Who Would Like to Be Insane?

In the past six years, I have had the privilege of meeting various people to counsel them.  Some are individuals facing challenges at work, others in school, while some are couples or spouses.  I also get to meet families where the parents are having trouble with their children, either in their behaviour, studies or both.  This reminds me of my earlier mentor-counseling days back in mid-late 90s from my final year in university to my work life before I left for monkhood and began training in Fa Yun Monastery in New Mexico, US.  The key difference was that back then, I was there as a befriender and the teens were referred to me through the school and counseling centre.  Now, they come with their parents.

While they all have different background and face different difficulties, they have a similar disdain for one thing that practically all teens simply cannot stand:  Nagging parents.

It is amazing how parents I have met, can bring themselves to repeat themselves again and again and again.  One mother shared that she would repeat herself at least 10 times before something happens, and by something, she meant either she lose her marbles and goes bat-shit crazy or she get her husband to come and get the child to do as told.

Maybe 10 times is an exaggeration.  But wait, she says that sometimes she goes beyond that.  One thing is for sure, over the lifetime of a child, I’m pretty sure that one’s mother or father may have repeated themselves over and over and over again.  Why do they do that?  They hope that the child would change.  Great idea!  But to the child, it becomes nagging, it just becomes background noise.

Giving a reminder is one thing, giving 10 reminders or more is another.  We think that children are the ones who need nagging, oops, I mean reminders.  The thing is, if there are no consequences to ignoring reminders, people in general will just ignore them.  The parking “aunty” may annoy some people and do not strike most people as a profession of high standing, this person is part of a critical part of the civil servants in Singapore who enforces the law or
regulations.  Without the parking aunty, there would be no consequences for illegal parking.  Without consequences for illegal parking, then the very law on land use is moot.  As much as lawyers and judges run the show in courtrooms, the ground law enforcement officers represents the law and delivers it in your face.

So what does that got to do with nagging and parenting?  You see, if we just start nagging and deliver no consequences to a no-show, then the nagging is the warning and consequence.  If the punishment for parking illegally is to get a parking ticket that simply ‘fines’ you with more parking tickets, who would care?  Just more scrap paper maybe?

The flow-chart above is an example of the “communication” (or nagging) process.  In some cases, parents get tired of doing it, and they simply do it for them.  They become the ‘maids’ while the kids become the boss.  They do so until they get sick of it and they start nagging their kids again.  Rinse-and-repeat.  Sometimes, they would discipline their child, other times they would just do it for them.  You will notice in the image, a big cross over the “do it for them” bubble.  While it does ‘solve’ the dishes, dirty clothes, dirty room etc problem, the child gets a free room service.  Do it a few more times and we accidentally teach the child that ignoring the naggings may well get the job done or disciplining.  Hey, might as well take my chances!

When getting children to do their chores, it is useful to stop their activity and have their full attention first.  But have a bit of reasonable buffer and not expect your child to give soldier drill precision results at your beck and call.  Remember that you are trying to nurture your child, not train a soldier as well.

Some time back, I heard of a line “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”  Today, after a google search, I found that this quote is from the author Rita Mae Brown in her book Sudden Death on Pg. 68 from 1983 [1]

Sounds familar?  When parents nag and nag and nag, hoping to get different results, they are really exhibiting some level of insanity.  Is that what is meant by parents being driven nuts by their kids?

Our parents, with their incessant nagging, do seem like lunatics sometimes.  I mean, what makes them think that we are going to budge* and suddenly change with the next gentle reminder?

No one in this world, in their sane mind would do that, surely.  No one.  No one but our dear parents.  For us, they are willing to be insane.  For us, they are driven to their wits end.  For us, they are willing to nag again and again and again.  They just hope that we will change the next hundredth time they nag.  They just hope like crazies.  For even if there is one strand of hope, they will be willing to be crazy, to act like lunatics, to nag at us just one more time.

There is no special celebration today for mothers, fathers or parents in general.  But to all parents, care givers, mentors, and teachers!  Thank you for being crazy for us!

PS: In a somewhat poignant way, today I kinda understand how it must have felt for my mom when a long time ago, I forced an apology out of her.  While I think I was right back then, I now understand how she felt when she said “I’m your mom, do you really need me to apologise to you?”.

Sorry mom! *weep*



During Mother’s Day, At Least Don’t Give Trouble to Your Mother! And Not Just During Mother’s Day, Everyday, Don’t Give Her Trouble. That Way, You Show Your Love and Respect For Your Mother by Not Giving Her Trouble

I find Bhante’s delivery during the Mother’s Day lunch very meaning, practical and close to heart. As I recall, one part that resounds deeply with me, goes like this:
“… During Mother’s Day, at least don’t give trouble to your mother! And not just during Mother’s Day, everyday, don’t give her trouble.
That way, you show your love and respect for your mother by not giving her trouble. … “

The same goes for our father.

To Reason or Not to Reason – 講不講道理


To reason, we should be reasonable and to reason with people, but reason is to be reasoned by two person who knows reason. Educating children is even more so.

I’ve seen many parents try to explain and reason to their little kids. Some even try to do so to their toddlers who can barely speak, much less reason. It is funny or sad for me to see how parents seem to be expected to explain and account for their every actions and decisions while kids seem to be given a blank cheque to do as they please.

The Family Ground Rules 家規

Being born in a Chinese family, I was brought up in quite a different environment. While my parents were relatively open-minded to begin with and in many cases, entertained my “WHYs” when I was in my mid to late teens, there were many moments where they put their foot down and basically let me know that I’ve crossed the line. What line? The family ground rules (家規).

In my family, there are certain Dos and Don’ts that everyone have to observe. It is not a democracy. It is the family ground rules (家規). It is not something that we sit around and discuss how we would revise it. These may vary from family to family or clan to clan, and most parents
adapted or inherited theirs from their parents. In most cases, it was from either parents or a hybrid decided by the parents. Democrats can argue all they want, but I don’t see the whole nation go have a discussion on the constitution or the law every other day. Members of parliament (or senators in US) represent the citizens and they try their best to protect their interest. By electing them for their term of office, you trust their judgement and integrity to protect your interest. If they fail, don’t vote them the next term. Rinse. Repeat.

In the case of our parents, you did not elect them. Buddhist believe that we are all linked in some ways, some deeper than others. Parents and child are strongly linked in past lives and the links serve as a condition for this lives’ parent-child relation. So in a way, we elected with our link with people. Associate with wise people and you probably have a better chance to have wise parents (and wise kids too!). Associate with foolish or nasty folks and … …

Then there are those who are already on the path to Enlightenment and they associate with the foolish and nasty people in order to help them. Which are you? The former or latter?

I don’t know about the mechanisms for choosing parents or kids in other faiths or cultures, though I heard that the stork was responsible for people in the west.  In the past at least! :p Read More …

Parenthood Is Not a Popularity Contest

Kids these days are really “lucky”. I see a lot of parents buzzing around their precious little ones, so too eager to please them, some even apologise to their child when their child fall and hurt themselves through their own misbehaviour. I’m not suggesting that parents should not want to bring happiness to their children. But if that is the only concern, then they are in trouble. Both the parents and the child that is.

There are two aspects I want to consider: 1) the consequence of being so preoccupied with pleasing the children and 2) the rationale behind it.  I’ll start with the rationale part.

Wanting them to be Happy

I think it is a good thing that most parents want happiness for their children.  Adult life in modern Singapore (or most places) is stressful enough, we don’t need parents to make our childhood worse off.  Anthropologist would perhaps say that this is the nurturing and social quality of humans that forms the basis for growth and development of the human species and communities.  Evolutionist would say that such qualities proved to be suitable for the survival of the human species.  I’m just glad it is so and that my parents were very loving even if my mom had to introduce me to the finer points of caning (of the palms) in my younger years as a schoolboy.

I say “most parents” grudgingly as a part of me is still reconciling with those cases where parents abuse, harm and even prove to be fatal to their children.  Unfortunately, there are such parents.  Fortunately, they belong to the fringe, the anomalies if you will.  This article is not really about them, though if they would try to behave more like they are in the parenting popularity contest, they would be better off.

Giving happiness to our children is not wrong.  Wanting happiness for them is not a crime.  Being happy when they smile and not cry is in no way something to be apologetic over.  The problem (like “buts”, there is always a problem!) is when that is all we are concerned about.  If our logic is that parents should satisfy every whims and fancy of the child in order for them to be happy, then we are so wrong.  It is one thing to be able to give our child what they want, it is another thing to simply give them everything they want.  If we do so just to achieve immediate happiness, we may end up building in them this instant-gratification mindset.  The whole society and media is already doing it, we don’t need to deepen it.

Being parents, we should have our child’s welfare and happiness in mind.  But comparing short term and long term happiness, we as adults should know better.  Behave in a myopic manner and we may regret 10 to 20 years from now, while our child have to face those consequences in his character and person for his whole life.

Parenthood is not a Popularity contest

So why do parents behave in such a way?  I observe that in the past family structure, parents in their old age may be more financially dependent on their children.  It is traditional that the parents would stay with one of the children, normally the eldest son or child.  It may vary but parents would typically stay with one of the children and be looked after in their old age.  Parents today are supposed to be more independent socially and financially but they appear to be emotionally dependent compared to parents of the earlier generation.  While I have not done any studies, I observe that many young parents these days are very concerned whether their children love or like them or not.  This to me, is one of the factor that fuels the popularity parenting mindset.  There may be other factors involved, and I hope to hear from you all
your thoughts about it.

The combination of ‘myopia’ and popularity parenting mindset creates a dangerous situation where the parents’ sole aim is to please the child, somewhats at all cost, financially and emotionally.  Without regard for the long term impact, this put the parents squarely at the mercy of the child’s emotional roller-coaster.  While the parent seem to win the love of the child, they are unwittingly teaching the child emotional-ransom.  The by-product is that some children may over the years, grow up believing that the world should and would revolve around them, just as their parents did.  By the time they reach their late teens or early twenties and step into society, they may not be emotionally resilient enough to face life’s setback.  While nobody wants such an outcome, it can become the eventual scenario if the earlier factors are not nipped off sooner.

Don’t worry if you are their favorite parent or not, just be the best parent they have!

Fortunately, I also see parents who are playing the adult role in the parent-child relationship.  Instead of being overly preoccupied with short-term happiness, they provide for their children suitably without succumbing to the temptation of “Favorite Parent Award”.  Not always giving your child what they want may mean that they will cry a little here and there, but they will also learn that they cannot cry their way to their next toy.  Oh and while you are at it, please hush your child and not let your child wail, scream and flail around in the bus or train.  Have some decency and respect for other’s peace and space.  Besides, tt is also safer for the child if you restrain him while in a moving vehicle.

On top of giving and providing for their material needs, please also give them some good values.  Grades only appear in their certificates while money is only useful when gone (spent!).  Values stay in their heart for the rest of their life.  And the best way to give them good values, is to live by those values.

I’m not anyone’s parent, but I learnt from the best parents, the best and only parents I ever had.

Happy Mothers’ Day

Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers in the world!

Today, I attended the Geylang Serai Town day at Macpherson (under GS Youth IRCC) in the morning, then joined Bhante Dhammaratna at the Buddhist Library Mothers’ Day Lunch together with my family.  Following that my parents went with me to Ngee Ann City under Vesak @ Orchard organised by SBF and I joined in the Streettalk session (3pm ~ 5pm) hosted by 黄文鸿, Radio 1003 DJ, entitled “Next Stop: Happiness”.

Finally I am back at the Buddhist Library and just replied to some emails and am preparing for the 大乘百法明门论 (Mahayana Abhidharma) classes at Metta Welfare Association starting at 7:30pm.

*Phew* Just another day for a monk in Singapore.

So how did you spend your Mothers’ Day?

Again, mummy, Happy Mothers’ Day! 😀

How to Discipline Your Child (Part 1)

I read a really interesting post about someone learning his lesson as a child and thought it is a really good example of fine parenting.


I was perhaps 9 years old when it happened.

I had a terrible habit as a kid to want to sleep in until the last possible moment. Ok, who am I kidding? I still do that. I’m usually about 30 seconds late for work everyday. But when I was a kid, this drove my mother to the brink of sanity. She put up with it for a long time, always managing to get me roused and dressed, books in hand and out the door for school just in the nick of time. Sometimes she’d peek her head in my bedroom door every 10 minutes and check in, making sure I was on track. And generally I managed to get myself together with seconds to spare. But there WAS that one time…

Mom: “Sweetie, it’s time to get up and get dressed.”
Me: “Uhhhhaaaaaaaaaaamffff…”

Mom: “Honey, we have to leave at 7:30 if we’re going to get you to school on time. Please get up and start getting dressed or you won’t have time for breakfast!”

Mom: “Justin, get out of bed. I mean it. You’re already going to be pressed for time to eat breakfast. We’re leaving at 7:30, whether you’re ready or not.”
Me: “Arrrrggghh…Ok, I’m up, I’m up.”

Mom: “Sweetie, are you dressed yet? I’ve got your breakfast ready…”
Mom: “DAMN IT! Wake UP and get READY!!! I swear to you Justin, we’re leaving here at 7:30. I don’t care if you miss your breakfast. I don’t care if you aren’t dressed for school.”
Me: “Ok, sorry…sorry. I’m up.”

Mom: “Are you still awake? Good…why aren’t you dressed? Get dressed
NOW or you’re going in your underwear.

Me: “Ok.”

Mom: “Alright, let’s go. Grab your backpack.”
Me: “But Mom, I’m not ready…”
Mom: “Tough.”

She grabbed me by the arm and escorted me out the front door. No shoes, no shirt, not a stitch of clothing besides my tighty whities. She held me by the wrist and led me to the car. I can’t remember this very clearly because I was somewhat upset. I do remember that I was crying uncontrollably. Likely pleading and begging in some fashion. She put me in the back seat, got in, and drove away casually as if nothing in the world was out of place. And as I began to calm somewhat, I sat, mostly naked and full of fear, in the back seat pondering my next move. I didn’t have any more outs. I had no clothing and no plan. I was fucked. I was going to school in my underwear.

Never once did it cross my mind that this could be a bluff. My mother didn’t bluff. She wasn’t turning the car around. Heck, we were halfway to school already! Here I was, in my undies and headed toward certain ridicule and major embarrassment of the worst kind, the ridicule of grade-school peers. And all because I’d chosen to sleep when I should have been getting dressed. When I should have been enjoying a nutritious breakfast. I slept this upon myself. I had learned my lesson. It wouldn’t happen again. I’d always get up from now on at first call. Various other reasoning and begging followed. I gazed into the rearview mirror, looking her in the eyes. I grovelled. And she stared back and me, cold and firm in her resolution.

We pulled into the driveway of my school, and up the lane to the front doors; the main car-rider drop off point. My mother didn’t even put the car in park. She just looked at me expectantly in the rearview. Not a speck of emotion. “Well?…,” said her eyes. I began to cry again. She put the car in park, killed the engine, unfastened her seatbelt, and got out. I was completely prepared. I had mentally readied myself to be dragged from the car, in a cliched kicking and screaming fashion. My mother went around back of the car and opened the trunk, from which she removed a brown paper grocery bag. She came back around to the side and opened my door. She stood there looking at me, like I was the worst child ever. And she handed me the brown bag with my clothes inside. “Get dressed.”

Twas indeed the last time I ever failed to hearken to my mother’s wakeup call.

The problem I see in many cases of parent-child discipline issue, is that the parent either do not follow through with a prior ultimatum (eg, “if you do ABC again, I will …”) or out of anger, frustration or bad mood, simply scold, cane or punish a child even if it is not warranted.

Don’t say something you won’t do; don’t do something you didn’t say.

Be well. ^_^