sending a 6 month old baby to an enrichment program.

It will be interesting if we can examine who set the bar that distinguish failure from success in the first place. Is the line set by society, by school examinations or by the parents' expectations? In a school examination, a fail, a pass, a merit or a distinction are clearly demarcated. Let's define 'success' the way most Singaporeans will recognize (but not necessarily agree) with. Basically 5Cs or whatever along that line. Will society guarantee success in life for children who do well in school? Well yes and no. For every Chen Show Mao, there will be thousands of -S- (author of NCSC, who went to a reputable JC but didn't end up in Parliament or head a GLC). So there is no guarantee, unless your child is the cream of the crop. If I may quote you, "Not everyone is Einstein or Hawking." Will enrichment spamming elevate an ordinary child to Einstein's level? What if despite all these, our children still don't do well in school? Does society condemn the people who never do well in school (such as you and I) for certainty? Not necessarily. In the course of history, there were countless of examples of people who were very average but rose to the pinnacle by sheer hard work. In fact, Albert Einstein was a well known example of someone who screwed up in school but never gave up on himself on his way to greatness. If you spend some time reading up about successful people, you will probably note that successful people have common traits such as relentless determination, self motivated, extremely hardworking etc. I'll summarise my points I was trying to put across. 1) The chances of having a genius kid is close to zero. 2) Enrichment courses will not turn an ordinary child into a genius 3) Average people can be successful if they develop certain character traits.

Unless we are still carrying the delusion that our child is a genius, wouldn't our parenting life be easier if we started off acknowledging our children are normal, ordinary kids who will simply end up to be 'average' on the dreaded Bell Curve of Singapore in the first 16 years of their lives? Instead of trying to prevent the imminent, I choose to focus on developing strong character traits and values in hope that my child learns to be self sufficient, independent and responsible for her own success at a young age. After all, our own success lies in our own hands. Did you blame your parents for not sending you to more enrichment classes when you were a toddler for your 'failure' today? Let me share a personal story with you.

When I was a child, I never had any tuition because my parents could not afford to send me to any. I remember suggesting to my mum that I wanted some private tuition in my weakest subject, mathematics when I was in secondary two. I would never forget the look on her face when I told her how much money I needed for it. It was a painful look of a parent who loved her son but knew the money could be better used for the household. I dropped the idea of tuition immediately. My mathematics did not improve. Believe it or not, up to my GCE 'O' level Prelims, I never passed a single maths test or exams. In the Prelims, the only subject I passed was English, Art (both C6) and Chinese (B4). I failed the rest of my subjects F9, except for Geography (E8). My L1R5 was a impressive grand total of 42 points. That was in June. I had only 3-4 months to go before the real GCE and my future was on the line.

At this point, I wish you clarify that mess has nothing to do with the fact I did not have any tuition or enrichment classes. In fact, my PSLE results were decent with 4As despite me being a very lazy, average boy in class. The reason why I achieved that was the great teachers who motivated us regularly and literally forced us to do a lot of additional homework. As expected, without these great teachers in secondary school, I had neither the discipline nor the wisdom to rely on nobody but myself to learn. Without a will to learn, there can only be one result on my exam sheets - tragic. This, my friend, is a great example that depicts the fallacy of the common Singaporean notion: A solid foundation leads to future success. If anything, my situation couldn't illustrate the saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime, " any better.

Back to the fateful June when I received my Prelims results. I knew I deserved where I was. I had been a legendary copier. i.e. I copied during school tests and never get caught. Thus I passed various subjects except for, obviously, subjects involving calculations which the solutions would never be in the textbooks. Obviously I could not understand the simple fact that real meaning of the test scores were not numbers to show the parents but an indication of how much I learnt in the subject. My laziness, dishonesty, lack of integrity and naivety finally caught up with me at the brink. Only then I realised my own success lied in my own hands. My parents or teachers could only do so much to shove a pen to me or send me to classes. Without the right attitude and self responsibility, all previous effort taken to groom me would come to naught.

I'll summarise my grandfather story to a single sentence: I'm convinced that it is more important to teach my child the correct values and mindset.

With that done right, a child should ideally constantly seek to improve his or herself. If I could see that in my children, I would be contented as a parent. My children must be able to define their own successes or failures. They should be their own harshest judge and critic and not me. My role is to provide encouragement, support and guidance to my best ability. Call that relaxed parenting if you want to. I'm not writing this to argue whether it works or not. To me, it isn't about whether what works. It is about The Way. I wrote all this to share my own views and I have no intention to discredit or dissuade you from your own parenting methods. Nobody has the right to tell anyone which is the right way to make babies, thus the same goes for parenting them.

To answer your questions:

What if Albany have stayed in Singapore (hypothetically of course), would you have enrolled her in any courses at all? 

I would send Albany to swimming lessons just as I am doing for her right now in Perth. There will be no changes. When she is old enough, I'll teach her how to cook. I have no further plans at this stage.

Do you think a normal kid will learn to cope well with everything society throws at them(including SG)?

Yes, if they are taught how to learn, not what to learn.



  1. We are so pleased that we are able to bring up our son free range in OZ. :)

  2. May I add this to her last question..The hardest part of raising children is teaching them to ride a bicycles. A father can run beside the bicycle or stand yelling directions while the child falls. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time need both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will need can hit hard. - Sloan Wison.

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  4. Give your kid a loving, healthy marriage between his parents, and plenty of personal contact time with his parents, that’s an unmatchable competitive edge in today’s world. This is something worth to ‘die trying’ over. This is not at all relaxed parenting but one that needs a lot more work than outsourcing one’s kid to other people.

    Kids learn by imitation, especially from parents, therefore it’s a good idea for you to rewire your mindset and approach now rather than later.

  5. Nothing wrong with being average. The rich & brillant doesn't have it better than we commoners.

  6. I deleted my long, long draft reply, and would like to just say:

    We can choose to be human.

    To naturally learn, to be moved by love yet not driven by fear.

    Even living in Singapore does not have to be an excuse for a life of endless anxiety.

    One can still choose better.

  7. It is ironical that for a well educated person, G looks but does not see, reads but does not understand.

    Knowledge is a good thing, but when you have a little knowledge it can be bad thing. Using examples like Einstein and Hawking (and its Stephen) as geniuses, shows how little she knows these people. Hawking originally did not even like science when young, had trouble learning to read at school, and preferred maths over physics. Einstein was rumoured to have speech difficulties when young (not proven), also preferred maths over physics and hated rote learning at school.

    The phrase Tiger mum exists because normally the father is the strict parent and mother is the softer parent. That's why there is no tiger dad since it is an expected trait. Tiger Mum in fact is used for mothers who goes way beyond the norm (even for fathers) in terms of how strict and pushy the mother is in getting her children to perform academically or physically. It is thus used in the negative way.

    There is no doubt that the amount of supervised learning and training her boy got is way beyond what a reasonable concerned parent would have done for her possibly autistic child, though not speaking at 18 months is still within a normal range, especially when the child shows understanding of speech, which is more important.

  8. After reading the two emails by this mother, I am of the opinion that she has realised a situation where she feels some guilt and helplessness about L. She tried to act in her son's interest, but it did not turn out as she was expecting. So she also feels conflicted about the societal values she was brought up in (competition-based), her own values (wanting to be a good parent) and some guilt over what happened.

    What I think both L and her really needs is to see a child psychologist who can assess L's learning and psychological needs (both are connected!). After a proper assessment that take into account L's context, the child psychologist can then provide the appropriate professional advice on the services that L needs, whether it is for specific skills or for his individual well-being that is withholding him from becoming a happy confident kid. It is likely that L's mother is also suffering from guilt from things that didn't turn out as expected. She is clearly motivated to know how else she can be a good parent for him and would benefit from professional input from the child and family psychologist on how she can improve her relationships with L too, because no matter what, she is his mother and healthy parent-child relationships are very important for the child's overall development.