IT is tough being a mum. Daughters often don’t realise this until they become parents themselves. It’s a tough act of balancing love, discipline, coaching, cheerleading, mentoring, nursing, and friendship.
Some mothers share with Thots n Tots what they learnt from their mothers and how their parenting style is similar to their mum’s.
“We had just moved to a new house when I was 13. Naturally, I wasn’t happy and I didn’t like it. I wanted to go back to my grandma’s house. But my mum wouldn’t let me. So, I went out with the neighbourhood kids and did something ‘really bad’. Their parents came to meet my mum and complained about me. She scolded me.
“I remember telling her that I would keep doing bad things until she chased me out so I could go live with my grandma. My mum followed me into my room and, with tears in her eyes, said I could do every bad thing in this world but she would never chase me away; I belonged to her and no one else,” says teacher and singer Bridget Emily Mowe, remembering her deceased mother.
That was a turning point for their relationship. She and her mum grew closer after that incident.
Her mum always put her three children first. “If food wasn’t enough, she wouldn’t eat; we ate. She seldom went out to have fun. She just stayed at home taking care of us. If she was sad, she would cry alone in her room,” says Mowe, 34, who has three children of her own.
She believes that parenting today is a lot harder as people are judgmental and this happens a lot on social media.
Mowe says that she witnessed her mother lose herself while caring for the children, so she never wanted to emulate that. She knew that it made her mother miserable.
She makes it a point to follow her mother’s example of praying with her children and sharing her dreams with them. Much like her mother, Mowe also doesn’t believe in corporal punishment.
However, there are also some things that she is doing differently as a mother.
“I do not let my kids eat while I go hungry. Instead, I tell them we don’t have enough so we are going to share. I do not do things for them all the time. I allow them to make mistakes and solve their own problems. I am there if they need help.
“Also, I do not stay cooped up in the house. I have mummy time and I allow them to have play dates, too. It’s great to always be close to the kids, but personal space is just as important. My kids and husband respect that. Each of us have our own time away. Even if it’s just five minutes a day.
“My mum would often cry alone in the dark. I don’t do that. If I am having a moment, I share that sadness with my husband and kids. I do that so my kids would grow seeing that life has happiness and sadness, and that it is okay to cry. I want my girls to know that it’s acceptable to cry, to vent out and it’s normal to share emotions. I don’t want them to think they should hide their problems,” she adds.
Mowe says her mum was very supportive of the choices she made for my kids as a mother. She never questioned or doubted Mowe.
“When my daughter was born, she gave me the best advice. She said don’t ever let anyone tell you how to raise your kids. Her advice was based on her own experiences,” says Mowe.
Love for reading
One of the greatest gifts that production editor Lim Yin Foong’s mum passed on to her and her son is her love for reading.
“I remember her reading to me and my brothers from a very young age, and she was constantly getting us books – in those days, she often took me and my brothers to book rental stores where we would ‘borrow’ books. It was much cheaper than buying lots of books for us, and this appealed to my thrifty mum.
“I started reading to my son when he was a baby, as did my mum when she was caring for him in his early years. When we moved to the UK about 10 years ago, one of the first things I did was join the local public library where my son and I would spend a lot of time reading and choosing books to take home for the week. I guess I not only picked up her reading habit but also her thrifty ways!” says Lim.
Her mum was strict with her and her two brothers while they were growing up. However, she also gave them a fair amount of freedom, trusting them to make sensible choices and decisions.
Being quite disciplined, she has always believed in routine and order. At the same time though, she makes it a point to be involved in their lives by being engaged and open with them, constantly talking and communicating with her three adult children.
Lim admits she does try to follow her mother’s style of parenting today with her 13-year-old son.
“I am not sure if I am as strict with my son as she was with us, although I do try to maintain a certain level of discipline and order. But I certainly do try to be engaged in his life without being too intrusive or a helicopter parent. I want my son to grow up feeling the same way I did; having the comfort of knowing that my mother was there for me if I needed to chat about something that bothered me, or if I needed her help in any way,” reveals Lim.
Her mother also taught her how to always be mindful and considerate of others, to be grateful and not take things for granted. Gratitude was and is important to her. According to Lim, till this day, she reminds them to show gratitude to a generous relative or friend, and to be thankful for their blessings. “When we were younger, if a friend of hers gave us a gift, she would insist that we call to personally thank them for it. These are lessons and values that I try to instil in my son as well,” says Lim.
The one thing she tries not to emulate is her mother’s fiery temper, which disappeared as quickly as it appeared. While Lim doesn’t consider her temper as fiery, she recalls losing it a few times when her son was in his “terrible twos”. It reminded her of her mum and what it felt to be on the receiving end of a parent’s anger. As a result, Lim has worked hard to keep calm and be more patient with her son.
Now in her late 40s, Lim finds parenting is all about finding a balance.
“Kids today, particularly those from urban areas, have become more media and technology savvy. As a result, they are exposed to so much more at an increasingly younger age and I think they lose their innocence faster in the process. I am all for technology making our lives better, but at the same time I think it opens up a whole load of issues our parents never had to contend with.
“Today’s parents have to deal with balancing screen time not just with TV but also with mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, whose use I think requires a greater amount of discipline to monitor and limit. And for those like myself with kids in their teenage years, there is the issue of managing how much of their lives are online and the risks associated with this, from cyber-bullying to sexting which seem to be increasingly common practices,” she says.
Bank officer Rashidah Baharuddin, 49, also believes that the challenges presented in parenting today are due to rapid changes in the world and environment. She believes in doing her best as a parent and nurturing her son and daughter, aged 22 and 19.
Her late mother was very kind-hearted, but this often resulted in her putting others’ needs and feelings before her own, causing her to get hurt.
“She also trusted me. I think that is a very powerful tool. Because of the trust and faith in me, I did not want to disappoint her at any point in my life.
“My mother did not nag at all, and she never laid a hand on me or my siblings. Mum had always been easy-going, cheerful and contented. She gave us a free hand on what we wanted to do and study during our younger days, and how we managed ourselves. Losing her life partner when she was only 48 was definitely heart-wrenching, especially when dad died after performing his pilgrimage at Madinah. I guess a lot of her time after that was spent managing us, our house and the bills that came with it, as well as managing our tenants in between coping with her job responsibilities. She had to learn to drive again after my dad passed away,” shares Rashidah.
Similar to her mum, Rashidah too let her children decide their own career path and how they manage their time at university. She supports their decisions, too. The only thing she does differently is that she speaks up and shares her views and thoughts on their decisions and actions, even if it hurts them.
She is not sure how her mother felt about her parenting style, but she was definitely caught by surprise when she witnessed Rashidah getting upset one day.
“There was one time when I hit the car from outside (she was in the car and the driver was my daughter), but only because my daughter took so long to park and was not listening to my instructions. I ended up screaming away while giving her instructions. My mother came out shivering, saying, ‘Wow … was that you?’
“She couldn’t believe I could be garang (fierce) because she had never heard me scream or nag!” shares Rashidah.
To be human
“One of the most important things I learned from my mum (and dad) was how to be human and a Malaysian,” says Dr Hanita Mohd Mokhtar-Ritchie, who works in the Archive and Local History Service of East Lothian Council, a local authority not far from Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.
Her mum would always invite friends and neighbours from all ethnic groups or faiths to their house, not just for Hari Raya or birthday celebrations, but sometimes just to enjoy a special meal that she had cooked. Or she would send food to the neighbours and visit them at home (or sometimes at the hospital) when someone was ill.
“She always stressed the importance of being polite and kind to everyone, even people I didn’t like or didn’t agree with. She said that everyone is unique or special in their own way, regardless of whether they share the same beliefs, race, or skin colour. But essentially, we are all humans and we are all the same because we all need to be loved and this begins with sincere, kind-hearted gestures. I hope that in the future my children will at least teach kindness, understanding and tolerance to their children,” shares Hanita, who has two children, aged 19 and 14.
Her mum, Rokiah Abu Bakar, passed away in February last year.
“My late mum was a very loving and kind-hearted lady but when I was growing up, she was, first and foremost, a strict disciplinarian who always made sure that everyone at home was organised and followed an efficient routine. Looking back, I realise now how important this was in helping me manage my daily activities as a school pupil – homework, chores, playtime and even sleep! Even my late dad use to wink at me and say, ‘Just do what your mum tells you. I certainly do!’
“Apart from impressing upon me the tenets of proper behaviour according to both Islam and traditional Malay culture, she always insisted that I learnt and did various household chores. And from the age of 15 onwards, I had to be her sous chef of sorts because she believed that the discipline of doing household chores and learning how to cook well was an essential life skill that would prevent one from ever ‘being lazy’ and would ensure that one would always land on one’s feet. And she was indeed a very good cook, a status that I hope to have achieved with my own children and husband. Thankfully, my mum kept me on the right track as a child.”
She remembers missing curfew one day when she was out with friends at the movies. Her dad was relieved when she finally returned home, but her mum had called a few people, trying to find out where she was. Hanita was grounded and given more chores after that, but after the period was over, her mum showered her with treats for managing her grounded period well.
“As a mum, I think I have been extremely blessed with well-behaved children (I’m hoping some of my parenting skills have actually contributed to this). When my mum was alive, like all grandparents, she also doted on her grandkids. The funny thing is, I found her to be very accommodating and not strict at all with my children. She always said, ‘Takpelah (Never mind). Let them be.’ I would then ask her how come I never got such preferential treatment when I was a kid and she would simply say, ‘Alah, you were different.’ ”
Just like mum
Many years later, when her own daughter became a teenager and she had had a few disagreements with her, Hanita found herself sounding just like her mum.
“I must admit that I have definitely adopted and applied some of my mum’s parenting style. In spite of all the parenting articles I scoured through, I have found myself naturally reverting to what I assimilated from my mum. What’s also interesting is that although my husband and I grew up in different cultures, we have many similarities in how we were brought up.
“What I’ve done differently though is that my kids have not been expected to do all the chores that I did growing up! That’s probably because I’ve become this ‘control freak’ who likes things done a certain way. But we do impose a ‘curfew’ on my son whenever he is allowed out with friends. My daughter, however, now follows adult times as she is at university and lives away from home. The funny thing is, because she was always subjected to curfew rules when she was younger, she now still informs us of her daily whereabouts or her plans by SMS or a Facebook message!”
You never stop being a parent, after all, even when your children are well into their adult years.
Lim has never talked to her mother about her parenting style, although she hopes her mum approves.
“I have a lot of respect for my mum and how she brought us up, and I would hope that she feels she has inculcated some of her parenting style and values in me. Whether or not it lives up her standard is another thing!
“She still nags me about keeping my son safe and warm especially in the winter, and often advises me to keep engaged and open with him, the way she was with us when we were growing up.”