Three children equals three different recipes

by Cathryn Sim-Chew
When I first heard the phrase, “Don’t stress me, Mummy!”, from the mouth of my nine-year-old daughter, I was blown away.

I had been trying to guide her with her studies for less than half an hour, and she already felt that I was stressing her? There and then, I realised how the word “stress” is really quite a relative term.

My husband and I are among those rare parents who believe that our children should not be given tuition so long as they are coping well with their studies. Just as the saying goes, “different folks, different strokes” (or the Chinese equivalent, “one type of rice nurtures different types of people”), so are my three children’s responses to studying also radically different.

My 13-year-old daughter is now studying in an elite school (having received zero tuition for her PSLE last year) and she is so self-motivated that she does not need any tuition. But in recent months, she asked for help in her weaker subjects, so we got her a tutor once a week, 90 minutes per session. She is happy with this arrangement.

My 11-year-old old son is different – he is very much externally motivated. If I dangle a carrot like the latest iPhone 4S in front of him, he instantly becomes the class genius.

My nine-year-old daughter is just unmotivated. No matter how many times I speak to her about her results, nothing seems to sink in. Once she brought back an examination paper with a score that, to most parents, would have seemed disastrous: 51.5 marks. When I calmly asked why she got such low marks, she responded that it was actually a very good result since she had improved by one mark (she scored 50.5 on her last test)! I was at a loss for words because technically, of course, she was correct.

As the primary school exams loom closer, I am probably the most relaxed mother in Singapore. Showing pure resourcefulness, the man in my life has delegated our 13-year-old to coach our nine-year-old. Of course, at a literal price – with the reward amount tied to marks (what we call the Education KPI). So, for example, if she manages to push her younger sister’s results up from a band 3 to band 2, she will be compensated $X. If it goes from band 3 to band 1, she will get $2X.

As for the nine-year-old, who loves her sweet treats, I have booked an ice-cream-making session for her a week after the exams. I told her that all she needs to do, is to do what her older sister says.

Whether my parenting style is right or wrong is not for anyone to judge. The bottom line is: Does the action spur the child to do his or her schoolwork willingly and, hopefully, cheerfully?

Parenting today is more than just an art or a science. It also has to be performed with creativity, humour and understanding of your child’s motivation.

Most important of all is the relationship we build with our children. We need to drive this message through loud and clear: That we love our children unconditionally (simply because they are our children) regardless of their academic results.

We are our children’s stewards. In this season of their life, studies are their main responsibility, but we must allow them to enjoy their ride through childhood too. That way, we will also enjoy the journey of parenthood.

– Today Online – 
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Cathryn Sim-Chew is a working mother of three children, aged 13, 11 and nine.