“Please Sir; please let me know how she is doing in school…”
As an educator for close to two decades, I’ve interacted and conversed with scores of parents of all backgrounds and from all walks of life. From talking to them about their child’s progress at Parent Teacher Meetings to at times, listening and trying to help them find a way out of domestic issues at home. But never have I come across this, a handwritten letter penned from a Mother who is currently incarcerated in Changi Prison.
In the letter, the Mom explained that she has somehow lost contact with her parents whom she has appointed custodians of her daughter, a young 13 year old studying in our school. She was concerned how her daughter is doing – was she behaving in school, what sort of friends she hangs out with and if she “respects” her teachers. The short letter ended with a plea to the school to “please care for my daughter” and “tell her to study hard and finish school”.
I held the letter in my hand, lightly trembling. In all my years of meeting with parents, none moved me like this letter did. I visualised the Mother penning the letter in her moment of solitude. How painful the separation and how difficult it must be to condense all that she has to say to her daughter in a letter. Within the short truncated sentences (with the occasional grammatical errors) is the heart’s cry of a Mom which rang clear as a bell. Only that this is a parent whose love for her child reaches out from within the prison cell, desperately seeking help from someone, anyone, who can help her steer her daughter to the ‘right’ path, so that she can, in the letter’s parting words, “have a bright future” and never to ‘repeat her footsteps’.
Over the past months of the Nestle’s #NurtureYourChild project, we have asked friends and readers to share opinions on various parenting issues. Our first post was on the use of corporal punishment. It was eye-opening to note that the responses of local parents largely mirrored those from parents based in the United States (of which I am a member of an online parenting forum). Yes, there are parents who vehemently oppose the use of corporal punishment as though it is an act violating human rights but there were also those who said they would strategically use it should the circumstances call for it. This came as a surprise as I had always assumed Asian parents are stricter compared to our counterparts from ‘western’ countries who tend to adopt a more consultative, ‘counselling’ based approach with regards to child discipline.
As an educator, I know such softer approaches, though more time-consuming often yield longer lasting effects in behaviour modification. In addition, it does not subject our children to physical, emotional and psychological humiliation inflicted by the very people who profess to love them the most – their parents. There are also many enlightened parents who would adopt both approaches depending on the type of infractions committed – specifically any form of deliberate, wilful actions that compromise their safety would warrant some sort of corporal punishment, metered out in love, not anger (which is a lesson in self-restraint for parents too).
Some other parents shared that how their view of corporal punishment are very much shaped and influenced by how they were disciplined by their own parents. Whatever the responses, we saw one common theme: that parents all over the world had one common purpose – to instill good values in our children and bring our children up well to be good persons for the society.
Personally, my wife Angie and I have gleaned so much wisdom from these #NurtureYourChild social experiments…so much so we have actually taken time to reflect on our own parenting beliefs and repented in areas which we need to. The discussion of corporal punishment was a good precursor to the topic of Love Languages in our 2nd post. Our intentions are always for our children’s good but how do our children discern our love? Do they equate love with only happy moments?
The discussion of Love Languages had us pondering deeper about the effectiveness of our parenting styles. Each of us has different love languages which vary with our personalities. These affect our response to people, including that of our own parents, and the impact of their words and deeds have on us.
Our post came with a link for our readers to try out the Love Languages Quiz with their children’s – yes there’s one assessment tool for kids too! The challenge therefore is to speak our kids’ love languages to communicate our love for them so that their love tanks are always full and they need not look for affirmation or love from the wrong places. That can be tough especially if our children’s love languages are vastly different from our own. It gets tougher when you have more than one child for every kid has different preferred ways of being loved. Some crave quality time (and undivided attention) from the parents; others may be touched by our acts of service yet others may need to receive physical touch or gifts before they feel loved.
As I’m typing this post on board the flight back to Singapore, coincidentally, seated in the row before me are two of my ex-students who eventually married each other. They were trying to settle their baby in mid-flight. As a parent of a young toddler, I can totally identify with their parenting struggles but what was particularly heart-warming was that these two students who grew up in less than ‘perfect’ homes (having their fair share of family problems and discipline issues in school) have undergone such drastic transformation with parenthood. What I saw in front of me were unreserved love for their baby – no tempers flared, no profanities uttered – a far cry from their younger selves. Instead, they were patiently coaxing their baby to quiet slumber, showing overflowing love and working as a tag team throughout this red-eyed flight. I’m sure what I witnessed was only the tip of the iceberg in their parenting efforts. I can’t help but beamed with pride at these two young parents.
No one said that parenting, or at least good parenting, is easy. From the moment our child arrives in this world, they are ours for life. Whatever age our children are, we will always love them come what may, because it is more than more than just a romantic notion or extension of our family unit as a married couple. By bringing children into the world, we are not only responsible for loving this life, this person, but we are responsible to ensure that this life propagate the love we give them and make their future, our collective future, better than our present. This is a role which parents, across time immemorial, have always striven to do well, even if it means writing from within a prison cell.
May we continue to encourage and spur one another on in this parenting journey, as we give our best everyday to nurture our children.
Please watch this montage which Nestle Singapore has specially put together for our family. It is a snapshot of the our parenting journey, which details how despite the heartaches, disappointments and mistakes, the happy smiles of our children make it all worthwhile.
Disclaimer: This post is part of a collaboration with Nestle Singapore to encourage parents to share their views and journeys in parenting.
Beautiful Chaos says
Being an educator myself, I know how just how you felt when you received that letter from that mummy who is in prison. I have had kids whose parents are in prison but never once have I received a letter like that. I really hope the mummy’s little girl is doing well and that they would one day be reunited. That the girl would be able to share with her mum all about her life and to give her mum a hug, just because she is her mother.
Ai Sakura says
I hope that some way, somehow, the mother would be able to reunite with her daughter. I can only imagine the pain from being separated from your child and not knowing how she is growing up without you too.
It’s lovely that you got to see your ex-students happily married and having a family of their own too. I go back to see my old teachers sometimes too and they always tell me how very rewarding it makes their job when their students come back to visit and they see how far we’ve come since we left school 🙂
AI @ Sakura Haruka
What a beautiful post. I don’t know what to say really. It moved me and I really hope that this student of yours whose mom is in prison will grow up loving herself, loving her mom. The bleeding heart of a mom all written in a letter. A lette full of worries and love.
I must say parenting isn’t difficult and yet it isn’t easy. Sometimes we contradict ourselves. Sometimes we don’t know if we are doing it right. There is so much to learn and I’m glad we’ve got this group of parents here sharing stories and insights like yours to inspire readers like me!
I love love love your post! It is so heart-warming.. and reading about the letter from prison, it really makes me feel that there is no greater love than a parent’s love to their children. 🙂
Phoebe Lau says
Hoping that some day in the future, the mother will reunite with her child. And also she will receive news that her daughter is doing well too. Parenting is never easy and I find myself learning as I watch my little ones grow.. We made mistakes.. we laugh, we cry .. there are moments of happiness, frustrations, anger and joy. But our love for them will not change.
Lady J says
No one said that parenting, or at least good parenting, is easy. I like that quote very much and could relate. As a parent to a young toddler, I’m learning each day what it takes to be a parent. There are good days and bad days but having a community like this helps!
And that letter must have been difficult to read. I hope one day the mother will reunite with her child. It must be so very difficult to be apart from her child.
Reading the start of this post makes my eyes well up. I can feel her pain and longing being separated from her child. It so true, no matter what parenting stance we take, we all just want the best for our children. Thanks again for sharing your beautiful thoughts.