Author Archives: dinahphua

About dinahphua

I’m the latest addition to the team at Focus on the Family. Wife of Ben for almost 19 years and mom to my 15-year-old teenage twins, Deborah and Daniel. Enjoy the outdoors and solitude, not to mention the luxury of sipping a good cup of coffee with a good book to go with!

Caring for the Courageous

Inspired by the movie, Courageous, I’ve been making some personal observation about the women behind Courageous men whom I personally know.

In the words of the producers, “Hollywood produces movies to entertain and make money at the box office. Courageous was made to change lives.” The movie has the potential to change the family climate and it is certainly changing the lives of not only the men but the wives as well.

It takes a Courageous man to answer the call and fully resolve to stay committed to a standard above mediocrity and be more than just a “good enough” father and/or husband.

I realized that he can’t do it alone. The Courageous man is not immune to the challenges, discouragement and temptations that abound when he devotes himself to making and keeping commitments that will bring him and his family all the blessings and joy.

Author Kay Arthur puts it so aptly – that one of the greatest fears that dominate husbands in particular, is the fear of being found inadequate.

After being married for almost 20 years and learning from many other marriages, I’ve ascertained that a wife is the best person to help alleviate this fear. It comes down to my three “As” – my Attention, my Admiration and my Affirmation.

It is not often articulated, but my husband desires to know more than anything that I trust him and that I believe in him. He is fulfilled when he senses that despite his inadequacies, I see the possibilities and potential God has given him; I recognize and support his divinely wired role as the leader and provider of our family.

Being that voice of support, confidence and encouragement is a morale booster to him. It quells the continual struggle against any sense of inadequacy that smolders inside of him.

The truth is that I’ve not always been that voice. I recall the earlier years of our marriage – I was so naturally quick to criticize and correct my husband’s actions. There were times when I felt justified in what I said because I think that’s the way he ought to feel about himself after what he’s done or not done! Nothing can be more damaging and destructive to him and to me and the entire family. It took me quite a while though to realize what was happening.

Our men aren’t perfect. Neither are they delusional, they know it too even if they are not quick to admit it. But just like you and me, he is not to be defined by his imperfections. Sure there are times for talking plainly and honestly about things he needs to improve and watch out for. But I’ve learned my lesson that it will go a long way for me to choose wisely what I say, how I say and when to say.

Our cutting, nagging comments can wound him deeply, especially when any disapproval and resentment are unresolved and accumulated over time. It makes him feel belittled and insignificant, beaten down and discouraged. What we think of as no more than a little jab about a specific incident becomes a stabbing wound that can leave a hole in his heart.

Yet equally powerful are our simple, honest, even casual compliments.  When we make it our resolution to remind them of the potential and possibility that lies within them – not because we are patronizing or manipulating them but because we truly believe it – they feel on top of the world. This is one sure way to care for the Courageous.

I trust that the unwavering assurance of my support and devotion will inspire him to greater things than he’s proven capable of before, breakthroughs that would bring forth a richer blessing and depth of relationships to our family.

Indeed I can say that “My husband is a rich man because he has a strong faith, children who love him and a wife who adores him.”

“To my husband, Ben – my resolution is to be faithful to you and honor you in my conduct and conversation, help you reach your God-given potential and to serve you well as a wife and to be the kind of woman who truly blesses her man. I pray that when the curtain closes on my time here on earth, you will be able to confidently say that I was a woman of resolution.”



I read with interest my colleague’s Valuable without Labels blog post last week. Like him, I wish that the young (and for that matter, even the not-so-young) will realize that they are valuable for who they are, regardless of the assessments used to measure their worth.

But labels seem to influence our perception of things and people profoundly; a lot more than we like to admit. Labels have a way of making something or someone more or less valuable.

As a parent, there have been moments when the unmet expectations of my own children have derailed the perspective I held so dearly; that is, my children are valuable regardless of the binding labels received from  their (academic) assessment results. 

No parent will frown upon the “As” or any other successful labels that their children obtain. It’s always the other labels that we have problems with. I can imagine the myriad of methods we parents use to cope with our disappointment and unmet expectations. We do the instinctive – nag, compare, give pep talks, increase the pressure, go into denial, etc. you name it.

I also asked myself a hard question – “Am I, albeit unintentionally one of the many parents pursuing the quintessential Singapore Dream; defined as getting your children to exceed your lot in life?” This is one dream which slavishly fills parents with anxiety as the achievement benchmarks are constantly being raised.

Upon reflection, it struck me that our children must know that their value or worth isn’t determined by the norm, or world’s standards alone; all the more when a child’s self-esteem is largely shaped by his parents. Should I fall into the trap of defining successful parenting as essentially getting my children to embrace my standards and goals, and achieving them; I think I would have grievously overlooked my key role as a parent.

I’m reminded of a tip which I give as a family life educator myself – that’s to get into the mindset that everything you do as a parent ultimately is part of validating or nurturing your children. Validating is letting your child know he/she is good enough. Nurturing is filling your child up with aliveness!

The world will constantly dole out its various labels in every life stage of our children. Often times, these labels can be premature, deceiving or harsh. As a parent, I shouldn’t add to that problematic list. I need to conversely undo the effects of every unkind label and keep at nurturing and validating my children.

I must do what the world won’t do. No one will love our children as unconditionally as we will. As parents, we have plentiful, unmatched opportunities to do that. This is our lot in life as parents! I shall focus my attention to love them more!



Gadgets versus Get together

I was in New York City recently and I missed capturing a picture. It wasn’t about the city; it was about a little girl around 3 years old who caught my attention. She was walking out of a café with her daddy, holding a doll in one hand and tucked under her other tiny arm was an iPad!

Shortly after I returned home, I saw something similar – it’s now an older girl about eight years old walking with her dad. No doll but both arms clutching an iPad. There was this other instance when I saw a mom with her two kids in a restaurant. The mom was seated across the table facing her kids. But all three of them were just totally engrossed with their respective gadgets. They were together but each one busy playing their own game!

The advent of Nintendo DS, Play Station Portable (PSP), smart phones and iPads or tablets has definitely revolutionalized the way families connect with one another. The amazing capability for these gadgets to entertain and keep one occupied is simply unbeatable. So captivating are these gadgets that any child or adult can become admittedly covetous without them.

Having observed many families and my own, I’ve also noticed that family bonds are not strengthened with more gadgets. It doesn’t take long for tired parents to realize that it is so much easier to have these gadgets babysit their kids. After all, what these gadgets can do is often so much more engaging. Switch the gadget to an educational mode and it can teach their kids what they have neither the time nor energy to do.

The truth is that it takes effort and know-how to connect meaningfully. With a gadget, you just buy it and it’ll perform its function. Slowly but surely, the addictive nature of these gadgets can take over; causing us to be so preoccupied with them at the expense of engaging with one another meaningfully. There’s little talking and listening and we may be present physically but absent in every sense of the word.

A trait of a healthy family is one that plays together. They schedule play times onto the calendar; they make time to have fun as a family. Just as lifelong friendships don’t develop accidentally but as a result of spending time together regularly, connecting with our kids is no different. In fact, our face time with them – real-time communication with eye contact and body language – is even more critical in today’s virtual, digital age and its myriad of gadgets.

Remember that song we used to sing many years ago when we were kids? That goes: The more we get together, together, together. The more we get together, the happier we’ll be!

Times have changed but the human heart has not.It longs for real, heart to heart connection, especially in the family. This is one thing that gadgets can never do.

My Shoe Story

I’ve always been a believer that good, comfortable shoes are essential; with the exception of high-heeled shoes, of course. But shoes took on a different meaning for me recently. It’s actually my son’s pair of shoes – it evokes a sense of gladness and gratefulness within me.

Here’s the story – it all started in his 3-day/2-night school camp that he attended. Every student had to bring two pairs of shoes; a black pair of waterproof shoes and another pair for the usual rugged camp use.

This pair for general camp use is also the same pair of shoes that he wears to school daily. At one of the hiking activities during the camp, his left shoe got caught in some thick mud that the front part started gaping.

When my son returned home after camp, he recounted what had happened to his shoes.  In the same breath, he asked for superglue to seal the gap so that he could continue wearing them to school.

It struck me that this is not necessarily a typical request of a 15-year-old with shoes in this condition. In our highly “disposal” age and living in Singapore, it’s more likely for a teenager to ask for a new pair of shoes.  Would I even wear a pair of shoes in this state myself?

It also dawned on me that I may well be reaping what my husband and I have sown in our children very early on in their lives. Amongst the many “seeds” sown over the years, perhaps this one is bearing fruit in this instance – your sense of worth is not dictated by stuff,  as in what you may have or wear; regardless of the common messages communicated.

The camp was in January and three months later, my son is still wearing this pair of shoes (with a gaping front) to school.  Superglue never quite came to the rescue. My son knows that he will readily have a new pair of shoes when he decides that he can’t walk in this pair anymore.

I have personally found my (son’s) shoe story heartening. I am humbled. I am blessed as a parent.  I have stories about my son’s twin sister too. That’ll be another time.

Am I Pragmatic or Romantic?

 I have often been asked if my husband is romantic. The answer can be left for another time. I posed the same question of myself and discovered to my surprise that I was a lot more pragmatic than romantic. In fact, too pragmatic for my own liking, I think.  

It was my husband’s birthday earlier this month. The day was drawing near and still, I had no idea what to do, what gift to buy or where to take him to for his birthday dinner. Thanks to my telecommunications provider, I received a SMS alerting its subscribers of a 1-for-1 dinner promotion in a refurbished hotel. My husband and I thought it’ll make a good venue for his birthday dinner. So we proceeded to make a dinner reservation for our family of four.

It didn’t take me too long before I started entertaining the thought of having the birthday dinner during the school holiday week instead. Why? Our twins are not done at school till 6.30 pm on Thursdays and they will still be clad in their uniforms. Travelling to town for dinner will take quite a while in peak hour traffic. By the time dinner is over and we get home, it will be late and we will likely go to bed later than usual. That is not very inviting considering that we need to start early every weekday morning. 

I went as far as to discuss my proposal with my husband and he readily understood and agreed to postpone his birthday dinner for two weeks till the holidays when there will be no rush and we will all be more relaxed. 

Just when I thought we were going ahead with my new proposed plan, this question beckoned, “Should I be pragmatic about the birthday plan or can I just be a little more romantic?” It dawned on me right at that very moment that I was becoming too pragmatic. My proposed plan made sense but it would have had a subtle negating effect on the value of our loved ones; in that to celebrate their special day was perhaps not as important as the upkeep of some routine. 

 I was glad that we went for the birthday dinner as originally planned. We were caught in rush hour traffic, the twins ate while clad in their school uniform, we got home late and the entire family did with less sleep that night. But we conveyed one simple message into each other’s heart: “You are a VIP in our lives and you deserve to be celebrated (especially on your birthday) in a less pragmatic manner.” A little romance will do well here actually! I was that close to falling into the trap of sheer pragmatism which can gradually rob you of deeper emotional connectedness, timely celebrations and intimacy with your loved ones.