14 October 2014, by Tan Yi Lin
I turned 35 earlier this week.
35 is a rather strange age to be at. It dawned on me that from now on, I’d no longer belong to the category of the early thirties, and that every day after my 35th birthday, I’d be moving steadily into my late thirties. Isn’t this the phase where people have kids who are already in primary school and whose lives get overtaken by homework, tuition, CCAs, enrichment classes, etc. Uh huh, the parents’ lives, not just the kids’. I hear my older colleagues lamenting about PSLE and can’t quite empathise with the stress that they (once again, the parents, not just the kids) are undergoing BUT HEY – all too soon, I’ll be nodding my head sagely and exclaiming emphatically to myself, “So THIS is what they were talking about!”
Instead of letting my thoughts get (too far) ahead of myself, I decided that hitting this milestone year was an opportune juncture to reflect upon my parenting journey. I recently invited some parents to share about their personal parenthood experiences. The interviewees ranged from seasoned parents with wise words to share, to newer mums and dads who had their first child within the last couple of years. All their thoughtful responses inspired me to delve back into my own memories of the past 3 years of parenthood – 4.5 years, if we start from the very beginning of our IVF journey.
So here’s an interview with myself, using the very questions that I posed to our younger interviewees (yes, I flatter myself by likening myself to these young chaps) for the MaybeBaby features on Different Times, Same Joy.
MaybeBaby: Hello Yi Lin,
How are you? We are putting together a feature article for ilovechildren.sg and would appreciate your input as a noob, apologies, new parent in the article. We would be grateful if you could share with us some thoughts and stories from your personal experience with parenthood.
Please share with us your parenting journey.
1. In which year did you have your first child?
Ah, it was the birth of our little Coco Monster in August 2011 that made us parents. Claire Bear followed 19 months later and made us even better (we hope) parents.
2. Parenting roles: How do you share responsibilities? Is there a distinct split between that of mother and father?
As a Libra, I can’t help but NEED the parenting responsibilities to be fairly distributed between me and Dan. (Yes, I was one of those kids who would constantly protest “But it’s not fair!” whenever things fell out of perfect equilibrium.)
While some of our responsibilities are different, I do think that Dan and I pitch in in equal portions in terms of time and effort. Most of the daily tasks are interchangeable – whoever is available (i.e not being incapacitated by needy babies) will shower the kid/s, or wash the bottles, or prepare the milk, etc. There is an easy flow and quiet understanding between us. If there are still dirty bottles lining the sink at the end of the day, one of us will take up the task of washing up. No accusatory finger-pointing as to who didn’t do his or her job. Because ensuring the availability of clean bottles is a shared responsibility.
That said, there are still tasks that one of us does better than the other. For him, it’s driving the family car and offering sleepy toddlers a strong, comforting – and comfortable – chest and shoulder to lie on (mine has been accused of being too hard and bony. Yes, even the chest. Boo.) For me, it’s packing the diaper bag – and the skill of magically producing a snack buffet, tissues, wipes, diapers, jackets, pacifiers, food scissors, activity books, toys, etc. at the very utterance of “Wife / Mummy, can I have…”
3. Parenting & family: How has becoming a parent changed your relationship with your own parents and family (e.g. your siblings, relatives)?
The saying that it takes a village to raise a child cannot be more true. I am so grateful and thankful for our village. Having children has brought me closer to my parents and siblings. There are more opportunities for physical closeness, and family interaction and conversations have more depth. Our family relates on a different level now. It’s not that we were sorely lacking in emotional closeness before the children came along. It’s because what we deemed as normal before is now more because of our additional roles as parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles to the new arrivals. I wrote an earlier entry on the effect that having offspring has on family relationships. A bigger family inevitably results in more instances of friction – because we are all different people. But more relationships with more people make for a richer life, in both good ways and not-so-good ones.
4. Parenting challenges: What were some of the challenges you experienced as a young parent?
Oh, man. Where do I start? For one, it was the shock of it all. I recall sitting up in bed for the entire first night after we brought our newborn baby home, clutching a screaming infant at my poor, sore, breast, and realising in horror that we could just have very well screwed up our lives. And worse, that we went through all that pain of IVF for THIS?!
Of course, we slowly got the hang of this parenting gig and things got better – just as everyone said they would. We became best of friends with this hard-to-comprehend, demanding little stranger called our daughter and we love her to bits. But it definitely wasn’t easy at the start.
5. Parenting joys: What is your greatest joy in being a parent?
Simply sharing Life with our children. Experiencing their unbridled joy at the simplest things, like racing around the dining table (even though my 35 year-old body is begging for a break), bath time conversations, hearing the funny things they say, sharing laughs, holding hands, being on the receiving end of tiny hugs, kisses and “I love you”s. Just Being with them is the greatest joy. Admittedly, it’s hard to feel joyful when the kids are infuriating you. But thankfully, these (very) challenging moments are fewer than the feel-good ones.
Let’s talk about being a parent today, in modern times.
6. Why have children early? What do you think is the motivation for couples nowadays to have children early in their marriage, if at all?
I’ve never imagined a life without children. To me, having children after marriage was something most natural. So when my gynae back then broached the possibility of difficulties in conceiving, the news was shattering. Having children makes you realise how precious life is – both theirs, and yours. Before I had kids, my colleague, a mother to 3, once told me that she would never skydive or bungee-jump now that she was a parent. I couldn’t understand why one should hold back from experiencing life to the fullest because of your children. Now, I realise that as a parent, your children’s lives are inexplicably tied to your own. Some of life’s experiences, while exciting, are not worth risking not only your life – but also your children’s childhoods for. I don’t think I’d ever be able to bring myself to throw myself out of a plane or off a bridge again.
That said, I could be perfectly fine never skydiving and bungee-jumping from now on – because I had already done them. We delayed having children immediately after our marriage to enjoy life as a couple, with our friends who also hadn’t yet had kids, and to live our travel dreams. We would have had to go through IVF anyway, whether earlier or later. True, maybe the IVF journey would have been smoother if we had tried earlier. But we accept our parenthood journey for what it is and are at peace with our decision not to have started a family earlier. BUT this is our personal story and what we’ve done wouldn’t work for everyone. So if fertility is a key concern, and if couples don’t want to consider the possibility of fertility treatment for whatever reason, then this would probably be a major motivation in planning for kids early in the marriage.
7. More challenging… or easier? In what aspect do you think couples nowadays “have it good” when it comes to planning for or having children?
Oh, definitely the ready availability of information on the Internet is a boon to parents today. Not just in terms of websites, but also emails, apps and news feeds that send a monthly notification to your mobile phone when your baby turns, say, 3 months old and lists the developmental milestones that he should be hitting at this age. Hospitals even send reminders for doctor and vaccination appointments straight to your phone. There are also a host of financial incentives like grants and tax reliefs / rebates to ease the financial burden of starting and raising a family. Increased maternity leave, child care leave, family care leave and flexible working arrangements are definitely some things that I enjoy having. Going out with baby is easier with the increasing availability of family-friendly amenities, such as nursing rooms and diaper-changing rooms. I can’t imagine where my mum would have changed my wet diaper when out shopping with newborn me in 1979 – probably by the side of the road!
8. Talking about fertility matters, do you think couples today are more open to broaching the topic of fertility amongst family and friends? Or are people still secretive and unwilling to discuss fertility matters?
I think it all depends on the level at which we are sharing, what most people would deem as intensely private, information. I, for one, wouldn’t update on my IVF progress on Facebook, even though I’m perfectly fine sharing such details on this blog. Also, I do think that because I’ve been open about our IVF journey, friends who are experiencing difficulties in conceiving share and confide in me too – but not with others.
9. Then & now: What do you feel are some of the things that have not changed since your parents had you and now that you’re a parent?
The deep love that every parent has for each of their children is unchangeable. Becoming a parent has made me understand and appreciate my own parents a lot more. In fact, I see myself becoming my parents! Not only that, when my sister interacts with my daughters, I see my aunts (who cared for us when we were children) in her! Not only have things not changed, we are realising that we – and the older generation – are more alike that we think we are. It’s almost a case of history repeating itself. In the context of the joy that parenthood brings, this is a GOOD thing 🙂
MaybeBaby: Thank you, Yi Lin, for your time and for your valued contribution to this article. We wish you a peaceful, uninterrupted night of wondrous (much-needed) sleep and may you not be awoken by pre-dawn crying and be able to laze in bed till noon tomorrow… YEAH RIGHT!!!!