7 December 2016
Recently I asked a group of expats parents about their biggest challenges raising kids in Singapore. This isn’t to say that they felt their lot to be more difficult than other parents, but simply what they struggled with. One of issues I found most interesting was the challenge with parenting in a different context than the one you grew up in. Unless you yourself grew up as an expat in a major city, there will be significant differences from your experiences growing up to the ones your children are a part of. From the friendships they have to the transitions they navigate and how they spend their free time, there will be many differences. This also isn’t to say that your children would have grow up the same way you did had you stayed in your home country, (IPads are the bane of parents everywhere!), but it can be difficult to come to terms with the perceived loss.
I believe that one of the best ways to parent where you are is to take a good look at where you came from and take deliberate steps to decide where you’re going. I don’t mean travel. To effectively be the best parent you can be is to acknowledge your childhood, know your current context and deliberately move forward.
We as parents do our best given our circumstances. Knowing where you came from begins with acknowledging the hopes that you have for your kids and your expectations of what growing up “should” look like. These can be highlights from when you grew up or things you want your own kids be a part of. Was it biking in your neighbourhood with your best friend, playing a favourite sport in the street or having the freedom to explore? How about your children? What sorts of things do you see them doing or what would you like to see? I’d encourage you to take a minute to think about this list now – here are a few ideas to start with:.
Once you have a thought about this, the second step is coming to terms with some of the differences. On your side of the list, there will be experiences that aren’t possible for your kids growing up here in Singapore. They won’t enjoy all of the highlights you did growing up or have all the same experiences. This can be particularly tough for expat parents as they came to Singapore for opportunities for themselves and their families, never imagining what they would give up. It can be easier to accept the losses when you see the new opportunities that are available to your children, side by side. For the difficult losses, sharing memories of your childhood with your children is one way to pass them on. Much like my father regaling me or stories of walking to school uphill – both ways – in meters of show… wait, I think that’s something else entirely.
There will be other experiences that you hold so close, that are a part of your core beliefs, that you won’t be willing to let go. They may be things you are still passionate about today. Perhaps it is a connection to nature that you don’t feel is possible in a big city, or developing empathy towards the elderly which is difficult without many older people in your child’s sphere. These core elements bring us to the third step – deliberate action.
Deliberate action begins with identifying the core belief that you feel isn’t being met. Take a look again at the list you generated earlier. Is there anything that is on your side that you feel passionate about that you absolutely want to be a part of your children’s experience growing up? Once you’ve figured that out, the next step is thinking up small (tiny!) actions that can start to address it. What can you do to bring in small pieces of that experience to your kids? If you want them to appreciate nature more fully, perhaps it starts with taking regular walks in the jungle or along the beach, or going fishing at a reservoir. Share your joy and your passion, but build slowly. A lifelong love of nature doesn’t come from a weekend blitz of kayaking and trekking. It’s through small actions that we can start to build momentum, appreciation and capacity for new ways of living.
By Phil Meehan – Canadian Certified Counsellor / Professional Certified Coach