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Friday, May 18, 2012

Honour Thy Child

Sunday was Mothers' Day. If one had walked around parts of Singapore, he or she would have seen women with their families in tow, carrying flowers and other cutesy items, evidently presented to them by their loving children. Restaurants across the country have also cashed in on this trend, many of them offering Mothers' Day menus at less than "motherly" prices, hoping to attract the filial children who choose to celebrate their mothers' love on this special day. However, when Fathers' Day comes around next month, I have doubts if the same phenomenon would be repeated.

My musings arose from a seminar I attended last month at my church. The speaker, Dan Sneed, is a renown author whose works include The Power of a New Identity, a book which addresses issues of self rejection and addiction among other issues. Dan shared the story of how a certain card company in America had wanted to bless the prison community, and gave them free cards for them to write to their mums on Mothers' Day. More than 90% responded, and the cards were sent to their mothers in the spirit of celebrating the role these women had played in their lives. Given the success of the endeavour, the card company repeated the activity ahead of Fathers' Day, intending to also recognise the role of dads in the lives of the prisoners. Sadly, less than 25% took the cards. Dan went on to share that one reason for the poor take-up rate was that most of the inmates did not have fathers who were present in their lives. In fact, he said many young people end up behind bars because they have absent fathers. As such, the presence of a father is a major protective factor for young children.

In present day society, it is a growing trend that many fathers tend to absent themselves from the day-to-day lives of their children. This could be either due to the length of the working day, or because of a general perception that they should only be responsible for the finances of the family; all this in contrast to the belief that the wife should be responsible for the domestic aspects of the home - including the care of the children. Such a trend has resulted in the grown up children becoming more distant from their elderly fathers.

To address a gap in the relationship between fathers and their children, Dan suggested for fathers to expand on the biblical concept of honour. In the Bible, it was written for children to "honour thy father and mother". This principle is definitely the cornerstone of the familial relationship. After all, it is only when children honour their parents that they can experience the fullness of the love given to them by their parents. What Dan suggested, was however significantly different. He called for parents to honour their children.

Dan observed that if one was to study child developmental theory, he or she would realise that the self image of a child is fully developed by the age of 5. As such, children derive their self image mostly from the authority figures in their childhood - and at the age of 5, these would most likely be their parents. Children learn who they are and what they are like from us, their parents. Applying this concept, it would be evident that if we want our children to honour us, we would have to model how to honour them.

And how to honour our children? Dan provided 7 "A"s - Acceptance, Affirmation, Attention, Appreciation, Approval, Admiration and Acknowledgement.

I have reflected that in my interaction with my son Z, I do accept him for who he is. I also affirm, appreciate and express admiration for the things that he does. I am, however, still lacking in the other areas.

Attention - this is an area I know I need to work on. I have always admired my devoted wife Sue for being able to provide Z with her undivided attention. On the days when she is alone with him for the whole day, Sue would spend the entire morning engaging Z in a mother-son time of craft work or some other activity. Then, during his afternoon nap time, she would be busy preparing what to cook for his dinner. She would then attempt to take an afternoon nap herself, but often this would be disrupted as Z would have rested by then and would have woken up. She would have given Z her undivided attention during all his waking moments.

In contrast, I spend the evenings with him tired out from work. So instead of eagerly taking him for a walk everyday (which was our initial plan), I sometimes choose to instead read the newspapers while he is beside me, or to spend time playing some computer games. There have been times when he has come up to bite me (which is his way of getting my attention), but I have instead chosen to neglect him.

Approval and Acknowledgement - I know I am the stricter parent when it comes to disciplining Z. As I shared in the previous post on discipline, I can sometimes be very firm and fierce when enforcing punishment. I can already sense that Z tends to turn to his mother instead of me when he is scared. Moreover, he sometimes does things to "win" my approval like putting his toys back in their box when I ask him to; and he also tries to gain my acknowledgement through little gestures such as clapping his hands and hoping that I will do the same. I am learning how to enforce discipline in a more nurturing manner; in a way that would not erode his self image - disciplining him while still expressing my approval for his actions and still acknowledging his needs.

I know that the concept of honour is a difficult one for us to grasp. It is indeed easier to pay money to buy gifts for others instead of "honouring" them through words or deeds. In my own experience of working with young people. I have seen far too many parents "buying" over their children with expensive items such as the latest electronic gadgets and toys. I aspire to be a different parent, and to instead spend more of my time with my son - to assure him that his Daddy loves him, and will always love him.

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