088: “What Would You Say To Someone in Distress?”

A Stranger In Distress

I hope she is doing well. A stranger whom I have never met is on my mind lately. Yet, I have no idea who she is, and I don’t even know her name to begin with.

But the woman sounded despondent when she spoke about her life on a social media platform where parents seek advice from one another. She wrote anonymously,

“I feel very sad about my life. My elderly father is sick and estranged from my mom. My husband earns enough for the family but he is a temperamental man. I had to go through IVF to eventually conceive two children. Unfortunately, one turns out to be autistic. And I have to take care of both of them as a full-time housewife, making it impossible for me to earn any income. My parents-in-laws are understanding of my difficulties but they are curt in their words. They made me feel that a daughter-in-law will always remain an outsider in the husband’s family. When I am down, I have no one to share my feelings. I feel so helpless over what’s happening in my life.”

“A person in distress” (WordPress Photography)

It occurred to me that the woman might be suffering alone. Could she be suffering from burnout as a caregiver, stressed by all the problems that are beyond her control? Could she be already at her breaking point? Perhaps I was paranoid, whenever I read news of tragic news of families with children of special needs, I knew that I couldn’t just read, sigh and then pretend that there’s nothing I can do.

The Straits Times, Published on October 19, 2020

Immediately I wrote to her, as if I knew what to say. Magically, words just flowed out seamlessly with my thoughts and feelings as I wrote,

“It looks like you have been given a poor hand of cards in life—sick and estranged parents, temperamental spouse, an autistic child, hostile parents-in-laws and you, being a stay-at-home-mother who feels helpless about not making any income. Things are indeed tough on you. What can you do? I might have the answer for you.

May I suggest you look at your situation from a different perspective?

Do try to think about your circumstances the other way round:

“Although things are not easy for me, I am proud of myself for not leaving my sickly and estranged parents in the lurch. Although one of my children is autistic, he can still improve and I am blessed with another healthy child. Although my husband is temperamental, there are times he is good to me and our children. Although my laws say nasty things, they are understanding of my difficulties.”

How you feel depends on whether you choose to adopt the “half-empty or full glass”perspective of things.

“Half empty or full” (William WK Tan’s photography)

When life is hard, it either weakens or strengthens you. You make the choice. If you choose to see things positively, negativity cannot get you down. You can then find the strength to change the narrative of your life.

I know of some people who turn their lives around completely by simply waking up 2 hours earlier to do these things:

(1) improving their health by running;

(2) reflecting to become better parents;

(3) earning a side income of $200-$400 a month by distributing newspapers.

Change your perspective and find a formula that suits you!

I look forward to seeing you start a new chapter of your life in the subsequent months. Best wishes!”

I do not know if my words have helped her in any way. But I know my words have struck a chord among parents as more and more people responded. Many others also offered their own advice and encouragement. Suddenly, the suffering of one person has turned into a common concern of many people. The burden is lightened and things start looking brighter.

“Things look brighter” (William WK Tan’s photography)

Here is where I learnt an invaluable lesson— do not let anyone suffer in silence. Be kind to others. Give a smile, an encouragement, a praise or an act of service. We can all help to lighten the emotional load of others by just doing a little more.

William WK Tan

17 November 2020

058 Cut yourself and your children some slack

Be a role model at all times?

Parents are often told to set a good example for their children. It is a tall order to be a role model at all times.  Most parents do their best in the presence of their children, but they inevitably fall short sometimes. Children see through their parents’ acts easily. 

A friend told me impishly how astonished he was as a teenager to uncover the porn magazines that his supposedly impeccable dad had secretly stashed away. Another friend’s adolescent son complained of his mother’s double standards when he found out that his mom watched Korean drama up till the wee hours after making him stop watching YouTube at bedtime.

I had to tell them with wry humour, “Well, be thankful that your parents aren’t saints. If not, you would have a harder time to live up to very high standards.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library

Cut yourself and your kids some slack

Parents must learn to be honest with their own failings. It is beneficial for adolescents to learn firsthand how parents deal with their inner struggles.

A friend HP shared moments of vulnerability that he experienced with his adolescent son. HP spoke about the embarrassment he had to deal with daily because his mom patched his torn dark-coloured school pants with white thread.  HP also told his son how the birthmark on his face affected his confidence as a teenager. Stories like that helped his son to accept inadequacies as part and parcel of growing up. HP said to me, ” Accepting one’s vulnerabilities is healing. ”

HP’s words is food for thoughts. I have seen parents who are overly-hard on themselves and their children. Perhaps they have forgotten how they were like when they were kids themselves. Cut yourself and your children some slack if your demanding methods are straining your precious relationship.

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Open conversations about problems  

I open conversations with my son about problems I observe. One day, I told Conan,  

“Do you notice that many teenagers go through a phase of wearing black all the time?

Many teenagers are not confident about their looks. They keep away from attention by wearing black. And they are often left alone to deal with their insecurities over appearance during this period.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Conan showed interest in the topic. So, I peppered the conversation with my personal anecdotes,

“But I think it is a bad idea to wish that the problem will just go away. Look at my acne-scarred face. It wouldn’t be this bad if I had gotten help at that time.

Physical appearance affects people. I remember being mocked for an uncanny resemblance to an actor who convincingly portrayed the role of a moron in a popular TV drama. And all that was simply because I had a bad hair-cut and an obese physique at that time.

Actor Chen Zhong Hua (陈忠华)in a 1986’s local production of a Chinese drama “The Bond” (天涯同命鸟)

I think lessons on personal grooming are often neglected in schools and at home. More can be done.”

Such conversations made it easy for my son to tell me how he felt. Conan candidly revealed,

“Between close friends, we got into this bad habit of calling each other names and trading insults at each other’s looks in the last two years. Come to think of it, it did affect how I think about my looks too.”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

Then he added with laughter,

“But no worries. I have gone the opposite path. I am now pretending to be narcissistic. Self-adoration is an antidote.”

I am not sure if self-adoration is a good thing. But talking about problems openly with personal anecdotes is surely a good way to communicate values with your children. Hopefully, if children face moral conundrums one day, they will find it more comfortable to speak to you.

William W K Tan