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Editor’s Note: This is author, life coach and mum of six, Dr Jade Kua’s story, as told to John.
My six-year-old daughter is very difficult to put to bed. She’s afraid of the dark.
I can do two things — I could brush it aside and say: “Don’t be silly, there’s no bogeyman under the bed, just go to sleep!”
Sure, that would be one way of forcing her to go to bed. But I’m not sure how much sleep she’d get!
The other way was to talk to her about it.
“Why are you afraid of the dark? What other fears do you have? How do you think you can overcome these fears?”
As a parent, you may read this, and go: “Well, that sounds nice, but I’m not sure how to make time for that.
Or you may think: “My kids are too young for these conversations.”
At first, I thought so too. But being a mother to three children and three stepchildren has taught me otherwise.
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In fact, I’ve learnt many lessons from my family.
One helpful attitude I’ve taken has always been to remind myself that I’m still learning.
This way, rather than telling myself, “I’m wrong, I made a mistake,” I give myself more leeway for growth, through error.
As parents, we aren’t perfect. And we will never be perfect. But an attitude of learning helps us to be better parents, day by day, rather than thinking that there’s an endpoint that we must reach.
It’s not a point. It’s a process.
Parenting is hard
Let’s be honest, parenting is hard.
As parents, we’ve all had times when we’ve had our children do something, or say something and we find ourselves thinking: “Are they really worth all that effort? What am I doing this for?”
So having this attitude of learning, rather than reaching for a certain ideal or standard of parenting, can help us hold on to hope for the journey.
My parenting journey is a little different. It started with stepchildren first!
Sometimes I like to joke that I’ve done PSLE four times now. But I’m not sure it’s a feat. In fact, instead of it being easier each time I do it, it becomes harder!
Being a mum to older children right off the bat, helped me to quickly see that all children are different and unique in their own way.
Parenting through intentional conversations
As a doctor, I advise my patients on what they should do, but they have the final say. For example, I might prescribe you an antibiotic treatment plan. But what you choose to do with it is up to you.
As a coach, I don’t dictate. I partner. That’s why building a space for intentional conversations matter.
Unlike being a doctor, who deals with a patient who is ill, a big part of being a coach is recognising that the client is whole and well and capable. Having that unconditional positive regard for your client is very important.
Yet, I’ve come to realise that while we partner adults in our life journeys, as parents, we tend to brush aside our children’s input.
How often have you said something like this: “‘Do it because that’s the rule’, or ‘You live in my house’, or ‘Mummy (or Daddy) knows better?’”
Why does it have to be that way?
We are all flawed as grown-ups. We’re always discovering new things about ourselves. We think we know everything, and then suddenly when we turn older, we realise we don’t.
That’s when many of us get a midlife crisis!
Sometimes I wonder: “Who am I to really go and tell children exactly what to do?”
There is a balance
Of course, there will be times when we should be our children’s parents and not their coaches. There are some non-negotiables, where we should guide them in a certain way.
But there are other times when we can coach our children through conversations.
In coaching, coaches speak very little, and clients speak a lot.
Conversing with our children is building a space for questions, and then recognising that there’s no wrong answer. It’s about asking a question, waiting, listening, and really having a conversation.
Be curious. Ask simple questions like: “‘Tell me more’, or ‘Why do you think that way?’”
These can go a long way in helping the child to see that you’re not there to instruct them, but to listen.
Often, as parents, we listen to reply, rather than listen to hear.
What if you held back your replies or silenced the thoughts in your head for a moment, and allowed your child to share, without waiting for a moment to cut in?
Of course, holding intentional conversations takes time.
Many parents ask me: “How do you make time for this, given the busyness of life?”
Parenting is what you prioritise
The simple answer is that making time is about what you prioritise at that moment.
While training to be a coach, I went through a lot of personal growth as well.
Having coaching sessions with my adult clients led me to see how such 40-minute conversations can be so significant. I thought: “What if I could give these 40 to 60 minutes to my child?”
When my children come to me for something, I could do two things: I could choose to work (write an email, prepare a presentation, read a report) while they give me their answers. Or I could be fully present and pay attention.
Beyond just paying attention to what they are saying, what if we start to pay attention to what they are not saying? Maybe they are not talking about their real fears?
It could be about not meeting your expectations. Or the nightmare they have of failing their exams. Or other personal challenges that they have.
It’s about conversing with your child about what their definition of success is. It’s not just telling them your definition for success.
Do we know? Maybe we don’t, because we never asked them. We simply told them what we wanted.
Parenting is keeping a balance of listening to our children, but also guiding them.
It’s balancing push and pull. Knowing when to push them to greater heights, and when to pull them in, for a big hug, to whisper in their ear: “Well done. You did great! I love you.”
That’s why I wrote “Good Night Marion” with Marion. To build a structured space through a book where we could frame these conversations about what matters to a child, not necessarily what is important to us as parents.
In Singapore, we like model answers and getting the how-to guide.
But there are no easy answers.
One way though, is to raise your awareness. This is important. It’s not raising your awareness of your relationship with your child. But it’s raising your awareness of you.
It’s listening to your body, and the signals it’s giving you. Can you imagine? If you are feeling tired all the time, eating poorly, barely having enough time for your own wellbeing, how would you be in a good place to care for your child?
The old cliche goes: “In the event of an emergency on an aeroplane, put on your oxygen mask first, before you place your child’s.”
That piece of homespun wisdom works for parenting as well. If you can’t take care of yourself, you would find it increasingly difficult to listen to your child and give them the attention they need.
Parenting your own expectations
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There’s no perfect parenting. For different parents, different things work.
There’s a lot that we cannot control. The temptation is to look for the cookie cutter solution. Do X, try Y, and you will get Z!
I wish it were that easy. But it’s not.
No one’s expecting you to be the perfect parent.
But maybe you are expecting yourself to be the perfect parent.
That’s something you may want to ask yourself: “What am I expecting of myself as a parent?”
You’re allowed to mess up. To experiment. To make mistakes. And to apologise.
We aren’t perfect. No one’s expecting us to be.
For those interested in Good Night Marion, it is available here.