Throughout my adolescence, I changed my mind on this topic very frequently, often, from one end of the spectrum to the other. The topic is on my mum’s parenting. I know, it’s almost like a taboo to question this, as she gave her unconditional love to me. But for some reason it kept on coming up. I have completely changed my position on the topic now, but when I was younger, I used to feel disappointed that I could not do some of the things that other kids could do, like speaking mandarin, or being much more skillful in playing piano, or even better, making myself more confident.
Two years after I left Jakarta, I started university. I had quite a lot of good things going for me in that period of time, so it was easy to draw a correlation between the successes and the lack of my mum’s influence on my life. For example if mum had been there, she would never have allowed me to stay in the campus’ boarding house. She was over-protective in her parenting style, such that everyday activities like going on public transport on my own were considered too dangerous.
On the contrary, most of my aunts and uncles had the view that I would never have achieved those good things if it hadn’t been for mum’s help. Being rebellious, I fully rejected this notion in anger. I thought I had worked hard for what I achieved. Therefore I began to criticise how mum had raised me. I think the lowest point in this period of my life was when I thought I should have a kid just to show mum how it was supposed to be done. Ah, my arrogant, naïve young self!
The main criticism I made up to discredit her was to show how disconnected our two ideas of success were. She was a typical Asian parent who had a one track mind of how to achieve “success”, that is, study hard, go work for someone else in a big company and climb the corporate ladder as you age. Her advice at the time was that I should “learn” from what the oldies were telling me and don’t ever take drastic action because I wasn’t old enough to know anything useful. That wasn’t my idea of success.
I spoke to a couple of friends about my disappointment on mum’s parenting style, and I was not alone. Of course, there were friends who are bffs with their mother. But for some others, there was a disappointment on how they were raised by their parents, on a range of issues. Sometimes because they felt their parents had not put enough dedication to get them to learn something when they were younger, or given more direction when they had to choose their uni degree, or because they were allowed to play video games too much (I’m not joking).
Although it’s comforting to find other people who have similar problems like me, it was also quite clear that we were no more than a bunch of whiners. These friends are also decent people, and they are fully in charge of their lives. Blaming their mothers on how they turned up ‘less perfect’ than what they would have liked to be seems unfair. I started thinking maybe I was also being unfair to mum.
One of the Indonesian proverbs says that there is always a sky above the sky, conversely there is always more dirt below the dirt, which means that if I think my parent is bad, I could have had a worse one. If I start thinking of how my mum could be a worse mum, the list is very long and non-exhaustive. For a start, she could simply have chosen not be my mum, because she adopted me when I was a baby. In spite of being an over-protective mother, she still allowed me to go to Sydney. She put so much effort in raising me up, it was ridiculous.
Soon, it made me realise that there were a number of principles she carried that were of the utmost importance, because they shaped the way I am and formed the basis of my life. In fact, those habits are still with me until now. Despite difficulties in trying to form new habits, these habits have stuck with me, hopefully forever, and it is definitely through mum’s hard work.
The first principle is no expense should be spared for education. She told me that because it’s an investment, it comes from a special budget. There would always be money to buy books or to take a course, no matter how expensive. It was like having a bottomless pouch where you could get money – as long as it was used for education. She spent a truckload of money for me to learn the piano, ever since I was four years old. And I quit just shy of a year of getting certification to be able to teach it. I never ended up being a teacher, but nonetheless I love playing the piano as a hobby.
My piano lessons were a major part of my life growing up. I would practise from Wednesday onwards, and would be completely stressed out on Friday, the time when I would have to present my work to my teacher. But Saturday would be a different story. I would feel elated, calm and comfortable in my skin because a new level of mastery has been reached. Hence, I have viewed learning as an iterative and repetitive process of pain and pleasure – enjoyment and struggle are two sides of the same coin. If I can figure out how to win in a board game just by playing it once, then the game is not very fun.
It was not just about life lessons though, I got to experience her quirks too. You see, I was small when I was small, and I am still small now (Imagine how much smaller I was, huh!). One of my mum’s obsessions was how to make me tall. She would always tell me to eat, to the extent of spoon-feeding me when I fell asleep at dinner time. I had memories of getting hit with wooden ruler when I left my dining chair without finishing my meal, a big plate of rice usually.
It did not stop at eating because she cranked up her effort to new heights whenever things did not work. She gave me some herbal tablets without knowing what was in it. She told me jokingly that I should break my legs, to extend them by surgery. Surprisingly it is common for a lot of kids in India to go through this type of horrible surgeries in India.
This year has marked 10 years of my life in Australia, it has also marked 10 years of my mum’s life without me in Jakarta. When I moved out to live on my own seven years ago, I tasted my independence as a young kid and I criticized her parenting too much. Fast forward to now, the fact that I am now who I am, able to think rationally and have a will to do better parenting means that she has pulled off the most amazingly difficult task to do. This does not mean that I will have kids though. It’s the thought that counts! :p). To plant the seed of who I am is not easy, and there is no excuse I can come up with to take away that achievement.
Thanks mum 🙂
PS. Thanks for poison post! I have had this post as a draft for several months. If I don’t post it this time, I think I would never will.