Parenting by Default

These past couple of weeks have been crazy for us. First there were the assignments that I had to complete for my postgraduate course, then there were the workshops that we were suddenly asked to conduct, and finally there were the bazaars that we attended to sell our online store items. It was an extremely busy season, and many of our working hours were occupied with meaningful things; that included taking care of our two little boys and managing both their learning and non-academic needs.

One morning, my older son came to me after I had just returned home from an early class. "Daddy," he said. "I'm so glad you're home. Can we go to the Gardens by the Bay?" he asked hopefully. With a sadness in my heart, I replied, "Sorry Z. Daddy has to go back to work later. Maybe after I come back? Oh. Actually Daddy and Mummy have an important meeting tomorrow and we need to prepare. I don't think we can go today. Er.... How about another day?" "OK," said the little boy as he walked away, almost as if he had his tail between his legs. 

And I felt a deep sorrow in my heart; I felt as though I had failed him completely as a father.
One of the happier moments with our boys during this busy period.
Why do I work so hard? The answer seems obvious. I am living in the most expensive city in the world (according to the Economic Intelligence Unit). As such, I need to work hard to maintain a certain standard of living in order to match up with the rising cost of living. So I spend most of my waking hours engaged in work. I need to build up my business, I tell myself. Hopefully one day I would have earned a sufficient amount of money in order to spend more time with my children. Oh well, my kids will understand if I don't spend so much time with them now. There will be time later, I console myself. And so I live each day in autopilot mode, and even my parenting appears to be operated by default.  

There is one small problem when you are parenting by default - our kids don't grow up by default! Yes, you can pacify the kid who presents you with his drawing, acknowledging his presence with a slight nod and a cursory look that screams, "Go away now. I'm busy and I don't have time for you and all your little unimportant things." Or you can farm out your playtime to the domestic helper, charging her to manage the menial task of ensuring that the kids are safe and entertained at the playground; of course not realising that your domestic helper is herself preoccupied with the hand phone that she takes out every time she is alone with the children.

I note that the above examples may be extreme, but I believe I am not presenting a fictional account of life in Singapore. On the contrary, these instances are so close to real life that they have jolted me back to reality. I have to tell myself that I do not want to ever become the parent in those scenarios; I don't ever want to parent by default. After all, that's the reason why we are working so hard in the first place! It would appear as circular logic if we were to say that we need to spend all our time working hard in order to earn enough money; especially if the primary purpose was to enjoy time with our kids. Yet so many Singaporeans buy into this fallacy. There was a recent tongue-in-cheek statement identifying a Singapore in the following way: "You know you are a Singaporean if you go to work before the sun goes up and leave office after the sun goes down." 
Spending time with our kids in their play.

There are many people who do not become parents by choice; they get married and before they know it, they have a child. Yet there are many others who go the extra mile to ensure that they become a parent. Regardless of the circumstances through which you became a parent, you are never a parent by default. Yet many people end up parenting by default, simply because they do not choose to be intentional parents. That's the difference between parenting by default versus parenting by intent

When you parent by intent you take the time to listen to the heart of your child. You notice which colours he chooses in his drawing, and then take the time to understand the reason for his choice. You listen to every detail of the long story that she tells you, and then painstakingly ask her questions to either draw out the details, or to help her develop her narrative. You turn to the little child whose general body language screams out to you that he or she had a tough day at school, and then connect to him or her in an empathetic manner, giving the child the physical and emotional space to be real with his or her emotions.
Parenting by intent means to allow kids the freedom to express themselves in drawing and other creative means.

Looking at my current season in life, I long for the times when I can set aside the busyness of my work, and spend time to connect with my children once again. I know that I need to work, for this brings financial security to my family; and as a man, my work is so much linked to my self esteem and my sense of identity. Yet a wise man once said, "There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven." I have received a brief respite in this season of busyness, and I know that nothing would bring me more joy than to be able to listen to the heart of my children once again. 

To my Dearest Sons: 

Daddy longs to listen to you each time you present an account of how your day went. I love to listen to your stories of how you were the brave little boy David who conquered the mighty Goliath with your light sabre. I love to look at your beautiful paintings, to enjoy how you have chosen the cool colours of emerald green and turquoise to create a lovely forest landscape. I love to be your "Daddy-horsey", to piggyback you all around the house, and then to end off our adventures with a royal tumble on the bed, everyone rolling in deep laughter and bursting with tears of joy.

I know there will be times when Daddy will need to be busy at work. But I promise to always take time to listen to you; to put aside my computer and to simply share a smile with you. I will try my best to listen when there is a sadness in your voice, and to comfort you in a way that you understand. I ask for your forgiveness for the times when I was your parent by default. I know that I am only human, but with God as my help, I hope to be the parent that God intended for me to become. 

I love you so much. 

Love, Daddy.
Always loving you! 

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