073 Insights Gathered From Fighting Phone Addiction

Troubles At Home

Recently a friend X confided that he is having trouble making conversation with his teenage boy.  Almost every recent conversation between the father and son ended up badly. X said remorsefully, “Somehow nothing good comes out of my mouth when I talk to him these days.”

“Perhaps, it’s time to hold back your words. Just listen. ” I said thoughtfully.

But it didn’t seem like useful advice to him.

X continued, “Our fights are always over his excessive use of his mobile phone!”

What’s there to listen when it comes to the issue of phone addiction? Parents think everything that their children say sounds like an excuse. And to the children, parents are making a mountain out of a molehill in a draconian attempt to control their lives.

Source: WordPress Photo Library

A Rift Is Created

I know how it was like. I had my own battles with my thirteen year old son, Conan, over his excessive use of mobile phone previously too.

I was often infuriated that Conan was always repeatedly saying “Wait, just one minute,” so that he could finish a text, browse down a web page further or play an online game a while longer with his friends. 

And it got worse. His hands were perpetually stuck to the phone, his eyes were constantly glued to the screen. Be it walking on the streets, travelling in commute, having his meals and even going to the bathroom, the mobile phone and the boy became inseparable! I had enough of telling him and finally threw down the gauntlet by issuing an ultimatum, “Stop it! Or this will be the last time you see that phone!”

Source: WordPress Photo Library

Conan would hurriedly keep his mobile phone away before tension escalated further. But it did nothing to alleviate the problem. My son continued to use mobile phone excessively behind my back. Quietly, Conan told his mom, “Ever since Dad had thyroid problems two years ago, his temper had become really weird and fiery. Better stay away from him.”

In my desperate efforts to solve problems quickly, I had unwittingly created a rift between my son and me.

Problem-solving Through Engagement

My wife became the one who had to constantly remind Conan, which I initially thought she was doing none the better than I. But gradually I noticed a crucial difference. My wife never allowed her relationship with the son to be soured by this issue, however much it tested her patience.

Their daily conversations continued unabated. On several occasions, my wife even managed to negotiate time-offs successfully.  Without his mobile phone, Conan became more engaged and conversational. My wife hugged him and teased, “Finally, my boy is back, escaped from the claws of your handphone. I really like how thoughtful you are. Please continue to keep your phone in your bag instead of holding it in your hand.”  

Source: WordPress Photo Library

There, I realised the wisdom of my wife’s give-and-take tactics and her gradual approach to improving our boy’s habits through engagement.

Find Opportunities To Think About Whys Together

Taking cue, I changed tack and stopped correcting the boy. Instead, I focused on having Conan think about the whys of setting ground rules at opportune moments.

I seized an opportunity in the midst of a lively conversation over family dinner one day to broach the topic,

“I really enjoy listening to your views at conversations. Now you know why I have imposed a no-handphone policy at the dinning table?”

Conan smiled and replied, “I know what you want to say.”

Then he stole my lines,

“Mealtimes are not just time to eat. They are also social time to enjoy food, each other’s company and make conversations.”

https://www.coupons.com/thegoodstuff/famly-dinner-ideas/

Conan has even become the person who enforces the rule these days. One Saturday, my wife unexpectedly placed her entertainment tablet on the dining table.

“Lunchtime is for family conversations. No gadgets please.” I said.

My wife argued, “I am just letting the drama run, like the TV, that’s all. I don’t have my earpieces plugged in, I’m listening to you.”

Hearing that, Conan, who was sitting next to his mom, remarked, “That means I can also do this then,”

Conan picked up a novel he was reading earlier and pretended to continue reading while digging into the food, murmuring, “I don’t have my earpieces on either, I’m listening.”

My wife acquiesced, “Alright, you father and son win this time. Don’t let me catch you in the same act!”

Conan and I laughed. True enough, we were the repeat offenders most of the time in the past.

From The Child’s Perspective

I told Conan, “I noticed that you have learnt to use handphone moderately. I am thinking of sharing your experiences with my friend X.”

Conan advised,

“Dad, tell your friend, ‘Don’t shove rules down your child’s throat. The more you stop them, the more they will resist. And feel they do not have enough.’ Give his child enough time to figure out how much is enough.”

“Wouldn’t things get worse? ” I asked, “That’s what worried me when you moved on from one thing to another on the web over the last two years as if you would never get enough.”

Conan put on his thinking cap and explained,

“Well, some ground rules are necessary. But your friend needs to find the opportune timing to discuss with his son; not threaten or preach, but bounce ideas like what are the appropriate situations to use and not to use phones.”

Conan elaborated,

“Ideas like no phone at dining table, while walking on the streets, and before completing homework make perfect sense. I am sure his son can figure it out too if the discussion is done at the right timing. Nobody likes to be told off.”

Then Conan added,

“Next, your friend must walk the talk. It is easier to pick up new habits as a family, rather than expecting the child to do it alone.” Conan continued,

“And the last step is to expand his interest in other things. As you can see, when I don’t have my phone, I simply switch to doing other things I like.”

Insights

Here are some precious insights I’ve gathered:

One: Don’t force your rules on children.

Two: Give children enough time to figure out what is best.

Three: Find opportune timing to work out the rules together.

Four: Walk the talk with children.

Five: Expand interest in other things.

Every child is different, so the approach may not be the same for everyone. Nevertheless, I hope that these hard-earned lessons may be of use to others. Do share this blogpost and let me know if it is of help.

William W K Tan

24 August 2019, Saturday

071 The Meaning Of Life Is In That Droplet Of Honey!

One of the greatest perks of parenting is to engage children in meaningful conversations. They set us thinking about important questions.

A Conversation About Pursuing Dreams

Several months ago, I had a conversation with my thirteen year old son, Conan, about “pursuing dreams”.

I said to him, “Before you turn fifteen, try to have a dream that makes you passionate enough to learn and do everything you can to realise that dream.”

To illustrate my point, I gave an example, “You love watching Youtube. Rather than spending many hours consuming the content as a viewer, wouldn’t it be more satisfying if you become a content creator? You are capable of that.”

And I went on, “Be a Youtuber!  Isn’t that an idea you had before? I’d rather you try working on your dreams even if it means compromising a little on your school grades.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Conan’s eyes lit up and remarked, ‘Dad, do you know that successful Youtubers make millions of dollars and influence millions of people?”

I nodded smilingly. “Yes, you told me that before.”

Then he challenged me, ‘But do you also know that only a few become that successful? Most people eventually give up their dreams, make do with a nine-to-five job, settle down with a family and lead a normal life like anyone else. So, what’s the point of pursuing a dream?”  

Ouch! That sounded like an insinuation at his old man. But I was impressed with what he said. Letting out a chuckle, I replied, “You have given an apt description of many people’s lives. And you spoke as if you have seen it all.”

Then, I continued, “Life does seem pointless if you look only at the sketches. Life becomes colourful only if you fill in the colours.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Conan pondered over my words quietly for a few moments while looking intently at me. 

I posed him a question, “If life is just the same thing for everyone, then you wouldn’t mind swopping your life with anyone else.  So is it okay that if I were to get you to study in another school that you don’t like, have a different set of friends or grow up in another family?”

Conan laughed at the absurdities of my hypothetical question.

I explained, “The truth is life may look the same for everyone, but it carries different meaning for different people.”

He replied, “I think I am okay with my life as it is now. It’s just that I lose interest in things so quickly that I don’t know what my dream is.”

“That’s a problem you have to solve fast. Do you remember you were very keen on playing soccer at primary four, and we supported you fully? But you eventually lost interest when things did not go well despite your best efforts.”

Conan gave an awry smile.

I said, “It’s not a bad experience actually. At least you found out that group sports is not the thing for you.  You get to know yourself better. And one day you will know what your dream really is and no hurdle can stop you from pursuing it. ”

What Is The Point Of Living?

Interestingly, Conan and I had a sequel to this conversation today when I told him about a friend’s seventeen year old daughter’s troubling question to her mother.

Her daughter questioned, “What is the point of life if all we do is to wake up, go to school, eat and sleep. And everyday we repeat the same routine!”

Conan said excitedly, “Dad, tell her this interesting story that I read. A man fell off a cliff and caught onto a tree branch. At the top, there were hungry tigers. And at the bottom were poisonous snakes. In that precarious situation, it’s a matter of time that he could not escape death. Suddenly, the man noticed a droplet of honey dripping off from the branch. And guess what he did? He leaned forward with all his might to lick the honey and cherish every bit of it. The meaning of life is in that droplet of honey.”  

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

That’s a tad too philosophical. I pressed Conan, “What do you think she should do?”

Conan replied, “Let her think through it herself.”

Let’s Hear What Children Have To Say

Growing up, it is only natural that children start to question the meaning of life. But some friends are having serious trouble dealing with the tough questions their children ask. They question the purpose of school life, work and family obligations.

The problem does not lie in our children. It is completely understandable that children who are going through rough patches in life to ask tough questions. The problem, perhaps, is in we adults.

Perhaps, we have become too caught up with dealing the imminent problems (the tigers and snakes) in our lives that we forget to look out for the things that make us feel alive. Or perhaps we have become so jaded that we forget to saviour the occasional honey in life.

Children remind us of important things in life. Let’s engage in meaningful conversation with our children even more. And hear what they have to teach us.

William W K Tan (aka Uncle William)

4 August 2019, Sunday

070 Practise Even More to Love and Feel Loved

NO Hugs, NO Kisses!

Last week, I spoke about teaching autistic children to be affectionate.  Many readers were touched by our family’s efforts to train our son to be warm and spontaneous. Some parents with autistic children, however, had their misgivings.

I was told of a story about a mother X who imposed strictly a “No hugs and no kisses” rule on her autistic son Y. She was concerned that the teenage boy would get into trouble someday if he displays affection inappropriately to strangers.  One day, the mother X even punished her boy Y by making him hug a tree for several hours after he had asked his mom for a hug.  The punishment was the mother’s way of protecting her son from getting into trouble.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

I felt troubled and told my wife about the story. She replied thoughtfully, “We’ve been through it ourselves. Let’s not be quick to judge others. She must have her reasons. Anyway, every family needs time to work their problems out.”

My wife is right.  There may be more than meets the eye to the story. Perhaps, the boy had gotten into some serious trouble. Or perhaps, the mom had done everything she could but failed to get the child to understand. We do not know the full story enough. But one thing I know for certain is, the suppression of the emotional needs may lead to dire consequences for the family.

Source: The Straits Times, 19 March 2016.

Three years ago, Singapore was shaken by the news of a mother, a primary caregiver of her seven year old autistic child, who threw the latter over the parapet to his death. The mother was depressed over her marital woes and physical exhaustion, which she believed was caused by her autistic son. And one could only imagine the desperation and pain the mother experienced for the murder to be committed one day before her 42nd birthday.

I trembled at the thought of seeing such tragedy recurring. For days, I thought hard about my family situation.  My family was nowhere near the brink of desperation, but the fatigue and stress had been mounting to a point where smiles and laughter at home had become scarce. I instinctively knew that more had to be done to bring happiness back. But I did not know how. 

Gleaning lessons from this tragedy, I became even more convinced that a spouse must share the burden of caregiving wholeheartedly. And parents must not suffer in silence or denial, hoping that their problems would just go away. I constantly reminded myself to learn and seek help from others whenever necessary. And most importantly, to stay hopeful always. Still, raising an autistic child remained a challenge as we had to cope with one problem after another.

Stop seeing the child as the problem

Finally one day, it dawned on me that parents must stop seeing their autistic child as the problem. Autism posed problems to the child and the family, but the child did not.  No child should be blamed for his or her medical condition.

If parents see their autistic child as a “problem”, there will be a limit to how much they can shoulder the lifelong heartache and grind of unremitting caregiving.  But if they can separate the child from the troubles they create, parents will be able to handle problems in their stride.  Over time, we have become more composed and skilful in dealing with all sorts of problems, from bizarre behaviour to severe meltdown that erupted at school and home.

The biggest encouragement came from the child himself. As we continued our efforts to train our boy to be affectionate, we began to experience more moments of joy. The son who was a constant worry becomes the wellspring of our family happiness.

Cherish joyous moments in daily life

Here is an episode of joyous moments that occured last Sunday. I found bouquets of beautiful flowers on sale in the supermarket.

Turning to my fifteen year old autistic son Kyan, I asked, “Do you want to buy flowers?”  

“Yes. I want to buy flowers.” Kyan replied.

I probed, “Who do you want to buy the flowers for?”

I was half-expecting his answer to be “Papa”.

Kyan replied without hesitation, “Mama!”  

I laughed and thought to myself, “Mom still comes first to the children no matter how hard I try.”

I knew my wife was not into flowers, but this was a not-to-be-missed opportunity for my boy to practise affection. I told Kyan, “Bring the flowers to mama and tell her!”

Picture taken at Fairprice Supermarket on 20 July 2019.

Kyan quickly grabbed a bouquet of flowers and ran to his mom who was preoccupied with buying grocery. Shoving the bouquet excitedly into his mom’s hands, Kyan remarked loudly, “I want to buy flowers for Mama!”

His mom, looking pleasantly surprised, thanked him and immediately gave the jubilant boy a hug while quietly slipping the bouquet to me.

“Now that you have given flowers to mama, what do you give papa?” I teased. 

Just as I was wondering what he would say, Kyan thought for a moment and said, “Kiss!”

With that, Kyan leaned forward and planted a gentle kiss on my right cheek

I was overjoyed and felt blessed.

Make it a priority to help autistic children become affectionate

Contrary to the conventional belief that parental love is inexhaustible and unconditional, the agony of unrequited love from an autistic child does take a toll on caregivers. Make it a top priority to help your child become affectionate.

Do not let any concern that the child may display inappropriate affectionate behaviour with others get in the way between you with your child. Once your child feels loved and safe, it will be easier to teach him the boundaries.

For a start, practise often at home proper display of affection between you and your child. All it takes is just two persons to love and feel loved. It costs nothing and the reward is priceless.

William W K Tan (aka Uncle William)

26 July 2019, Friday

069: Autistic children can be warm and spontaneous!

Even if it’s just a smile, practise it!

Last Saturday, Conan remarked, “Kyan is so smiley nowadays. He always wears a smile on his face.”

His mom responded, “You used to be the more smiley one. Where has your smile gone?”

Conan shrugged his shoulder, and forced a big grin. Seeing that, Kyan responded with a warm smile. It was a beautiful smile. And it was a precious moment to me.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Just a few days ago, Kyan was looking at me intently on the sofa. I was bemused when he returned every smile I made. We kept smiling at each other for umpteen times that day, until his smile turned somewhat stiff. I stopped and thought to myself, “I might have overdone it. Hopefully, it did not overkill his smile.”

At this moment, thankfully, Kyan’s smile was warm and spontaneous.

I am often driven by a simple idea. If there is a fleeting moment that the child can do it, create more opportunities for the child to become good at it. Even if it’s just a smile, practise it!

Even if it’s just a hug, practise it! 

I had nearly forgotten that Kyan used to be a boy who never smiled. Like many autistic children, Kyan avoided eye-contact with others, shunned away from physical touch and was inept in communication for many years.

For a long time, Kyan had a blank look as if he were lost in his own world. If he had a facial expression, it would be like a frightened mouse. All sorts of noises frightened him, such as the noise from a hands-dryer in a public toilet and the noise of a wailing child. Kyan never liked using hands-dryers but he eventually got used to using it. Till this day, Kyan has to cup his ears with both hands to shut out the cries of young kids.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

To make Kyan feel safe and loved, we hug him often. But we were initially taken aback when he would always turn his back and move away from every hug. Now, he gives me a good hug every night before bedtime. Hence, I was touched by the little hugging episode between the two brothers.

After lunch, Conan stood up and spread his outreached his arms in front of Kyan. Immediately, Kyan recognised that it was a gesture for hugs and moved forward to embrace his brother. Next, I heard Conan giving instructions to Kyan.

“You are taller than I am. You should place your arms over my shoulder,” Conan said as he moved Kyan’s arms to rest over his shoulders before continuing, “And I put my arms around your waist. Let’s do it again.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Kyan did as he was told. And the two brothers hugged for a second time before breaking into laughter.

It was a heart-warming sight to see the brothers getting along so well. Even if it’s just a hug, practise it!

Be enthusiastic in showering affection

It took me some serious reading of autism literature to appreciate that autistic children process sensory stimuli such as light, sound and touch very differently. The sensitivity towards these sensory stimuli impedes the autistic children’s ability to express affection. They need all the help they can get from others to adapt to new environment and people better.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

But sadly, many people simply think that autistic children dislike going to new places, have a low tolerance for noise and hate to be touched. As a result, I observe that people who are unfamiliar with autistic children tend to keep a distance from them. Even caregivers become discouraged when they mistakenly believed that their years of efforts and love had gone wasted.

It would help tremendously if more people inject greater enthusiasm when they approach autistic children. Nearly all children respond positively to adult’s display of enthusiasm. Autistic children are no exception. They can feel the warmth and excitement in the person’s tone, facial expression and body language. They are very likely to respond positively too.

In case that they are unable to respond appropriately, do not judge immediately. Just accept that it’s alright for now. In time to come, you will be surprised that they can also learn to be warm and spontaneous.

Even if you are someone who claims not to be naturally enthusiastic, learn and practise it!

William W K Tan

18 July 2019, Thursday

 

066 The Boy Who Brings Sunshine

Last evening , a friend VK asked me, “How is your elder son doing?

VK is a kind man who is temporarily taking care of a child in neglect. Out of concern, he asked how I coped with the challenges of raising a child with special needs.

My elder son, Kyan, aged fifteen, is a boy inflicted with autism, a lifelong developmental disability that is characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and limited by a fixation on repetitive activities.

Source: http://overthebrainbow.com/blog/

I told him, “I am thankful. He is doing great!” In fact, it gladdened me to hear others asking about him. Just last week, Kyan’s former school teacher, ST also told me, “I love to read about Kyan. It always brings sunshine to my heart just to see his name. ”

ST is so right. Kyan is a child who brings sunshine. Raising a child with special needs is challenging, but it also comes with rewarding moments.

My Reward: A Cup Of Sweet Corns

Last Saturday, I was engrossed in a novel while waiting for my children to finish their breakfasts at McDonald’s. All of a sudden, the reading spell on me was broken by the voice of my son.

“Papa, eat!” came a thunderous voice. It came from Kyan, who looked intently at me as he shoved me a half cupful of corn.

My heart was melted by his gesture to share his cup of corns with me. After all, it was uncommon for autistic children to show generosity and affection.

Excitedly, I sent a text to my wife, “Kyan just shared his cup corn with me on his own accord!”

“That’s just his habit,” came her reply.

I know my wife has always taught Kyan to split his cup of corns into two portions to share with his younger brother Conan, who gives him half a piece of hash brown in return. But that morning, Conan had bought his own cup of corns, so Kyan turned to me instead.

Even if it was just a habitual action, it made me feel good. At least he thought of me.

A Magic Moment

For a long time, I was worried that autism had incapacitated Kyan’s ability to think of others in their absence.  It seemed to me that when people are out of sight, they are out of his mind.

Over the last 15 years, four maids have come and gone. Some were close to him.  But he had never asked for anyone of them after they left. Even if he cared, he never showed. Or more rightly, he was unable to express how he felt.

Occasionally, when I was overseas, I would ask my wife, “Did Kyan ask for me?” Her answer was always a no. I stopped asking completely.

Then something happened in early March this year. I was on my way back home from airport when I received a text message from Conan. He wrote, “Dad, come back home quickly! Kyan has been asking for you.”

Accompanying the text message was a photograph that I would never forget.  My son was looking out for me behind the steel gate of the house.  It was the magic moment that I had been waiting for years.

Photo taken by Conan on 2 March 2019

Little Strokes Fell Great Oaks

Depending on the condition of the child, there is no telling how long it would take our child to give us these rewarding moments. But as the saying “little strokes fell great oaks’ goes, do not underestimate the power of persistent small efforts. Even dripping water can penetrate through rocks, it is just a matter of time that autistic children will show us that they can be as affectionate as any other children.

Perhaps, by now you can guess why I have been singing a self-composed song to Kyan all these years.  The lyrics go like this, “Papa loves you so. Papa loves you so. Papa loves you so much so.” 

I would always sing this part first, and my boy would always follow with, “Papa loves me so. Papa loves me so. Papa loves me so much so.”

One day I asked Kyan in front of his mom, “Who loves you most?”

He replied spontaneously, “Mama!”

Then on second thoughts, he quickly changed, “Papa loves me most!” to the chagrin of my wife.

My wife protested, ‘Conan, your dad has been brain-washing your brother!”

We all laughed heartily.

Raising a child is joyous as long as we never cease to look at the positives.

William W K Tan

25 May 2019, Saturday

065 Time to Clean Up Our Act

A Boy Who Thinks Cleaning Is Somebody Else’s Job 

One Sunday, a ten-year-old boy interrupted the swim coach, SC, who was giving my son Kyan individual coaching.

“Yucks!  Coach, there is tissue paper in the water over there.”

The coach replied, 

“So, what are you going to do about it?”

“I don’t know. It’s so dirty! That’s why I tell you.”

Coach SC told him, “I am teaching now. You think of a way to solve it yourself.” 

The boy looked surprised. He probably thought that it was none of his business after alerting the coach. But, within seconds, he came up with an idea, “I will complain to the Management Office!”

SC looked at me with a helpless smile.

Thinking that a teaching moment had appeared, I suggested to the boy, 

“Why wait for someone else to solve it? Since it disturbs you so much, just pick it up and throw it away!”

“No way! I am not a cleaner!” The boy protested loudly. Then he added, “Anyway, my mother will not allow it!” before swimming away.

I felt troubled by the boy’s words. What kind of young man would he grow up to be if his attitude remains unchanged?

A Young Man Who Refused To Clean Up His Mess

The boy made me think of a real-life story a friend NS told me. 

NS, a science teacher in a secondary school, spoke of a student she remembered vividly,

“From the first day of lesson in the laboratory, I have told all students, ‘We are dealing with all sorts of chemicals here. If you have made a spillage, clean it up yourself immediately because no one else knows how hazardous it could be. Simple and clear, isn’t it?’

Yet, there was this young man who refused to clean up the mess he made no matter what. He looked at the mess and said, “That is the job of cleaners!” And he even added, “At home, all the cleaning is done by the maid.”

I was mad inside me, but decided to teach him the right thing.  I moved close to his ear and whispered gently in a very soft sweet voice, “Bring your maid with you the next time,” before saying firmly, “But today, your maid is not here, so clean up!”

The young man relented and cleared up quietly, to the surprise of everyone. 

NS smiled triumphantly, a tiny dimple playing at the corner of her lips. 

Perhaps, we can learn a thing or two from this plucky young teacher in her early thirties. 

Schools and Families Must Come Together

Schools are finally doing what they were supposed to do long ago. When the Ministry of Education (MOE) decided to make it compulsory for all school-going children to help out with cleaning responsibilities in schools two years ago, many parents gave their thumbs up.

Photo: Straits Times Dec 12, 2016 “All schools to have cleaning activities daily from January”

I asked a secondary school boy, JC, about the cleaning duties he has to do in school.

He said, “Nothing much really. We have a duty roster that assigns us our duties which mainly involve cleaning the whiteboard and sweeping the floor.”

“That’s good. Everyone plays a part to keep the classroom clean.” I continued.

“Teachers just leave it to us. It doesn’t matter if you do it or not.” JC remarked.

“Did you do your duties?” I enquired, half expecting him to say he did.

“No…” He smiled sheepishly, “Many people did not do either. ”

“Teachers should check on you guys,” came my rebuttal.

“No. What is the point of having teachers  to check on us? It boils down to home training. It wouldn’t work if children are not expected to do the same at home.”

I mulled over his words. Yes, the boy is right. Double standards won’t work.

Lost Opportunities

Parents must play our part too. While most of us are generally in favour of imparting good living habits such as cleaning to children, some see cleaning duties as a distraction or burden.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

Concerned that their children may be overloaded with school homework, and outside school activities such as tuition classes and sports, parents are reluctant to involve their children in housework.

A friend SM, who is a full-time home-maker, told me in a mix of resignation and jest, “My children used to help out more when they were young. It has become much harder to get them to do housework now. I have become the maid for the entire family.”

I laughed, but I am no better in getting my children do housework. Like many working families with young children in Singapore, we have a stay-in domestic helper who does all the cleaning and other household chores. The opportunities to impart values to children through housework become lost.

Be Considerate Towards Others

Perhaps, many parents and teachers missed the point about the value behind teaching cleaning responsibilities–to be considerate towards others.

Many years ago, at the end of a public seminar I conducted, I found a Japanese colleague KS going in between the rows of seats to pick up used plastic bottles and rubbish that were left behind by the participants. Embarrassed by the littering habits of fellow Singaporeans, I followed suit to clean up the place.

Source: http://www.zerowastesg.com

Later, KS told me, “Japanese are taught since young to think about others when we do cleaning at home and in schools. Imagine how the next person would feel and think if we do not clean up.”

Be considerate towards others — it’s such a simple and beautiful reason. Don’t you agree? 

William WK Tan

17 May 2019

061 What Does A Celebrity’s Marital Woes Remind Us About Marriage?

It’s no laughing matter to see somebody’s marriage in tatters

After the news broke out about how Hong Kong’s most beloved Cantonpop diva, Sammi Cheng (鄭秀文) was cheated by her husband Andy Hui (許志安), who was caught on video canoodling with another woman, it quickly became the gossip in the office’s pantry today.

Andy apologises for his indiscretion at a press conference. Photo: Screenshot from YouTube.

A colleague X was saying, “I had watched the video very closely. It was that woman who made advances to Andy. Twenty times! Alas, how many men can resist that kind of advances from an attractive woman?”

Y retorted, “That woman is not attractive at all! Any woman who seduces another person’s husband is ugly.”

I laughed before retreating quickly from the scene. It’s safer to steer clear when women start talking about men’s infidelity.

Photo: WordPress Picture Library

I have never quite understood people’s interest in the extramarital affairs of celebrities. It happens all the time. And what has it got to do with us? Out of curiosity, I ran through the news reports and online chatter about the scandal. The more I read, the more I felt sorry for Sammi Cheng. After all, it is no laughing matter to see the marriage of another person in tatters.

Marriage is about lifelong learning of being together

The outrage from women, especially Sammy’s diehard fans is understandable. Sammi and Andy’s marriage was described by Hong Kong’s most famous actor-comedian Dayo Wong (黃子華) as “the fairy tale of fairy tales” for good reasons.

The couple had experienced twists and turns, highs and lows in their relationship for 20 years before they finally tied the knot in 2013. That was supposed to be the perfect ending to their love story. But now, it has turned into a disappointing tale of broken vows and betrayals. That’s a big blow of confidence to many people who believe in the sanctity of marriage.

Photo: WordPress Picture Library

An attractive and plucky friend PY shared her indignation on Facebook by borrowing a comment she read online.

“Look at all these celebrities! No matter how pretty, capable, faithful or virtuous they are, their husbands still cheat on them.

That goes to prove that there is nothing women can do to stop men from going astray.

Women should love ourselves more, make ourselves prettier and better so that we can easily find a better man if husbands dare to cheat on us!”

An extract of her post on Facebook

PY’s exhortation to wives to love themselves more is also a stern warning to cheating husbands who do not cherish their marriage. But one question emerges: Is marriage all about commitment?

Marriage should not be construed as a mere lifelong commitment. Rather, it is a lifelong learning about being together.

Marriage is continuous education

Marriage is continuous education. It educates people in ways that we never even notice. My eighty-two-year old mother has noticed positive changes in me since my marriage. She believes that the credits should all go to my wife.

My mom had always worried about my lack of prudence in the use of money.  When I was a school boy, she would be irked to find out that I had spend every cent of my pocket money without knowing where the money went. In contrast, my elder brother came home from school every day with a clear account of what he had spent on.

It was only until a couple of weeks ago that she was delighted when I did a double take on the restaurant bill and asked for a refund on the unused wet wipes. Mom laughed heartily, “Lucky for you, your wife succeeded where I had failed. It looks like you’re now the most prudent with money among your siblings.”

Come to think of it, that was indeed one of the many things I have learnt from my marriage. Like most married couples, we had our highs and lows in our marriage. Many difficulties were only revealed to us years later as precious learning in disguise.

In retrospect, it was the ability to keep learning in the most difficult circumstances that kept the marriage going. Marriage is a learning journey about love.

An extract of her post on Instagram

Sammi Cheng rightly called the incident “an important lesson in our marriage”. She penned her thoughts about marriage after two days of silence,

“Marriage is not just about having joy and company. It is also about learning to embrace and forgive each other’s mistakes.”

Love, kindness and forgiveness are vital in a marriage. It’s Good Friday. Let’s take a leaf out from the Bible:

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”

William W K Tan

19 April 2019

060 Have these kinds of friends!

Have friends who feel for you

Last week, I wrote about the biggest worry of caregivers – what happens to a child who needs special care after the caregiver passes on? I wrote to encourage others. Instead, I received encouraging messages from others.

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A friend HP felt the enormity of my worry. He revealed that his tears rolled involuntarily as he was telling his mom about my story. Another friend YS told me that he believed my elder son chose me as his parent for good reasons. And he could tell that I have found more purpose in life because of my son. My friend and mentor AD wrote to me, “Parents always worry about their children. Your advice is good: Take care of self. As for the rest, God will take care.”

It’s heart-warming to have friends who feel for you.

Have friends whom you can trust and talk to

Everyone needs a listening ear in times of need. A study conducted by researchers on 662 caregivers in Singapore found that having someone whom the caregiver trusts to talk to, whether to share sentiments, seek understanding or vent frustration, reduces the degree of depressive symptoms he or she faces. Having friends whom you can trust and talk to is a blessing.

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But I have heard of contrary viewpoints. I have met people who said dismissively, “Friends? Who needs them!”

It is not uncommon to hear of lifelong friends who fail to step up when needed, while mere acquaintances give more than expected. Disappointment from close friends hurts. That’s why sometimes people choose to distance themselves to avoid getting hurt. However, if you cherish that friendship, surely it deserves a second chance of repairing.

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For people who have our lives wrapped up around caregiving, I think we should understand more than anyone that there are inconvenient times in everyone’s life. Perhaps, your friends were too caught up with their own problems. And perhaps they did not know how much you needed their help.  Anyway, no one should not be faulted for not living up to other’s expectations.

Maybe friends who fail you do not know that a listening ear from a trusted friend is all that you ask for.

Have friends who are willing to go an extra mile

Friends can make real lasting difference.

Several weeks ago, I heard a sad story from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) physician who was giving me acupuncture treatment. She said,

“I know it’s not easy raising an autistic child. My close friend’s son is about the age of yours. She confided in me that she might chose to jump to death with her son one day, rather than to leave the child behind. I reprimanded her for harbouring such dark thoughts.”

I was stumped for words before asking her, “How’s your friend doing now?”

“My friend had passed on some years back. She was in her forties, so it was most unexpected. She died of complications from a supposedly minor surgery. That’s life,” the physician sighed.

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My heart sank. “How about the boy’s father?”

“The father didn’t care much about the son,” the physician continued, shaking her head sadly. “The boy has a younger sister. And the little girl told me that her brother had never been out of the house since their mother passed away. Hence, I take the siblings along on outings with my children from time to time.”

I was moved and looked up approvingly at the physician,

“Your act means a lot to the children. And it means a lot to your friend.”

“I should do that for her.” She said.

It’s blessing to have friends who are willing to go an extra mile.

The physician, the close friend she spoke of and two other girls have been the best of buddies since their pre-University days. (Picture from WordPress Photo Library)

Perhaps you would never know who these wonderful friends are. If you already do, cherish your friendship with them even more.

William W K Tan

12 April 2019

059 The Biggest Worry of Caregivers

What’ll happen to my child after I pass on?

The worry of leaving behind a child who may not survive alone in the outside world weighs heavily on the minds of parents with special needs children. I have the same worry. My elder son Kyan, aged fifteen, is diagnosed with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and dyspraxia.

Last Sunday, I read in the papers about a seventy-two-year-old father Clement, who is the sole caregiver of his forty-three-year-old son Conrad, making preparation for his son’s life in the event that he passes on.

Source: The Straits Times on 31st March 2019.

Clement has arranged for his son to live away from home twice a week in a facility to prepare him for a future without his father. And he has prepared the legal papers to have someone appointed as Conrad’s caregiver after he passes on. But even after these measures have been put in place, the father’s lingering wish is, “Whoever we take care of should go before us.”

Clement’s words speak volumes of parents’ anxiety. We fear that our child cannot fend for himself or herself. We fear that no one else knows or cares for our child as much as we do. And we fear that even the best-laid plan is not foolproof to keep our child safe. Despite our best efforts to prepare our child for tomorrow, how the child will survive without us remains our biggest worry.

Do not lose sight of yourself

For a long time, I put that biggest worry on the back burner. Over the years, there was just too much on the plate already:

When will my child talk? Will he ever make eye-contact? How to toilet train him? Does he know what to do in class and during recess? Will he wander out of the school when nobody is watching? Can he cope with his school work? How much does he understand what is going on? Why is he getting sick so often? Why is he sleeping so little? How to deal with his meltdowns when he grows older? Will he be employable after he completes schooling at 18?

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This list of worries goes on and on. Caregiving can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. The years went past so fast in the blink of an eye. In the rush to do everything we could for our children, parents easily lose sight of themselves.

Many caregivers live in constant stress and fatigue, thus aging very quickly. Sometimes when I meet parents who look tired, I would think of myself in the past. I am tempted to say, “Do not be a burning candle to light up your child’s life. Be the sun in their life.”

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Try to outlive your child

Sun emits energy. And energy comes from inner strength. In retrospect, the single most important lesson I wish to tell everyone is to live a life filled with energy. Aim to live happier, better and longer!

My friends know that I became totally withdrawn from social life for thirteen years. It was only two years ago that it dawned onto me that I must learn to take care of myself first. Since then, I have made the switch to place priority on taking care of myself better. I changed my dietary habits and physical exercise routine, sought balance in work and family, and made efforts to enjoy what I do to the fullest.

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These changes have given me the composure to do more for my parents, spouse and children. And friends fit in well in this new-found formula where I draw strength, inspiration and support.

Rather than worrying about that fateful day when I can no longer be there for our children, I made an audacious goal to outlive my children. Try to live till 💯! Just this belief alone gives me strength to do things that I used to think not possible.

You should give it a try too!

William W K Tan

5 April 2019

To read more about Clement and his son, click the link below:

Inclusive society makes caregivers’ task easier

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/inclusive-society-makes-caregivers-task-easier?xtor=CS3-18&utm_source=STiPhone&utm_medium=share&utm_term=2019-04-01%208%3A04%3A41