It’s the 21st century: Do you know who your child is?

Before we came to the States, Lokes and I was part of the usual Malaysian cycle of life.

We met. We got married.

And got busy.

Lokes and I knew next to nothing about bringing up children, but went ahead and big fat did it anyway because like everyone else, we thought the only reason to get married WAS to have babies. We never planned any of it, and had let nature take its course.

Turned out nature was a little enthusiastic, and we got pregnant like a month after the huge wedding.

When we had our first child, I was working from home, which is just a fancy way of saying I couldn’t find a real job and was freelancing full-time. And I dare say now that it’s because I spent so much time with Rae that I learnt a lot about parenting. Good old-fashioned hands-on practice. Although we had a maid and my in-laws, the former was just for cleaning, while the latter handled most of the cooking. I bathed Rae, diapered her. I tried to Ferberise her, and failed miserably, after which Lokes and I happily embraced the wonderful concept of co-sleeping and attachment parenting. I read to Rae and sang to her. I took videos, pictures, watched my baby grow up.

When Skyler came, it was rinse and repeat. And today, I dare say I have LOADS of baby/toddler-sitting experience. Am I an expert parent? I’ll let you know in another 15 years.

At least.

Taking care of a baby is a lot of hard work. Don’t let what you see on the outside fool you:

The pushing of the nice Graco stroller in shopping centers with a sleeping baby inside.

The sitting at Starbucks enjoying a latte and chatting with other fabulous-looking after-birth mommies.

The gajillions of happy, smiling people in the perfectly Photoshoped Flickr images.

Nobody sees the ugly, sleep-deprived moments when you feel as though you’ve made the worst mistake of your life and wonder if you should be locked up for even THINKING that.

Nobody feels the frustration of not understanding your own child, and even worse, feeling the frustration of your child not understanding you.

Nobody will ever know the amount of emotional and mental strength you need to make it through day after day of the same routine because that’s what your child needs to grow up properly: consistency.

And after coming to Seattle and getting to know many other mommies of similar-age children, I’m even more convinced that I still have LOADS to learn.

Something disturbing I’ve observed, though, is how good we in Malaysia have it – or how bad.

The cheap daycare. The cheap labour. The FOC family support.

In Seattle (or perhaps this part of the world), young mothers have to sweat it out on their own. Most of the time, grandparents stay out of the child-rearing process. Daycare is crazy expensive, and don’t even talk about getting a maid or a nanny. Unless you have a good US2,000 to spare, forget about getting the kind of help we take for granted back in Malaysia.

The flipside is that these ladies KNOW parenting and taking care of their families – something we Malaysian young mothers will never know on our own accord.

And I find it kind of sad.

But guess what? The most important lesson I’m learning now isn’t how little I know about parenting.

It is how much I am finding out about my own kids.

How much, really, do YOU know about your own child?

Sure, you know his/her favourite colour, or food/drink/toy.

But do you know that when he doesn’t speak, it’s not because he doesn’t want to, but it’s also because he is selective?

Or when your daughter is angry, she’s not just spoiled, but scared?

Can you, in all honesty, say, and mean:

“I know my daughter. She won’t hit your child.”

“I know my son. He will not do drugs.”

“I know my kid. She won’t kill herself.”

We have lost sight of what is important in Malaysia as young parents. It is time we regain some semblance of sensible and responsible thinking because hands-on parenting isn’t JUST about knowing parenting: It’s about knowing your child.

That no matter who they turn into eventually, you will always be the one who knows that special something about them that nobody else knows because you were there.

All 18-20 years of it.

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9 Comments »

  1. a&a'smom said

    Very well written!

  2. Daphne said

    Some of us Malaysian mothers do know abt parenting! We don’t all just leave it to nannies and grandparents, you know? And I believe that while,, in general, mums in the west tend to spend more time with their babies cos of expensive daycare etc, it doesn’t always mean they know more abt parenting or their children. You can be with a child 24-7 and still zone out and still be incompetent. You can be a mum who parks her baby in front of the telly. You can be a mum who resents being at home and who shuts herself off emotionally from her kids. I believe in quality time and I believe in making yourself learn to be a parent despite having someone help you look after the kids. I work and I have a gem of a nanny, but I am totally hands-on with my kids. I will never know everything there is to know abt parenting, but there’s no rule book anyway. We are all learning all the time.

  3. U’re absolutely right, daphne. But do u think a lot of the Malaysian parents are spending their weekends doing arts and crafts with their kids or cooking or playing with them? Or are they taking them to shopping centres and buying them rides and toys? Taking them to theme parks or Megakids?

    Quality time was a fuzzy thing to me until I came here and actually saw how LITTLE I was doing. I used to only read to my kids and take them to the pool. I was also taking them to the malls and what not.

    Now I play with them, make arts and crafts, let Rae help me cook, take them to the park for organised playgroups and playdates.

    The difference was I had the time to do all this now. I was forced by circumstances such as having noone to help me here, to learn. And for me, it did me a world of good.

    Thing is, I had to come all the way here to realise this. Now, I have newfound respect for our malaysian stay-at-home parents because despite all the options we have back home, they chose NOT to rely on outside help or their relatives. It’s not easy to resist the temptation.

    Good, professional nannies are hard to find and you are lucky u got one who cares about a good, balanced regiment for your child. What do you think the average babysitter in Malaysia is doing with someone’s kid when ure at work? They may be sitting in front of the TV all day. They may be eating from the same bowl of porridge three other kids eat from. What is the adult to child ratio in daycare centers there? Who regulates them? Do we even ask these questions?

    My in-laws put Rae in front of the TV almost all day until I come home. You’d think they love her enough to do something else, but you know what? It’s not their responsibility. And maids and babysitters might have other things to do, other kids to care for.

    Bottomline is this: Will other people give your child the kind of love or time YOU can give, provided you’re not zoned out or incompetent?

    I know a lot of Malaysian parents out there are doing the right thing. But I have a gut feeling most of them just do what everyone else is doing – after all, why cook everyday when you can eat outside? Why clean when you can have a maid? Why do the night feeds when a babysitter or nanny can do it for you?

    I believe we have unknowingly set up a system for away-care-dependent parents who are becoming more complacent than they know.

    And THAT, is scary.

  4. Vien said

    I have to agree with Jenn on this. Young parents in Msia nowdays have it made. I have friends and relatives who have indon maids caring for their children at a measly cost of RM400 per month. Yes, I’m envious but I’m glad I don’t have that luxury in the States.

  5. Lia said

    Hey Jenn.. It’s been so long since I caught up with your blog.. (don’t even mention my own measly neglected blog).

    You hit on many points that I feel strongly about, that’s why I chose to be with the kids full time and was fortunate to have a husband who also believed in the benefits of doing so. and I do get belittled a few times on and off with people I meet (“wasting” degree, ur husband must be so rich, u must be mad, you must get very bored, how do u find things to do or I get ignored when conversation turns to non-parenting things and it gets assumed I will know nothing).

    I also agree with daphne, it’s the QUALITY of the time u also spend with your kids that count for a lot. I know of some mums who do have a maid (ostensibly for housework).. and yet they still go out, leaving kids with mum.. Even at the Js school, they are mostly non-working mums and yet they don’t seem very involved with the kids. Hubby tries his best to do things with them in what limited time he has (cos I also send the kids to bed early at night, apparently Im denying him his quality time (rolls eyes) but he feels that he’ll be tired from work and cranky from the commute and they’ll be tired/cranky so no one will have any fun or stuff like that)…

    We try and do walks together, talk about what we’ve seen or done today, even doing silly dances (admittedly that’s me more than hubby HAHAHA).. and to be honest, THAT is what kids remember.. Not the drilling of studies non-stop (that’s what my MIL is trying to do, the amount of pressure she’s trying to put on 3++ is unreal), not the amount of pocket money (which teens will thank u for I guess lol).. but the fact you did things with them, even if it’s just 10mins.. but that you took the time..

    ok I must shuddup lol it is a fav rant of mine haha

    u keep it up girl!

  6. Kat said

    Hello. Introduced by Lia, also heard of you from MMB days.

    I’m a SAHM with no maid/nanny nor live-in ILs. Jolly proud of it too!

    No matter how good external help is, grandparents included, no one will ever have the time nor inclination to really learn about children unless they are your own. Cliched as it may sound, the bond between a mother and her child is truly incomparable.

    Good that you are spending time with your children, playing and listening to them.

    I have to go. My son just woke up. Will read your other posts later.

  7. Daphne said

    Actually my point was simply that not ALL Malaysian parents are clueless and not ALL American ones excellent. Of course, there are many Malaysians who still rely on their in-laws, nannies and the telly to babysit, and who don’t make the effort to spend time doing enriching things with their children.

    In my case, quitting my job is not an option as I have huge medical bills to pay for (my eldest has congenital heart disease of a very complicated nature), but that is why I try my best to spend quality time with him and my other two. So, despite working fulltime, I still homeschool him. That means I effectively work seven days a week, and some days it’s for 16hrs. BUt thta’s fine. I am happy, I am fulfilled and the kids are doing fine.

    All the best.

  8. I’m so sorry to hear that Daphne.

    Of course, a sick child is no doubt an extenuating circumstance. One does all one can to make ends meet and cope.

    It’s when u have no solid reason to lv your kids to someone else’s care, like wanting to work so u can go for expensive vacations, or be in keeping with the latest fashion styles, or have a beautiful home. IMHO, these are not important things and if u still want them, ure just not ready for parenthood.

    Perhaps that’s how a married couple shld consider whether or not they shld hv kids, or when they shld have kids – are they ready for one of them to give up his/her career for the good of their kids. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

  9. Julie Lee said

    Indeed, it is not easy to be a parent. That’s why Confucius made filial piety one of the most important moral duty of a human being! And many folk stories show unfilial children cursed!

    I manage an enrichment education center in the Klang Valley and have interacted with many children and parents. I would like to share what I have observed.

    There are mothers who choose to give up their career for their children and there are mothers who work AND yet are just as fully committed to their children’s moral, social and general education.

    Some parents in Malaysia may use maids to avoid the parenting duties, yet some use maids to assist them in their role. Then, there are many Malaysian households without maids!! Some working parents substitute quality time with the kids with expensive presents.

    No matter which, the winners are those who understand the need to guide their children, provide discipline and structure, and those who respect, communicate and play with their children. Basically, one who take full responsibility for their parenting role – be it working parent or full time parent. And the development of the child is well-demonstrated by these factors.

    Full-time mothers have the advantage of the time commitment to provide a rich environment for the child to grow in. Yet this also depends on the creativity, wisdom and talent of the mum. Working mothers have the advantage of having a career of their own that they can be proud of and therefore provide the spark of satisfaction and confidence that rubs off on their children. Many children with working mothers are proud of their mum’s career achievements. And don’t forget that the role of fathers is as important in the process of parenting.

    There are pros and cons and whichever we choose, a happy parent is one who knows the right choice for him/herself. And this is important because we want to bring up children who will be able to make difficult choices for their own lives one day.

    So, no matter whether one chooses to be a full-time parent or a working parent, the most important thing is to understand and take full responsibility of the parenting role, and to be able to enjoy and immerse yourself in the joy of growing up with your children.

    To cut this short, quality time for bonding between parents and are children are very important. And hopefully these are also time to inculcate values of cooperation, social skills, open-mindedness, independence and the joy of learning and exploring the world.

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