I LOVE CLEANING UP MESSES I DIDN'T MAKE ... SO I BECAME A MUM
First Peter is all about how to live as a follower of Christ. Resist temptation; do good yet expect to suffer from it; love your enemy but do not expect any love in return. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Yet after just four years of being a mother, I can somewhat relate to that — never give in to lollipops, clean and organise your child’s room, yet be faced with a temper tantrum for misplacing his favourite toy. Indeed, the occasional failure is inevitable, but as mothers, we open our hearts, and we love.
I grew up with the privilege of having my mum model what selfless and unconditional love is to my older brother and me. She gave up her job to take care of the both of us, and throughout my growing up years, she bore the brunt of household duties. She served us selflessly — taking on multiple roles as chef, maid, and chauffeur — without complaining or grumbling.
Raising two toddlers at home now has taught me that without a doubt, one of the hardest tasks of motherhood is keeping our cool when our children are out of line. When my boys display their spectacular fireworks of anger and frustration, I have to resist the strong urge to run out of the house, or worse, lose my cool and fire right back. Otherwise, I would end up wishing immediately that I could hit the ‘delete’ button and reverse time!
Looking back, I have vivid memories of my own ‘fireworks’, and yet I always expected my mum to remain calm, accommodating and forgiving. This, I suppose, is only the tip of the iceberg of what I expected from my mum.
A MOTHER’S LOVE NEED NOT BE DESERVED
Then came the glorious teenage years, when the frontal cortex of the brain (the part that helps us to plan, control our impulses, and reason) is still developing. Yes, I love it that therapists call this stage in life ‘developmental’ — it makes my own teenage years seem less repugnant and more pardonable. I recall my tumultuous teenage years before
I came to know the Lord. It was undoubtedly a trying period, particularly for my mum as my dad went overseas to work, and she had to handle the family affairs on top of my emotional meltdowns. I could be a logical, rational girl one moment, and an incoherent, emotional bomb moments later. The mental, physical, and hormonal changes that I experienced during this period made life confusing and incomprehensible at times.
When my mum tried to reinforce values, beliefs, and discipline through repetitive advice, I saw it as nagging and gave her the cold shoulder. Suddenly, following the crowd and fitting in was a lot more important than following Mum’s advice. Because my mum grew up in a poor family and could not afford education beyond secondary school, I started to feel contempt for her advice and thought that she “didn’t know enough” and “couldn’t understand me”. As I struggled to find my identity and independence while also desperately seeking love and acceptance, I stopped confiding in her and sought solace and gratification in my friends instead.
WHEN MY MUM TRIED TO REINFORCE VALUES, I SEE IT AS NAGGING
From being a ‘goody two-shoes’ in primary school, I became a rebel overnight despite being in a well-known secondary school with good values. I started hanging out at fast food joints after school with my seniors, and relished this new-found ‘freedom’ that I had. It seemed like life had just started for me. While I knew I made my mum a bundle of nerves every so often, she never ceased to be my pillar of strength — quietly supporting me, encouraging me, believing in me, and letting me know that she never expected more than the best I could do. Even when my grades fell and my teachers frowned, she cheered me on, and told me that doing my best was more than enough for her. When I was disrespectful and obnoxious, she grieved, but did not fight head on with me.
On hindsight, I realise how agonising and intimidating it must be for parents to have such tremendous influence over their children in the first decade of their lives, and then to have them pull away to become his or her own person as a teen. Sometimes, l wonder if I will have the same immeasurable patience and forgiving heart as my mum when my own children reach that phase.
A MUM’S HEART LASTS LONG AFTER SHE LETS GO
When I was an adolescent, I related to my mum through a lens. It was a lens of ignorance, selfishness, and ungratefulness. One of the things that children don’t see is the sacrifice parents go through to make life easier for them. In essence, there is no appreciation for the love that parents shower on them, at least not until they have children of their own. Likewise, I was only interested in how my parents could fulfil my needs when I was a teenager, and not how I could care for them. I thought to myself, “Why would parents have needs anyway? Aren’t they supposed to be perfect?”
Looking back at my growing-up years, I realise that I have taken many things for granted. I have always viewed the things my mum did as something every parent ought to do. Now that I am in her shoes, I see the enormity of her love, interwoven with inevitable human faults — faults that I myself make with my sons now.
CHILDREN DON'T SEE THE SACRIFICES PARENTS GO THROUGH
When I was young, there were a handful of things my mum made me do that I promised never to make my children do. Now, most of these promises have come back to haunt me. As my mum once told me (jokingly), her revenge will be her grandchildren, when she would be able to watch me make my children do all the things I didn’t like her doing to me! Yet, so great is a mother’s love that she will always be there, through the chaos of life, no matter how grown up her child has become.
So despite having the last laugh, she still loves me unconditionally. And if I could look at my once-teen self in the mirror again, I would say, “You have a great mum and you’d better cherish her!”