I’ll be completely honest here and confess that I sometimes do wish that we were raising our son in another country, away from our own families. It’s a selfish thought but one that I am sure is shared by many young parents. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child but at the same time, it’s painful when the village decides to intrude in your parenting style and methods.
But many of us, myself included, also fail to see that there are many advantages to bringing up our children in the same country as our families. We probably take this for granted. And so, I have asked my dear friend Pooja (she who helms notabilia), to share with us her thoughts on raising her daughter halfway around the globe from family.
My Singaporean friends have often sparred with their families over
their children’s sleep routines or screen time or discipline. They’ve
had to listen to old wives’ tales about breastfeeding, packaged as
“parenting wisdom”. They’ve contended with family members’ unannounced
visits, unnecessary meddling, and unsolicited advice.
My husband and my child-rearing experience has included none of the
above. Our parenting decisions are reflective of our, and only our,
needs, beliefs, and personalities, and, of course, the needs and
personality of our daughter. We appreciate not having to answer the
usual barrage of mundane questions, from “Did she eat a banana for
breakfast?” to “Did she say her prayers today?” (though my mother does
sneak these queries into our Skype conversations every now and then).
I empathize with my friends’ frustrations, I do. Still, I occasionally
feel – dare I say it? – a pang of jealousy when they gripe about their
families on social media or in person. “My father-in-law wants to play
with my daughter past her bedtime!” or “My mother made porridge for my
son…again!” they say. Is that really so bad? I think to myself.
Many people assume that the challenges of parenting far away from home
only include a lack of trusted caregivers or a second or third or
fourth pair of hands when one parent is sick or traveling. Half way
around the world, we can only share with her family histories which we
can recall and only pass down cultural traditions that we can, on our
own, replicate. Only we two carry an intimate knowledge of A: only we
know her vaccination schedule, only we know her favorite lovey, only
we know how to decipher her “vocabulary”. And she is – we are – not
physically present for births, marriages, and, yes, deaths. Is A
missing out on building wonderful and important relationships?
This all weighs heavily on our minds the longer we choose to live away
from our home country. Do we – can we – raise a child so far from the
people we love? Our parents will say, “Yes, of course.” Didn’t they
move West in search of the American Dream just a generation ago? They
will remind us that it is relatively easier now than it was for them,
given modern-day communication and transportation.
For now, we Skype nearly daily. We visit the States once a year. We
continue build our little “village.” Our dear friends, especially
those with young children, are as supportive as they can be, given
their own family obligations. A will begin play school in a few weeks
and her school community will serve as more members of our surrogate
We exchange oranges and red envelopes with colleagues during Chinese
New Year. We feast with our neighbors on Hari Raya. We celebrate
Diwali with aplomb.
And, on Sundays, while our friends are likely breaking bread with
their families, we cook together, we sing together, we play together,
our little family of three.