Friday, November 14, 2014

The role of parents in an uncertain world

The hardest thing about bringing up a kid is the values that you want him to inculcate. It's never a straightforward equation, where you put in the right input and you get the right output. Different kids respond differently to the same input and produce vastly different outputs.

Take for example a parent who always tries to teach his kid to save up and be frugal. He did it in a way that forces his kid to scrimp and save and the kid grew up having the mindset that money is very important. Here's two diverging paths that might happen; extreme but entirely in the realm of possibilities. The kid either grows up spending crazily to 'make up' for his lost childhood and his whole adult life will be about reclaiming some parts of his life that he didn't experience but other kids did. Or, he will continue to save and scrimp like his parents did, perhaps to gain their approval and therefore their affection. It's hard to tell in advance which paths the kid will take. It's like the Schrodinger's cat phenomenon where both outcomes are possible but it'll be determined only when it's determined.

Extrapolating this idea, a frugal parent might or might not come from extravagant grandparents. But folklore always mention about having a generation of alternating characteristics. For example, you have a grandparent generation who are frugal, then a parent generation who are extravagant (to make up for their frugal upbringing), then a current generation of kids who are frugal again. This, of course, is not fixed in stone, and the unpredictability of the next generation to follow what the previous generation values are, is what I'm talking about here in the first place.

Given this, can we really engineer the kind of values that we want out kids to have? I guess we can only try our best. This is important because trying our best is the only thing we can do. In light of this, it's also important not to blame our parents for whatever ills that this current generation is suffering. More likely than not, when it's time for you to become a parent, who knows, maybe your kids will also blame you for whatever nonsense you've taught them that works for you but utterly failed on them.

A good example will be the "study hard then you'll be settled for life" myth. I use the word myth because it's a socialised fact; everyone knows it and follows it, but nobody really question why or how effective it is. Until now. Parents growing up without much education, and thereupon seeing their peers who are fortunate enough to study and landing well-paying office jobs, are the ones perpetuating this myth. It's the right thing for their generation because having a O'lvl cert back then is as good as having a degree in university. If you had a university degree back then, you must be the top 1% of the most highly educated, and by extension, the most sought after job seeker in that generation. Is it going to work for this generation now? I doubt so.

Going forward, what other values or ideas have you tried teaching your child that works for you by might not work for them? Who can tell? It takes a rather long time for the kid to grow up before you can say for certain what works and what doesn't. By then, it's too late. It's like you bought into a share to hold it for the long term and looking at it after 20 yrs, you realised it's a dud. By then, the period of remediation is long gone and you have a kid who might have blamed you for what you've taught eons ago.

The physical part of parenting is never easy, but it can be easily outsourced. The ideological part of parenting is the tricky part. Firstly, you don't know whether what you taught them is still going to be helpful for them in their future that you no longer belong to. Second, even if you know for sure, whatever you try to inculcate in them might turn out to be quite opposite to what you intended. Thirdly, it's not like you have many chances to go through trial and error. Unless you have a kid now and after 20-30 yrs you have another kid, you pretty much only have 1 chance. Given the circumstances, how can someone ever say that they are ready to be a parent, don't even talk about being a good one?

Still, in the light of all the uncertainty, we have to make a choice:

1. It's important to teach your kids adaptability and resilience. How? I don't know. I just know that it's important to prepare them for the future they are going to inherit, not yours.

2. Don't blame yourself as a parent if things don't go right. Don't blame your parents if things don't go right for you. Nobody knows what is happening and in the thick of the battle where there's a concealing fog of war, you can only do the best you can taking into account all the information available to you at that moment. Point 1 comes in mind - adaptability and be resilience.

3. Beware of unintended consequences. Beware of it, but ultimately what else can you do?

4. Be prepared to fail as a parent. Be prepared to fail as a person growing up in this world. There's no perfection to be attained, only improvements. In spite of all this, love yourself, love your parents.

After this internal dialogue, I end up still being uncertain. I know nothing but I have a feeling being uncertain and knowing that you know nothing is the destination of our journey.


financialray said...

It is ok to fail right? After all we are all only parents once, right? Don't be afraid to fail. Sometimes, things may turn out fine but sometimes they may not. Adjust our expectations along the way and learn along the way. However, no regret having kids...they teach me love is a wonderful thing, the feeling of giving and making others happy without expecting anything in return. That is true bliss.

la papillion said...

Hi financialray,

I'm glad that you think this way. I've met parents who want nothing but the best for their kids. Not wrong, but might have unintended consequences for them.

la papillion said...

Hi temperament,

"If you are parents to a normal baby, still you will not know how the child will turn out as an adult even with the best supporting resources & intention."

I agree with that. Nothing is for certain. Salute all parents who took the leap of faith and have kids.

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


OK, I'll make sure I wear my raincoat.

I rather not have children.

Too stressful... What if they grow up to be like me?


Sucking my thumb in my fetal position.

It's not real; it's not real...

la papillion said...


Haha, what's wrong about you? Being you is quite a good thing isn't it? The world needs more of you!

Rolf Suey said...

Hi LP,

Maybe if there are too many SMOL, means more people are on leisure mode. Garment want citizens to be on Work mode all the time, all the life.

Ok, going back to the topic, I have to agree that physical part is never easy but can be outsourced. I personally outsourced to my mother in law and helper. The mental part is the tricky one.

Children nowadays are very different. They “eat soft don’t eat hard”. Last time we ate “cane strokes” only if we are disobedient.

By the way, earlier I wrote an article which mention about a stupid Rolf’s "Door Analogy". Refer here. It goes like below.

“Sometimes your child will only see one door which is straight ahead and walk through it. They may fall right through into the shit hole! As parents, I will tell them to look broader and let them understand that there are actually two more doors beside the one they had seen. Which one to choose is up to them, but at least, we widen their perspective! If they still decide to take the shit hole door, then they must be responsible for their action.”


Patrick T. said...

May be off topic but every now and then, I walk down some old road or building and I start thinking about what went on in minds of the people who built it or used it once a long time ago. Then I come to realise, they are more likely to admire my life than the other way round.

Then I will go off and have a few moments, of if I am lucky a few days, of knowing being alive and being slightly better off than the last generation is already an achievement.

Until the people or society around me drag me back into the "real world" and starts putting all sorts of expectations on me that I cannot ignore.

la papillion said...

Hi Rolf,

It's always a good thing to teach them how to see out of the box. I think that's going to be a good skill to prepare them for the uncertain world they are going to inherit.

Good training by their engineering trained father, I'm sure ;)

la papillion said...

Hi Patty,

It's true...we fantasize how good their lives are in the past, they probably think about how we had it easier in this generation.

It's always good to be grateful. You'll find the simplest thing like having a cup of kopi with a small tart, with your loved ones, is the best thing and perhaps the highlight of the week ;)