Thursday, November 5, 2009


The train of thoughts was flagged off by a picture of the recent flood in Manila, Philippines. Its speed picked up with a story of a robber praying with his victim in the US. A dialogue with tertiary students by Singapore Minister Mentor Mr Lee Kuan Yew loaded it with more purposes. On its way, it took a slight turn and picked up a story that I had been wanting to write for a while. It reached the penultimate stop in my previous post. And now here we are, chronicling the journey of this particular series of thoughts on parenting.

Game for a ride on the J-Train?

While hopping through blogs recently after the Typhoon Ondoy had wreaked havoc in Manila, a particular picture captured my imagination. It shows a well-dressed middle-aged woman carrying her handbag on top of her head wading through chest-deep flood waters. "Unpredictability" was the word that sprung up from the contrast reflected in the picture. With the recent spates of natural disasters, it does seem Mother Nature has run out of patience, striking readily anywhere, anytime, and anyhow - ready or not.

Not so long ago, if we were caught in such a predicament and need to start over, we have the comfort and assurance that our insurances or savings and investment in financial institutions will kick-start our recovery when we need it. But during an age when long-established major banks, insurance and financial institutions, and even a country can go bankrupt, the safety net provided by our finances suddenly seems loose, and with it, our economies.

In my non-professional, non-economist opinion, our economies have evolved too far away from the supply and demand of our basic needs, and weighed too heavily on a financial system that is too sensitive to sentiments and opinions. The greater the influences of human factors are in our economies, the more fragile and unpredictable it is. And much like the wraths of Mother Nature, it does seem it can falter and crumble anywhere, anytime and anyhow - ready or not. And not so long ago, it did. And it seems a certain Mr Smith was not ready.

Have you heard about the praying robber? In short - Mr Smith was unemployed, has a family to support, decided to rob a bank, ended up praying together with his victim, gave up his gun, ran off with a cell phone and $20, and later turned himself in after being convinced by his mother, who saw a surveillance video showing his face on TV.

What struck me with that piece of news was that - my son could be Mr Smith in the future!

On the face of these few facts, I'll make a few assumptions. I assume Mrs Smith had raised her boy much like I'm raising my children - with a similar set of moral values and righteous characteristics that would make them grow up to be responsible members of the society (he did own up to his wrongdoings). I also assume and am quite sure that Mr Smith had struggled and failed to refrain himself from stepping into the world of crime as a solution to his financial problems (he seemed nice, as a robber).

Mr Smith had erred, just as my children will make mistakes of various degree in the future. He is big enough to raise his hand and admit his misdemeanours; and I hope if my children do make a mistake in the future, they'll be responsible enough to do the same. In some ways, Mr Smith is the intended result of our parenting, except he had decided to rob.

How do I prevent my children from following the criminal footsteps of Mr Smith if they were faced with the same financial destitute? How should Mrs Smith have brought up her son differently to avoid his misdeeds? Given the fragility and unpredictability of our economies (my assumption), how should we prepare our children to face any possible financial destitute in the future mentally? It's one thing to describe the pain of a tooth being pulled out, without any painkillers, and another to actually go through the pain physically.

Perhaps we should not be too protective of our children from hardship. Or perhaps we should lead our families to a lifestyle of modesty bordering on hardship, even though our income allows us to enjoy better things in life. Perhaps companionship with hardship during childhood will strengthen the wall of resistance against any desire to take the easy way out of any financial difficulties in their future. Should we, as parents, forgo these "better things in life" and make these sacrifices to better prepare our children for any possibilities in their financial future?

Minister Mentor Mr Lee of Singapore certainly thinks so, as he had revealed during a recent dialogue with tertiary students. He and his wife refused to move into the official prime minister residence for the sake of their children. In absolute terms, him living it down was probably still many, many levels above us. But in relative terms, he did live it down for the sake of his children.

I'm sure, as parents, we all try to give the best to our children - better food, better clothes, better quality of life, piano lessons, art courses, ballet classes, etc, etc, as far as our income can afford. And at times, we even pay for them with our future income. That's how much we love our children. And I assume that's what Mrs Smith did too.

But, as parents, are we missing something?



Rose Belle said...

I gave my two cents about the robbery that ended in prayer in my blog too. I think as parents, once we have kids, they become our priority and everything comes second. Our pride is our children so when they succeed, we feel we too succeeded. When they fail, we feel we failed too. I also think providing a nurturing environment with open communication with our kids is vital to understanding and knowing what our children want and need. In today's society, where we have both parents working and kids growing up either alone or with care providers, the essential parenting role is missing, which may be the reason why we have so many crimes committed by youngsters. Parenting is complex and difficult but I feel no matter what the challenges arise from it, I believe being involved in your kids lives is the single most important factor in preventing them from straying in the wrong path.

Buzzing J said...

Rose Belle:
As parents, our children's welfare is on top of everything else, and that's why we always give our best to them. But is what we think is best for them really the best for them in terms of preparing them for their future? Perhaps something to think about?

"Being involved in your kids lives is the single most important factor" - I totally agree with that. But allow me to be a bit pessimistic - what would happen if we weren't there for the kids before they can be totally independent? Perhaps something to think about?

Femmepower said...

You got me thinking when you said "perhaps we should lead our families to a lifestyle of modesty bordering on hardship, even though our income allows us to enjoy better things in life." I think you made a strong point there.I've seen friends from well-off families who always had comfort in life stagger to get up when tragedies blew them off. When Typhoon Ondoy hit us really hard (no,not just waist-deep water but it went up to the 2nd floor of our apartment),I realized material things can be easily wiped off.Now we're starting almost from scratch again but we're used to modest living so it shouldn't be that hard.
I didn't know about Mr. Smith but reading your post,I was amazed by his story.Seems like he was a nice man who happened to fall on his feet and made the wrong turn.But it wasn't his parents' fault.No parents could ever allow their son to rob a bank when push comes to shove.True,we as parents are very influential to our kids but they all have the freedom to choose how to live their lives.We can only hope they'd stick to the values we teach them.

Buzzing J said...

My best wishes to all those who are recovering from the typhoon.

Regarding Mr Smith, I'm not saying it's his mother's fault or anything to that effect, my thoughts are more on the line on how do we raise our children so that they won't resort to such actions to solve their problems, like Mr Smith had done.

And you're right, we can only hope our children will stick to the values we teach them.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated.


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