Wednesday 9 September 2015


What Kind of Memory You Want to Leave Behind as a Mom?

I have so few pictures of my time together with my mum as I was growing up,
but the fond memores stayed in my mind.
This is one of the rare pictures of my mum bringing my brother and me to Botanica Gardens,
and I took part in a drawing competition (my broher wasn't interested)
Needless to say, I didn't win anything, but that wasn't important.
What was important was that I was with my mum, and we did things together.
Btw, the girl in green, wow, she was good in her art, and it was really beautiful. She was one of the winners.
In this picture, I was the girl in the red dress, and my mum was the one in the strip T-shirt and blue pants.

How do you want to make memories with your children?

My question is not how do you want your children to remember you, but how do you want to make memories with your children?

The difference with the former and the latter is time.

Your child can remember you with love and respect, but you might still not have made memories with your child.

For example, I know of someone who remembers his mum with love and respect, but there is not much shared memories with her. His mum was a Full-Time Working Mom (FTWM).

So, what kind of memory do I want J to remember, when he leaves home? How much of me will he have of his childhood memories? If so, would it be fond memories?

When I think of my own childhood, I have fond memories of my mum making lunch and dinner in the kitchen for the family, everyday without fail. Images of my brother, sister and I sitting at the table having dinner flashed back, and flooded my heart with warmth. My mum cooked the food laboriously. She cooked it with love. She cooked it diligently.

When I fell sick, I had fond memories of my mum being there to nurse me throughout the night. My mum could do so, because she did not have to wake up to go to work the following day.

Although my mum could not help me with English, Maths or Science, she helped me with Chinese. When I recall my childhood, I recall my mum giving me 听写  (Chinese spelling). I used to get the range of 90% to 100% marks in the Chinese examinations throughout my primary school. The high Chinese standard I obtained was all thanks to my mum.

I have fond memories of my mum bringing me to swimming classes, reading her newspapers while waiting for my brother and me to finish our class.

Mid-Autumn Festival event organised by the Holland Village CC.
From right: My brother, me and my best childhood friend, Meimei

I have fond memories of going to the NTUC supermarket with my mum to buy groceries. I recall going to the wet-market with my mum every morning to buy vegetables and meat.

Looking back, my mum was there for us children. I have never doubted my mother’s love for me. I rested securely in her love, and still do today, although with age... our roles have reversed.

My mum could do all these for the family and me, because she was a Stay-At-Home Mom (SAHM). My mum did not have much education. So the opportunity cost of going out to work was very low. She would not be giving up a high salary.

And me as a mom today?

Cooking dinner is a struggle for me everyday. I can make it. But I am in a survival mode, because I am operating on Just-In-Time (JIT) concept. Sure, I can choose to buy take-away dinner. Sure, we can eat in restaurants everyday if we choose to. Sure, we can even have a maid to delegate cooking and ironing (we already have cleaning help). But is this the kind of memories I want to leave behind?

Just packets of take-away dinner on the table? (Sure, I can put it onto nice plates which I do, but it is not the same.) Always stressing to make it home on time after work? Always rushing so that we can have a bed time that will allow me to wake up in time for work the following day?

I asked Mr. FECS, what kind of childhood memory he has of his mum?

Not much. No doubt, he respects his mum and love her. But there wasn't much memories of doing things together. His mum was a FTWM. It is a matter of priorities, given the same amount of time.

In the modern world, it is of course important for women to be financially independent. It is good for power balance and equality in the marriage. Before I departed for Denmark 12 years ago, the parting words of advice that my Finance Director gave to me was, "Elaine, remember this always, you have to be financially independent and have your own job." She wished me well in Denmark. I am very grateful for her advice, and I still do today. She did it really for my good. It is very true of course. So I know full well the risks that SAHMs have taken.

There are trade-offs in life.

If I choose to rest securely in my financial independence, I gain power, respect and recognition from the society, but I do not have so much time with my child to do the simple daily things. I won’t be able to make home-cooked food for my child everyday. When J falls sick (thankfully he hardly does), my whole daily system is close to collapse since I am fully stretched juggling work and family.

Sure, I did manage to do many activities with J even when I was a FTWM, and I am proud of my achievements. I can do it and I have become highly efficient and effective at doing it. And I get the thrill of performing JIT stunts that allowed me to save time. But it is not without cost. I am always juggling. Although we manage somehow, it will be more enjoyable if I do not have such a punishing schedule. (And of course, I am the one who is punishing myself, since I choose to do it all).

We can do a thorough cost-and-benefit analysis of FTWM vs. SAHM, but at the end of the day, the key question boils down to - what kind of memories do you want your children to have of their childhood with you?

It is not even because as SAHM, we can be there for our children to coach them in their school work, although this is a positive by-product of SAHM. Really, it is because as SAHM, we can be there for our children during their growing up years, and as we all know, children grow up at lightning speed.

No doubt, I want J to remember me as a mom who is always there for him, in terms of time. Not just the vacations that we take him to, but the DAILY LIFE that we have together. Not just the expensive toys that we buy for him, but the DAILY ACTIVITIES we do with him.

Some low-income families cannot be with their children, because they have no choice but to take on additional jobs to bring home the bread. Some high-income families too cannot be with their children, because the opportunity cost of letting go of that well-paid  job is just too high.

It is such a difficult decision…

Now I am beginning to understand the wisdom from the Bible when it says that it is a blessing to be neither rich nor poor, but to have just enough:

“…give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” Proverbs 30:8

The key point is what kind of memories do I want to make with my child?

No one can have it all. Power, respect and recognition from the world through a well-paid job, or a simple life with lots of time with my child?

I am reflecting on this question currently, and hopefully I won't live my life with regrets about my choice 15 years from now when J is grown up and moves away from home.

Here are some other moms' experiences to provide for a more balanced view point:

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