If parenting is tough, doing it in a foreign land and having to adapt to a new culture makes it even more challenging. Meet four Singaporean women (two here, two last December) to find out how being in a different part of the world influences the way they parent.
JUSTINA TEY, IN MUENSTER, GERMANY
Justina, an ex-Biology teacher, followed her anesthetist husband to Germany, where he is on attachment to a local hospital. They have two sons: Jude, four, and Jamie, one.
“In general, I think the Europeans are a lot more relaxed with regards to the levels of cleanliness for their kids.
Most parents of older kids tend to leave their kids to play in the playground while they sit down at a nearby bench. Babies are happily plonked in the sand to crawl about. No baby screams out ‘Eeee, dirty!’ and there are also no mums on standby with wet wipes. I’ve seen a mum pop a pacifier back into her baby’s mouth after it had fallen to the floor — without cleaning it!
All playgrounds are filled with sand – you won’t have any rubberised floors here! But it’s a homemaker’s nightmare, as the boys track sand home despite all our efforts to empty their shoes. I’ve since learnt to close one eye to some dirt and grime.
Shopkeepers are really friendly and love to give little treats to children. Jude usually ends up getting a cookie, a piece of ham, or even a carrot!
Muenster is the bicycle capital of Germany, and there are dedicated bike paths everywhere, so it’s a lovely place to cycle about. There are many ways to bring the kids along on the bike ride, from bike seats to tandem add-ons for the older ones.
Many of the kids hitch a ride in a ‘chariot’, something similar to our local trishaws. Just piling on the layers on the kids to go out takes ages, especially for the baby! But we do try to head out for some fresh air as it does us all good.
Language is a big barrier for us. The choice to home-school Jude was made as places in kindergartens were hard to come by, and there was no English-speaking kindergarten close to where we live. English books are also rare, so we’ve had to buy most of our books online, from Amazon.”
Jus’ family-friendly recommendations:
• The Allwetterzoo which has playgrounds scattered among the exhibits, and a children’s area that brings play to a different level. The petting zoo area is a landscaped terrain with streams and rocky paths and bridges for children to explore (and chase the goats they meet along the way). There’s also a water play area that has water channels, water wheels and all sorts of devices that allow children to experiment with scooping, pumping and pouring the water. If it rains, you can always head to the natural history museum which is just next to the zoo!
• The Muhlenhof Freilichtmuseum, an open-air museum spanning five hectares of land, features buildings and objects that depict rural life in Munsterland. Explore granaries, a miller’s and a shoemaker’s house, and even a schoolhouse that dates back to 1823. Kids will also get to see traditional tools like butter churns, spinning wheels and looms, as well as a traditional windmill.
KAREN CHEN, MONTEREY, UNITED STATES
Karen, 30, followed her husband to Monterey, US, where he is currently studying for his Masters in System Engineering. They have two children: Jazzelle, three, and Jareth, 20 months. The family has just entered the second of their 18 months there.
We arrived just in time for Halloween. Pumpkins were everywhere, and kids and adults alike dressed up in costumes. Even Disneyland was dolled up for the occasion. Even though it’s not common for Asians to celebrate it, I thought it wouldn’t be too bad to introduce Halloween to the kids and to have fun with the occasion. It didn’t take me long to decide on getting costumes for the kids. We had buckets and candies all ready for going around trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood!
My typical day never fails to include the yelling and disciplining of kids. I find myself getting crazily mad at every little mess or action even as they attempt to be funny. It boils down to being over-protective about child rearing.
I have gradually noticed how easy the local parents here are with their kids and how independent their little ones are. It sure would make parenting less stressful if we are not as protective. At the same time this would give the kids great opportunities to explore without us being over-fussy parents.
Some people had told me that living in the States was more affordable than in Singapore. I have come to realise the truth of that statement as our days go by. Cars are so much cheaper here, even most appliances and brand labels.
Any kitchen mum’s dream — A KitchenAid mixer! — is really cheap here. Housing isn’t exactly cheap, but considering that the space we have comes fully furnished with utilities, we actually pay a pretty decent rent.
Preschools here don’t really drill on academics. Most schools have kids playing all day long till their parents come to pick them up. The kids simply learn through play. It exemplifies how easy it is being a school-going child here.”
Karen’s Monterey recommendations:
• The Dennis the Menace Playground has clusters of outdoor playgrounds and entry is free. It is spacious and seldom overcrowded. A sure hit, even for non Dennis the Menace fans.
• The Monterey Public Library is my book resource. I save much by not buying storybooks. We visit it every week for storytelling sessions. There are also some nights when they have bedtime storytelling, with little ones coming in their pyjamas and bedtime buddies. The sessions are entertaining, educational, and interactive. There are different themes each month with separate sessions for differently-aged groups of children.