“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.” Isaiah 40:26 (NIV)
“ Daddy, what’s special about me? Do I have talents?” the daughter asked.
Now that the daughter has started Primary 1 proper, the entire family has made significant lifestyle changes to go to bed rather early. So imagine my surprise when I was asked the above question by the inquisitive daughter at bedtime last week (thanks to the devotional book which we were reading which elaborated on the verse above). The devotion expounded that God created us and knows each of us intimately; that God has a special plan for each of us and has put in each of us special talents, which set the girl thinking.
Though my mind was already half-asleep, the coincidental timing of the question jolted me up. Particularly so since the wife and I are still in the midst of sorting out our routines which involves prioritizing of her activities now that she has her school time table and CCAs to contend with.
It also didn’t help that our daughter has passed the selection trial for the school’s gym team and was extremely excited to start training. However, after we received the training schedule (3 hours per session, 3 sessions weekly), we conducted our first serious ‘parent conference’ among husband and wife where we aligned our views on how much time should be devoted to CCAs at this age; about what she liked versus what we would like her to pursue etc…All of these well within the first 2 weeks of her primary school life! As we would like to take into account the daughter’s preference in our decision making, we held a mini family conference where we had a good chat before coming to a consensus why it would be better off that she rejects the invitation to the gym team. That, being the first exercise in making a difficult choice…where she willed herself to follow the head instead of the heart obediently, as a young six year old!
This episode came as a stark reminder to me that our daughter’s journey in the education system is one that is far MORE than just doing well in academia. It is very much part of her journey of self-discovery and as her parents, it is our duty and obligation to guide her along without being hijacked by our own ambitions and plans for her (said easier than done!).
On this note, I could almost hear my own mother’s voice saying, “ Next time when you become a parent, you will know… It’s my money, so study what I tell you to!” This was in response to my protest of having to study accounting instead of taking up a scholarship to pursue music. I hope I won’t substitute my mum’s voice with my own in years to come. We shall see.
It is a tough call for every parent. Whatever your beliefs, every parent aspires for their children to discover their own talents and find their own footing in the society eventually. But how much do we intervene? How do we tread the fine balance between letting our children discover what they can become instead of what we would like them to become?
I’ve decided to pen my thoughts down, interestingly, for the future me (which I think I will need). Rather than fill my daughter’s days with tons of ‘legitimate’ and enticing Enrichment, I will endeavor to make time and space for these other ‘E’s instead:
Engagement: We are parents. We are not drivers nor minders (nor monthly fee payers). But sadly, sometimes we relegate ourselves to those positions. Do the enrichment activities which we enroll our children rob us of time as parent and child or as a family? While the swim coach or the maths tutor may teach them the required skills to excel in that specific disciplines, let us remember that it is we parents who need to ground them in kinship, self-esteem, self-acceptance and godly character, regardless if they are the school’s star swimmer or best junior gymnast.
Empowerment: Instead of investing their time heavily in the honing very specific skills (with the aim to ace exams or win championships), we can channel that time fruitfully to equip them with intrinsic life values to navigate this big confusing world. Values like self-confidence, integrity, self-control, critical thinking etc and the simple awareness that we can leave this world a better place for all to live in if we do our part to slow global warming or animal extinction etc…A child’s character and world view can be easily distorted if we parents lose sight of our priorities and get sucked into the ‘rat race’.
Exposure: Exposure is essential, no parent would argue with that. But the question is ‘how much’ and ‘when’. Certainly at Primary 1 – the first year of formal schooling would be too premature to have her so much of her time curtailed to a specific activity at the expense of other fun experiences and time with friends and family. While some may think we are foolish to give up a place in the school team (and there goes her chance at DSA), we believe it’s beneficial to give our daughter the opportunity to try a myriad of experiences rather than being ‘pigeon-holed’ so early. With greater exposure comes greater adaptability, courage and resilience. There’s no better time to allow children to discover their interests, strengths and talents than in (lower) Primary when the stresses of national examinations have yet to kick in!
Empathy: Enrichment sessions are often quite focused. Time is money, as far as coaches, tutors and parents are concerned. Therefore time for interaction and socialization are kept to the minimum. Moreover, certain enrichment lessons promote a heightened sense of competitiveness. At such a young age, we would like her to interact with people from a diverse range of backgrounds that she can learn to understand, empathize and articulate.
As we parent our children, let us remember that theirs is primarily a journey of self-discovery: to know themselves, their strengths, their abilities, who they really are so that ultimately, they find their happy place in the society. As a Dad, I pray with God’s help, I will play my rightful and unbiased cards right so that my kids can discover their strengths in the stars and be the best God has called them to be…I’ll end with this poem which sums up my thoughts aptly.
“Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
Excerpt by Khalil Gibran