“Given his PSLE results, my son has the choice of either the Normal or Express stream. He wants to go the N(A) route, but my husband wants him to choose Express so he can be stretched. What should I do?” As one year draws to a close, this is a question worth considering, even if it isn’t your specific dilemma. In your year-end reflections, think about how much you want to stretch yourself in the coming year.
New Year Resolutions
What kind of resolutions will aid my growth as a parent in the year ahead? For starters, how do I better navigate through different points of view with my partner?
As it turns out, many of our automatic desires and parenting decisions actually come from our individual unconscious world views.
The mum who thinks Normal stream is fine probably believes in being the best in a small pond. She feels it may improve her son’s self-esteem if he thrives under less stressful environments.
The dad who wants to stretch his son is likely someone who pushes himself. He is hopeful of better results in the company of stronger competitors.
“Who is Right?”
The question that divides. In constructing a right vs wrong divide, we create a line of separation. Each parent is now on different sides and no longer on the same team. Conversations unwittingly become about who wins or loses. Naturally, whatever the decision, neither really wins because the relationship loses.
Instead, how about if we asked, “What serves?”
What are the possibilities that would best serve the child? Now, that is a different place to start the conversation for so many reasons, but mainly because the focus is now on the child, not a projection of the dominant parents.
Parents are so sure we know what’s best for our children, but do we really? We assume we know them, but how well do we even know ourselves? Our triggers, our fears, our unconscious paradigms for imposing what we want?
Resolve, Don’t Regret
The most common regret: “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Bronnie Ware documents her findings in the bestseller Top Five Regrets of the Dying as a powerful reminder of what people fail to see until it’s too late and we are on our deathbeds reflecting on what we would have done differently. Let’s take time to allow the profound wisdom in that biggest regret to sink in.
The truth is many of us make choices because of others. Some of us choose not to rock the boat, not to be the tall poppy for fear of being chopped off. We follow the status quo because we want to fit in. What if life was more than surviving what others think?
Life isn’t meant to be a race either. Yet some of us race through it, forgetting what makes us smile. Not the superficial, polite smile, the fleeting pride from achievements, or the egoistical glee from being better than someone else. We compare ourselves — and even our children — with friends, strangers in the news, and illusions in our mind.
But First, Reflect
As 31 December marks the end of another 365 days of our lives, let’s spend 15 minutes reflecting on what truly matters.
Sit down in private and grab pen and paper. Think about 12 memorable events, one for each month from January through to December this year. Out of those, list down:
- 3 activities that made your heart smile
- 2 friends you would love to connect more with
- 1 surprise that simply delighted you
Next to each, jot down why that event, occurrence, friend, or surprise warmed your heart.
This purpose of this exercise is to identify what’s true for you — not your partner, your parents, friends, kids, or society. It is a sacred exercise that can help you to meaningfully recalibrate, but only if you follow these rules:
- Ensure the why is not someone’s expectation of you, but rather, makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
- Remember not to fall into the trap of judging what truly makes you smile. There are no selfish, wrong, or bad answers.
- Even better if you can distil the exact phrase, word, or emotion that truly matters to you.
Go deep. Your answers can reveal truths rarely searched for within. Then let that inner compass of joy point you towards actions you can choose to do more of. Can you muster the courage to live a life true to yourself and not what others expect of you?
Start by declaring one bold action that throws caution into the wind. Is it quitting your job? Connecting with an old friend? Expressing your love for someone? Admitting you’re sorry? Practising conscious parenting? Allowing yourself to be happier?
Act quickly, before rationality pulls you back into the safe confines of surviving life. From personal experience, the scarier an action is, the greater the returns of joy and freedom.
Normal or Express?
The Normal stream would serve one child, while Express would bring the best out in another. Given that it is the child who will be spending four or five years of their life in the particular school, stream, and class, why do so few of us trust our child to know what’s best for them?
Invite your child to do the same exercise you just did. Coach them along, but give them their privacy to write down their innermost thoughts.
Then share your own answers with them, because they are never too young to share an intimate moment with you. Ask them if they would share theirs with you in return.
Do you have the courage to allow your child to decide their path, Normal or Express, while you stand beside them, cheering them on for the next four or five years? After all, what difference does 365 days make when moments are spent living a life true to themselves?
(See also: Secondary School Streaming No More [Op-ed])