An educator friend of mine, who has a knack for drawing out the motivation in his students to excel in primary and secondary school Mathematics (and in some cases, studying in general), recently shared a couple of stories about how a number of parents have become so focused on their children’s “paper chase” that the parent-child connection unwittingly gets lost.
One mother actually told my friend off for trying to engage her son’s emotions in a bid to understand how to get the child more interested in school. “Don’t bother to ask my son about his feelings,” she chided. “I tried that already, and it doesn’t work. Just do what I’m paying you to do. Get the boy to go through his textbook and assessments, from page one to the end.”
She isn’t the first parent that so arbitrarily cast aside my friend’s efforts to engage a child in study, and my friend is very concerned that she won’t be the last by any measure. One might argue that our high-pressure, high-demand local education system is to blame for such a mindset, but then I remember encountering schoolmates with parents with the very same mindsets back when school life was much simpler.
Another friend, a board game geek, presented a very similar experience when introducing the European board games she was selling at a bazaar to a curious parent. As she introduced the various games, their suitability for age groups as young as 3 years old, and how these games create opportunities for family bonding, the curious parent asked a stumper of a question: “Wah, your games all very interesting hor? So ah, do you have any games that my child can play on his own? Then I can go and do my own things while he entertains himself, choo know?”
Both my friends are active parents, and highly focused on providing for their children physically, mentally and emotionally. Both cannot quite get over how other parents might not want to do the same for their own offspring.
But all of us will have, at one time or other, felt like taking a break from parenting, even if just for a minute. You’ve heard the usual clich?s; parenting is tough, parenting is a full-time job, it’s easy to become a parent but hard to be a parent, etc. When you’re knee-deep in it, these are just words you nod to. The truth is, no words can describe what being a parent is like, because no one parent works the same way.
Then there’s the question of priority: ambition, money, health, family, happiness, or doing the dishes… despite our differences, we all need to juggle with our goals and responsibilities. Dedicating the rest of your life to any one aspect isn’t impossible, but it is incredibly hard.
We all lead unique lives, and anyone who tries to generalise what parents go through is just asking for a slap on the back of the head, so I will not even try. But I do think about my priorities all the time, particularly during this period when I’m, ahem, in between jobs.
Every minute of every day, I ask myself, what is my priority? And is that priority worth my time and effort? Over my growing years, it was my friends (and not studying, I’m sorry to say). When I came out into the workforce, it was my career. When I settled down, it became enough money to settle my household bills. After running through the last few priorities and realising they weren’t doing very much for my well-being, it was happiness. And after my son was born, it is now my family.
I cannot say for sure my priorities will remain constant from here on. All I can say right now is the day I die, I want to know my family will be there for me. My job won’t be, my son’s education won’t be, my dishes will certainly not be. But with all the love of a husband and a father, even after I’m gone, my love will live on. And happiness is just a fabulous side effect of trying to achieve this priority.
What’s your priority in life right now?