Monday, December 8, 2008

Control Freak. So?

People might consider me a control freak, though no one's ever had the balls to say it to my face. Or they're too polite because they think it's an insult. But why is it a bad thing to want to have control over your life? Would you prefer the alternative - lack of control?

Control is the first thing you have to give up when you have cancer. First of all, because you now have a disease you have no control over. Those cancer cells will do what they want, and you and your doctors will do your best but cancer won't listen to reason and step aside just because you want to control those little microbits of death and destruction.

As you go through treatment and the attending pain and weakness, you have to give up more and more control of your life as you knew it. For me, the hardest thing has been letting go control over the kids. There; I've said it. Control over the kids. Today's parenting literature would tell you that we don't control our children, we guide them. Whatever. I'm not fooled by the language. In the end, it means getting our kids to behave the way we want.

But Toby yells rudely to his friend and gets away with it because I don't have the strength or breath to sit down and talk to him about why that's wrong. Josie makes a fuss about trying something new and I'm too weak and breathless to encourage her with smiles and funny jokes.

Before cancer made me so weak and breathless, I'd say eighty percent of my parenting was talking; now it's only about ten percent. I wonder what mute parents do? That must be so hard.

I think that's what lies at the heart of my loss of control: the inability to speak as much as I used to. I can't argue with Tony anymore, so he gets to decide almost everything now, from family finances to what the kids can have for dinner. I used to argue circles around him until he got so dizzy he just let me have my way. No more of that.

And then there's the control over my identity. I used to be a chatty, gregarious, out-going, entertaining person. If someone who didn't know me B.C. (before cancer) met me now, they'd think I was a dull, quiet, shy bore - in my mind, the worst thing a person can be. A piece of furniture. Background. Wallpaper. Ugh. That's what I've become.

I used to know every kid in our neighborhood by name. I used to know who took ballet, who was learning Chinese, which schools they all went to. Now I don't spend any time outside with the kids so I haven't kept up with their lives and can't ask them how their recital went or how their new baby brother is doing.

Same for Toby's kindergarten. I used to walk around the building and call out hellos to the kids. Sometimes they'd look surprised and delighted that I knew their names and asked about them - the way kids do when adults take an interest in them. But now I'm just this frail lady with a funny bald head.

So I've lost control over my persona, my kids, my husband, my body. If you lost all that, wouldn't you freak?


Leighbee said...

You haven't lost it...Cancer TOOK it...and you must keep on fighting for it back. x

lisacc said...

You glowed in that video. You are more of a presence than you realise. Even if you're quieter or less active, it doesn't make you any less of a personality or force of will (though you don't seem "willful" exactly so much as very very strong).

There's a reason everyone you've worked with remembers you so vividly and so fondly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin.

I can understand how you are feeling. Even non-cancer patients lose control of many things. I am one of them.

People talk so easily about choosing what you want, but in reality, it isn't that simple at all.

So you are very normal to feel this way.

Maybe you can use typing instead of talking to communicate with your husband. He said in the TV programme that he thought you were in denial but after communication, he knows you are not.

Stay positive and we are here to give you support. : )

Shin, JIA YOU! : ) Take care.

Anonymous said...

What did you used to do before you discovered the current cancer? I mean as in, just right before, after having both your kids. Were you a full time sahm?

dappled grass said...

Hi Shin,

Letting go of control may not be a bad thing. Especially since you're battling cancer, it's really important for you to be as relaxed as possible.

My mum who's in remission also finds it hard to let go of control, and I can't help thinking that this part of her personality might somehow be related to the cancer, cos I've heard that having high stress levels for a prolonged period of time weakens a person's immunity to diseases.

I've read before in a self-help book for cancer patients that cancer is a wake-up call. Perhaps telling the person who has the disease that it's time to live her life a little differently. Do you think there's some truth in that? I'm sure your son Toby will grow up to be a good kid, regardless of what he said to his friend.

All the best,

Anne and Tom said...

You might not have control right now, but you still communicate powerfully. Your words on this blog are not quiet wallpaper words. Not at all.

Shin said...


If by "sahm", you mean "stay-at-home-mom", then yes.

I also did some private tutoring because I used to be an English teacher when I lived in the U.S.

kajia said...

Dear Shin,

I am a mom of two, a girl and a boy. I totally understand your worry about the kids.

I don't have cancer, yet I worry all the time because my daughter (22) is a special-needs child. She can be the happiest person in the world if we are around. But I can't imagine what would happen to her if we were gone. Haunted by this thought, I don't even fly together with my husband.

All my friends and family say I worry too much. They console me with a famous Chinese saying, "Zisun ziyou zisun fu". Literally, it means that your children and your grandchildren will find their own way of surviving. It is no use worrying about them.

My little brother and I lost our mom when we were teenagers. My mom always wanted me to go college and become a teacher (now it is taken for granted but back then in China only a small percentage could go). I did both but she did not live to see that. Other than this regret, my brother and I are doing fine now.

Our mom did not leave anything for us to hold on to. I remember she sang some songs and recorded them with a tape. She did not say anything then, but now I realize that she wanted us to hear her voice. But the tape was soon ruined and what we have of her is some black and white pictures.

Shin, you are a very strong and brave woman. I admire you a lot. Please take care.

Joanne said...

Living is like taking a voyage on a train. No matter who you are, or what you are carrying in your luggage, the train moves on.

Ronnie Ng said...


Although there's a need for control over certain things, I feel that having more control doesn't necessarily mean having real control.

Pressing a lift button several times won't cause the lift to arrive faster than it normally does. We still tend to press the lift button more times than needed when we're in a rush, because it gives us an illusion of control. Sometimes it's also a desperate measure.

However, there's a reason for everything and there are times when we can't rush, and there are times when we only have limited control.

You may feel like you have less control over things (due to cancer), but you haven't really lost it. With whatever breath or energy you still have left, "press it just once", only when it's necessary.

Angel said...

There could be a positive side in losing all the control. : )

Your not being able to out-talk your husband would mean you have the luxury of being able to really listen to him and understand his innermost needs, thus leading to true communication. Using logic and arguments to get him to do things your way isn't exactly great communication, right? : )

As for your kids, I feel from your blog that your kids are generally doing great with or without your control. You are a great mother with or without that control.
No one likes being controlled or constantly being told what to do, you included, I think. : ) So I guess your kids might enjoy you much more as a mother when you don't keep trying to tell them what to do.

When we keep controlling our kids, we end up putting this authority conflict in them and there will come a time where they will STOP listening and then they would turn the tables on us.

That is why, it is great to lose control with our kids and just be their best friend who can guide them. Best friends don't tell you to clean your room or eat your dinner quickly. If they did, they wouldn't be your best friend for long.

You might not be able to ask after those kids or those neighbours you used to show care and concern for, but you can still think kind, loving thoughts towards them.

In quantum physics, all thoughts create some form and energy. When you asked after them, it was not what you said that mattered to them really, it was just the love and care they could feel oozing out from you. Cancer or no cancer, no one can stop you from sending someone kind, loving thoughts. ; )

So, you did not really lose much. ; ) It was really something worth losing anyway. When we give up control, if we are willing, we will eventually gain true confidence... that no matter how things turn out, we will always be able to handle it.

That itself is a great gift to enjoy and share with your kids. : )

Shin said...


I'm sure you meant well, but I have to disagree with you.

Using intelligent debate IS a form of communication. I didn't say it was to get my husband to do what I wanted, but so that I could have a say in how our kids are raised, how our household is run.

As I said in my blog post, "guide" or "control" - it's still getting the kids to behave the way we want - i.e., with courtesy, kindness, the values we want to instill in our kids.

And here's the number one parenting "wisdom" that has always bothered me, especially when I was a teenager. I think this idea of a parent being a friend is so, so wrong. A child does NOT need a parent to act like a friend. Kids need a parent to act like a parent - set boundaries, serve as a model of appropriate behavior, provide wisdom that can only come from age and experience.

When I was a teenager, I had friends whose parents (usually single mothers) tried desperately to act like a friend rather than a parent. Unbeknownst to the parent, their kids were confused, lost, and even contemptuous of the parent as a result.

Kids can have many friends. They can have only one mother. That role should not be confused with any other role just so a mother can ease her own insecurities about being loved by her child. Somebody has to be the adult.

Sorry, but I can channel all sorts of kind, loving thoughts toward people but unless they can read my mind, they're not going to get the message.

Anonymous said...

Dear Shin,

Be encouraged that each of us is endowed with free will. Physical limitation or not, each of use has the will to choose our attitude or our way of thinking.

You have not lost complete control over your life because you can still think and make choices within certain physical constraints.

secretdubai said...

And here's the number one parenting "wisdom" that has always bothered me, especially when I was a teenager. I think this idea of a parent being a friend is so, so wrong. A child does NOT need a parent to act like a friend. Kids need a parent to act like a parent - set boundaries, serve as a model of appropriate behavior, provide wisdom that can only come from age and experience.

With you 100% on this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin.

I came across this book, " Grace and Grit", which I thought may be a great help to you. I hope so because I haven't read yet.

There are editorial reviews of this book on Amazon:

secretdubai said...

I just had one more thing I wanted to say. When I read your post, my first thought was a kind of surprise that your children would be naughty, given you are so ill, as though I somehow expected them to act like little Victorian angels of being-seen-and-never-heard or something.

But then I realised that the fact that they can misbehave or be demanding means that they are actually normal, regular kids, which is wonderful. Ie your being ill hasn't affected their development, it hasn't essentially changed what they would have been or their essential relationship with you. They're still just children.

If they were older, things might be different. I have read of teenage children who have to act as carers to their own parents, and they are far older than their years because of the burden of responsibility. But being so young, your two are protected from having to grow up too quickly like that.

Of course they will have had more and different experience than others their age, and as they get older empathy and other things may come easier for them than it does for their peers, but right now they are 100% normal, inquisitive, wilful little children. Which is brilliant.

Francesca Giessmann said...

Shin, agree... control freak!!! SO WHAT???

I wasn't much of one b.c., and then I started experiencing the things you mentioned, such as hearing my son downstairs ask for something without saying "please" or "thank you" and I had no energy to take the steps down to intervene. And many, many more occasions that may be similar to yours.

And then one day, after the "she is tolerating chemo well" changed to "things are not looking very good", I had this moment of peace. I realized that inside, I was still the exact same person, my soul was unchanged, and for me that was a very peaceful moment.

Stay strong... it's not easy. Actually, IT SUCKS. But you are here. You can kiss and hug these three beautiful people in your life.


Barbara Covett said...

Dear Shin,

You have not lost control of the person you are and the honesty you possess.

As much as you have been restricted, you still have the strength within, and cancer can't fight that!

Barbara Covett
(Retired Teacher) UK

Anonymous said...

I never met you b.c. but it seems you have no idea how LOUD your quiet strength is now. Loud enough to change lives. Loud enough to move people across the earth from you. Your strength in the face of your fight has sent shockwaves very far and very deep. I've heard you and will be a better person for that.

Sun said...

Dear Shin:

This is a friend from the distant past. I see your parents when they visit my parents in New Jersey. I always ask them how you are doing. They always brought pictures of your children to show us and spoke proudly of you and your family.

I’ve been reading through your blog since I can across it on Friday. I can't imagine you as “dull, quiet, shy bore.” I don’t think my memory will let me imagine you in that way.


Shin said...


Hey! E-mail me and let's catch up!

Emily said...

Hey Shin,

It's so nice of you to bother to reply to the many questions from people you don't even know. You must have tons of patience, or courtesy demands that you respond?

Honestly, if this were me, I wouldn't care a bit to satisfy their curiosity. At some point you have to wonder whether the questions cross the line from genuine concerns into pure nosiness.

And don't you really wish people would search for answers on your blog before asking them?

Shin said...


Believe it or not, I AM actually trying to cut down on the comments I respond to. If I can't come up with a good reason to respond to a particular comment, then I just don't.

But the bigger problem, I have to admit, is the language barrier. Despite ten years in Singapore, my Singlish stinks and my Chinese is non-existent. So some of the comments I leave off the blog are simply because I can't understand what the person is trying to say. And many of those that DO get on the site require quite a lot of editing - this is the most time-consuming part of keeping this blog.

As for nosiness... I really don't mind that so much because I can just choose not to answer. But generally, I'm hard to offend because I myself can be pretty offensive and tactless.

Of course I'm really flattered when people read all of my blog so they don't repeat questions I've already addressed in past posts, but I've been keeping this blog for almost three years now and I don't expect everyone to read all of it. And let's face it, not all if it's that interesting.

The two most important things about the comments I receive from readers:

1) I'm learning from the collective wisdom and experience of everyone who's contributing.

2) I get strength and encouragement from readers' stories about their own experience as cancer patients and caregivers.

These help me deal with cancer now and they'll help my children understand something about their mother after I'm gone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin.

I would like to leave a message for KaJia.

I read that she has a tape of her mother's recorded voice which is ruined. I just want to suggest a very simple solution, though it may not be very good quality. She can play it in a quiet environment and record it using her handphone or recorder. If she has a better recorder, she can use a computer to burn it onto CD.

Shin, after reading the comments, I feel both sad and happy. I am happy that there is so much encouragement and positive thinking. But I feel sad when I think of my friends who only know how to scold, misunderstand, and judge me.

Shin or Ronnie Ng, do you think that is rather wrong/stupid to think that "we choose to let them do such things to hurt us"?

There are so many times in life when we just lack control of ourselves, so we let them hurt us again and again.

For example, you know that your finance has lied to you numerous times to cover his wrong and you forgive him every time thinking he is not so bad, he loves you still, etc, and the main point is you can't let go of him because of love. Isn't that losing control as well? But some may say you CHOOSE to let him lie and hurt you again and again. Now, I find this very hurtful because we don't "choose" purposely to be hurt or not to have "control of our own life" but it's not that straightforward and easy in this instance, right? I am now stuck in such conflict and wonder if such statements are misused by people?


Shin said...


I don't have anything to say that will be of use to you except that we live with the consequences of our actions and inactions.

Anonymous said...


I do agree with Angel but maybe it's best to strike a balance, which is not easy.

Parents SHOULD instill values while friends may even misguide or mislead. Maybe both styles can be used? When you play with them, be a friend but when it comes to discipline, be a parent.

Sheba Hart said...

Dear Shin,

I know exactly what it means to lose control , believe me! I am not half as strong as you.

Sheba Hart

Leighbee said...

"A child does NOT need a parent to act like a friend. Kids need a parent to act like a parent - set boundaries, serve as a model of appropriate behavior, provide wisdom that can only come from age and experience."

Mmmmmmmmmmm! WELL...

I have to say that whilst I understand and in some ways agree with this statement, it is my experience that being a friend is invaluable on the parenting rollercoaster!

I am thrilled to see my eldest a strong, intelligent, polite, well mannered and decent young lady, but I am sure that this wasn't due to setting boundaries, etc... Whilst I always try to ensure my children know what I believe to be right or wrong, no one can make another human being adopt these same beliefs without their own experiences.

In short, this inevitably leads to ALL children making an error or two... having a parent as a friend means they have someone to talk to with the wisdom and experience you refer to.

I can honestly say that I think Amy is happy to talk to me about anything and everything - in fact we do. I am not sure that can be said of many families. I certainly didn't talk to my Mum in the same way Amy talks to me.

Having a child as a friend makes them comfortable with you, helps them to learn to share and enjoy others' lives and soften their general approach to life. It also helps you as a parent learn what makes your child tick and understand the signs that show you when something's not right.

Swap a conventional parent with my approach of friendship? NEVER! Not only that - I haven't got many friends so I need all I can get. ;-) Perhaps I'll take my son to Starbucks for a chat!

Ronnie Ng said...

Anonymous said, "Shin or Ronnie Ng, do you think that is rather wrong/stupid to think that we choose to let them do such things to hurt us? For example, you know that your fiance has lied to you numerous times to cover his wrong and you forgive him every time thinking he is not so bad, he loves you still, etc, and the main point is you can't let go of him because of love. Isn't that losing control as well?"


I'm not sure if your question is hypothetical, but I'll try to answer it anyway. Occasional lies are acceptable to me and I can forgive and forget rather easily, but a chronically dishonest girlfriend is unacceptable to me.

In a relationship, I usually keep a mental checklist that includes the following questions:

(1) If I could invest a sum of money in this girl and receive 15 percent of her monthly income as dividends, what kind of attributes should I be looking for? Should I look at her beauty? Or her intelligence? I think it should be more things like trustworthiness, temperament, etc.

(2) Does she regard my relationship with her as the No. 1 or No. 2 of her life? If not, then why not? And what are the odds that she will?

(3) Now that I've discovered her true character (i.e., chronic dishonesty, betrayal), and assuming that I could go back in time, would I still choose to enter into this relationship? If the answer is no, then why am I still allowing myself to be stuck in it now?

These questions can also be reversed and imposed on myself, so as to keep my own behavior in check.

If I were fully convinced that this relationship was doomed to fail, I wouldn't try to fix it at all. Instead, I'd implement "Organized Abandonment": initiate a clean break-up, burn photos, & remove her contact details from my phone & MSN/email list. Burn all bridges, so there's minimal chance of softening and turning back.

I'm not suggesting that you should do the same, but this is how I would deal with it, & it may serve as a reference for you.

Kelly said...

Hi Shin.

I've been following your blog daily since the TV telecast & have enjoyed reading your posts like a good book.

I don't read the comments but I noticed you've got quite alot.

You are not becoming Aunt Agony, are you? I hope this is not taking too much of your time & energy because I'd rather see more of your posts. I'm only interested in you :D

Anonymous said...

I'm not a control freak, at all...
I have always let life roll by and I've always been pretty content. I have 2 kids and they seem pretty happy, of course I try to bring them up the way I want, for the best, sometimes I let things go by - like brushing their teeth at night or doing their homework (they are still young) - it doesn't bother me and it shouldn't bother them either - sometimes we have important discussions as a family about life, religions, different cultures , why we should be good people. For me, these are better things than the detail. The control element was lacking in my childhood but I've done okay! (I think!!) The most important thing for me is for your kids to feel part of a family who loves them, always, no matter what.

Shin said...


That's nice of you to say. You taught me something new: "Aunt Agony". In the U.S., we call advice columnists "Dear Abby".

You're right. I don't know how I became Aunt Agony, but I'm spending far too much time reading, thinking about, editing, and answering questions that I really have no business saying anything about.

I'm going to try much harder to limit the comments and my responses to topics that are relevant to my posts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin and Ronnie Ng,

Thanks for your reply.

Ronnie, that was not a hypothetical case and your reply definitely makes me think more clearly and "stronger". Do you have blog? Are you in the field of psychology? You are really very knowledgeable and a very patient and helpful person. Thanks.

Kathie said...

Dear Shin,

Your comments: "A child does NOT need a parent to act like a friend. Kids need a parent to act like a parent - set boundaries, serve as a model of appropriate behavior, provide wisdom that can only come from age and experience."

If you refer to my research paper, your parenting style is the authoritative style. Typically, authoritative parents tend to produce better adjusted children.

Angel, Anonymous and Leighbee prefer the befriender approach. It may not be fair to say this, but if they're not careful, the befriender style can be perceived by the children as permissive.

Many studies show that a child's temperament can also affect our choice of parental discipline or style. Likewise, our own temperament can influence our approach too.

From my research on teens, I've observed that children do need and prefer parents to be parents, yes, set boundaries and be firm when necessary. Being firm parents need not stop you from being loving and open. This is an art really.

Who is in a better position to assess you than your own child(ren)?


Anonymous said...

And... I don't think you've lost being in control at all. I think you have left an indelible mark on people's lives that can't be erased by time. Your kids will never forget you, neither will Tony (he wouldn't have, even before this blog). But it is not about this blog, even. It's about you. It's about being Shin Na. No one will forget you, Shin.

Shin said...


This concern about being forgotten after dying... it's not a problem for me. I'll elaborate in a future blog post.

Anonymous said...


I think there is a HUGE space between authoritative and permissive. When some people (or at least me) say that they believe in being a friend to their kids, I don't think they mean 100% of the time. I also don't think that it means not having boundaries or being firm when necessary.

I am not sure of others, but speaking for myself, I cannot imagine not being a pal and good friend to my two kids, not hanging with them, making and partaking in their silly jokes, clowning and fooling round with them when the mood strikes and not being a buddy to them.

Neither do I believe in harsh punishments, hitting (spanking/tapping/caning/whatevertheyoucallit) or screaming at them (I don't mean that I don't EVER scream; I am just saying that I don't believe in it).

At the same time, I am one of the firmest parents around when the time calls for it. My kids know that I mean business from my tone and the look in my eyes. I will never allow actions that are hurtful to others, I will not allow my kids to make bad irreversible decisions about themselves either.

But I am that mom who is not just a mom but a best (at least for now) friend to my kids, the person they will think of turning to when something happens and they don't know what to do. I want to be that person they CAN and WANT to come to if something big ever happens and they need a real adult who can be there.

Ronnie Ng said...

Anonymous said,"Ronnie, that was not a hypothetical case and your reply definitely makes me think more clearly and "stronger". Do you have blog? Are you in the field of psychology? You are really very knowledgeable and a very patient and helpful person. Thanks."


You're welcome. I'm glad to contribute, so long as Shin and her readers don't find me nosy nor get sick of my comments.;) I'm also beginning to feel guilty that my comments might be taking a toll on Shin, as she has to proof-read and edit them.

No, I'm not a psychologist. If you need psychological advices, Angel and Kathie are qualified. :)

I have a blog, but it's not a personal one. It's purely used as a marketing device to promote a teenage modern-fantasy fiction, which I've written about Korean vampires. (I hope Shin allows me to do a bit of advertising here, hehe... Thanks Shin!)

Angel said...


Hahaha... I love you whether you agree with me or not. : ) *hugz*

When I talked about being your kid's best friend, I was talking about the concept of being equal to your kids and respecting your kids as an equal. That does not mean you agree with that they do.

I would stop my best friend if he were out to hurt someone else or hurt himself. But I wouldn't necessarily hit him or scream at him to stop him.

Being a friend does not mean that one becomes a mop to let them step all over you.

Anyway, I would like to add that I think all parents do the best they can. So there is no standard answer as to what is the BEST way to bring up your children.


I am not a qualified psychologist. I majored in (believe it or not) Economics and Japanese studies. ; ) I just happen to have attended some intensive workshops under a course called "Psychology of Vision", which uses psychology as one of the main bases to help us understand our lives and our problems. ; )

I do find it very interesting and amusing that you can actually qualify relationships like that. ; ) Maybe you can write a new book about that. Hahaha, ; )

P.S. I will try to get a copy of your book. ; )

Shin said...


I don't think children and parents are equals when it comes to knowledge, emotional maturity, reasoning capacity, wisdom, and the myriad other lessons gained from life experiences.

Respecting my children is not the same as seeing them as my equals. They're only three and five years old. If they're my equals, I'm in big trouble and so are they.

And I don't think all parents do their best. I know I don't.

Correction: I said in an earlier response to your comment, " I didn't say it was to get my husband to do what I wanted." I should have written, "I didn't MEAN to say it was to get my husband to do what I wanted."

Kimberly Loh said...


I really wish you'd limit your comments on Shin's blog, especially the lengthy ones.

As a fellow reader, I should give you some credit for sharing your thoughts.

But I wish that if anyone else has a comment or question addressed to Ronnie, please find him at his blog.

[Note from Shin: This is the link to Ronnie Ng's blog:]

Ronnie Ng said...

Hi Kimberly,

Thanks for pointing this out. As implied previously, I had decided to limit my comments, as I know it could be taxing on Shin, & that people would feel repulsed seeing too much of me, especially since this blog is about Shin. ; )
(Thanks, Shin)