Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Delayed gratification: Test of true love

Being married, monogamous and yet having a meaningful relationship with one's spouse seems a tall order nowadays. Psychiatrist M Scott Peck's discourse on the topic of love differentiates between love and being "in love". Love is not a feeling but an activity, defined as the willingness to extend oneself for one's own and another's spiritual growth.

The notion of romantic love that seems to pervade society today engulfs me sometimes.

From reading Mills & Boon to watching Sex and the City, I am seduced to believe that I am not truly in love unless I have that incredible "I'm in love" feeling.

At times, I possess feelings of love for other men and am tempted to act on those feelings. In an age of regular iPhone upgrades, we sometimes wish we could upgrade our spouse or we would begin to look for alternatives.

One gets to see one's spouse in his better moments but more often in his worse. Therefore, when we meet other men, when the opportunity arises, it is easy to fall in love.

They seem more caring, more sensitive to our needs, more in tune to our emotions. They seem more handsome, respectable, strong and stable. These are signs of falling in love.

Has one ever wondered what would happen if these upgrades stay for a year or more? Being accustomed and addicted to the feeling of love, one would soon be looking for the next upgrade.

Peck warned us to be careful of the "in love" feeling for two reasons. First, falling in love is specifically an erotic experience, which explains why most adulterous relationships often focus on sex. Second, this feeling is always only temporary.

The test of true love is to practise delayed gratification. One would stop and think.

A genuinely loving individual would take loving, constructive action if feelings develop for another man: Walk away and stay committed to the person one has vowed to build a life with together.

This was first published in TODAY on 26th Dec 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

All you need to do is point your kids in the right direction

I refer to the letter "It's not the tool, but our own insecurities" (June 15) and the issue of sending children for tuition, for which the common reasons given include the need for them to do well, so as to climb the education ladder.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my family could not afford tuition. Our cousins always did well in school, and we hated family gatherings, where grades were compared.

Wisely, my father ignored such conversations and left us to struggle our way through.

All of us made it to university. Now, we all have families, and our cousins are engaging tutors. One of my neighbours is looking for a third tutor for her son, as she feels that two is not enough.

My friend spends her weekend chaperoning her youngest child from one enrichment class to another because her two elder sons were tutored into the gifted education programme.

But is this the only way?

If a child requires excessive tuition to gain a place in university, he might end up being learned and obtaining a degree for the workforce, but might miss out on education in its totality.

We chose not to engage any tutors for our children, believing that tuition, where the focus is on completing homework, doing one more worksheet or attempting one more assessment book, cannot fully develop the joy of discovery and learning.

Once our children discovered this joy, they became self-directed learners who found their own drive to study, to do well in examinations and, most important of all, to be educated.

Instead of tuition fees, we invested in a good library for our children. They love going to Bras Basah Complex, where there are many second-hand bookshops. A high literacy level is the best gift for children, who would then be able to learn anything on their own.

Parents should be there to encourage, probe and challenge their children and to provide opportunities for them to ask questions.

To prepare children for the 21st-century workforce, where information can be outdated within six months, where lifelong learning is a necessity and not a luxury, parents must provide children with the learning process, not learning outcomes such as grades.

Once the process is in place, the results would come.


The writer has one child studying in Nanyang Technological University, one in National University of Singapore and one completing a diploma with At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy

This letter was first published in Today on teh 20th June 2012.

Proverbs 22:6

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sex education: Parents' gift to children
by Frances Ess
My friend has taught his three daughters, aged six to 11, never to sit on any man's lap, for they may be unaware of the effect they may have on the man.

I am impressed with his ability to protect his daughters from unnecessary risks.

Thirteen years ago, when my eldest son was 12, he was invited to go swimming with a stranger. He agreed but informed us first.

We confronted the stranger and, needless to say, were glad that they did not swim together.

The American Psychological Association estimates that 60 per cent of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members - i.e. family friends, babysitters, childcare providers and neighbours.

Child pornographers and other abusers who are strangers may contact children via the Internet.

While I do not have the data for Singapore, I feel that parents must take proactive steps to protect their children before it is too late.

My children have been trained to know that sexual advances from adults are wrong. We tell them what are "okay" and "not okay" touches, that no one must touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.

We maintain open communication, encourage them to ask questions and talk about their experiences.

After their eighth birthday, they can ask anything about sex. Before that age, they should just accept our instructions.

Some of their questions included how babies are formed, why men masturbate, whether a girl can have sex without getting pregnant and why watching pornography is wrong when most of their friends are already doing so.

One of their acquaintances even boasted that his supply of porn DVDs came from his father. Another child, who is 12, downloaded porn on his iPhone and shared it with his friends. It is a step away from acting out what they see.

Children are curious by nature.

So, parents need to answer these questions, not abdicate responsibility to schools, trusting naively that a few lessons on sexual education is enough.

These lessons provide only information, with no assurance that children would make the right decision as to their sexual experiences.

Children often act based on their attitudes towards an issue, attitudes anchored in a family's beliefs.

Different families have different beliefs, but some are common to all, for example, that our bodies are not objects to be toyed with.

Other beliefs, like on contraception, abortion, divorce, the role of masturbation, visiting a prostitute, are more challenging.

Adults compromise on some of these but may be unhappy if their children follow suit.

Parents have to examine their fundamental beliefs about sex and sexuality and walk the talk. Children are sharp; they know when we are insincere.

If they do not think us trustworthy in this aspect, they would seek other sources of information, such as friends, the Internet or adult magazines

Sex education is parents' most important gift to children, as any misinformation may harm their health in the form of sexually transmitted diseases.

We should start as soon as possible to inoculate our children against paedophiles.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

You are your mother's child

By Aubrey Ess, one of the children of MOS.

LAST Sunday, my family and I celebrated Mothers’ Day with a cake and a camera.

On a more essential level, we managed to spend time with mummy and grandma,treating the occasion as more of an opportunity to relate to our respective mothers.

The way I did it was to send my mother a cheeky SMS: “Mummy, you are a tower of coolness, comfort and cash”, to which we both shared a laugh.

Many advertisements seen leading up to Mothers’ Day were eager to bring mother and child together through a range of expensive gifts or holidays. I think, however, that we all know deep down that objects and vacations can never bridge any gap between two people.

On Mothers’ Day itself, an article in a newspaper asked Singaporean mothers
to grade themselves on how good a mother they have been.

Some felt that they did well because they tried their best, and others felt guilty for not being able to spend enough time with their children.

This was the deeper level of the importance of Mothers’ Day, with time spent not only in binding closer ties, but also in reflection.

I have three younger siblings. Over the years, I have participated in imparting
to them morals, behaviourial traits, and the mundane education of numbers
and letters. Consequently, today they are most like me than anyone else I know,for I helped make them who they are.

When my youngest brother and sister were toddlers, my mother told us “older siblings” not to fight in front of them as they would pick up our spite and

We older ones never succeeded, and today, though I am infuriated daily by the squabbling of my younger siblings, it is a result I expected would come to pass.

I have a share in the guilt and pride of these “children”, and even though I
am myself a teenager, perhaps I have an insight to what a mother— and likewise a father— feels.

What I didn’t expect,however, was to pass on my own fears and qualities. Deep
emotions and character traits, more innate than the spite that flies with every daily quarrel.

Often I only realise my actions after I have committed them. So my younger siblings follow them, just as they had picked up my shallow quarrels.

Looking at them, I can see my faults and know where I must improve. Other
times, I can see what is good in me, and it is like a boast come true.

I think mothers should continue to reflect on how good they are, and base their
conclusions not on their efforts alone, but also on how they are portrayed right
in front of their eyes by their children.

First published in Today 20th May 2006

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's not i-Family time

The other day, while having tea at Ya Kun, I noticed their motto: "The toast that binds". Sitting next to our table was a typical family, two parents and two children. The mother, who was in her 40s, was playing Bakery Story on her iPhone. Her children meanwhile sat quietly waiting for their toast to be served.
When the food arrived, everyone ate in silence and at the end of the meal, everyone started to work their finger muscles by swiping their iPhones.
In modern Singapore where most parents have to work, sometimes having sit-down family dinners is a luxury. Yet on the few occasions when the family does find the opportunity to have dinner together, I have noticed the ubiquitous presence of the iPhone or iPad.
Some parents use the iPhone as a pseudo-sitter for their two- or three-year-old child. They justify this by explaining that it keeps their children quiet. Others claim that they must log onto Bakery Story or else all the bread they have baked online would have burnt. Some reason that they must be contactable 24/7 or they might miss out on an important contract if they do not answer every email.
Professor Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist at Stanford University, did a study recently and was worried that only one in five families sit down together. In America, they have also begun to discuss family values, and the professor said Americans cannot have family values if they do not even have family meals together.
But, in this i-generation of the iPhone, iPad and iPod, the purpose of a sit-down together is defeated if these devices of self-centred amusement (so aptly prefixed with 'I') become part of the family meal.
My family also finds it a challenge to eat together, as three of the older children are pursuing tertiary education and are seldom at home. So we would have late-night supper or early morning breakfast.
Sometimes friends and family join us, and one of the rules we firmly enforce is that these i-devices not be present at the table. I remember once requesting an acquaintance not to take any photos of the food - she had this irritating habit of stopping us from digging in when each dish was served because she insisted on uploading everything she ate onto Facebook.
Needless to say, we no longer share any meals, as she cannot eat if she does not post on Facebook and I will not eat if she does.
Imagine what it would be like having a meal without these i-devices. Our children might learn to see to others' needs instead of grabbing the food they like. They may learn to show respect to older members of the family as they wait their turn for the chicken, or invite their grandparents to eat.
Yes, they may fight over the otah, and that is where we can help them develop family values like sharing. They may even learn to have a decent conversation and hone their social skills.
During our family meals, the men and boys have to ensure that only after their mothers, sister and the youngest have taken their share, would they then take theirs. Some may say this is an archaic etiquette that is no longer relevant in this post-modern feminist era, but this is how we hope to produce gentlemen.
The girls, on their part, are expected to help prepare the meals, set the dishes and wash the plates alongside the boys. This is to ensure that the girls do not develop an entitlement attitude since the boys must let them pick first during the meal.
If we do not take steps to have proper family meals where there is laughter, interaction, exchange of news and information, I am afraid that all the effort to develop values in our children will fail, as we abdicate this vital function to the school, teachers and Ministry of Education.
Frances Ess is a mother of six.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Let traditions take root
04:46 AM Jan 08, 2012
by Frances Ess
Every year without fail, the entire family would troop down to the Thomson Road nurseries to hunt for a Christmas tree.
When the children were younger, it was a much easier process as everyone would be home and we could go any time in November or December. Last Christmas, it took military precision to execute this exercise with our six children, aged six to 22, to coordinate.
First, the event was announced on the family Facebook closed group. A date was selected, but it was rejected as one child had to work, while another had to go for a church outing. Another date was proposed, and it was accepted provided we could be done by 1pm as another child had to go online to apply for her courses at a local university.
Still, the occasion was filled with much fun and joy as the older children showed the younger ones the art of selecting a tree. It was good to see the family tradition passed down from one generation to another.
While watching Mary Poppins, a phrase from the song The Life I Lead caught my attention. It argues that tradition, discipline and rule are what you need to run a British family, or else there will be disorder, catastrophe and anarchy.
While we do not subscribe to ruling the family and our children with an iron hand, we discovered that, if we provide our children with a balance of tradition, discipline and rule, it would help them to navigate obstacles in life's playground.
In this globalised century, where our six-year-old understands the concept of Skype and protests that he does not wants his pictures to be posted on Facebook, unconsciously we are allowing this interconnected and integrated world to form part of his rituals and traditions.
For example, some of us will not believe an event has taken place unless it has been posted on some trusted website. Our children no longer take the textbook as the gospel truth, and turn to Google or Wikipedia to seek answers.
Dr Diana Oblinger observed that, by age 21, our children will have spent 10,000 hours playing video games, sent 200,000 emails, watched 20,000 hours of television and spent 10,000 hours on a mobile phone. This implies that our children could miss out on the opportunity to develop social and emotional skills. As our children's brains become digitally rewired, they may find it more difficult to interact with other human beings.
In addition, information and knowledge, data and facts are changing and being updated constantly. In the world of Facebook, there are some who constantly update their status with what they eat, where they are going and who they are with.
Although we have to train our children to understand that change is the only constant and that they have to learn to adapt, there is value in following some family traditions. They give the children a sense of continuity, of being rooted, of belonging to a community.
It provides them with a feeling of expectation, of waiting for something to happen, and thus develops patience - a virtue which is becoming more scarce as our children complain when a website takes more than 10 seconds to load.
In Singapore, we have many great family traditions that are threatened by the digital age, and we must guard against them being eroded. For example, Chinese New Year is around the corner, and we should ensure that it is a time for family members to interact and catch up on the past year's happenings.
But more and more children might prefer to stay home and hooked up to the digital world rather than go visiting. We need to ensure they learn how to show respect to our relatives and elders by continuing this beautiful tradition.
We may be accused of being old-fashioned or sentimental. But without developing and following traditions, we are depriving our children of the roots with which to anchor their lives. Of course, some traditions need to be updated and adapted. But as long as our children have some to fall back on, we are providing them some form of security to face the world.
Frances Ess is a mother of six.

This article was first published in Today 8.1.2012