My children and I

I was interviewed by a parenting website some time ago. I cannot recall if they eventually published my interview, but I just wanted to reproduce it here.

1. How many kids do you have and how old are they? Introduce them by name and briefly what they are doing right now, say schooling, NS, etc if possible.

I have two children.  My daughter Jewel is 18 and is in her first year of university.  My son Jeremy is 16 and goes to a private school and will be graduating with an American High School Diploma in about 2 years.  

2. Having gone through both phases, which do you think is harder - parenting a toddler or parenting a teenager?

I think both phases were equally challenging.  Challenging because I had to learn, unlearn and re-learn how to engage them meaningfully as a parent, as they grew into these different phases.  When my children were younger, I was more of a father, a teacher and less a 'friend'.  Now, I am more a friend, a mentor, and less of a 'father'. So being a father (at least for me) has always been evolving, and I am sure that as my children become adults - and I become older and more frail, this relationship will be further redefined.  

3. What's your secret in maintaining a close relationship with your kids?

Openness - I talk about everything to them.  Even about sex.  I remember when I spoke to my daughter about sex when she turned 12 and she was like 'Ew! Daddy why are you talking about this to me?' But, I'd rather they hear it from me, then from their friends as I would be able to give them the right information, which their friends may not be able to. Our relationship is so open that my son will come home and ask me the meanings of some of the vulgar language his friends would use. If I know the meaning, I will tell it to him and we both will have a good laugh, while my daughter thinks that both father and son are totally gross. But, this has kept my son from speaking only good language to his friends.  His friends have often wondered why he does not use vulgarities when he speaks (as I suspect a lot of youngsters do), and he often tells them that he sees no need to use them when there are better words to express himself.

I tell speak with them about the difficulties I had faced (and still do face) in raising them. Not in a way to glorify myself - but in a very 'matter of fact' way and in total honesty - so that they know that raising them was not as easy it may seem. I am proud that my children still think of me as their 'hero'. 

We also do a lot of things together as a family. We have dinner together almost every evening. We go bowling, to the movies, nature trekking, almost everything as a family. I think all these has kept my children close with my wife (Catherine) and I.

4. Also, what's your secret in getting them to do stuff they don't want to do, like cleaning up and keeping to curfews.

Cleaning up is always a challenge, because it is the mother's 'department'. They often challenge her till they know they cannot challenge her anymore, before they would clean up. 'Curfew' is my department and so it is relatively easier.  My children know that if they don't keep their curfew times, they'd be grounded. But of course, I am also a little flexible in that if they'd call me and say that they are held up because the bus was late or something, I will give them a little bit of grace.

5. Any legendary meltdown moments the kids had?

My children are generally quite 'balanced' so they hardly experience meltdown moments.  But I think coming back to Singapore after being in the USA for a few years, was quite frustrating for my son, as he had to leave his friends, familiarity and comfort-zone behind.  He and his sister (to a certain extent) were apprehensive about fitting into the public schools here.  To ease their fears, we home-schooled them for about a year. 

6. As the chief editor of the Online Citizen, you're someone who is in the public domain and even more so, in the potentially explosive socia media space. Do you have concerns pertaining to privacy for your family and how do you manage that?

I have taught my children to say only that which they mean to say when communicating, whether offline or online. So, we are very conscious in that sense.  Whether it be photos, or videos or articles, we put out only that which we want to put out.  People often think that they 'know me' after reading my posts and/or comments, but they really don't.  They may know a part of me - a part that I want to reveal, but they will never (or should never) know the real me.  The real me is only reserved for my family and close friends.  It's not the others see a fake me, but they only see facets of the real me.  I have often emphasised this to my children. 

7. Could you share with us three parenting tips that you've learnt in your almost 20 years as a parent?

Well, 18 years actually.

1. Learn, Unlearn and Re-lean, as you grow as a parent with your children.

2. Never judge or compare your children - I talk to them about their weaknesses and shortcomings.  I facilitate them in finding their own solutions to their shortcomings and weaknesses.  I challenge them to rise above what they can already do. But at the end of the day, it has to be their choice. If they choose not to, I will never judge them or belittle them.  I will allow them to explore other things that they are keen in.  I think everyone has got at least a talent, and as parents we can help them unlock these talents if we are patient and don't impose our own frustrations on them.

3. Total honesty - your children see who you are. So, you cannot put on a mask for the outside world and be someone totally different when relating to them. And sometimes when you think you've not been entirely honest, to have the courage to say sorry to your children. I too have had to apologise to my children, for my failings.