Say “NO” to Worry and Guilt

I recently read an article written by a friend titled, “Mothers, Thy Name Is Worry” in the latest issue of Penang Monthly. In it, he shared how his mom worries about her children from the time of conception till now (this friend of mine is in his 60s). 

And I realise he is right. We moms are worriers. We worry when our kids eat too much or too little, sleep too much or too little. We worry when they have too many friends, or too few friends. We worry when they focus too much on schoolwork or too little… When they do well in X, we worry they are not thriving in Y. When they grow up, we worry about the jobs they have, the partners they find, the lives they live. When they start their families, we worry about their children, and sometimes their financial situation.  It’s almost never ending…

The problem with WORRY is it always comes with a companion by the name GUILT.

We feel guilty letting our kids eat too much or too little, sleep too much or too little. We feel guilty allowing them to spend too much or too little time with friends. We feel guilty that we did not help them be “well-balanced” if they focus too much on schoolwork or too little… When they do well in X, we feel guilty not helping them thrive in Y.

Working moms feel guilty not spending enough time with their children. Stay-at-home moms feel guilty losing their patience and tempers at their children throughout the day.  

We feel guilty sending the kids to too many enrichment programs because we know they need breathers yet the fear of not keeping up make us continue signing them up for classes. We feel guilty NOT sending the kids to enough or any enrichment programs because we fear they are losing out, yet our belief that kids need free time stop us from signing them up for classes. We feel guilty giving them “junk” food. We feel guilty using screentime as a babysitter. We feel guilty when something bad happens to our child, believing we could have done more to prevent it from happening, or feeling bad we fail to realise our child is experiencing problems. We feel guilty for not having done a good job guiding and teaching them If our child does something wrong or faces difficulties overcoming a challenge. The list goes on.

When will enough be enough? When will we moms realise that WORRY and GUILT are NOT badges of honour? That WORRY and GUILT are not “proofs” that we love our children? That they are, instead, stopping us from fully enjoying our motherhood?

Today is Mother’s Day. My wish to ALL mothers and mothers-to-be is that WE will be able to STOP worrying and feeling guilty. Why? Because WORRY drains us and GUILT eats us up. It’s time to say NO to them.

How?

Simple. We start by decoding what WORRY and GUILT are. Then we will realise they are not productive emotions.

Decoding and Dealing with WORRY

WORRY is merely a feeling of anxiety about something that has yet to happen. If there is something we can do about what we are worrying about, then we do not need to worry. If there is nothing we can do about what we are worrying about, then there is no point worrying since it will not help with anything except rob us of peace and enjoyment of the moment. 

So when you start worrying, ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do about it?”

If the answer is yes, then determine what it is you can do and do it. If the answer is no, then tell yourself, “There’s no point worrying. Just need to be prepared for whatever that happens.” Remind yourself that worrying WILL NOT change the outcome of whatever it is you are worrying about.

Decoding and Dealing with GUILT

Guilt is feeling bad about something that has happened in the past. There is no way we can go back and change it. Feeling guilty does not change what has happened. Instead of feeling guilty, we can work on what needs to be improved so the same mistake will not happen again, or we can come to terms with whatever decisions we have already made and executed.

So when you start feeling guilty, tell yourself, “I can’t change the past. Is there anything I can do to make amends or to prevent the same thing from happening again?”

If the answer is yes, then determine what it is you can do and do it. It is unlikely the answer will be no, because even if you cannot do anything to make things better, there is always a lesson you can learn that will help you make better decisions or take better actions in the future. Just remind yourself that feeling guilty WILL NOT change what has happened.

How to Lead a Blissful Life

We need to strive to let go and let it be. As the song “Que Sera Sera” goes, “Whatever will be, will be.”

We are not perfect. Given the number of “active” tabs we moms have open in our brains, we already have so much on our minds at the same time. No matter how hard we work or how much scenario planning we do and have Plans A, B, C,..to Z, we can NEVER fix everything. We need to stop worrying or feeling guilty for having done X or for not doing Y. 

We need to love and accept ourselves, and acknowledge that we are all doing our best with the knowledge and resources we have at the moment. When we do that, we won’t feel weighed down for everything we have done, or will do, nor we feel laden for every decision we have made or will make. Then we can be fully present for our family and enjoy them. And it is being present that we can find BLISS.

Happy BLISSFUL Mother’s Day

Here’s wishing all Moms a Happy BLISSFUL Mother’s Day and a Happy BLISSFUL EVER AFTER. Let’s bid “worry” and “guilt” goodbye and resolve to keep them out of our lives.

Happy Parenting!!

What Kind Of Life Do You Want For Your Children?

10, 000 hours.  That’s how long it takes to build mastery.  On average, when we spend 10,000 hours learning and practicing something, we become a master of it.

We do not need to have the qualifications.  We do not need to have the certificate.  If we want it, sure, by all means get it. But what is more needed is the constant learning and doing of something to be a master.  More importantly, what we need is passion because when there is passion, we will still continue to learn and improve even after we have achieved master status. How awesome is that?  Isn’t that what we all aspire our children to do? To be life-long learners?

Let me give you an example. I know a fabulous photographer who can capture the moment.  He knows when to click the shutter.  He knows which is the best angle to capture a shot.  He can anticipate what the subject of his shoot is going to do and he snaps the photo at the exact moment.  The photos he takes of athletes in motion are not blurry.  Instead they always turn out showing the athletes in the best light even if they are in mid-stride: the look of determination, the purposefulness of the stride, the strain on the muscles, the glint of perspiration.  

How does he do that?  He has learnt it all through trial and error, through years and years of reading about photography, taking photographs, and analyzing what he did that captured beautiful photos and what he had overlooked when the photos did not turn out well. After more than 15 years learning AS A HOBBY, he started his own photography business and it took off.  He has more than enough photo shoot engagements to make a more than decent living and he can command an even higher premium, if he wants to, to bring his income to an even higher level.  Yet he hasn’t stopped learning.  He is still working on improving his skills.  He is still analyzing his own work to see what he can do better. WHY?

The reason is simple.  He finds joy in capturing memories for people.  To him, he can “cheat” time by capturing precious moments so that we, the beneficiaries of his photographic skills, can relive those moments again.  Photography is his PASSION.  It is not his job.  He LOVES what he is doing.  

How is this relevant to parenting?

In our society, many people are chasing qualifications.  We are brought up to NEED a piece a paper to tell us we are good at whatever it is the paper says.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that education is not important.  In some instances, a paper qualification is necessary. In fact, if we love what we are doing and learning while getting that qualification, fantastic! What I am saying is passion is even more important.  We can spend hours and hours working towards a degree or certification.  But for many people, once we get that degree, we forget 90% of what we have learnt to earn that piece of paper.  And if we ask around, many graduates do not even use a fraction of the things they have learned to get the degree.

Yes, that degree may land us with a job. But what if we do not enjoy what we do? I know of an ex-neurosurgeon. He was “successful” by our definition. For one, he was a neurosurgeon. Two, he earned very good money and therefore lived a rather luxurious life. Unfortunately, he was a terribly unhappy man. He did not enjoy what he did. In fact, he did not even like medicine. He went into medical school because his dad made him, and since he got good grades, his dad made him specialise in neurosurgery. After so many years in medical school, and building his specialty, he felt trapped. He had to continue with what he did because he had financial commitments. He hated his life, and he resented his father for putting him on that path. When he was in his 50s, his father passed away. Almost immediately, this man left his practice. His family was shocked to say the least. Thankfully, they were able to understand that he needed to be able to live his life, and not the life his father had wanted him to live.

At least this ex-neurosurgeon got the courage to say, “Enough is enough!” Sadly, I know of many people who hate their jobs and their lives. But they are bound by that piece of paper (say engineering degree).  They have this fear, “If I don’t become an engineer, I would have wasted all those years pursuing the degree. If I don’t become an engineer, what else can I be? How am I going to find a job? What am I going to do?” So they are resigned to what they have to do every day. Quite a few of them suffer from mid-life crisis where life seems meaningless for them, and understandably so. Some go into severe depression and stay depressed for years. In fact, depression amongst those in their 40s and 50s is on the rise. But what can these people do? Walk out of their jobs like the neurosurgeon did? Most do not have the courage to rock the boat, not when they still have children and parents who depend on them, or housing or car loans to maintain. So they feel extremely trapped and slide further deeper into helplessness.

Let us do the Math: How many hours did it take to get an engineering degree? 

Assuming engineering school requires 10 hours of study each day (including working on assignments and projects) for 5 days a week.  Each school year is about 35 weeks and it takes 4 years to get an engineering degree:

10 hrs x 5 days x 35 weeks x 4 = 7000 hours

If we had gone into engineering school because our parents had wanted us to, or because we were brainwashed to go and get an engineering degree because that’s where the jobs would be, we would have spent 7000 hours doing something we do not enjoy. And guess what?  When we graduate, we would get a job we do not enjoy too.  

Some might say, “Such is life.  Suck it up.” 

I disagree. Life is meant for living.  We live when we are alive, not in the biological sense where we are breathing and moving.  Being alive to me means living a purposeful life where everyday is meaningful, where we look forward to waking up and doing what we love.  

What do we want for our children?  What kind of future do we want them to have? What are we pushing them towards?

Do we want them to have a life where they wake up every moment excited and raring to go? Or do we want them to have a life where they dread waking up and have to drag their feet to a job they cannot get out of because of their financial commitment?  Are we allowing them to live their lives, or are they living the lives we want them to live?

There is a saying, “If you love what you do, you never have to work another day in your life.”

What kind of life do you want for your children (and yourself)?

Happy Parenting!

Know Vs KNOW

I have been having very interesting conversations with my 14-year-old recently.

Last night, she was commenting about myopia. You see, she has been saying she needs glasses for a while and recently she went to the optometrist. 

C: You know mom, I can’t imagine how people who need glasses function without glasses. My prescription is only 75 and 100 degrees. Yet I have so much difficulty seeing the bus numbers without glasses. I can’t imagine how it is like for someone who has a prescription of more than 400 degrees and does not have glasses.

Me: Well, I have a prescription of more than 400 degrees and I can’t function without my glasses. I thought you knew that. That’s why I always say I need my glasses to find my glasses. I can’t see without my glasses.

C: I knew you need glasses and without them you can’t see. But I never thought about how that felt, or how blurry things would be for you without your glasses. When the optometrist put the glasses on for me and I went out of the shop to look around, suddenly everything looked clear. And when I removed them, I realised how blur things have been. If it has been so blur for me, I can’t imagine how it is for you or anyone who has worse eyesight than me. I didn’t understand how it was like to NOT be able to see. But now, I have a better idea of how it is like for you.

With that comment of hers, a light bulb came on for me.

Lesson for Me

My dear C, you have no idea how important a lesson you have taught me, AGAIN.

How often have I known, yet NOT KNOWN, how difficult things are for my children?  

When they struggle to stay focused, I know it is because their more mature nucleus accumbens (the pleasure-seeking centre of their brain) is driving their thoughts and actions and that their pre-frontal cortex (the logical decision making centre of their brain) is not quite mature yet to hold their goal in view. 

But I don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to focus because I still get impatient and judgmental when they are distracted.

Likewise, when they lose their temper, I know that, for my teens, it is because of the fluctuations of hormones in their bodies making control difficult, or, for my little one, that it is because she is really tired/hungry etc.  

But I don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to control their temper because sometimes I still get triggered when they “lose” it.

And there are parents whose children are hyperactive, or depressed, or perfectionists, or have sensory sensitivities, or a zillion other challenges. How WELL do most parents REALLY know the struggles their children go through?

Most times, we may feel “if only the kids would try harder…”, or worse, “they are leading us by our noses, manipulating us,” etc. I know I have been guilty of that.

If we really KNOW how our children feel and how they struggle, we will not have those thoughts at all.

The truth is we don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to function “normally” unless we have the same condition as they do. That is why we tend to be more critical and impatient, less sympathetic and loving. 

Unfortunately, that does not help our children. Our lack of empathy and lacklustre support makes it even harder for them to function normally.

So while I may “know” my children are having a tough time, and that they are doing their best, I still need to do the following:

  1. remember I don’t REALLY KNOW how awful they feel or how hard they are struggling,
  2. remind myself to take my 2 deep breaths, 
  3. strike down my fear that I have lost control over them, 
  4. tap into my unconditional love for them, and
  5. support them when they falter. 

Once again, I am grateful to C for the insight she has given me. May her insight help you decode your children so you can help them overcome whatever challenges they have as well.

Happy Parenting!

Apologies Heal

(As shared on Decoding Your Child Facebook Post on 14 Feb 2019)

So last night, my 14-yo asked me to help dry her hair as she has hurt her shoulder and can’t raise her arm to hold the hairdryer.

As I dried her hair, nostalgia hit me. When was the last time I dried and brushed her hair? I couldn’t remember.

Then as if reading my mind, C started talking.

C: Mom, it has been so long since you dried my hair. I think the last time was at Falling Water or was it at Waterford? The house w a pond in the backyard.

Me: That’d be Falling Water.

C: You used to dry my hair everyday. Then one day, I told you I didn’t want you to dry my hair anymore because it was taking away my screen time.

Me: Oh, is that right? I don’t remember. I only know I haven’t dried your hair for a very long time.

C: Yes. I think you were very hurt when I said that.

Me: Was I? I can’t remember.

C: I remember thinking about what I had said when I was in bed that night and realised it was not a nice thing to say. I felt “ouch!” But I never apologised to you. I’m sorry.

Me: it’s ok. I didn’t take it to heart.

And after that, she gave me a big hug.

Lesson for Me

We parents usually don’t remember the hurts caused by our kids. Otherwise we would have been too wounded to function. 

Maybe I was hurt at that time. But because I had buried it or chose to forget it, it didn’t bother me. 

But MAYBE I still carried the hurt unconsciously because I realised her apology had lifted me. It showed me she was aware, and it showed she cared because it had bothered her that I was hurt. And I actually felt lighter.

Maybe I WAS hurt but her apology has healed it.

And it’s obvious that careless comment she made all those years ago (8 years?) still bothered her. But because she got the opportunity to apologise, her guilt got lifted and she got healed.

So, this Valentine’s Day, I strive to think about the hurts I may have caused my loved ones, the words I had said or things I had done that I had felt would have hurt them yet had never apologised for. 

Maybe they won’t remember those trespasses of mine. But it doesn’t matter. Based on C and my interaction last night, I believe my overdue apologies will not only relieve me of my guilt, but also heal the unconscious wounds my loved ones have buried/ignored because of their love for me.

And I thank C for the precious gift of letting me see the value of apologies even if it seems like the other party doesn’t “mind”.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!! 💖💖💖

And Happy Parenting!!! 😘

It’s Not Personal

(As shared on Decoding Your Child Facebook Post on 2 Feb 2019)

It’s personal only if we decide to make it personal.

It has been a rather crazy week this week. I had had a super full load of work to get done, plus a talk to prepare for. Unfortunately, my little 6-year-old came down with the flu on Sunday. She had been a real trooper, resting, sleeping and leaving me practically very much alone for a few days to do my work because she knew I was busy.

But by Wednesday, her love tank was empty. She wouldn’t let me go. She was only content when she was in my arms. When I attempted to reach for my phone or laptop to do some work while craddling her, she would grab hold of my wandering hand and place it firmly against her face.

And so I savoured the moments and focused my 100% attention on her until she fell in a deep sleep and I was able to snap this photo.

Soon after, she stirred and pulled my hand back to her and we stayed in that position for a few hours. 

By Friday, she was well enough to go to school. She had been looking forward to seeing her classmates and teachers and it was a happy occasion as we headed towards school.

My husband had started the “tradition” of bringing iced water for her when picking her up from school because it’s hot in the afternoons. But on Friday, I did not bring any iced water when I went to pick her up as she was still having a cough. 

When she realised there was no cold water, she stomped the whole way back. And when she reached home, she threw herself on the sofa and cried as if the world had let her down. She practically had a meltdown.

I had 3 options. 

One was to be angry and upset that she was ungrateful, that I too had walked in the hot sun to go pick her up AND bring her home. (Guess how I knew of this option?)

Two was to ignore her and leave her alone (give her a time out).

Three was to show her love and compassion.

Truth be told, I felt anger bubbling. I felt she was ungrateful. I feared she was becoming self-entitled. And boy was I tempted to leave her and go get a glass of cold water for myself! 

But in the end, I took my 2 deep breaths and I chose love and compassion.

I bent over her and asked if she wanted me to cuddle her. She put her arms around my neck, all the while still crying. I took that as a “yes” and I craddled her. 

After a while, she started kicking and writhing in frustration. So I asked if she would like me to put her down. She hugged me tighter and I took that as a “no”. So I just held her while she kicked and writhed and cried. After 25 minutes, she finally calmed down. I told her a joke, she laughed and that was the end of it. 

She had let all her “angries” and stress out. I didn’t take any of it personally. We both emerged fr the “ordeal” happy and deeply connected.

After we had lunch, I explained why I couldn’t give her cold water and I got a hug in return. I asked her if she knew why I didn’t bring iced water when I went to pick her up and she said she knew.

You see, I knew she had understood. But I also knew she did not have the ability or muscle to not feel or act disappointed. Plus she had just recovered from flu and must have been exhausted being in school after a long MC. She had no reserves left for any self-control. Had I chosen to get angry at her, it would have been akin to getting angry at an 8-month-old baby for not walking.

She throwing a tantrum was not an attack on me. She just couldn’t control her emotions. I do not need to take it personally, and I’m glad I stopped myself, re-wired my brain and refused to go any further down the rabbit hole of anger.

I’m not a saint who doesn’t get angry. I’m just a regular human with normal instinctive emotions. I get angry a whole lot bcos of my imprint as a child that scoring 97 or 99 out of 100 is a punishable offence. I have tremendous fear of being not-good-enough. I fear being a lousy parent. And so, yes, I correspondingly have a lot of anger.

I mean, if I were a good parent, my kids should all be behaving well, doing well, listening well, controlling themselves well. So if they act out, it must mean I have failed. My first instinct is, “oh dear, I have failed. How can I help other parents if my children are still giving me problems?” 

And if you have read Part 2 of my Dealing with Anger series, you know that it will very quickly be translated by the mind into, “How dare you not do what I have taught you so many times?” which if left alone will become an explosion of anger.

But as mentioned in Part 3, I have learned to take my precious 2 breaths. And those 2 breaths have on many, many occasions given me space and time to re-wire my brain to move away from anger, face my fear and tell it to go away because I AM AN AWESOME PARENT. It’s a conscious decision every day, to re-wire my brain. Sometimes I fail, but over the years, I have had more successes than failures. My brain synapse to anger is weakening.

May you also find courage to face your tiger, face your fear and tell it to go home.

Happy Parenting!

PS: If you have missed the Dealing with Anger series earlier, you can read it here:
Part 1: What is Anger
Part 2: Why We Choose Anger
Part 3: How to Overcome Anger