I recently found myself drawn into a conversation between two ladies with contrasting views on parenting.
One woman was worried that her daughter was “too good” for her own good. She was genuinely concerned about whether her 17-year-old daughter was sufficiently exposed to “the real world”. Her daughter would be going overseas to study in less than a year; would she be able to fend for herself? This mother felt that as Singapore is a relatively safe environment, it is an ideal laboratory for her daughter to explore and learn the rough and tumble of life, with her parents on hand to bail her out if necessary.
The second lady was clearly uncomfortable with this style of parenting. Though her child is barely a toddler, she has strong views about how to raise children, informed by her experience of working with families with wayward teens. Seeing girls barely 14 years old having multiple sexual partners, or boys who turn violent when their parents try to curb their usage of the computers, leaves you with little doubt about the dangers of permissive parenting.
Many parents are perplexed about just how to raise and prepare a child adequately for adulthood. However, just as there are many varied types of families, no one parenting style fits all families. That being said, there are some common truths.
One of these is getting the right balance between the need to control and the need to allow children some measure of freedom. On the one hand, giving a child too much freedom could result in an anxious individual who can also be very demanding and not used to dealing with limits. On the other hand, too much control especially with a teenager can stoke the flames of resentment and frustration.
Parenting styles aside, a key ingredient is parental love. Being loved unconditionally, a child grows up convinced that her parents value her, and in turn she too must value herself. Valuing oneself means not doing anything that devalues or harms oneself; instead, one focuses on self-development.
Some parents may say that they do love their children unconditionally, yet things did not turn out well. Perhaps the term ‘unconditional’ can be rather misleading. It does not mean that parents should not have any expectations or aspirations for our children. But it means that even if these are not met or realised, we will still continue to love them despite our disappointment. In fact, children who grow up in an environment where their parents leave them to their own devices or fail to set any realistic goals for them can develop a sense of anxiety. It will appear to them as if no one cares about them.
Finally, I have seen many a parent take “love” to an extreme. They shower their children with gifts in excess; their children lack nothing in terms of material possessions. But these luxuries are often a poor substitute for irreplaceable essentials, like parental presence, guidance, discipline, sharing of experiences, and of course, genuine love.
In the upcoming Christmas season, as some of us exchange presents, let us include our presence as the real presents to our loved ones and children for the coming year.
Benny Bong –
has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church
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