This issue has weighed on my mind for quite awhile now, because I have on several occasions reminded myself not to be the authoritative parent that my Mum was. Don't get me wrong - I am not saying that I do not look back on my childhood with fondness, but I cannot help but wonder if I turned into a rebellious child precisely because of my Mum's absolute insistence on establishing set rules (according to what she feels is best) and raising obedient children.
It's ironical that the more 'connected' the world becomes, the wider the chasm and sense of isolation becomes, even among members of the same family. While the main goal of parenting, which is to encourage character development and instil social values in children remains the same, the methodology of achieving these has changed.
I remember explicitly, when I was in Primary 4, my Mum walking angrily out of the school hall after a Meet-the-Parents session. When I saw her, I trembled and almost wished that I was able to disappear. I braced myself for the tongue lashing, but surprisingly, it turned out that she wasn't angry with me. She was upset because my form teacher told her that she is an 'extremely ambitious' parent, and that 89% for Math isn't too bad at all.
That incident stayed with me because that is just exactly the kind of parent she was. She was extremely hard on me, and Bs were a surefire way of inducing her wrath. Perhaps in the olden days, modesty was a virtue, but I got pretty tired of her always downplaying my efforts, and I really couldn't understand why she always had to counter a praise from a friend or a relative about her kids by citing a reason why they should not think of us in such a positive way.
Friend: "Regina is very sweet and she speaks very well!" (it's true!! *ahem*)
Mum: "No lah... she's very playful. Never likes to study and doesn't want to listen!"
See, the thing is - I'm sure she is proud of me somehow, but is it really necessary to downplay praise? For whose benefit? I have been told by friends that their parents have done the same thing when they were growing up, too, and it makes me wonder whether the 'being modest' thing is a predominantly Asian trait.
To be fair to my Mum, solo parenting a teen and a tween and single handedly bringing us up without any financial assistance from the man who really did not deserve to be called our father must have been extremely hard on her. She had to worry about us on her own, and apart from close friends in Singapore back then, we had no family at all here. She worked while we were at school, and from the time I was in Secondary school, I was already pretending to leave home for school, only to come home when I know she has gone off to work. I didn't go gallivanting much... preferring to stay home to read, but perhaps, on hindsight, I played truant because she has yelled at me and warned me repeatedly not to do so, and I did it anyway because I can.
I didn't like any semblance of control, and my Mum always has to be in control of things. Little did I know that I did not take too well to being controlled because I am exactly the same. I need to feel in control of any given situation, and that I have everything covered. My husband made me realise this, and after some diplomatic reminders, I begrudgingly agree that I sometimes need to let things be, and not to attempt to always have things my way.
When I became a Mum, what I worried about most, was me turning into a shadow of my Mum back then. I didn't like her constantly screaming at me in public, smacking me over the slightest mistake, and banning things outright instead of educating us about it. My brother and I were expected to behave in a certain way and to simply be compliant with everything we were told to do. Not doing so was a sign of disobedience. There were no pep talks or explanations on why we couldn't stay out late, or go on sleepovers, and why certain words were not in the English dictionary, and thus used colloquially at certain opportunities. It was either her way, or the highway, and whatever she says goes.
I expect Caden to be obedient too, and be respectful to everyone and everything around him. I want him to know that there is a certain code of conduct that he has to observe, and there are a lot of things in life that he has to do even though he will not like them much. I want him to have self esteem, yet at the same time, he will be taught that he should never ever be self centred.
But I choose to do this in a different way than what I was exposed to.
If I do not shout and scream at him in public, it does not mean I'm lenient. I choose to (let Daddy) bring him to a corner and explain to him why he should not do what he did, and to teach him a little about social grace.
If I do not insist that he spends every waking moment out of school revising his school work or doing his homework, it does not mean that I do not care how he does in school. I want him to realise that he has certain responsibilities that he is entrusted with, and as long as his homework is done and he understands what he's taught in school - he is free to do as he wishes with his free time.
If I tell him no, and he chooses to defy me (it has already started a long time ago!) I will not punish him by smacking him or caning him. He will have to answer to his actions, and he will have certain privileges taken away from him. When this first happened, the husband told him in no uncertain terms that if he chooses to go against either one of us again despite being told not to, we will throw out one of his huge container of toys. He pushed his luck and he had to watch silently (he was not allowed to cry) while Daddy gave away the entire box to our estate cleaner who has a grandson about the same age. We don't believe in making false threats or empty promises, because we believe that children aren't as simple as they seem. They watch, observe and learn even when we think they aren't paying attention, and very early on, certain rules have to be established and respected.
We do not let him get away with things just on account of his age. In fact, our Aunts and Uncles think (and tell us) that we are too hard on Caden.
E.g 1: We stop him from running around in restaurants because it's dangerous and it creates a disturbance to other diners.
Old people >> 'Let them be, it's okay lah... they are bored.'
(what's going to happen if the kids accidentally run into a server carrying hot food? Kids are not at eye level, and accidents happen because they are left unsupervised!)
E.g 2: We make him greet his elders, and mind his manners.
Old people >> 'He's still young! How he know who to greet? Don't scold him lah!'
(if we don't teach him, how will he ever learn?)
If we do not set ground rules for him, who else would? The old folks can afford to be indulgent on the kids because they are not responsible as to how they turn out. We are.
“Parents expect children to be obedient and respectful and parents are expected to be responsible and experienced instructors who pass along cultural norms, values, and life experiences”
I suppose all things considered, when I look back upon my childhood, whatever and however my Mum chose to parent me, ultimately culminated in me being who I am today. While I think that there were hits and misses along the way, I do believe that I too, will experience setbacks and triumphs in my own parenting methods. Every child is different, and starkly so, when parenting styles are questioned. As responsible parents, I'm sure that all of us have moved with the times, and while the basics of parenting is still the same, we all have different ideals of what we believe is best for our children.
Parenting is a process, and I doubt we will ever stop learning, even when our kids have their own kids and parenting issues to grapple with. Regardless of how each of us choose to parent our child, we must always remember that no matter how fearful we are of how the world will treat our child, a little pressure is a motivator, while too much is detrimental.