SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

June 2013

Changing the System, One Mum at a time!

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we think it would or should. Being a mom is a real roller-coaster experience. You just have to hang on white-knuckle tight by believing that being a mom is a noble calling that is worth all the sacrifices.

My children are now 12 and seven years old. I have worked on a freelance basis since my first was born, and through diapers, colic, night terrors and more, we have had – mostly – enlivening fun!
But then I hit the system. The formal education system. It’s a little like being the teen longing for the freedom of working life, then realising when he is there, that being a student is far more enjoyable. For me, mothering in Singapore gets really hard because of the education system here.

I know moms who know the workings of the system in and out, who are themselves highly disciplined, and who map out grand plans and strategic alternatives for every option available to their children.

I am not one of those moms. The system makes me feel guilty and think poorly of myself because I did not realise that Higher Chinese, CCAs (Co-Curricular Activities), and a whole gamut of activities that I could get my child on board were going to matter to her future. And when I did, it was too late.

My philosophy was simple: let her love learning, be rooted in character values and well-bonded with me. Apparently these were not enough.

When, in the end, I felt that she would thrive better in a learning approach that required more investigative self-study, we discovered that she did not have the requisite ‘qualifications’ for it – she did not have an impressive ‘portfolio’.

I felt like I let my daughter down. It was a hard emotion to beat. By the time her national exam rolled around, we were both discouraged. In her own words: “All they care about is that I repeat the answers that they want.”

Accepting, loving and cheering our children on are part of what parents must do, and mothers often do this well. I read how Thomas Edison Alva had a mum who believed in him despite all the nay-saying around this troublesome, barn-burning, accident-prone child.

sun crop lomo

Without Thomas’ mum, we wouldn’t have our light bulbs! I just regret that our society does not recognise that,. This makes our work as mums so much harder. But whining is not an option. It’s not the way to model life.

My son has a lively imagination; even his teachers find him fascinating to talk with. But he finds the long hours attached to a desk very excruciating. To his credit, he has survived primary one.

If you are a mom with a hyperactive child, take heart! Just be warned that the system will size your child down unless you keep building him up.

We don’t want to bolster an inflated esteem, but our grade-oriented system doesn’t take kindly to children like these. I once called one of his teachers to discuss his work, and the teacher’s immediate response was: “Don’t worry, the marks for this are not included.”

Somewhere, somehow, parents and teachers have agreed that grades are what we truly care about.

I have no intention of beating the system. I will just tell my children that this is part of how life works.

I will seek to build resilience in them, and help them soar by being who they are. But I want also to appeal to fellow mums: that if we want the system to change, then we must sing to a different tune.

We need to talk about our children as unique individuals and not simply members of a cohort, elite or otherwise.

We need to find new ways to talk to teachers that will not reinforce our anxiety, but which will communicate that as the ‘end-users’ of a system, we are looking for teachers who care, love, and who believe in our kids.

Jenni Ho-Huan coaches individuals on their life seasons and looks after a children’s group in a not-for-profit organssation. Her book Simple Tips for Happy Kids is available at Kinokuniya, Popular bookstores. The ebook and Bahasa versions can be found on Amazon.

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Changing the System, One Mum at a time!