Done List, 2017

Many people are busy planning for the new year; new resolutions, fresh to-dos, bold and brave plans.

But have we looked back at the year that is fast coming to a close, and acknowledged ourselves or others for the things already done?

Instead of working on a to-do list, I compiled my done list over the weekend.

What have I accomplished this year? On the work front, my freelance work has found a stable footing. I was really stoked (and totally surprised) by an opportunity to write for a local news site, focusing on education and parenting — issues that I’ve always felt passionate about. I also started to take on cases in special needs and educational therapy. It’s a steep learning curve for me in this new field.

At home, the younger boys settled into their new kindergarten and adjusted to new teachers and friends. JJ also graduated at the end of the year, and is (almost) ready to start primary school as I type this!

We recently went to Melbourne for a holiday and had a blast, although traveling has always been iffy for us, particularly with kids who don’t cope that well with change. But Melbourne has a special place in my heart; it was my spiritual home during my undergrad years, and it felt special to be able to catch up with family and friends there. The farmstay was the highlight of our trip (will share about that in a future post!) I think we all grew a bit through the process and experienced God’s grace even in managing the more difficult moments and meltdowns.

Bay of martyrs besties at Geelong

We actually managed to take a family pic in front of the café where the hub and I met. (So epic!) The kids were not impressed though, as the café had already closed down…we ended up having a coffee at the one that popped up right beside it.

family pic at crema

Apart from that, we’ve been taking things real slow this December. Last weekend, we brought our tent out on a whim and enjoyed a relaxing experience outdoors. Suffice to say that we’ll be doing this more often in in a tent

It’s been a year of growth for me in different ways. I learned a few things about connection, kindness, and authenticity this year. Through books such as these:

  • Wonder by RJ Palacio. As well as Auggie and Me. This series made me cry and opened up a new chapter of kindness and empathy in my own life.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Reading this was like giving a gift to myself; it reminded me to stop seeking after / creating a picture-perfect life, but to live an authentic and connected life, more in tune and less judgmental.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. An all-too-famous book on how to find meaning and purpose in life. A must-read in one’s lifetime.
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Also known as the one through which I bawled my eyes out many times over. This book taught me to cherish everything I have.
  • Madeleine L’engle’s A Circle of Quiet. Her writing makes me laugh, and through the guffaws provides a serving of strength to dream about writing more seriously for myself.

Reading (and crying through) those titles made me realise that if there is only one way that I experience beauty, it is through the written word.

I also benefitted from these books on parenting:

  • The Dolphin Way by Dr. Shimi Kang. I love her insights; a back-to-basics type of book with lots of practical tips and how-tos with regard to parenting in a social, connected, and gentle way. (A great read for parents looking to curb their tiger-mum instincts.)
  • The Explosive Child by Ross Greene – A must-read for anyone who is grappling with an easily frustrated child. (A friend sent me the e-book and I’m grateful to her to this day.)
  • Loving our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk – I’m only halfway through this, but am enjoying its focus on parenting from and to the heart, looking beyond just managing behaviour and all the external stuff.
  • The Happy Mom by Doreen Wong – A book filled with godly wisdom and insight. Read the review here!

Through 2017, I think I saw more compassion rising within me, towards the kids and even myself. Not perfect, but progressing.

The parts of the year that I enjoyed most were the ones where we were able to connect with other like-minded families and friends, be it through the simple play-date, a prayer gathering, or the coffee break with other moms. It was on some of these occasions where I felt most alive, most vibrant, and most in tune with God and his creation. I really thank God for the community He’s given to us.

2017 is also the year where we got to go on date nights without feeling much guilt (if at all!) It’s a sweet place to be, but I’m looking forward to the new year and all that it has to bring. By His grace, so sweet and sufficient, I’m going to embrace our lives–imperfect as it may be–and enjoy the ride.

Blessed 2018 to you and your loved ones! xoxo

no one ever told her
about this thing called “mothering.”
maybe because it was a journey
of discovery –
her greatest work of art –
her biggest lesson in letting go…
where she’d learn to nurture a “self”
to shine bright
and find her own self in the process.
no one can tell you that.
you have to live it to know it.
and when you do,
it changes you forever.

– Terri St. Cloud

Letter to my son: You’ll find your place in life

Dear son,

You’ve graduated from kindergarten! As you danced on stage with your classmates at your graduation concert, I couldn’t help but swell with pride and delight.

You’ve only been in this kindy for a year…Transitions aren’t your forte and sometimes you have reactions that nobody can fathom, not even your dad and I, but we saw that what you needed was time — time to settle in and get used to the new kindy environment, friends and flow. Eventually, you did and you said you enjoyed your new school, particularly the computer “lessons” that you have every Tuesday.

The same way you found your place in this new school, may you also find your place in life.

finding your place in life

Parenting is tough to do. Parenting you has also been quite an intense experience.

Many a time I have faltered, many a time I failed to show you the gracious and loving face of our God, and for those, I can only repent and say I’m sorry.

Sorry for being harsh when I could have been understanding.

Sorry for being impatient when all you needed was time.

Sorry for being only half-present and preoccupied with my work and worries when all you wanted to do was to share about your day.

(I’ll try my best to do better; because of you and your siblings, I’m also growing every day, to be a better mum, and to parent from a place of enough.)

Yet you stick close to me. You’re the one who calls me when I’m out running errands or doing stuff for work. You’re the one asking when I will be home.

Soon you will move on to primary school, then secondary, then college and university. Soon you will be a teenager – will you still want to share with me excitedly about your day? Will our relationship be strong and open enough for you to deposit your thoughts into my mind?

I can only hope and wait for you, my son. Wait for you to strengthen your wings and heart and mind. Wait for you to ready yourself for flight. Wait for you to fly.

Whichever route you choose to take, however long it needs for you to get where you want to go, know that you can take your time. Go at your own pace, learn to love at your own time.

The speed at which you grow does not define you. Nor do the achievement and results that you attain. At the end of the day, God looks at your heart, and who you are. I pray that you will bear fruit for His glory.

Your mother too has taken quite a few roundabout routes in life, and through them learnt many things. Maybe it was only through those meandering journeys that she grew to be who she is now. (Only God knows.)

So, take your time, my darling. I will do my best not to worry and hurry you, and instead trust that you will find your sweet spot, that special place in life that God intended for you.



happy boy and mom

Kids need real dollars and cents to learn money sense – don’t digitize their pocket monies

“The financial habits you develop when you are young are going to go with you into your adulthood.” – Warren Buffett

The “invisibility of money to young people” is one main factor exacerbating the problems that young people have with money. – Founders of Money Doctor, Nicky Reid and Marilyn Holness, quoted in ST

I read with some disdain the news of POSB introducing digital watches that basically act like prepaid debit cards for kids in certain primary schools. It allows students to buy food and stationery at the canteen and school bookstore by tapping the gadget on NETS digital payment terminals. They can also use the watch at such terminals outside school.

The initiative has been rolled out to various primary school levels at 19 schools, but the bank aims to get all students from all 190 primary schools here to own this gadget within the next two years.

But would you seriously considering giving such a “debit card” to your 8-year old? Albeit this smartwatch would have a safe daily limit of say $2 a day. But still…

I know countries around the globe are moving towards a cashless society, and cashless generally means greater convenience, and less hassle of carrying cash that can be physically lost or stolen.

Through an app that parents download onto their phones, they can track their child’s spending (and saving), and also send their child money in the event of an emergency.

But honestly, I think if we are talking about young children who are aged 7, 8, or 9, who are just getting a grasp of money matters, it is best to stick to the devil we know – real, tangible, countable cash.

Here are my 4 key concerns about this initiative.

1. It will create a “buy first, think later” culture

Because all you need to do is flash your watch and receive an item, it makes it all too easy to buy things and worry later.

We all know (even as adults) that it’s hard to curb spending with cards. Which is why as financially savvy adults, we choose to limit the number of credit cards we hold and have a clear reason and purpose for every card that we do choose to apply for.

As it is a digital medium, the concept of money is made more surreal and less tangible, which makes it harder for young children to fully grasp the concepts of spending within your means, budgeting, and saving, although the programme tries to sell these things.

Everything is reduced to mere numbers on a screen.

Instead they may learn that there is no need for delaying gratification, since you can just buy things so easily and without much thought.

Mary Hunt, author of Raising Financially Confident Kids, has this to say when comparing cash and debit/credit cards, “Cash is very visual, clear cut and not confusing…Credit sends a mixed message to kids.”

2. It takes away one of the most natural places for kids to practise money management

The school canteen /bookshop is one of the safest and most natural places for kids to learn about money –

  • counting (Did I bring enough for a bowl of noodles?)
  • budgeting (If I get an extra drink today, how much will I have left for tomorrow or day after?)
  • differentiating between needs and wants (Do I really need that new rainbow-designed pencil?)

It also provides real-life opportunities for them to practise life skills such as checking the change, making sure that it’s right, and if it’s wrong, to be able to speak up and tell the truth. (With the digital watch, there’s no need for change.)

We give our eldest a weekly budget of $8-10. She’s expected to manage her budget on her own – in other words don’t go buy some fancy pencils on Monday and expect us to give you extra money on Wednesday when you’re left with nothing.

If she overspends, she will have to figure things out on her own – maybe go hungry, or buy something of lower value, or pack a sandwich for recess on Friday.

With all this daily practice, I’ve noticed her becoming more aware of the money that we spend as a family. One day, when I got charged for an extra cup of tea that I didn’t order, she was able to pick it up on the receipt, and I was able to ask for a refund.

With the smartwatch, it may become too convenient for parents to come to the rescue and top up a zero-balance account electronically. (Let’s face it, even if you don’t want to bail your child out, the temptation is there, at a click of a button.)

It thus makes it harder for children to learn through experiencing the very real consequences of money-related mistakes that they make.

As Hunt also says, “It’s important [that children] make choices and then live with the consequences.”

3. Is this going to be another digital distraction?

I’ve heard stories from my daughter about friends owning new gadgets like a smart watch. She says her friend sometimes gets into trouble for playing with her watch in class. It is a distraction to her and her friends sitting close by.

We live in an age of digital distractions. A child at lower primary levels is not likely to own a phone, but also for good reason, since they are not going to be travelling about on their own.

Alone the same lines, why give them a smart watch that will serve as a distraction, as the latest cool gadget in town, and as a means of comparing between the haves and have-nots?

Will it not distract them from the real meaning and purpose of school, which is to learn, to practise life skills, to socialise, and to curb impulsive behaviours?

4. Are there going to be safety issues with money flowing so easily to your child?

This may sound extreme but imagine if your child finds himself in the situation where he is being extorted for money or for an expensive item at a bookstore outside school.

Of course the daily /weekly allowance limit won’t be set too high, but if he’s being forced and he calls you for help, the parent may try to send him the money he needs on the spot, just to bail him out of trouble.

It’s potentially tricky to navigate such unexpected situations. Also the issue of privacy regarding spending habits that are tracked electronically is always lurking in the background.

learning money sense with three piggy banks - spend, save, share


We treat financial literacy training with our kids quite seriously.

As mentioned earlier, we choose to give a weekly allowance, so as to give my daughter a chance to exercise choices and learn responsibility.

We also make sure they have a bit leftover for the practice of saving. This goes into 3 piggy banks – for spending, saving, and sharing.

The “spending” bank is to allow the kids some freedom to exercise choices. We try to discuss with them and help them make better decisions by weighing the pros and cons of buying a small toy now versus waiting a month later for the money to grow in order to buy a more valuable or higher-value toy.

We dissuade them from impulsive buying behaviour, and try to verbalise our own money decisions and dilemmas, so that they learn from us.

The “sharing” bank is to encourage the kids to share in terms of buying small treats or gifts for their siblings. It is also for giving to the church or to communities in need.

The savings go into their individual savings fund. At the end of the year, we tally the total, and put them into their own fund. (This is the equivalent of a savings account except that the money isn’t physically with the bank, it’s kept as part of our family bank account. But the concept is the same, they get to practise and see us tally their money at the end of the year, and they know that we’re safekeeping it for their future.)

I’m sharing this because financial management is probably one of the most important life skills and gifts that we could ever give our children.

The money habits they form now will likely follow them through life.

Just look around at those with burgeoning credit card debts or finance-related troubles – “money no enough” is one of the top destroyers of families around the world.

I understand the beauty of hassle-free technology and conveniences that it brings, but in this case, I think it only benefits the markets and companies involved, not so much our children. So please, please leave our kids’ pocket monies alone.


Yes, not opting for this smartwatch may mean slightly longer and slower queues at the canteen. But the upside then is our kids get to exercise invaluable life skills of

  • patience (why so slow…)
  • prioritisation (I want to pee but I’m hungry, hmm quickly get food and then go to the toilet)
  • flexibility (Wah, chicken rice queue so short today, let’s go for it!)

Yes, it means that we have to scrape together small change for our kids every week. (I like to give my daughter a mix of $2 notes, and various coin denominations, in order to teach her to count and manage her own daily budget.)

Yes, it means that our kids may accidentally lose that $2 note on an odd day or two, but then they get to exercise problem-solving skills and initiative by asking a trusted teacher or friend to help.

When it comes to technology and kids, we need to proceed with caution and think about the cost.

What price do we as a society pay in the end?

Are we letting go of precious opportunities to hone life skills and money wisdom?

Will we raise a generation of children who think that money runs on tap and it’s easy come, easy go?

Like how we are so reliant on our smart phones and can’t be bothered to use our memory to remember phone numbers. Or when we rely on calculator or excel spreadsheet to tell us what the answer is, and avoid doing mental calculations on our own. Will our kids not learn or bother to count simple cash anymore?

Precious opportunities to hone life skills are lost when we rush into technology recklessly. As Dr Nicky Reid, founder of Britain’s Money Doctor, said in this ST article:

“As parents, we always want to make things better for our children, like giving them everything. But as we become more affluent as a society, we are not giving them that life skill.”

I hope that we will take the time to think first, and weigh the pros and cons, before we embrace and adopt smart technology like this.

How to be kinder to ourselves and our children

So I lost it one evening, when my eldest decided it was okay to totally neglect her violin practice for the whole week.

I guess it was partially the frustration I had with myself, for failing to help her to be more disciplined with her practice. I was angry alright – both at myself and at her.

The train of negative thoughts in my head went ahead at full velocity, and I lost control of the brakes.

We crashed into one messy, teary heap.

I started to think about what went wrong. I love this little person in front of me, so why would I say such hurtful things about her?

I stepped out of the room for some air; the space I put between us helped to calm me down and give me a better perspective of the size of the problem.

I thought about how she had had to revise for her upcoming oral exams, and for how she took time almost every night to practise her spelling.

For the first time that night, I stopped thinking about how disappointed I was; instead I switched gears and put myself in my 8-year-old’s shoes.

I took a full breath, pulled the hand brake, and changed course.

I went back into the room, hugged her gently, and apologised for making harsh and accusatory statements. (The words that I’d just spoken were still ringing in my own ears.)

I then told her that we’d work a schedule out together, and that we’d keep each other accountable.

We discussed and worked out the days that would work best for getting some solid practice in. We also set a target of 2-3 practices in a week.

I know my daughter. She takes pride in doing the best she can. This wasn’t deliberate defiance; it was genuine lapse.

It was a wake-up call for us to put some structure in place to help her remember to practise – a clearer visual schedule, or set up an alarm reminder on the calendar perhaps – and that would have solved the problem.

But it was a big lesson in compassion for me; and a lesson in taming the tiger that lurks within us all.

How to be kinder to ourselves and our children

What does compassionate parenting look like?

In order for me to be more compassionate with my daughter, I have to practice that same compassion on myself.

First of all, what is compassionate parenting?

Compassionate parenting is about putting ourselves in our children’s shoes. Compassionate parents set firm limits about core issues that are non-negotiable. With everything else, they encourage cooperation. The result is effective discipline that leaves the crucial relationship between parents and children intact and flourishing.

As I sat down to reflect on the incident, I realised I could have reached out in a more collaborative, more compassionate way.

I also realised that we all need to be kinder to ourselves because there is always room to grow.

Here are 5 lessons I learnt about being a kinder parent.

1) We don’t have to punish for making mistakes

Do children really learn best through punishment, or consequences? The short answer is “no” – they learn by modeling, and through scaffolding strategies, that is, doing with support. They then take on more by themselves, as we withdraw the support gradually over time.

This is at the heart of compassionate parenting: viewing mistakes as valuable lessons in learning and growth.

2) Reframe in a more positive or neutral light

“…There is no such thing as bad behaviour in children. Instead there is a child who is doing the best she can and we don’t understand her.” – Naomi Aldort
Reframing is about being aware of the negative thought that pops up in your head about an event, and then replacing that thought with a neutral or positive one.

Most unexpected child behaviours tell of an unmet need, or a gap in the child’s ability to do what is expected of them. Whatever the case, we need to put on an investigator’s cap to get to the root of the issue.

the way we talk to children becomes their inner voice

3) Seek to understand first, without judging

Instead of jumping to automatic assumptions about why your child behaved badly, ask questions to understand:
– Has it been an overwhelming week for you?
– What do you think you need?
– How can we help you?

Be careful of the words we use, because a carefully chosen word can also offer grace to a child. Remember, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

4) Put ourselves in their shoes

When we switch gears to start thinking from their perspective, instead of being fixated on ours, it helps initiate the empathy muscle. This also enables us to respond in a compassionate way.

Compassion is other-centered, not self-centered. But do note that it does not remove entirely the responsibility to correct the wrong or make amends.

Apologize and make amends with your child

5) Apologize, often

We will all make mistakes, in spite of our best intentions. An apology communicates to our children that mistakes are not final, and that a sincere apology can help to redeem a situation and repair the relationship.

PS. I also realise that to encourage her in this hobby, I should be more involved. I should learn to listen more, and just enjoy her growing in this area of interest.

She is after all just a child exploring her various interests, and is only beginning to discover her passions in life.

How do you encourage your child to grow in their hobbies or interests? How do you tame your tiger mum instincts?

How to focus in a distracted world, and teach kids to do the same

Generating good ideas and quality work products requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet. (Source)

Technology and social media is undermining our ability to concentrate, think deeply, and be creative.

This study shows that adults check their phones about 50 times a day. The constant changing of screens, moving of images, beeping of instant messages is putting more and more demands on our limited attention and mental space.

Yet in the 21st century, focus and creativity are among the top qualities that employers are looking for.

How do we set boundaries on our own lives to optimize our ability to concentrate, in the midst of all the digital clutter?

Here are 12 tips to help you build your (and your kids’) focus and attention skills.

how to focus in a distracted world and teach kids the same

1) Teach attention explicitly

Tell your kids you can train your brain to pay attention and focus. There are games you can play with young children to help enhance their awareness – like Simon says, or Duck, duck, goose, or I spy, or a scavenger hunt list for places you go such as a restaurant.

When you’re reading a book, talking to a person, or listening to a podcast, whip out a notebook and scribble down notes. This is active listening and is a great habit to cultivate. Pass this tip on to your kids too.

prioritize your tasks with a to-do list

2) Prioritise your tasks from the get-go

Checking emails first thing in the morning makes you a slave to other people’s agendas. Instead, use your prime time to focus on the things you really want done today.

Also, guide your kids on how to prioritise their homework and responsibilities, based on either the deadline (Which is more urgent?), or how much effort and time it would take to complete a certain task (Which requires more time?).


3) Intentionally cut down on rush

In order to focus to do good work or just to spend quality time with loved ones, you need to be a state of calm.

You can’t be worrying about this or that problem; it only results in ruminating. Likewise, rushing around and feeling frantic inhibits your focus and thinking process.


4) Practise moments of quietness

You know what they say – take time to smell the roses. We literally need to schedule such times of true mental and physical breaks to enter into the zone of quietness.

Quietness is sadly, a lost art. But with intentionality (and some new habits), it can be achieved. Going out for a walk in the park is a great way to quieten down your heart and pay attention to your environment and refocus on your larger goals.


5) Cultivate essentialist thinking

Think about your highest point of contribution, your highest talent to offer the world – are you giving yourself space to create the very things that you were born to create? Or are you too bogged down by obligations and commitments?

Likewise, schedule your child’s enrichment activities wisely and selectively. Focus on the areas that they really love and that they really need. Don’t over-schedule them as this could result in burnout over time.


6) Use apps that control social media use

If you find yourself getting distracted too often and drifting on to social media sites, it may be worth checking out apps to help control your habits. One such app is Self-control for mac users. Another is Think, an app that helps you to single-task.


7) Go on airplane mode

Another simple way to eliminate distractions is to set your phone on airplane mode. It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you set your mind to it, focus, and are not distracted by messages and notifications popping up every 15 minutes.


8) Establish an early shut-down time

The period before bedtime (e.g., 10-11pm) is a crucial one. Like a child needs to wind down his mind and body for the night, we adults need to relax and breathe.

As I do a lot of content writing and find it more productive to work at night, I often struggle with this. So I’m gradually moving my shut-down time forward, and giving myself permission to rest and continue the work tomorrow.


9) Focus on one task at a time

It is almost an art form to be able to single-task today. Jumping between tasks actually slows us down. Multitasking may also inhibit deeper, more meaningful learning. So while kids may finish all their homework, they may not fully absorb or retain the information learnt. (Source)

have a popcorn snack break 

10) Know when your child needs a break

Children tend to tune out when they think the task is too hard or they are not interested in the subject. Provide support by breaking a big task down into smaller chunks. Engage them actively in the learning, or give snack and movement breaks in between tasks.

Remember growing attention is a process, not a one-time achievement.


cut down screen time and video games

11) Cut down screen time

Screens can mess with our brain’s ability to hone focus and attention. Help your child cut down screen time. In place of screens, play puzzles, memory games, or old-school card games like fishing, bridge, and snap.

12) Model what you want to see

Give kids your full attention when they say, “look mummy!”  Teach them that it conveys respect and love when we give people our full attention when they’re talking. Also tell them how much you love it when they give you their full attention too. 🙂

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