Author Archives: dianachansudharman

Are you a Sergeant Major, Jellyfish, Neglectful or Back-bone parent?

“Didn’t I tell you to clean up your room a week ago?”; “What do you mean why you need to come home by 9pm? Because I said so!” Have you heard these words yelled out by parents at their children? You might think you’ve just listened to a Sergeant Major in the Army talking to his team of recruits! Well, you’re half right!

The Parenting with Confidence program at Focus on the Family Singapore touches on four different parenting types and Sergeant Major is one of them. This style of parenting tends to be overly protective, controlling, tells the children what to do and think. The Sergeant Major parent feels a strong need to rein in their children. It is, therefore, often accompanied by a lot of scolding, criticizing and threatening. Children of a Sergeant Major parent tend to comply out of fear instead of respect. Over time, it can back-fire where the child summons enough courage to rebel against the authoritarian parent.

The opposite of this would be the Jellyfish parent. Think jellyfish and what comes to mind? Yes, soft and squashy! I googled “jellyfish” and was drawn to one particular description of this creature – that it has no brain or central nervous system! Hmmm, I guess that says quite a lot about the parenting style, don’t you think? I personally know of a Jellyfish parent. She lacks rules, ignores misbehavior, bails her child out of trouble (by the latter’s own doing), gives in to her child’s demands. Basically the roles are reversed! What do you think will be the outcome of such a parenting style?

Then, we have the Neglectful parent. The parent basically sends out a message that says, “I’m too busy!” Quantity time, let alone quality time, is close to zilch. However, the parent with this style of parenting does feel guilty for not being “there” and hence could compensate his absence by lavishing material gifts on the children. This is a problem especially common in our society where both parents work (long hours) and have little or no time for their children. Children of neglectful parents tend to feel they need to fend for themselves, so a deep sense of being “abandoned” could set in.

Finally, the parent type most aspire to be – the Back-bone parent. It is strong (it holds the body together) yet flexible when it is required to bend to adapt to changing postures or conditions. This style is confident, consistent and calm even in the face of challenges. It is also not unduly protective but respects needs and honors feelings. I have a good example of a Back-bone parent in my household – my husband. He believes in disciplining the kids when the need arises but he also subscribes to the rule that one must not punish in anger. He shows affection to the children freely, sees mistakes as opportunities to grow, asks questions to promote thinking and lives by the principle of “not sweating over the small stuff”. Thank God for him.

Parenting is a challenging but rewarding journey in life. We don’t always get it right and often learn “on the job”. But it is good to occasionally ask ourselves, “What kind of a parent am I? What kind of parent would I like to be?”

In August, Focus on the Family Singapore is training individuals who are passionate about parenting to be facilitators for our Parenting with Confidence program. Visit for more information.


21st Century Woman Redefined

When I first met Ming Li some six years ago, she was heavily pregnant with her third child. When I had a chance to speak with her later, I found her to be a sincere and soft-spoken lady.

Little did I know that belied the soft demeanor was actually a woman of great strength and faith!

ML was born to a doctor and a pharmacist. After completing her ‘A’ Level here in Singapore, she went to England to read law. In university, she met her now husband, E, and together they wrote songs and dreamed of cutting a CD one day. That dream became a reality last weekend when they launched an album which is a collection of songs they have written over the last 20 years together during joyous occasions as well as through trying times.

Upon graduating with a law degree in 1993, ML came back to Singapore and she started work at a government-linked company.  A few years later, she and E got married and became parents to 3 wonderful children. In between that, she briefly practiced as a corporate lawyer before working as a church administrator in the Music Department. I heard jokes about her being an overly qualified administrator.

Both ML and E have been active church leaders. But according to friends who have known them in the last 2 decades, they have always been the same down-to-earth and unassuming folks.

After their kids came along, ML and E decided that they would live simpler lives in a smaller house in order for her to stay home full-time to look after her 3 children (and a cat) without domestic help. It is not without challenges and she is quick to recognize her limitations. In her own words, she said “I had an ideal of the perfect mum that I was going to be … I realize that I can’t do everything and my philosophy is some things gotta go and it aint going to be me! so the house is less… far less than immaculate. We’ll live.”

Barely months after she gave birth to her 3rd child, she was back as co cell group leader of about 15 people. I still remember attending those sessions at her house where she would be in and out of her room checking on her baby, settling disputes between her 2 boys and trying to be involved in the sessions with the rest of us. Talk about multi-tasking!

Here is a woman who took the road less traveled, not by spending her years climbing up the corporate ladder but choosing to invest her life and time in things that may seem insignificant and mundane to others but truly matter to her – her faith, family, music! So to this special lady – I salute you!

Leaving a Legacy

I was feeling a little apprehensive when I was first introduced to her 11+ years ago. My then boyfriend (now husband) told me that she was the retired chief medical social worker at a local restructured hospital, a fantastic cook, a strong personality, and a witty and dynamic lady. And I felt small in the presence of a person of such stature. But my nervousness soon dissipated because of her hospitality and warmth. In fact, one could hear her infectious laughter at the lift lobby before stepping into her apartment. She was the beloved Aunty Santha, my husband’s paternal aunt.

Sadly, Aunty Santha passed away last Saturday on April 7, 2012 at the age of 73. At her funeral the next day (Easter Sunday), my husband gave the eulogy and sang a song she had requested in a letter she penned just before she was hospitalized. She had sensed that she was on her final journey and had put her personal matters in order.

Aunty Santha was the head of the medical social work department and the pioneer in the IVF counseling in the early 1980s. When the press heard of her demise, they decided to pay tribute to her in the local newspapers. In the Straits Times article published the day after her passing, Aunty Santha was described as someone who was “all heart” and “unflinching” in speaking up for the underdog. It was widely known that she helped those in need out of her own pocket. She even nursed a foreign patient back to health in her own house even though the latter had a highly contagious skin disease.

In the eulogy, my husband shared three endearing traits about Aunty Santha:

  1. She believed in demonstrating love through action, not just words. Her compassion and concern were often expressed at great cost to her own resources of time, energy, convenience and even safety.
  2. She believed in family unity, and functioned as the glue of the family, particularly to her siblings.  Despite the physical discomfort (made worse through poor health) she would spend hours on her feet cooking up sumptuous meals over which the family would bond and reconnect.
  3. She believed in fun, and joked about the treatment she received from hospital staff even in the midst of her pain during her final days at the hospital!

As I read the newspaper article, listened to all that was said about her, and witnessed the grief and pain many felt at her funeral, it dawned on me what a rich legacy Aunty Santha had left behind! I found myself reflecting on my own life through these questions:

–          What would my life count for?

–          What would I be remembered for?

–          How has what I’ve done made a difference to others?

I may not be a prominent leader, or somebody known to many people, but I do nevertheless have an impact for better or worse in the lives of my family, my friends, my colleagues at work and even someone from overseas (like my domestic helper). One of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (by Stephen Covey) is ‘Begin with the end in mind’. In the chapter on that habit, he invites the reader to imagine himself attending his own funeral as an unseen observer. And he then asks what the reader would hope the people who gave eulogies might say. The content of those imagined eulogies would then serve as the direction and vision by which one lives. I think that’s excellent advice for all those intending to leave a good legacy. Aunty Santha’s funeral has certainly got me thinking about what I hope others will say about me. How about you?

The Resilient Love of a Mother

“As the sky glowered black and Stephanie Decker felt the monster tornado begin to suck her house into its vortex, she knew it would not hold and she had no choice but to shield her two young kids with her own body. She lost her legs in the process.” This is a real story of a mother of two young children in the recent tornado outbreak in North America.

Most mothers are heroes! To be precise, they are UNSUNG heroes! And we don’t need tragic stories like this to believe that they are. All we have to do is to pay a bit more attention to the moms around us, especially to our OWN mother.

Of course there are exceptions. One would read with horror and disgust of a recent report in Malaysia where a mother filmed her underage daughter being raped by her lover. But most mothers love their child(ren) sacrificially and unconditionally. Their love is often shown in what is to us the humdrum of life – from ensuring that our physical needs of food and daily necessities are met to seeing to the well-being of our emotional, intellectual and moral/spiritual needs.

Mothers do the most “unglam” work that often goes unnoticed, unappreciated and even unwelcomed. They are easily one of the most over-worked and under-paid (or UN-paid) people in the world.

I had a close relationship with my late mother but I must confess that I never fully appreciated the depth of her love for her children until I became a mom myself. Now having to raise two children, I find myself doing what my mom did i.e. nagging at my children to take proper meals (especially vegetables!), worrying about whether they are getting enough mental stimulation, ensuring that they are morally upright. The list goes on…

Mothers certainly deserve a lot more credit than we give them or they give themselves. We should appreciate them for their acts of love in big and small ways. DON’T wait till it’s too late to tell/show them how grateful we are.

Bravo to all moms! To my mom (whom I believe is in heaven) and my mother-in-law: THANK YOU!

Maidless in Singapore

She is someone I have come to depend on a great deal! Perhaps more than I should. Hence her absence was acutely felt and sorely missed throughout the day when I saw clothes piling up in the laundry basket, toys strewn on the floor, dishes in the sink unwashed. The person I am referring to is my domestic helper. She was recently back in her home country on annual home leave. Oh those 14 days seemed like forever to me!

Every day I would jump out of bed to get breakfast for my kids, do the laundry, hang up the clothes, cook lunch, wash the dishes, tidy up the house, vacuum the floor, fix dinner, clean up, mop the floor, bathe the girls and get them ready for bed. In between all of these chores, I had to attend to an active tot and do my writing assignments from home! Thankfully my 8-year-old -daughter is independent and not needing my constant attention. But I am pricked by guilt now and then for not spending as much time with her as I’d like. Sigh… the trap of a working mom trying to find work-life balance. But I consider myself a little more fortunate than other working moms because I work from home. Thanks to the family-friendly organization – Focus on the Family – I am on a part-time, flexi-work-hour arrangement that allows me to do my writing from the comfort of my abode. For that reason, I am able to be home with my kids and organize my working hours around my family needs. Well, the down side is I have never been able to finish a piece of assignment at one sitting and without interruption. Five minutes into my writing, my 21-month-old daughter could have climbed up the piano top or made her way into the washing machine. I also need to keep an eye on her to prevent her from licking soap powder (yes, the one for washing clothes!!!). To look on the brighter side (and help keep me sane), there’s never a dull moment at home. Anyway, I digressed.

During those 2 weeks of my helper’s absence, I would collapse in my bed every night after trying to do a thousand and one things in the day (ok, maybe not that many, just a thousand!). My husband and I would spend some time talking and praying together. We discussed about how life had been without domestic help. Our parents and grandparents used to rear a brood of 10 or more and did everything without a live-in maid!!! How they did they do that?! My husband and I concluded that it has everything to do with perceptions and expectations, imposed on us by others or by ourselves. We, like many other Singaporean families, live in a fast-paced and stressful society where efficiency is highly prized. Everything must be fast and flawless. We frown upon “inefficiency”. This culture we adopt at the workplace has also crept into our homes. For that reason, we have become too reliant on external help (foreign domestic workers) because we want everything in its “proper place” and completed as fast as possible.

When we were in Oxford, England in June this year, we stayed with our English couple friends who have 3 small children below the age of five and another on the way. Their house was perpetually messy and dirty (according to our standard) but they and their kids were cheerful, easy-going and a delight to be with. Whenever I look at my messy house these days, I (or my husband) would remind me of our friends in Oxford. It is about perceptions /expectations and managing them instead of letting them overwhelm us. But I did heave a BIG sigh of relief on the day of my helper’s return!

Me, a kiasu Parent?

Before I had children, I would frown upon kiasu parents who vied for top schools for their children. I was confident (too confident) that I would take the road less traveled and not conform. Several years later, now a mom to an 8-year-old school-going daughter and a 20-month-old tot, I found my own beliefs challenged recently. And it was a sobering experience because I was forced to re-evaluate my family’s values system.

My daughter goes to an all-girls school but not one of the top in Singapore. When she got her end-of-the-year results recently, she did well enough to be placed in the top class of her cohort for Primary 3 next year. I learned that one of her classmates applied for a transfer to a top girls’ school. So, the thought of doing the same for my daughter crossed my mind. And the whole saga began……

I started to ask my friends whose children are in that school, I checked out the school and called the admin staff to ask about the procedure. I was elated to learn that though the application had closed, the school was willing to let us submit our application within the same day. Ah… that was when I started to dream (fantasize, actually) of how well my daughter would do academically like sweeping prize awards every year, being the top student in school and better still, clinching a scholarship that will pay for her university education!

I was more than happy to remain in that fantasy until my dear husband posed me a few questions and knocked some good sense into me. He said to me: “Don’t just ask which school the child needs to be in to excel. We also need to mull over whether the school she’s in needs her.” For a few seconds, I looked at him and thought to myself, “What kind of question is that?” Then he went on to explain that some mission schools, like the one our daughter attends, take in students of a wide range of academic abilities, while others accept only the top band of students. The former find it hard to retain their brighter students because the environment in the school is “less stimulating” than that of the latter. But if the brightest and the best think only of what’s best for themselves and leave for academically stronger schools, then the schools that take in average students will struggle to find student leaders of sufficient caliber to lead and inspire their peers. Being in a top school does not necessarily elevate her confidence in life. That was a revelation and paradigm shift for me.

My husband himself was from a mission boys’ school that was (and is) not academically the top in Singapore. He did very well in his studies and CCAs but opted to go to the Junior College (JC) affiliated with his secondary school out of a sense of loyalty and a desire for continuity. Very few people understood his decision, including his parents. They thought he was throwing away his chances for success at the ‘A’ levels, but things turned out otherwise.

Their proudest moment was when he emerged as top student in his JC and he clinched a government scholarship to study at a top UK University. Ironically, when he went there, he confessed that his self-confidence took a great knock as he found himself feeling small even stupid in comparison to those around him who, in his words, “had brains the size of planets”!

Hence, his words carry more weight and I, the “not-so-wise” other half, must take heed! So, I have abandoned the idea of submitting the application to that top school (for now ;-)).


I WILL be patient and not lose my cool with my kids”, “I WILL be consistent in the discipline of my children”. Ok, what about my “I will NOT”? Here goes:“I will NOT run to carry my baby when he/she cries.” “I will NOT allow my kids to watch TV while having their meal”, “I will NOT be an overly protective parent…” And the list goes on.

These were but a small sample of what I used to tell myself before I got married and had children of my own. But alas, almost a decade later, now with one husband and two daughters, I have come to realize that such beliefs were unrealistic, even immature. We have all these ideals – in other words, fantasies of how our life in terms of career, marriage and children would pan out when we are young and care-free. Worse still, when we are free from parental responsibilities, we are quick to judge others with children and offer unsolicited advice on how they should raise their kids! “Tsk tsk tsk… these unruly kids!” Or we make comments like, “What’s wrong with their parents?” or “Let me teach them how to parent their children?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should swing to the other extreme and not set any goals or expectations for the future. What I am saying is, we don’t hold on to some of our ideals rigidly like we would hold on to our dear life. Sure, there are some non-negotiable matters such as integrity and faithfulness that we should not compromise on but I am talking about approaches / methods of doing things. It would probably be more realistic to have expectations but be willing to re-evaluate and modify them as we journey through parenthood.

Having been a mother for eight years now, I am still learning and needing to modify my expectations as I steer through the different phases of my children’s growth and development. It is a bitter-sweet voyage, with much joy and tears. Some of the tears are beneficial and necessary for character building – both for ourselves and our children. If I have to choose all over again, I wcxill not trade motherhood for anything in the world!

For those who are planning to embark on this journey or already in it, Bon Voyage!

Our guest blogger this week is Diana Chan. She is part of our Focus on the Family Singapore staff team. Diana is our (part-time) Communications Manager, to be precise.