Just the other day, my two daughters (aged 4 and 5) got into a screaming match after one of their usual evening showers. My younger one had accused her sister of not using soap to bathe while my elder one, full of righteous indignation at the wrongful accusation, had screamed back at her. Both of them were fixed in an intense stare-off for a good five minutes.
In the corner, my husband and I were stifling our laughter, because how often do you hear little girls say “I’m angry with you” in such utter seriousness? We had decided in the moment that we were going to let our daughters resolve their own problems with each other.
We were mirroring mimamoru, a Japanese “hands-off” childcare technique, that is being practised in the girls’ preschool. Instead of intervening in every situation, mimamoru or “watching over” encourages parents to allow their children to work things out on their own.
While all the back and forth shouting was going on, I was wondering at the back of my mind if the high-pitched voices were able to penetrate the walls of my HDB flat. It was 7pm (not quite the quiet hours of 10.30pm to 7am yet), and my doors and windows were all shut, but I still worried if my neighbours would think I was abusing my children.
Recently, a Singapore mum shared on Facebook that her neighbour complained that her 5-month-old baby was crying too loudly and disturbing them while they were working from home.
According to Geralyn Yeh, the neighbour asked her to close her main door during the day. She also posted the unsigned handwritten note, which urged her to be more considerate.
Yeh shared that the neighbour had come over to shout at her helper about the baby’s cries while she was not home.
In her Facebook post, Yeh said that in return, she wrote a letter to the neighbour to explain the situation.
In the letter, Yeh highlighted that crying is a baby’s natural way of communicating its needs.
“For infant, they can get real irritating with their high pitch screaming or crying but that’s the way they communicate and I do not have the magic to stop her from crying or make her grow up faster so that she can communicate without crying (sic),” she wrote.
Yeh continued to pepper the letter with sarcastic remarks such as giving her baby “a stern warning” and asking the neighbour to contact NEA, HDB or the police for other suggestions to cope with the noise.
Yeh signed off the letter, reaffirming her view of the situation, as the “parent of the innocent child”.
On a Reddit thread – which garnered over 300 comments – about this incident, many Redditors compared a crying baby to renovation work.
Hikarimo98 wrote: “I was doing my test online at home. And guess what? A… drill ram through the air for 2 hours. Raging but helpless.”
Some thought the neighbour should calm down but still gave her the benefit of the doubt.
ChoiceScarfMienfoo wrote: “I felt bad for everyone involved including the suffering neighbour until I saw that they had gone to shout at the helper. Hello the helper is innocent one, not even the parents leh, you shout for ****, power trip is it? Settle it amicably la.”
Sanguineuphoria added: “Parent sounds very pissed off so I would take it with a pinch of salt. Maybe neighbour poked their head through the open door like “hey could you keep it down!!” = shouting/scolding. Idk what the neighbour said also.”
Some Redditors, however, wondered if Yeh had overreacted.
Sputnikcosmo wrote: “I have not lived in Singapore long enough to understand the culture. But in any part of the world, I would believe that the right thing to do was to check on the neighbour to see if there is something wrong with the baby and if they need any help.
“If it is repeated, it may be a good idea to speak personally in the right tone (asking for help tone) to explain about the impact on the work and see if there is something that can be done about this. Also, explain that I have already explored having a headphone. I would also think that it is quite OK to have some disturbance while WFH and it is expected that work will be impacted.
“The letter above is also imo in the wrong spirit. I would have just written that I am sorry for the inconvenience but happy to discuss ways in which we can address this. And that is possible only if you show up and speak and not remain anonymous. And if not, please feel free to report or speak to the police etc to see if they have any suggestions.
“Sarcasm deteriorates the situation more than anything else. The letter is an example.”
Agreeing, Redditor e-tunnelsunshine chimed in, “Totally agree with this. Just from reading this letter, I’d think a reasonable solution would be for the parents to shut their house doors but ventilate the house using their windows (like most households do). And any sound that comes through even after closing the door needs to be understood, can’t stop a baby from crying!
“Both the neighbour and the parents did not handle this well… All that rage and sarcasm. Of course, we don’t know what exactly happened but just by judging from this I don’t think either party reacted well!”
One Redditor, rekabre, warned of entitled parents:
“Most everyone here seemed so supportive of the mother and applauding her response but I felt the ‘suck it up’ and ‘how dare you complain’ attitude just seemed like the usual entitled parent.
No matter how much you ‘can’t help’ (subjective) the problem, you can’t just dismiss the other people suffering your problem.”
Kindness is a two-way street
Personally, I am glad I live in a young estate with neighbours who are around my age and understand the challenges of being a parent with young children.
I have neighbours who have a 7-year-old on the autistic spectrum. Every other day, I can hear her screaming. However, it lasts only a few minutes.
Sometimes, I can also hear some of my neighbours’ young kids crying and being reprimanded by their parents. Some of my neighbours have confessed to me that they have sometimes left their crying children out in the corridor to teach them a lesson. Similarly, I have also done my fair share of leaving my kids outside my door (just for a few minutes) if they get out of hand.
Thus, on top of the usual shriek of planes flying over my estate during the day, I have become accustomed to loud noises. My solution usually is to plug in my headphones and play music when working from home.
Kindness is a two-way street filled with tolerance and empathy. Judging or jumping to conclusions without first understanding the other party’s situation and challenges is a recipe for disharmony. As fellow residents, it also makes our home environment less pleasant if we have to tiptoe around neighbours we have problems with.
In my case, I’m glad my doors were closed that day when I was “practising” mimamoru with my children. Because even though I know my neighbours won’t complain, with all of us accustomed to constantly being around children, I think they deserve to enjoy what little peace they can get.
I know that they would do the same for me.