We were at a dinner function when I glanced from the corner of my eye and saw my daughter, all of 7 year old, reading intently a write up on Taylor Swift and bobbing her head to the singer’s tune which I eventually learnt to be ‘Shake it off’.
Funny, that was exactly what I had trouble doing – ’shaking off’ the reality that my daughter, who barely a year ago, was still singing musical highlights from Rodgers and Hammerstein with me in the car, has just added the likes of ‘Tay Tay’ and One Direction to her repertoire. Few nights later, a 4 minute tap-dancing routine at her school’s annual concert just capped off her Primary 1 year. Just like that, she’s going to Primary 2!!!
What a whirlwind year it has been. It felt just like yesterday that we were prepping her to ‘survive’ Primary 1 with routines, busying ourselves with pasting name labels on items and getting her school books, school shoes, school uniforms ready. Largely logistical and ‘operational’ issues. Honestly, while all these are important, we actually found ourselves having to confront other more pressing issues.
Let me recap in the capacity of a P1 Dad…in order of complexity some of these issues, from the least to most challenging.
You’ll be surprised how much canteens can teach a child. This is as real as the world would get for them now: Free market, wide spaces, myriad of choices and friends from all walks of life.
This was always the unnerving one for us – from counting money right to balancing her bowl of noodles, from managing her time in the canteen (and the playground) to making decisions on what to eat; from queuing up for food and how to handle seniors jumping queues (if any). Surprisingly, she handled those quite well and in fact relished the whole recess experience.
Our challenge was to teach her on buying the right type of food and not splurge on sweet drinks, snacks, chicken rice or roti prata everyday. Hygiene is also a concern. Habits such as washing of hands before eating and not using her hands to eat needed to be reinforced.
We’ve believe in parenting for life. So from the get-go, though we were tempted to send her wholesome home-cooked food daily, we decided to just let her make her own decisions in the canteen. Decision-making is an important aspect of growing up and it starts with simple everyday choices. As parents, we had to devote time to catch up with her, listen to her recounts of the school day and when she does open up, the wise thing to do is to hold our tongues, suspend judgement, be less critical of the decisions she had made and to openly talk about it in a non-threatening manner so that across time, she will learn to trust us and make more informed choices for herself. It’s tough but necessary.
There are some instances in life that you’ll remember exactly how they happen. This is one which came fast and furious. We were nary a term into her starting school and the question came when I picked her up from school one afternoon. “Daddy, when can I have a hand phone?” (Note: The question was not a ‘May I have’ but ‘When can I have’ – an indication of how prevalent mobile phones are in our lives and the influence it has on our kids.)
Honestly, we were temped to issue her a mobile phone especially since there were practical logistical concerns that needed to be addressed during the course of the school year (e.g. change of dismissal times, her need to contact us when she was unwell, we being held up in fetching her etc…) but after some thought, we decided to hold it off (for as long as we can).
We knew we were only delaying the inevitable and eventually, if we were to issue her a mobile phone, we would start with a non-smart phone as she may be too immature to handle the distractions that come in a SMART phone. For now, we decided she needs to build that sense of trust that comes from waiting…waiting for her parents, knowing that we will turn up (no matter how late it is) and having the patience to wait. As it turned out, there were only 3 instances in Pri 1 where she had to call us (from the General Office) to check if we were coming to fetch her (no thanks to massive traffic jams on the roads).
As she waited at the agreed pick up point, she made new friends…some from other classes and levels. Together they chatted, they played, they socialised and before long, we were there to pick her. These are things technology can’t replace: building trust and developing interpersonal skills.
Note: We did explain to her on the occasions (yes plural) that our intention is for her to focus in class, with one less thing to worry about losing (yes, losing things are common occurrences…no labeling can help unfortunately so parents, brace yourself) and also to trust that her parents will definitely come for her.
This increases the complexity scale. Despite being our only child for 6 years before her little brother came along, we’ve always exposed Dana to group settings where she can mingle and socialize, starting from as young as 4 months when she entered infant- care. Friends who know us tend to compliment Dana as a sociable, vivacious and outspoken girl but even then, there’s nothing like the ‘real world’ – being left on her own to fend for herself in a mainstream school where she starts to pick up some of the most complex skills in life: making good friends and making amends.
Yes, along with the ‘So and so is my best friend’, there are the occasional ‘So and so didn’t want to go with me during recess…’ or the ‘They didn’t want to talk to me/play with me’ episodes. There were also one or two times where the teacher had to intervene and we were informed. ☹ Misunderstandings, misgivings, miscommunications are aplenty, even in Primary One. They are all a part of growing up and there is no way we can shield her. Just like how we she learnt to cycle and roller-blade – the real test lies in the falling down and how to pick herself up after.
Mixing around peers from privileged homes inevitably throws us another challenge – ‘keeping up with the Jones’’ – The ‘That girl has this ‘ and ‘She has that’ hints…followed by requests. It gets tougher especially since we do not subscribe to using materials things as rewards. Certain behaviors and values ought to be acquired without the carrot of a extrinsic rewards e.g. integrity, honesty and hard-work etc. For us, we affirm and encourage her through her love languages: spending quality time together, speaking words of affirmation and showing physical affection – hugs, embraces and kisses. Ok, occasionally, we do go for that ice-cream treat which she relish.
Everything seems legitimate. From our own work commitments to CCA and enrichment classes. There are multitudes of ‘legit’ reasons to steal time away from our P1 child. The school will offer a wide array of good CCAs. In addition, there’s the external enrichment that tempts us parents with its promises of giving our children that ‘edge’. Additionally, there are also party invites which are hard to turn down and tons of errands to be run in between. All demanding our time and attention. Often, these legitimate reasons rob us of contact time with our kids. Fearing that our children may ‘lose out’ if they do not attend this or that enrichment/CCA hence filling up their free time with lessons after lessons. We parents relegate ourselves to mere chaperons and chauffeurs then lament about it.
Ironically, contact time is the solution to most the challenges of parenting. The time where we can communicate, bond, listen, talk or just being around our kids. Many times we had to sit down, slow down and probe our daughter before we can communicate a point across. Reminding her about good habits and the need to eat right. Patiently explaining our rationale about not issuing her the mobile phone so early. Embracing and praying with her as she share deeper about conflicts with friends and other issues she’s facing in school. Lending a listening ear, helping her sort out her emotions and guiding her to process her thoughts then make the right decisions.
Beneath these seemingly petty issues are issues related to the matter of the heart. The trials and experiences of life will shape our kids’ thoughts and beliefs. Therefore, we have to be there for them when these teachable moments arise. Being busy for our children is different from being with them. The latter requires more time, patience and energy. Energy to stop the momentum and block out the noises of a busy life, patience to listen to the heart and time to be present with our kids. This is perhaps the greatest challenge we face even as Dana begins her Primary 2 journey.
The ‘Last ‘C’
The last ‘C’ that may be toughest for any P1 parent to handle is ‘Coming to Terms‘. As much as I’m a fairly rational person, I have difficulty accepting the reality that our daughter, once a baby, is slowly but surely, gaining her wings to independence. That perhaps one day in the not so distant future, she would no longer listen to us or require our help….that her peers would rank more important than us and she would prefer their companionship over ours. The reality that time has shortened our children’s childhood and hastened their maturity. The reality that moments (be they well-spent or not) will become memories and sadly, the reality of lost opportunities on days when I, her Daddy, cannot be there to witness her every milestone or shield her from every heartache.
But just as time erodes, it also presents new beginnings. I take comfort that the passage of time will not take away the reality that our children, will always be ours to cherish and we have the sacred duty of parenting them forever.
We’ll like to hear from you, our readers and friends…
1) What are some of your struggles parenting young school-going kid(s)?
2) How much of what we share resonate with your own experiences?
3) What are some of your personal thoughts about having contact time with your children?
Enjoy this home video which I spent my New Year holidays and many subsequent late nights putting together…
Note: Permission to Procrastinate – Sometimes…sorry, many times, as parents, we refuse to acknowledge the obvious. This is one example: I actually started drafting this post at the start of the Nov/Dec school vacation (6 weeks ago) but had taken great liberty to procrastinate completing it for the simple reason that, I do not wish to acknowledge the reality of my daughter growing up. But as time has it, she has. So I have to face that reality so that I can grow with her and cherish every moment of her growing up process because even these moments will pass…soon. (January 2016)