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.
Here’s the second part to Rachel’s story on how she sleep-trained her daughter. Read the first part here.
To help our daughter become a better sleeper, here’s what we did.
We came up with a new bedtime routine, which looks like this: I breastfeed her 30 minutes before the time she usually starts showing signs of sleepiness, wipe her down, and read a bedtime story. We turn out the lights, kiss her goodnight, tell her we love her and put her down into the cot while she is still awake. This dissociates nursing/rocking/cradling from sleep. It took us a week to identify the right bedtime for her and stuck to it ever since.
We used a controlled-crying method recommended by a friend. Faith was 9 months old when we sleep-trained her, and she could pull herself up to stand. Naturally, she protested by standing up and crying once we put her down into the cot. We reached in to help her lie down, making sure the back of her head landed on the pillow, while patting on her back and telling her to go to sleep in a firm but soothing voice. This associates lying down with bedtime.
You know all about our sleep woes so I shall not dwell too long on them. As mentioned, we did consider sleep training but we were never convinced enough to actually carry out the plans. It’s not that we believed sleep training to be bad, on the contrary, I think sleep training can be useful for babies with certain temperaments (and definitely useful for desperate, chronically sleep-deprived parents!).
I thought it would be interesting to hear the story of someone who had sleep-trained. So here is Rachel from The Pleasure Monger, who has kindly agreed to tell us her journey of helping her baby to be a better sleeper.
We are in the third quarter of 2013, and I kid you not when I say that I did not sleep in the first half of this year. You see, my daughter Faith, did not sleep either.
As with most newborns, she wasn’t a good sleeper in the first eight weeks after birth. She woke up every one or two hours and only fell asleep on us. Being fed on demand also meant that she nursed pretty often. I was knackered and shell-shocked from the demands of motherhood but adrenaline (and a healthy dose of mom-nesia) saw me through the first two months. Thankfully, Faith grew into longer stretches of shuteye towards the end of 2012; she went down for five or six hours straight and was considered to be sleeping through the night. But just as I slowly eased into motherhood, everything changed when she turned twelve weeks old.
We follow Christina’s infertility journey – and a beautiful, heart wrenching story it is. Here’s part one of the story, and part two.
“The only option is if you go through a surrogate mother. I’m sorry.”
The gynaecologist sighed as he looked at the sheets of paper bearing dismal test results regarding the state of my fertility. It had been eight months since my miscarriage, and I decided that I needed to go for a more detailed check-up on my female parts.
This time however, I didn’t cry. I was saddened and heartbroken again, yes. But I also felt – well at least, now, I know how things really are and I can move on with life. Of course, I’d feel a twinge of wistfulness every time a girlfriend excitedly announced she was expecting, or get all clucky when I played with my godchildren.
My husband and I had a discussion – we were at the stage of our lives where we were very comfortable in our marriage and jobs and enjoyed travelling regularly. However, we both agreed that we would like to raise a child at some point. The gynaecologist told us that he had “some available China women” on standby to carry our baby if we wanted, and my mother actually told me to consider this, so at least my husband’s family gets to “continue their lineage”. However, this was something we were not comfortable with, and eventually, we decided to find out more about adopting a child.
We went for a pre-adoption seminar organised by a family service centre. The complex flowcharts that mapped out the application process overwhelmed us, and the Q&A wasn’t much better with people asking about “the cheapest and fastest way” to adopt with Excel spreadsheets. What a meat market this is, we thought to ourselves.
Here’s the continuation of Christina’s story. You can read the first part here.
After the miscarriage and leaving my job, I spent the next few months travelling with my husband. Even though I felt better upon returning home, there was still this sense of loss and failure that would plague me regularly. I recognised that I needed help and started seeing a counsellor weekly – an elderly lady with a compassionate, nurturing heart who always had an encouraging word for me after every emotionally gruelling session.
Unfortunately, the rest of the world wasn’t as kind. And here are some of the things said to me that really cut deep. You may also regard this as a nifty three-pointer list of things to NEVER say to a woman who is experiencing fertility issues:
1. “Is your husband treating you right?” (More diplomatic version: “How are you two these days?”)
I know people mean well and are concerned. But why so quick to assume that a childless marriage is one that is on perilous rocks, and that it would somehow give a husband more liberty to be abusive to his wife? This question still disturbs me at so many levels.
2. “Oh I’m so sorry, there’s not much meaning to life now, is there?”
This was uttered by an acquaintance that kept grilling me as to why I did not have kids. He kept going on about how children are really the only legacy one leaves behind after death. I told him point blank, “The gynae told me I can’t have children” (more about that in the next post). And then he blurted these words out and looked like he immediately regretted it.
3. “When you can’t conceive, it means there are spiritual issues”
Unfortunately, this came from a religious leader, who actually offered to exorcise me. I think with #2 and this point, the issue lies in this adherence to certain worldviews. Some people do believe that one MUST have children to have meaning in life, and that something MUST be fundamentally wrong with you if you can’t have kids.
And before all this happened, I was in the camp of these “some people”. But more than ever, I was now questioning these assumptions. Why do I feel I “deserve” to have children? Can I be happy without kids? Will my husband resent me for not bearing him offspring? Am I OK without leaving any “legacy” behind?
And so, when people said these things to me, my insides would tremble because there was already so much internal struggling going on. When I huffed and puffed about these “insensitive” people, the counsellor would say to me, “Christina, you can’t control what people think or say. But you can decide your own response. You’re used to pleasing people and being in control of everything. But now that you’re not, what are you going to do about it?”
And this was a question that I had to answer on my own.
To be continued…