Welcome to my guest post series, and especially to the second and final part of this parenting post by my fellow stay-at-home dad and pal Josiah Ng. (His bio can be found at the end of this post)
(If you are keen to be a guest writer on my blog, please check out my guidelines by scrolling to the bottom of my About page)
The first part of Jo’s parenting post was published on my blog last week. In it, he shared about his son’s repeated meltdowns a few months ago. Meltdowns that LASTED a few months! Do read that first post if you’ve yet to. Then, what you will read here will make more sense.
In this second part, Jo will take us through the three lessons he gleaned from this chapter in his parenting journey.
Take it away Jo!
Parenting Lesson #1 — Surviving Quicksand
Now how did I come to relate my son’s meltdowns to quicksand?
It goes back to one weekend when we were playing Legos, and my seven-year-old placed a mini figure inside his homemade slime. It’s like quicksand! I yelled. Then, with much sage wisdom, I listed down for him the steps to survive quicksand (I had seen a documentary about it so of course I’m an expert!).
The steps were –
- Stop moving:
- Lean back and float
- Pull your feet up slowly but consistently
- Roll to the side
Clearly, getting out of quicksand is as counterintuitive as it sounds. Stop and lean back? That’s so NOT the first things we would do when stuck, right?
And then it hit me.
Parenting is counterintuitive too.
Sometimes parents need to stop struggling to try and make things right. Instead, we should stop, lean back, and assess what’s happening, give it space, and slowly deal with issues one at a time.
Too often we’re hoping for quick fixes. So we yell, shame, and even beat our kids. For example, my son frequently struggles to complete schoolwork. Many times, my wife and I have impatiently asked him why, creating lots of tense moments. But as soon as we gave him space and time to figure his way, he could complete his schoolwork much better.
The irony was that the more anxious we were to control the situation, the more stress it produced in my son.
Perhaps, as parents, we should be trying more to connect than control.
The next morning I stopped any form of threat, cajoling, begging, or whisper-yelling to try and get him to march to his class.
Instead, I stopped. I looked at my son. And I just hugged him.
We then waited at the gate in silence. I could see his face slowly growing confident. It prompted me to tell him how much I loved him; that nothing he did would make me love him less. I then prayed for him, and we waited again. Still, there wasn’t a word from my lips that told him to get to school.
The rest of the world spun by. Students were bustling noisily into the gate. Parents were waving their kids off and rushing to work. The traffic on the roads was congested with lots of honking, each vehicle trying to overtake the other.
Daddy, I don’t want to go to school. I am scared, said my son. I replied: I know. And you can take your time until you are ready.
He started hugging me again. I knew this hug. It was the same as the ones he’d given me for many days at the gate. On those days, it meant he wasn’t letting go. This time, however, he voluntarily loosened up from our hug and asked: What time are you fetching me?
I thought: Houston, we have lift-off!
After some quick negotiations, and before I knew it, he walked through the gate all by himself!
Parenting Lesson #2 — Be Consistent
I must confess there was a certain passive-aggressiveness to my parenting methods before. I reckon my seven-year-old’s mind could not comprehend his dad’s erratic behavior during the initial weeks of his meltdown. To him, the nuances of emotions are undoubtedly foreign. I can imagine his head gears turning confusedly. Why is it that in the mornings Papa chats heartily with me while walking to school, then at the gate he turns angry?
The fact is, I WAS confused! I didn’t know what persona to portray and my objective was to control the circumstance. So each morning my son “got a different dad”.
So I resolved to be consistent and give my son the time he needed each morning. Sure, there are days he still melts down at the school gate, but this means nothing now. Now, I keep doing the same thing the next day, and the next, and the next. Regardless of circumstances.
I learnt later that consistency is also a form of discipline. To keep doing something when it’s not easy to repeat requires effort and mastery of the mind. Just ask sportsmen who show up even when they don’t feel like it. For instance, Eliud Kipchoge, a Kenyan record-breaking marathoner, once famously said: Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.
Without the resolve to be consistent and disciplined, I was a slave to how I felt.
Parenting Lesson #3 — Emotions Are A Superpower!
Witnesses to my son’s meltdowns — parents, teachers, students — have asked me on numerous occasions why he was such a crybaby. Isn’t it important to teach boys not to cry? One mother offered me some advice, having heard about my morning adventures from her son who attends the same school. She told me that boys who cry get bullied more and suggested I find ways to toughen him up.
These words were rubbish to my ears of course. My son’s emotions are what I love about him. He’d once seen a wild frog die at the playground and wailed so badly he was shaking. On another occasion, my son recounted how his friend had lost something and was very sad about it. As he splashed out the details, he started to break down himself.
In a world desensitized by constant chaos, I choose to see my son’s emotions as a gift. My wife and I tell him it’s a superpower! Of course, superpowers are not super if not controlled. Controlling means feeling deeply and having healthy empathy for the needs of others.
We’re trusting my son will one day channel his emotions into a passion for change. Sadness into opportunities for growth. Loss into seeing gaps to fill. Creativity into ways he brings joy to others.
As for the fear he feels at the school gate? May he turn that into a faith he will bring with him throughout his life to help others overcome their fears.
We still don’t really know why he didn’t want to go to school between July and September.
But for the first time, the ‘why’ isn’t the most important question anymore. “Why” often forces us to look backward to the genesis of it all. In our case, it made us dwell too much on the past.
These days, my wife and I try to look forward instead. To figure out the “How’s” rather than the “Why’s”.
In life, there is so much we cannot change. So it’s the “How’s” that can help us move forward, regardless of the elusive “Why’s”.
As I continue my roller-coaster fathering journey, I hope other parents will, like me, learn daily to
– treat moments where we are stuck like surviving quicksand
– be consistent in showing up even when we don’t feel like it
– give ourselves permission to feel all we need to feel while trying to be the best parents for our kids.
About My Guest
Josiah Ng is obligated to call himself a stay-home-but-go-out-too-dad because his son hated the name “Stay Home Dad”.
As the primary caregiver to his two boys since April this year, Josiah uses his time to tell them stories and enjoys creating worlds with them.
With a background in video production, Josiah previously led the film and social content division at DDB Group Singapore, where he directed a feature documentary — André & His Olive Tree — which broke Taiwanese box office records and is currently available on Netflix.
Josiah’s children are his daily humbling reminders to inspire and empower the younger generation through his many creative works. Apart from video, Jo’s also an accomplished writer and storyteller. His YA book, The Story of Number Nine, is evidence of this man’s varied artistic palette.
You can connect with Josiah via his Insta handle @thesociallydistanceddad