Once a Parent, Always a Parent

image1.JPG

My dad and I.

When I was younger, my dad regularly brought me jogging around the estate. I still remember the one-mile route we took. I also remember cycling with him to the edge of Ghim Moh when it was still a construction site. I can still recall catching guppies in Orchard Road, when the large drains behind Orchard Shopping Center was still exposed.

I remember my mom bringing me along her school outings to the zoo and especially to the drama competitions at the Singapore National Theatre. I also remember attending home economics classes much to the amusement of the older sisters in the school.

Now, I’m a parent too – to two lovely kids. Well, not quite kids anymore…teenagers. As I look back at my childhood and compare it to my own experiences, I realise that our children don’t need us to be super heroes.

They just need us to be present. To be there with them in the everyday ordinary things that we all do. And through our actions, assure them that we love and cherish them.

What is Co-Parenting About?

Recently I spoke in parliament about the changes we made to the Women’s Charter. The main intent of our changes was to highlight to parents the importance of putting our children’s interest at heart.

And in cases of divorce, this would mean learning to co-parent our children. We must remember that even though divorced, we very much remain parents to our children.

My officers told me this story they encountered in the course of their work. A divorced couple thought co-parenting just meant that both parents could see their son and have access to him. That’s all. They did not see the need to talk to each other, nor agree on how to bring up their son. The mother was a busy career woman, and a firm disciplinarian. The father (because he only saw the son on weekends) was not strict at all, allowing him to do whatever he liked.

However, the father seldom gave his son a weekly allowance – even though he was supposed to. Why? Because he felt that his ex-wife was more successful than him. So she should chip in more, right?

But you guessed it – his ex-wife refused to give in.

So their teenage son felt that no one really cared for him, and was confused by their inconsistencies in setting boundaries. He started hanging out in malls. When asked about this by his mother, he argued that his father allowed him to do so. As he did not get a regular allowance from his father, he would steal from his mother’s wallet.

The son got into trouble one weekend – he and his friends were caught shoplifting at the mall.

The father realised that things could not go on this way. He tried talking to his ex-wife, something which he had not done since the divorce. It was not easy, but since then the couple have put their differences aside to co-parent their son.

The father now sets boundaries like his ex-wife, and gives his son his allowance regularly. And they each try to spend more time bonding with their son, who is now happier and more grounded.

Make Our Children Our Priority

The above story is not an unusual example. True, it is not easy for divorced couples. But I encourage fathers, and mothers, to work with their ex-spouses to co-parent. Children need both their parents. Perhaps even more so as they struggle with the stresses of a divorce.

We all remember the impact of our parents on us. We cannot underestimate how parents are key influencers in a child’s life. Their presence (or absence) has a profound impact on a child’s development.

The changes I announced to the Women’s Charter are also part of our efforts to strengthen social support systems, infrastructure and services to protect women and support families, especially when marriages break down.

But the legislative changes are but one part of the equation.

The other part? Our roles as parents. Make our children a priority.

And be there for them. Sometimes, it may be the children who are resistant to spending time with us. Be patient.

Providing them with a listening ear will help them feel accepted, help them heal, and learn to trust again.

Ultimately, it is every parent’s duty to protect the interest of our own children. Making time to be with our children, giving them the space to grieve and come to terms with the way things will be after a divorce, will certainly provide them with a sense of security.

Because after all, we will always be mums and dads to our children.