Finding joy in parenting (and keeping it)

I found this post-it stuck to my wardrobe door when I woke up on Sunday. It reminded me of the joys of motherhood all over again.

mother's day note

It spoke to me about my child’s heart, simply because he wrote it spontaneously and secretly. (This coming from my highly sensitive kid whom I complain about to friends as he is such a tough strong-willed child.)

I distinctly remember him asking me the day before how to spell “mother” but I didn’t notice what he was scurrying off to do.

Things are difficult at times on the parenting front and our hearts get easily burdened by worries, fears and disappointments.

I do experience my fair share of those, but I realise they weigh us down and prevent us from noticing and enjoying the good.

We can open our eyes to the good things in our lives, however small, and find joy in the midst of struggle and storms. We have the power to choose joy.

whatever is pure quote

Source

The past few months have been busy. My writing business has grown and stabilized which I’m thankful for. I’ve also been learning more in the educational therapy field I ventured into last year.

In the midst of the bustle, I kinda lost track of my goals for the year.

Some days I feel like a failure – not accomplishing much at work and also not keeping everything together on the home front. I constantly feel I’m running on a treadmill that’s been set at a faster pace that I can handle.

I wonder if I’m doing more harm than good staying home.

I wonder if I’d be more successful as a full time worker (well at least I’d be contributing more to my family’s savings?)

I wonder if I’m spread out too thinly.

(Do you ever have such negative thoughts /doubts running through your head?)

Well, here’s the thing…

When we use the world’s standard of success to measure ourselves, we will inevitably fall short.

But if we know what God has called us to do this season, and we respond with joy, trust, and hope, then we are already blessed.

When we embrace the life that God has given, instead of the one we left behind in the dust, we open the doors to greater blessing and grace.

So I consider the good things God has brought into my life.

  1. The encouragement I receive from my eldest – who seems to have a gift of affirming her dear ol’ mum with kind words and physical affection. She’s always hugging me, and saying sweet things. She’s sensitive to my moods and she knows I get stressed out on some days. (Girls are such a blessing like that!)
  2. The work (both writing and special needs teaching gigs) that I get to be involved with and learn from.
  3. The many little joys of the moment that make up motherhood, from watching the kids play well, and witnessing their little growth and milestones, to celebrating small wins after a period of struggle together.
  4. The sharing and support among girlfriends who are daily learning what it means to give our lives for our young ones, and to surrender ourselves to God.
  5. The love and understanding from the husband, who checks in on me, and allows me to vent or air my frustrations from time to time (okay almost every other day!) He’s a great trouble shooter. Just recently, he sat me down and reminded me of my focus for this year – to help and serve my family.

Oh the circumstances may be the same. Tempers will still flare, words spoken, things broken. But the attitude is different. We can choose to be more forgiving, more gracious in our words, more compassionate to ourselves, when (not if) we fail. It’s not easy, in fact…it is a daily battle.

Even though we’re still struggling to overcome certain difficulties in my child’s behaviour, I know God has a purpose for all this, and that all our struggles will not be in vain.

I know it is in our imperfection and weaknesses that His grace and love shows up.

When you know your struggles have a purpose, your days may not get easier or lighter, but you pull through them anyway. With God’s help.

Whether it’s full-time caring for the family, or working, whatever your hands have found to do, I hope you choose joy, and never let it go.

Open your eyes to see what is pure, lovely and kind.

Keep stress in check, in its place.

Find a community and ask for support when you need it. 

Try out ways to sow peace and fun into your home.

May you find joy and strength, as you cling on to the God of hope.

PS. All these thoughts from a simple post-it note from my boy. It’s funny how God chooses to encourage us. He knows all our cares indeed.

finding joy in parenting

What I love (and hate) about having 3 kids

Life as a parent of three kids living in Singapore is busy, funny, and a little mad. To keep myself sane, I drink lots of coffee and try to look on the bright side.

There are pros and cons, ups and downs. I start off this post with 8 things I love most about having three, and end off with the downsides…Here goes.

love and hate about having 3 kids

#1 Entertainment becomes cheap (Three is company)

Jumping on the bed, dancing to the track of Can’t Stop The Feeling, playing dressing up and acting to someone’s jumbled-up screen play. You name it, they’ve done it. They play with anything and everything, as long as they’ve got a companion (usually each other.)

There are some days when the messiness gets to me but you know, it’s also on those days I get to hide in the room (in peace) to finish off some writing work, so messes aside, I am actually thankful.

play dressing up

#2 We get to experience different stages of childhood (all at once)

While I’m coaching my eldest on her studies, and helping her to learn skills like priorities and planning, I also get to do silly things with my boys, and watch Josh make his little discoveries about how our world works. His sense of wonder never fails to make me smile. (I guess that’s the precious-ness of having a bonus kid!)

#3 We get to savour different strengths and specialities

Vera is into drawing and music. She loves doodling in her free time, and has started writing silly short stories around her illustrations. It’s something she does to relax and I marvel at seeing all her works.

child's artwork of a horse
JJ is a sports and dancing boy. He can’t stop moving at times, and his favourite past-time is jumping and dancing on our bed. As for Josh, well he’s currently top at…eating. He is a true blue foodie. I mean, which toddler actually enjoys tucking in a plate of salad?

toddler eating salad

#4 Multiple goodnight hugs before bed

Vera goes to bed first as she’s up the earliest. So we try to pray together and have goodnight hugs. Then come the boys who are always boisterous even at bedtime. Tucking them in can be tedious but eventually they’re out, and I get to smell their hair and kiss their cheeks. Bedtime is the sweetest moment for me, it’s when I can reset the day and give thanks all over again.

READ: Top 10 things kids need from their dads

#5 We can leave the house for date-nights knowing they’ll never have a dull moment

Yes they may squabble and fight over little things, but at least we know they’ll never be alone, bored or hooked to gadgets. And most times, they actually seem to get on quite well once mum and dad are out of the house. Weird but true.

kids playing ping pong

#6 They look out for each other

This applies mostly to Vera at this stage but I’ve seen some glimpses here and there in the boys. Whenever we’re at the pool Vera will be quite willing to care for Josh, especially when I explain that I need to do a lap or two. And the best part, when I go out with the threesome, Vera helps to chaperone the boys, one on each hand.

siblings walking hand in hand

#7 They pass on knowledge and ‘wisdom’

The beauty of having kids of differing ages is that the eldest will always share the stuff she’s learnt in school or through books. Although she’s only eight, her brothers look up to her and listen earnestly whenever she’s teaching them something. I can already see her playing the role of part-time tutor to her brothers in future. (Hopefully she doesn’t teach them the cheeky/naughty stuff too… :P)

#8 There are more hands to clean up

Who you gonna call when a huge mess has been made? Not just the one who made the mess of course, we teach the kids to help one another, and more hands just make the work lighter.

PS. Do you know that when children help out in the family, they feel a greater sense of belonging and ownership? *wink*

~~~~~

There are of course also some downsides to having 3 kids.

– You’re always outnumbered. There’s always a war you need to mediate.

If you’re at the mall, and one needs to go to the bathroom, another needs a drink, and yet another needs to go on the swings (right at this instant), you’ll never win. Every day we are at the negotiating table, teaching them what it means to compromise, have patience and wait.

– It’s so noisy you can’t hear yourself think

For an introverted mum like me, quietness is something I’ve always relished and actually quite need. Now that the kids are at school in the mornings, I get to enjoy some peace and quiet. And I consider it a huge win on those days when I get to take a nap, and the kids don’t start a fight the minute I fall asleep.

– It’s hard to go out in a normal sedan

We don’t drive as it’s expensive and we live in a central location. So we usually Grab or Uber our way around town. Now with 5 (albeit still a baby-ish looking 5th person), it’s tricky. Since the rule for child booster seats were made stricter, some Grab drivers also refuse to take us after seeing so many kids. (Thankfully they’ve launched Grab Family now.)

– It’s expensive to eat at restaurants

Step into a normal looking Jap place and the average bill is $60-70. And we’re not even talking about ordering mains for kids – thankfully they’re content with rice and miso soup bowl, along with chawanmushi (and some additional meat from our mains) on top.

READ: 20 ways to be a frugal family

– It’s expensive to travel too

We’re planning a trip to Melbourne this year and oh boy tickets alone costs about $2.5-3K. It’s also tricky to squeeze all of us into one hotel room. We always need to make room for our littlest on our bed.

– The bugs can make their rounds

With kids in kindy/school, when one brings home a bug, it inevitably “travels.” Some bad months, we’re so busy taking care of one sick kid after another, it gets a bit insane and we lose track of what happened when. (Tell me I’m not alone??)

~~~~~

Life with three means there’s never a dull moment. I’m also aware that it won’t be too long before they’re all teenagers and the only noise in the home will be the squabbling between the hubby and I.

So bring on the mess, the noise, the fights – I’ll take the whole package. I know I’m going to miss all these things when the house gets too quiet 10 years down the road.

Mums and dads, what are your joys and pains about having 1, 2, 3 (or even more) kids?

5 easy strategies to help your child overcome weakness

I’ve been reading Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky and thinking about my kids’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s also mid-year exams period, so we’ve been working hard with Vera on her Chinese, which I guess along with 70-80% of Singaporean kids, is an area of weakness and struggle.

It’s easy for kids to get discouraged by a subject that seems more difficult than the rest, so I’ve been also trying to be careful with what I say. (It’s hard, sometimes the frustration sets in, and I can get a bit critical or even harsh.)

Here are 5 tips I drew from the book that will come in handy if you’re working with your child on their weak areas too.

Help your child overcome weaknesses with 5 easy tips

1) Dealing with weakness? Start from strengths

If we dwell on what the child can’t do – the child’s inadequacies – those inadequacies will likely proliferate. If we focus on what the child can do – the child’s strengths – these will likely be fortified.

As parents, we tend to focus on our flaws and feel like we’ll never be good enough. We also tend to zoom in on our kids’ flaws and weaknesses, forgetting and sometime downplaying their strengths.

But strengths provide a strong foundation from which we can leap forward, especially as we start to address their weaknesses.

Even in my therapy work with children with special needs, I’m acutely aware of their weaknesses, but I make sure to tap on their areas of strength to help them overcome.

There are actually some simple ways to “start from strengths.” For instance, your child is struggling in the area of Chinese, but is a real foodie. Use his interests to build on his foundation in Chinese. Run simple cooking classes in Chinese every week with easy kid-friendly recipes, or watch Youtube cooking videos in Chinese.

Or if your child finds math impossible, but loves drawing and art…Engage his love for doodling by asking him to draw out the math problem visually and in fun ways (not limited to using models.) Whatever helps him to engage his senses in the task, let him go about it and experiment and have fun. It could even change the way he feels about the subject.

More on using strengths to overcome weaknesses here.

2) Spell out expectations, use levels 1-4 to make them clear and gentle

In her book, Galinsky cites an example of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a non-profit organisation committed to ending generational poverty in Harlem.

The children are being taught how to apply writing techniques to their own essays, and they use a rating system ranked 1-4, where Level 1 simple means an “oops” area that needs more work, as opposed to a D or a fail grade.

Galinsky describes HCZ’s philosophy:

We give children the freedom to make mistakes. We teach our kids that failure is not a way of labeling who you are – it’s just a way of identifying what you don’t know and what you need to put effort into. When kids understand that, they’re not hesitant about trying something, because if they fail, it’s not a reflection on them. That just tells them: “This is an area we need to work on.”

In the same way, give your child more motivation to succeed by saying something like, “You may be at level 1 right now, but with specific help and practice on the difficult or tricky areas, you can progress to level 2 and 3 pretty soon. Let’s go through the test papers to identify the areas you need to focus on most.”

(Here is more information on learning scales.)

3) Emphasize personal best instead of comparing with others

We sometimes subconsciously compare our children to the best examples out there, but imagine what this does to their self-esteem when we actually overtly express it. How does it make them feel if we constantly compare them with an over-achieving cousin or sibling?

Galinsky writes:

Often motivation is defined as besting others rather than besting ourselves. If we’re driven by the desire to do our personal best, practice becomes part of that motivation.

By all means, challenge your child to do better than what he did yesterday. Just focus on him and his past achievements as a benchmark, not other people’s achievements.

 

4) Help children learn to plan and set goals

When children take responsibility for their own learning, ie., become more goal-directed, they automatically become the active engaged learners that nature created them to be.

Guide them in setting SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based.

We can help children build on their emerging ability to plan to reach goals by articulating their goals when they’re small, such as saying, ‘You can trying so hard to stand up.’ When they’re preschool age and older, we can help them form and achieve goals by asking them to make plans, stick to them, and then evaluate how the plans have worked…

 

5) Get her to teach and explain to you concepts she’s learnt

Another useful tip from the book is to get your child to teach you something she’s learnt about the subject. When you teach something, it brings your understanding to a different level.

Galinsky quoted some theories about why this might be the case:

Explaining something helps make their implicit understanding more explicit; leads children to focus on the principles behind what they’re learning and not just the facts…and makes [them] feel more motivated and focused.

 

Overall, Mind in the Making has been a helpful read (although I must say I sometimes get lost within a chapter as there are so many anecdotes and stories in each one.) There are some important gems in there, and is an essential read if you want to find out more about these 7 essential skills for kids:

  • focus and self-control
  • perspective taking
  • communicating
  • making connections
  • critical thinking
  • taking on challenges
  • self-directed learning

To learn more about how you can support your child in his learning journey, read these other posts:

 

How to help your child thrive in a pressure cooker world

Gym, piano, soccer, swimming, art, violin, ballet classes…and not forgetting tuition for different subjects. Our kids live in a fast-paced world that bring along with it increasing levels of stress.

What causes overscheduling? Are we living vicariously through our kids? Giving them opportunities that we never had? Or is it a fear of them missing out?

Well there is the obvious need to simply keep up with schoolwork, with its ever-increasing difficulty levels in math, science and even the languages.

Then there’s DSA, which encourages us to identify our child’s talents and gifts at an early age, and nurture these talents. The heart of the programme is a good one, as it aims to recognize students with diverse talents and from diverse backgrounds, but inadvertently the ones with the most resources stand to benefit.

To be honest, I’m glad that we’ve shifted the focus away from pure academic achievement, but here is the irony. The move to a “more holistic” approach brings with it its own set of pressures on our young. Today, not only must they ace exams, they also need to excel in sports, music or the like.

Take the rushing around and packed schedules, coupled with daily pressures of school, homework and spelling lists, and you end up with children who are running faster than hamsters in a wheel.

They’re probably feeling the stress from having to excel in many different areas, but are unsure of where they are really going.

Are we wired to learn/live this way? I think the answer is “no.”

How to help your child thrive in a pressure cooker world

So how do we help them thrive in such a fast-paced world? Here are 6 simple ways.

1. Give them ample opportunities to reflect and consolidate their learning

When our kids are at school or at enrichment /tuition classes…It is through reflection that they are able to embed those new neural connections in their brains and memory.

As John Maxwell wrote, “Reflective thinking takes a good experience and turns it into a valuable experience.”

Don’t simply rush the kids from one activity to the next – encourage them to share with you what they’ve learnt for the day.

Pick enrichment classes that intentionally give students opportunities to discuss topics with peers or in a group. This is an important strategy in scaffolding, as written in Edutopia:

“All learners need time to process new ideas and information. They also need time to verbally make sense of and articulate their learning with the community of learners who are also engaged in the same experience and journey.”

 

2. Focus on one or two enrichment activities, at a time

The rationale is, rather than exposing them to all sorts of skills that they only manage to skim the surface off, focusing on one or two new things allow them the time to experiment, go deeper, and likely, go further too.

When our children are young, obviously we should first encourage them to enjoy the instrument/sport. If they have no interest in it, there’s no point forcing them to dive into it.

Most of us just want our kids to enjoy a sport or an interest, but if they cultivate a passion for the sport/music, and seem to want it for themselves, it might be worth taking it further.

In such a case, you may want to consider the “deliberate practice” that psychologist K. Anders Ericsson pinpoints as the strategy used by experts in becoming experts:

“Deliberate practice involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying activities beyond your current abilities. While repeating a skill you’ve already mastered might be satisfying, it’s not enough to help you get better. Moreover, simply wanting to improve isn’t enough — people also need well-defined goals and the help of a teacher who makes a plan for achieving them.”

 

3. Provide pockets of down-time, quiet time, and me-time

Our kids need me-time too. Outdoor play-time is great, but free play at home works too.

This Harvard Business Review article states that “generating good ideas and quality work products requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet.” This is true for adults, but it is equally true, or perhaps even more so, for a child.

According to the writers, silence helps restore the nervous system, sustains energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments we live in today.

“Silence is associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory,” according to research by Duke Medical School.

One of the things I love about silence as a daily habit is that it helps me tune in to myself, and it also helps me tune in to what God is doing in my life.

Carve out moments of play/quiet into their daily routine. Write in down on the schedule. Start small and keep it truly free. Also make sure they get sufficient rest. If they’re constantly falling asleep at school, consider what needs to be changed.

 

4. Help them cultivate their own passions

If your kids want to use the internet to do research on their favourite animal or scientific experiment, support them in their latest interest. You’ll be surprised at how motivated they can be on their own.

When we are the ones who push our children to take on-board pursuits like DSA or play a musical instrument, the climb is always uphill, because it didn’t arise from them in the first place. But if they make the first move, they will always be driven – motivation works best when it comes from the inside.

This makes good practice for later in life too, when they will need to be able to find out what it is they truly want to do. No one else but them can provide the answer.

Speak life into their gifts

5. Keep the relationship first

My daughter has been struggling with her Chinese. We speak the language only occasionally at home, and so to be honest, we lower expectations for her in this subject, but we still expect her to put in her best effort.

To support her, we’ve been reading books together, practising writing and recognition of common words, and playing memory games.

But I realise what she needs most is this: encouragement. Given the rate of youth suicide is increasing all around the world, I think this is a lesson worth reinforcing at home: though we may struggle, we can press on together as a family; we’re never alone.

 

6. Set realistic goals and celebrate progress

Knowing that my girl is not going to score an A anytime soon in Chinese should provide a sensible guide for me as to what to expect. As much as we love to see straight-As, it’s important to know that not every child is an A student.

To me, it’s good enough that she is aware of her current weaknesses, and is taking steps to improve. She’s set a goal for herself to learn five new Chinese words a week. I see the amount of effort she puts into her spelling each week, and I already feel…well, thankful.

The positive attitude that our kids carry towards learning is far more important than the actual grade itself, right? As they say “attitude first, aptitude later.”

Giving our kids down-time, chances to reflect, support to attain their goals, are all ways to ensure they are happy and healthy, while also motivated in times of learning.

What other things can we do to help them thrive in this pressure-cooker world?

If you found this post helpful, do share it with your friends.

You may like these other posts on education:

Our Fun Outdoor Photoshoot with Natsuki Photography

We spent a fun morning with Natsuki Photography at Bishan Park (near the McDonald’s).

Here are some of our favourite shots of the day.

Enjoying a picnic…(Check out the little prince lying on my lap)  Natsuki family photoshoot

Natsuki family photoshoot

Natsuki family photography

Family shoot by Natsuki Photography

Do-re-mi

Natsuki family photography

Jump shot! We had to re-take this many times obviously. **Pro-tip: remove heels prior to jumping next time!

Jump shot! by Natsuki Photography

Defying gravity…This one looks like Josh had fallen from the tree. I don’t know how the dad managed to throw him so high.

Natsuki family photoshoot throw shot

Me and my not-so-little ones.Natsuki family photoshoot me and my boy

Natsuki photography great for kids

My boys…

Natsuki family photography cheeky toddler

dad and josh dad and josh 2

And, finally our couple shots…(He nearly dropped me, or at least pretended to!)

Natsuki photoshoot couple shots

Natsuki family photography

Seriously although we’ve been married for years now, it’s still so awkward taking professional shots together. Thankful that we had a beautiful bouquet from A Better Florist to hold, otherwise we wouldn’t have known what to do with our hands!

Natsuki couple with flowers

flowers by A Better Florist closeup

Natsuki family photography

All in all, a fruitful and fun morning. I’m really thankful that Nat and Francis managed to keep the kids happy and smiling throughout the shoot, with their cute soft toy friends that they sprung up at just the right moments. Thanks for helping us capture such lovely memories. (Thank you for being patient with the kids too!)

PS. I booked Natsuki Photography since November last year, and could only get the slot 4 months down the road, so if you’re planning to book with them, do so early! You won’t regret it! The entire package costs $450 (up to 6 pax), and you’ll received min. 40 edited photos, and the rest of the photos will also be returned to you.

Also special thanks to A Better Florist for sending us the beautifully handcrafted flowers! Check them out for your next special occasion or just because. 🙂

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