Sunday, March 03, 2013

Lessons from my mum

People say a mother's love is the truest form of love there is in human form. I don't doubt the truth of this, even with my own mum whom I'm not proud to say I prefer to spend as little time around as possible. I believe a lot of things she has done or said to me was her way of loving me, but the way it was done was far from conducive in creating a bond between us. It would have been easy to write this post in spite, but knowing that my mum had good intentions, my purpose here is not to rant, but to make this sort of as a form of advice. Not just advice to other mothers, but fathers and even people in general... but most importantly to mothers because as long as you take on the job of raising a kid, like it or not, you are the biggest influence on that child's life.

One might think that love is all that matters and the only thing you need to make your kid turn out right. I can personally tell you, it's not the case. You can really really love someone and still really really hurt them unintentionally. I think that applies to a relationship with anyone you love, but I'm going to stick to the parent-child topic... subjects are in no particular order.

Protecting your children can be detrimental to their well being
I guess it's pretty much a given that all parents don't want any harm to come to their child, except for the loony parents. And when your kid wants to get involved in an actvity which you perceive as dangerous, such as some form of extreme sport, the natural reaction is to forbid them from doing it. The thing is, what you see as hazardous to their health is what they probably see as something to add more adventure and wonder to their lives, and in that sense, helping them to appreciate their life. So to me, I would say the best way is either advise them to make sure they take all necessary precautions, and if you can, try to join them too so you can help watch out for them. Forbiding them altogether can do more harm than you think. Let me elaborate with my experience.

I am quite a nature loving person, although not a total extreme nature freak. I just enjoy the occasional hike in the jungle and some scuba diving every now and then, and even once tried sky diving. I like these things because observing nature and life was and still is one of the few things that really amaze me, and pretty much the only thing that could still make me believe there is a God that created all this cool stuff. Bugs amaze me coz' they all look like aliens in tiny form. Looking up at super clear night sky at a beach or village area amazes me coz' all the twinkling stars that blanket the sky remind me big the universe is and there are so many things are there that are yet to be discovered. Being underwater also amazes me for the same reason... and I almost feel like a mermaid flipping around in the water, albelt a rather clumsy one with a big chunk of metal strapped to my back and making Darth Vader noises.

I would have loved to be able to share all these experiences with my family. It's sad enough none of them share my love for nature, but it's even worse that since I was young, my mum forbade me from joining such nature activities, even simple hikes, is disheartening. She worries about me falling down a cliff, getting lost in the jungle, getting attacked by a tiger or a shark, drowing in the water, etc, etc, etc. Even after trying to explain to her that such accidents happen usually when people take unnecessary risks, which I don't, and it's far more likely that I'll die in a road accident that a hiking or diving accident, she still forbids me. Or at least she tries to. I simply plan such nature trips without telling her about it until it's time for me to go, and even then I try not to tell her what I plan to do. And the biggest risk I take is doing such things on my own because I have no one to go do it with... I've gone on a dive trip by myself, and I've gone hiking by myself, almost got lost once and almost had trouble getting out on my own another time coz' my knee injury started acting up badly at one point. It would have been safer if I had family members that appreciated this stuff and could join me, but under such circumstances, it's either obey and live out my life all the time 'protected' in the mundane polluted concrete jungle staring at computers and the idiot box everyday (where I could get into a nasty car accident and die anyway) OR do what I enjoy and  get to appreciate the beauty and adventure this world has for us to see. I'm not too happy about keeping secrets from my mum, but I'm not much into the idea of spending the rest of my days as a zombified city person either.

Nevertheless, it's understandable that my mum forbade from nature activities to protect me. But in her attempt to protect me, she also forbade me from doing other things which I thought were good and right thing to do. There was once when I was teenager when I was visiting this old Indian lady living in the apartment across the street from ours. She lived alone and I forgot how I met her, but I know she just wanted to have someone to occasionally keep her company, and I thought she was nice and interesting to talk to, so I did go visit her a few times. Until I told my mother one day who I was going to visit. Her reaction was to forbid from seeing this woman ever again. She was afraid this woman would try to cheat me of my money, or maybe get someone to kidnap me, or God knows what other scenarios she envisioned an old lady could do to harm me. Of course I argued, and in return I was accused of being rebellious. I was so mad I shut myself in my room the whole day crying and wondering why I was made to feel terrible for trying to do something good. As a kid, I wanted to be a person that could do some good in the world, be a humanitarian or something of the like. My desire to do so was pretty much killed after that incident. No doubt my mum did it because she wanted to protect me from bad people But that incident and similar ones like it just taught me to avoid getting close to people, which has carried on til today. She didn't have to react that way. She could have taken some time to go with me to visit her so she'd know that I'm not going to visit a potential axe murdurer. But she chose to assume that I was simply incapable of discerning good in people and decided restricting me from seeing her was the best way to protect me.

So sure, you can restrict your kids from doing anything you think is 'dangerous', but indirectly you may be killing a part of them that is very important... such as their zest for adventure and desire to help others. You are also indirectly sending the message that you just do not trust your children to be capable of taking care of themselves out of staying out of trouble, which is also very demoralizing for the kid. And leads me to my next topic.

Trust your children and believe in their capabilities
Children or teenagers may sometimes do stupid things that may end up in them being hurt. But just because you hear of such cases a lot does not give you can automatically assume your own child will definitely end up the same way.  All my life, she and dad made it a point to teach me about all the bad people out there and what people may do to hurt me. They taught me not to simply trust strangers, they told me stories of how children are tricked and then kidnapped, how girls get drugged at night clubs, how women get conned by casanovas or being attacked while driving, etc, etc. I appreciated such lessons and I think it's good for parents to teach their kids about such things. But after that, you need to able to trust that your kid is smart enough to avoid such situations and protect themselves, unless your child has a history of reckless endangerment, in which case you'd definitely need to do something about it. But assuming the worst in your child before they have displayed such behaviour is just really frustrating for the child. In my case, I think I did pretty much everything right as a kid. Didn't get involved in gangs. Didn't touch drugs or cigarettes. Wasn't very interested in clubbing. Never been completely drunk. Never been cheated by a guy. And yet my mum still could not trust that I was smart enough to judge people correctly and not get into trouble when I'm out. Which is quite ludicrous considering at one point in time when she was incredibly depressed with life, she would get drunk in our house and be smoking cigarettes, thinking I wouldn't know about it. I suppose if the parent has trouble controlling themselves, it's only understandable that they'd assume their kid is no better. The only really stupid thing I ever did, I did it because I just wanted to find one person, just one person in a world of 7 freakin' billion people, who I could completely be myself with, without being constantly demoralized, because I wasn't really getting that at home. But of course, that's another story.

Some mums sometimes also fail to trust their kids to responsible at home, even to do routine simple things like housework or taking care of pets. I think it's also important to entrust children with some routine responsibilities at home from as young as possible and then not taking over for them if you feel their way is not the best way or you can do it better. Of course, as the mum, you probably would have established your perfect system of doing things and it may irk you if your kid (or spouse, for that matter) doesn't wash their clothes with enough soap, or mop the floor thoroughly enough, etc, etc... but the best thing you can do is tell them how to do it until they do it right. If they forget to do something they're supposed to do, just remind them of it instead of taking over for them. And even if things are not done exactly the way you'd like, it's just housework. It's not the end of the world and no one is going to die. Unless it involves taking care of a baby or a child. Even then, as a grandmother or a grandmother-in-law, the mother of the child is the one who is spending most of her time caring for the baby, and if you brilliantly come in and try to take over the job completely just because you've already had the experience, how inadequate is that going to make the mother feel? In any case, you don't need to get frustrated, complain and nag about it and take over the job, which will just make them feel like they are incompetent at anything you ask them to do. In the end, they'll just decide the best way is to let you do everything your way, in which case you'll be very tired and get even more naggy and complaining. I've heard similar gripes from some friends about their mothers, and some men about their wives, so I know this is a sadly common occurence.

When I wanted to move out and get a dog, my mum scoffed at me, thinking I would be incapable to running the house, my dog would probably starve to death coz' I'd forget to feed it and I would constantly run out of drinking water coz' I'd forget to refill the dispenser. In reality, I clean my house regularly without complaints (in fact, I find it quite calming sometimes), especially my floor which gets icky annoyingly fast because it's unpolished marble coupled with the incredible amount of fur my dog sheds on a daily basis. Sure, it's not perfectly clean, but why do I need it to be? I'd rather be spending time doing other things, not housework that never ends. I never run out of water. My dog is well cared for and certainly a lot more loving to me than the psychotic shih tzu that my mum has taken care of. Which only goes to show that I am perfectly capable of all the things she thinks I'm not capable of. All she needed to do was trust my ability to do things and not give up on me just coz' I didn't follow her way of doing things exactly or I didn't do things when she thought it needed to be done.

As a positive example, I know a family from my church with 3 young kids below 9 years old. All of them, including the youngest boy, since the time he could walk, but taught by the parents to do housework on their own. They would even help to vacuum the church floor after service or wash the dishes, and they wouldn't complain about it. And this family has a maid who could have done all the work for them. I'm sure they don't clean up perfectly all the time, but the parents are ok with it, and I think it's great to teach their kids such responsibilities from a young age instead of trying to do everything for them and then stressing themselves out. And when you are so busy doing everything for your children, you have less time spent actually getting to know your kids and seeing them as people and not just a living being that you feel responsible to keep alive and take care of. Again, leading me to my nex topic.

Be involved, and don't be a Martha
My mother, as the eldest of five children in a poor family, was stuck with doing most of the chores and taking care of her siblings. With that in mind, I can sort of understand why she's overbearing when it comes to housework and in her mind no one can do it like her. I also guess that it's because of her background that she did not make me help around the house at all when I was a kid... because she didn't want me to be unhappy about it (which I don't think was right, as I already explained above).

One bad effect is that she became a bit too much like Martha of the bible...always busy with things until she forgot the most important thing was spending time with people who mattered. When I was younger she'd spend a lot of time cooking, and then lot of time cleaning up, but in between she didn't take the time to sit down with the family and eat with us. It may not sound like a big deal, but today my dad acknowledges that her being M.I.A. during meal times has had its negative effects, and so do I. As a kid, most of the day is spend at school, doing homework, playing games, etc, while dad is at work and mum is doing stuff around the house (or working too, these days). Meal time is one of the few times a family sits down together and has opportunity to talk. If you can't be bothered to do so, you miss out on getting to know your family better. Eventually it became such that during meal times, we'd all just eat whenever we want to, whether or not anyone else was there with us. So I learned to be ok with eating alone, and doing pretty much anything on my own, and now instead of wanting to live with family, I'd just rather live alone. Which is of course not only a result of mum not being there at meal times, but due to a combination of other things like losing the ability to be open with people, and the regular warzone going on at that place I'm supposed to call a home.  The ability to be completely independant is good, but living alone in a world of 7 freakin' billion people? You don't need to do the math to know that's probably not how life is supposed to be. People don't live alone coz' they really want to. It's because they feel that circumstances made it such that it is their only or best option.

Another thing is my mum never bothered with is getting to know my friends. I would have liked to invite friends over more often, but she wouldn't like it. The ridiculous reason being she hated cleaning up afterward. Rather than seeing it as an opportunity to know the people your children hang out with and being involved in their lives, she focused on the petty issue of getting the house messy which I could have easily helped out with. Which is also probably the reason why she is unable to trust my ability to judge people's character. After all, if you can't be bothered to find out what your children's friends are really like, you can only guess that she's probably hanging out with some druggie losers or conjobs out for money.

 Actions speak louder than words
One of the funny things about my mum is that she somehows believes that the way she behaves will not impact me whatsoever. My mum is always picking on my dad and getting mad at him for something. My dad is a pretty cool-mannered guy but he annoys me sometimes too for the same reasons that annoy my mum. So when I was young, I would get impatient with him easily. Even today, I still do but I try to control it. But because my mum feels children must respect their parents, she would get mad at me whenever I got impatient with my dad. In other words, in her mind, it's ok for her to degrade him in front of me, but I, under no circumstances am I allowed to behave the same way towards him. Even the suggestion that I picked up my behaviour from her sends her into a fit. My own father even said to me that the only reason I behave that way is because it's the only thing I've observed all my life from my mum.

In other words, it's ok to be a hypocrite just coz' you're the mum. Not. Seriously, children learn from observation, and if you think it'll be easy for them to ignore it just because you tell them to, expect to be disappointed.

Be supportive and respect their opinions
This should be a necessity in any relationship, but for some parents, such a concept totally flies over their head. In the not-so-good old days when times were tougher, and my grandparents were struggling to make ends meet, I can sort of understand if the priority was to focus on getting enough money to survive instead of spending quality time with your children. I did not know my mother's father at all as he died before I was born, but what I'm told, he was a strict disciplinarian who felt it was most important to ensure his 5 children, including my mum who was the eldest, always towed the line. As such, he was never close to his children and their opinions did not matter. All that mattered was that they obeyed him.

One would think that growing up having her voice suppressed by her father would make her want to it differently for her children as well. Unfortunately it didn't quite turn out that way. Anytime I had a difference of opinion with her, she would take it as an argument and me being rebellious. As the child, I had to respect my mum and dad and just do what they said. When I went to Sunday School as a kid, her hope was not that I would become a good Christian. She only wanted me to become a good daughter, i.e. one who would obey my mother and father just like in the 10 commandments. She didn't quite count on me actually wanting to get more involved in church activities and camps (which she also restricted me from joining, again for my 'protection'). So as kid, I tried to explain to her about why I wanted to join all these so-called 'dangerous' extracurricular activities, i.e. my nature trips, my church camps, me wanting to visit old ladies, and she'd always take it as I'm the rebellious little upstart who refuses to obey her mum.

Even in discussion with other family members, whenever there was a topic that came up where I agreed with someone else instead of her, she also wouldn't like it, and she took it as a form of betrayal.

If that was not bad enough, the few times I did try to be open to her about something, she'd have something negative to say about it. Like in my previous job when I was having problems with my boss and wantedto quit. When I told her about my problem, her first reaction was that maybe my boss was being difficult because I was the one with the attitude problem. This, by the way, was the same boss who refused to allow me to attend my own brother's wedding in the US even though I told him months before that my plane ticket was booked and I was one of the bridesmaids. And I had TWO jobs prior to that where I had no problems with my bosses. Why did my mum have to immediately assume the worst about me when I was trying to tell her my problem?

It should come as no surprise that these days I no longer talk to my mum. I refuse to tell her anything personal about my life and I would rather not spend time around her even if I'm not talking, coz' usually she's be complaining about something. I know she wishes I would spend more time with her. She even recently told me that I can talk to her about anything. Which in my head was really funny considering in all my experience, anytime I do try to talk to her about anything, it just goes downhill from there. If I tell her all my problems, I'd have to tell her that most of my problems are a result of her behaviour. And I'm not interested in experiencing the backlash that will come out of that revelation.

Perhaps the root of the problem can be summed up in my last point:

Be positive in life
Obviously my mother is not a ray of sunshine. Her negative outlook on everything not only affects her but her whole family and her constant complaining and refusal to listen to any opinion other than her own does nothing but demoralizes the people she cares about. I can't change my mum, I can only learn from it and hope other people can learn from it. As such, I personally make it a point that no matter how sucky my life is, I will try my best not to bring down the people around me.

And if I ever have kids, my only hope is that I don't screw them over too much.