Author Archives: gohagnes

Date Night Challenge

date nightSince two and a half years ago, our domestic helper decided to go back to her home country and we felt the kids were older and we would be able to manage without one. Thankfully, with the help of my husband, and my giving the kids some responsibilities, we have all managed to pitch in. However, it hasn’t been as easy to go out on a date with my husband ever since. It was easier in the past as we could tuck our kids to bed and go out on a date at night while our helper was at home. Now we have to rely mainly on our parents for child minding.

Research says that 92% of couples who make dating a priority have increased satisfaction in their relationships. So we have been trying to arrange for our date night. It wasn’t easy in the beginning and we hardly had the chance as we weren’t intentional about it.

Take One

There was a night where we had to visit a friend in hospital. The kids were doing a sleepover at their grandparents’. After the hospital visit, we decided to make it a date night to catch a movie at Vivocity. The Mandarin movie we wanted to watch had already been running for quite a while and so we were certain that we could get tickets. I guess not being out for a date for a long time made us inexperienced in understanding the night life in Singapore. Tickets were sold out and so we decided to find a quiet place for coffee and dessert. We combed the entire Vivocity, but I guess “quiet” and “shopping centers” in Singapore are an oxymoron. Every affordable place was packed. So we decided to head home.

What I got out from that? Just spending time together, holding hands walking around. Yup! That’s a date too.

Take Two

We wanted to attend a night conference together. Again, thankfully the kids had a sleepover at their grandparents’. We managed to attend the conference and had a very good time engaging in discussion about the conference after that.

Key note? Learning together – that’s a date too.

Take Three

Saturday mornings give us a good two hours of couple time as the kids head off for their enrichment class. We get to have breakfast together as we search out places in the vicinity for good coffee. We talk about politics, faith, kids, challenges, hopes, dreams. And good coffee… did I mention that already? That’s a bonus.

Learning point – engaging in meaningful conversation and giving and having undivided attention. You guessed it. That’s a date too.

In retrospect, we can find pockets of time to spend with each other, but we do need to be intentional about it as well. You need to work at your marriage, and it will work for you!

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What Do Women Want?

I was having dinner with a few friends who were mothers and we were talking about our kids and work. One of them recently resigned from a high paying and high level marketing position in the private sector. She did this so she could focus and spend more time nurturing and teaching her four children. She shared with us that one of her female colleagues told her that she was still young and it was “such a waste” for her to stop work to look after children. That statement both irked me and amused me at the same time. How could it ever be a waste to be responsible to raise and nurture a helpless infant into a happy, healthy and valuable young adult? I feel that such a statement may reflect how parenting is valued in an economically driven society. Is making money and developing a career more valued than making children and building them up?

Ever since women entered the workforce, there has been a tug-of-war of sorts especially for working mothers. On one hand, we want to be involved, to contribute and have a sense of personal achievement in work, and yet feel the natural calling to nurture and spend time with our children. In culture, in society and in policies, it is the dichotomous nature of how women are defined – stay-home mother versus career mother – that shape employment and the way we work. Does it have to be one or the other? Why not both?

  • In a survey by Citi and LinkedIn early this year, 96% of the 520 professional women think that “having it all” – careers, financial stability and relationships – is attainable.
  • For the majority of women in the survey, success was defined by having a job they enjoy, where their work is valued. Only 17% of women stated that reaching the height of success in their field was a factor of “having it all.” For another 15%, success meant being their own boss.

What’s interesting here is that the majority defined success in job satisfaction and appreciation; not advancement. Gallup, known for its Q12 Employee Engagement Survey has also done extensive research to show the link between high employee engagement and high work performance. And high employee engagement has more to do with having personal development, a sense of purpose and appreciation.

Another research by sociologist Catherine Hakim from the London School of Economics highlights that there are three lifestyle preferences that women choose: home-centered, work-centered or adaptive. Her research points out that about 20% of women favor a home-centered life, 20% for a work-centered life, while the 60% majority of women prefer a life that combines career and family, i.e. adaptive. I’ve not done empirical research on this but based on what I hear from colleagues, ex-colleagues, husband’s colleagues and other peers and friends, I would say that this is true.

So what has all these got to do with the work-family ideals of women, the ideals of employers in having a high performing workforce, and the government’s hope to increase fertility rates?

Maybe employers and the government should take a leaf from my husband’s jest “listen to the wife, she’s always right.” Many government incentives favor the full-time working mother – working mother child relief, tax relief for working mothers who hire domestic helpers, higher childcare subsidies for working mothers. So what do women want? If the research mentioned above is anything to go by, then more incentives and policies should target and reach the majority of women who want a life that combines career and family rather than full-time working mothers, as well as incentivize employers to support flexible work arrangements.

Having the infrastructure and policies to support flexible work arrangements is important. But what truly makes it successful is trust and managing work performance by outcome and not by face time. In the Singapore context and culture, it might be a big paradigm shift as well as a learning curve for employers and individual managers to leverage on technology in managing staff remotely and by outcome. But the greatest mountain to overcome comes down to the value of having a culture of trust.

Focus on the Family Singapore was just awarded the Work-life Excellence Award 2012 and as a staff, I can truly testify that this organization understands and practices the value of meeting staff’s work-life needs. It’s one thing to have semblances of a pro-worklife employer by having fruits in office, implementing annual family day or even asking staff to go home on time or early on Fridays. But trust is really the deal breaker. Ernest Hemingway once said “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

The employer-employee relationship works both ways. That’s why I think the articulated culture here at Focus supports the commitment to work-life excellence – Trust Culture, Healthy Conflict, 100% Commitment, Accountability and Results. I’m the beneficiary of this trust and commitment from my leaders in the organization. I am one of the 60% of women who prefer a life that combines career and family and I can say that I’m “having it all.”

The Best is Yet to Be

Is your marriage perfect? I can’t say that of mine. Very often, we are insensitive to each other’s feelings. Words fly out of our mouth before we process it in our head. Assumptions and biases take root and fester and blow out of proportion before we clarify those assumptions. Differences in personality and little idiosyncrasies that used to be cute and quirky before marriage now seem irritating. Stress and fatigue overtake good manners and graciousness.

An example I remember was in the early part of our marriage. There was one night when I was pouring out my heart-felt woes of work to my husband, and in the midst of it, he fell asleep. He was genuinely tired. I was genuinely upset… that he fell asleep while I was talking. He is a morning person, I come alive at night. I assumed he was not interested in what I had to say. Of course you can imagine what proceeded after that.

The realities of married life hit you the moment you say “I do” and it is nothing like what you imagined. What makes some marriages work while others breakdown?  Is it because of compatible personalities as opposed to opposites? Is it about one person giving in to another? Some marriages continue in name but foster a persistent wound in the relationship. Some don’t even see the need for marriage. The postmodern culture advocates moral relativism, relationships that benefit self the most, choices and options, freedom of sexuality.

In this season of the Olympics, it would do us well to glean some parallels from great Olympic teams for marriage.

  • Athletes have a single-minded commitment and focus towards a goal.

The moment we make our marriage vows, it is a single-minded commitment till death do us part.

  • Athletes learn how to improve their skill through discipline, training, and practice.

The marriage relationship between husband and wife is no different. Two different individuals also need to learn how to love each other in action and words. This takes practice.

  • Athletes have passion for their sport.

Discipline and determination can get you started. But it is passion that sustains. The passion here I’m talking about is not sexual desires; but a conviction or devotion to something. In this case: the marriage relationship.

  • Athletes train together, play together, and celebrate triumphs together.

Time must be carved out to do things together.

  • Different people have different roles to play and everyone’s effort in the team matters.

Be it hockey, volleyball, basketball or even gymnastics, everyone has a different role to play and does it to the best of their ability to bring up the team score. Team members exercise mutual respect and leverage on each other’s strengths. The marriage relationship is no different. Couples should not be competing with each other, but working together.

  • Athletes have a mentor.

In the sporting world, athletes have mentors. In the business world, professionals also have mentors. Why not in marriage? As a newlywed, I would have appreciated if I had a marriage mentor who could share their personal experiences with my husband and me, someone trusted to share my frustrations or get advice from.

Families start from the basic unit of one male and one female – the husband and wife. That’s why the marriage relationship between husband and wife is so important. After being married for ten years, I realize that marriage is not as easy as apple pie; but neither is it frightful or arduous. It is a journey with my husband with whom I can say (borrowing the words of poet Robert Browning) “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be…”

Gifts that Last a Lifetime

My daughter is currently in a state of expectancy and excitement. She says she can’t wait for May to come. We all know why – because it’s her birthday. At 5 years old turning 6, she’s someone who knows what she wants. She wants a birthday party, she knows who she wants to invite, and what she wants for presents – hamsters from mum and dad. Every few days, she’ll ask us if it’s the month of May already. We’re currently cracking our heads on what to do for her birthday party but the goal is that it should be fun for her and inexpensive for us.

Like many Singaporean parents, my husband and I also want to give the best to our children. When my children were born, I thought about what I could pass down to them as a “family heirloom.” Maybe my wedding dress, I thought; but then again it could be out of fashion by my daughter’s time.

I currently have three things that I want to pass down to my daughter. The first is a little lamb soft toy. This was given to me by my husband when we were dating. The Latin form of my name means ‘lamb’ and the Greek meaning is ‘pure’. I put the toy in her cot when she was a baby, and a few years ago, gave it to her and explained that she is like my little lamb. The second is a music box that my parents gave to me when I was in my late teens. It’s a wooden music box they bought when they were in Switzerland. I kept my favorite trinkets in there. I hope that it is something she can use in the future that will also remind her of her grandparents. The third thing I plan to give to my daughter and son is a collection of my blog. Ever since they were born, I have been keeping a blog to chronicle the different stages of their growing up, successes they have, falls they make and hopefully learn from, conversations we have. They may not remember the early years of their life when they grow up and so I hope my blog will give them something to remember.

But more than material gifts, how many of us actually think about and consciously pass down gifts that last a lifetime? Have we considered the values, beliefs and faith we want to pass down to our children?

When I was growing up, my parents where strict disciplinarians – especially dad. We were constantly in conflict, particularly the rough teenage years; where like my daughter; I too knew what I wanted and wanted it my way. Little did I know that,

  • When I got reprimanded for being last minute or late, dad was teaching me the value of time and punctuality;
  • When I got a 10pm curfew put in place because I came home very late one night without telling my parents my whereabouts, they were teaching me about consequences and responsibility;
  • When I had to learn how to cook and spend Saturdays doing household chores, they were teaching me how to take care of my family.

We need to intentionally remind ourselves and be purposeful in passing down and giving our children “treasures” that will not decay, be destroyed or be stolen. But rather, “treasures” that will last a lifetime and for generations to come, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

10 Great Years & More…

Today is my husband’s birthday (Happy Birthday Hubs!) and tomorrow is my 10th wedding anniversary! We are so completely different yet I’m so amazed at how God has put us together, in such a complimentary way. He has been my mentor, my friend, my blind spot detector, my advisor and iron. Yes, iron because as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

But what’s the big deal about 10 years? Because there is a special name for it – a decade! Years 1 to 9 are called just that. But a DECADE! Seriously, a decade has gone by so fast and I dare say that our relationship has grown stronger through our time spent, conversations, disagreements, birth of and raising of our kids, etc. It’s been nothing less than an adventure.

I’ve been pretty excited about planning and spending a day with him since it’s a milestone year in marriage. It has also been a while since we went on a date, especially after I stopped having a domestic helper. I’ve been cracking my brains on how I can surprise him with a romantic gesture, but it’s been tough since this is something I’m not very good at. We thought we’d take a day off from work to spend quality time together. So with our work leave applied and approved and care arrangement for our kids settled, I was looking forward to our special day. Then last week, he said that there was urgent work to clear and he could only take the afternoon off. I was disappointed at first because that meant a change in plans and less time for our date. Then I remembered to apply one of the many lessons I’ve learnt in my 10-year marriage – Be adaptable!
In fact, marriage teaches one many things and it raises one up to be a better person if both parties work at it. So, I’ve decided to make a top 10 list of things I’ve learnt in the last decade of my marriage. Here goes:

1. Don’t nag. It really doesn’t work.
2. Speak words of affirmation to him, in front of him, and behind his back.
3. Learn to relax. Don’t be a ‘kanjiong spider’.
4. Focus on his strengths and all the good things he has done. And give thanks for that.
5. Aim to be a better person for him.
6. Don’t nag. Yes, it’s worthy of mention again.
7. Let him lead. Don’t do everything yourself and think you have to do everything yourself.
8. Listen, listen listen.
9. Make time to communicate.
10. Pray for him.

By the end of this blog, I’ve got a brain wave for my surprise gift. And I’m still looking forward to a great date with him and more to come.

Courage Redefined

Four fathers and nine kids made Project Fathers Unite.  That was what my husband and three other fathers called their day out with their children. The four men were on leave from work and decided to come together to spend a whole day of quality time with their kids. Scored points with the wives? You bet. The program for the day was outdoor play and rollerblading at Pasir Ris Park, dinner at the airport, followed by more running and bouncing around the airport.

We all met up a few days later at another function and talked about it. The mothers agreed that this was definitely something the fathers should do more often. One of the mums asked, “Did they wash their hands before dinner?” A silent pause from the dads ensued, followed by an assurance that the kids washed their hands after play at the park. Not a direct or expected answer, but the task was done nonetheless. And that’s the difference between father-love from mother-love. Fathers play and parent differently from mothers; and kids can tell the difference; as observed by my son, “Papa plays with us, Mummy takes care of us.”

A lot of research has gone into why and how fathers matter in parenting. A father is more than just a second adult in the house (although sometimes they don’t act like adults, especially when they’ve got their latest electronic gadgets). Fathers challenge “go faster!” Mothers advise “be careful!” Mothers cuddle, fathers roughhouse. Fathers bring a set of unique parenting skills to the family, something that mothers can’t replace.

Some may feel that a father’s main role is to provide for the family, maybe spend some time with the kids on their homework and that’s good enough. After all, our fathers and their fathers didn’t really spend that much time with us, and we turned out fine.

Adam: “I’ve been doing about half of what I should be doing as a dad.”

Shane: “You’re being too hard on yourself. You’ve been a good enough father.”

Adam: “I don’t want to be a good enough father…”

Good enough? These words of Adam and Shane are taken from the movie Courageous. I had the privilege of watching the preview of this powerful movie. It is action-packed, inspirational, thought-provoking, humorous and touching all rolled into 130 minutes. It is a movie by fathers, for fathers, to reconcile with their past, engage with their present and move forward with a bold resolution for the future.

Why the title “Courageous” though? I thought words like “Honor” or “Strength” may seem more related to fathers. What’s courage got to do with fatherhood? I like this quote that I came across  that encapsulates what the movie is about and why it is called Courageous – “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

There is a resolution in the movie that calls fathers to declare and commit to. When I read the words of The Resolution, I then understood that it truly takes a courageous man to make such a bold commitment. Words like “I will bless my children and teach them to love God with all of their hearts, all of their minds, and all of their strength. I will train them to honor authority and live responsibly. I will confront evil, pursue justice, and love mercy… I will learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins, and walk with integrity as a man answerable to God…” This is a call to fathers to a standard above mediocrity, a standard of excellence, and more than just “good enough”.

Courageous is now screening at Cathay cinemas.

HANDLING HOW TO’S

 In many aspects of our lives, we’re looking for answers from gurus, consultants, teachers, mentors and even self-help books.

‘How to talk to your teenager’

‘How to help your child cope with exams and stress’

‘How to increase the level of engagement of employees’

‘How to get 6-pack abs in 3 months’

Sounds familiar? Well, I’m now going through a particular ‘How to’ phase as well. It’s how to help my preschooler overcome her fears and anxiety, and manage her emotions. Last year, for her school concert performance, her teachers put her at the front center of her class because she was a good dancer and so she could also lead the class in the dance steps. She got so stressed because of it that she didn’t want to go to school during that period. On another occasion, she got stung by a wasp-like insect and for months she would freak out at the sight of any insect.

Over the long weekend, for the very first time in our lives, we got stopped by a traffic police because we had squeezed in a few additional friends in the car. As my husband stepped out to explain our situation, my daughter got really frightened and asked if he was going to put us in jail. You could see that she was really worried and afraid. I hope she doesn’t develop a fear of the police. On the other hand, my son was trying to get the policeman’s attention by making funny faces at him and shouting through the glass window, “I surrender! I surrender!”

I’ve been learning a lot from the resources and workshops from Focus on the Family Singapore; and so it’s great that I can apply the learning immediately. When addressing fears and emotions, what not to say is “You have to be brave.” “There’s nothing to be scared of.” (This is what the Hubs says to me about lizards and I can testify that it does not help). “It’s because you watched that TV show. I told you not to watch it.” Such words do not help comfort the child nor help her overcome the fear.

Instead, we should:

  1. Let her know it’s ok to be afraid
  2. Help her understand being afraid is temporary
  3. Let her know it’s ok to talk about her fear and help her to verbalize her fear and emotions with words
  4. Let her know it is also normal not to be afraid.
  5. Help her learn a new response or behavior to replace her fear response. The use of imagination is one way.

My friend in the car demonstrated these tips very well. She explained that policemen were there to keep us safe and look out for us. She then helped my daughter observe and interpret the situation in a humorous way by asking the following questions to explain that the policeman was not angry.

“Is his face turning red?” “No”

“Is steam coming out from his ears?” “No”

“Is his helmet flying off from his head?” “No”

With each question, it helped her read the situation and in place of fear, she even managed a smile and giggle.

PS: For more self-help books, don’t miss the FOTFS Christmas 20% Storewide Book Sale which happens only once a year! Free Delivery. Log onto www.family.org.sg for more details.