Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Didn't Your Mother Teach You?!

A number of years ago, in pre-kid days, I was driving down a two-lane street when I noticed that my lane up ahead was blocked by an illegally parked truck. So I signaled to move into the lane to my right. To my surprise, the car on my right didn't slow down to let me in, it actually sped up to come alongside me so I couldn't get into that lane!

When we'd both reached the traffic light up ahead, I rolled down my window and asked the driver of that wayward car if he hadn't seen that I was trying to get into his lane because my lane was blocked by the truck. He said he had. I asked why he hadn't let me in and he asked, "Why should I?"

I was baffled. "Because it would have been the nice thing to do," I said.

His response? "Why should I be nice?"

This guy was in his early twenties, gel in his hair, slave to metrosexual fashion trends. Not that I'm suggesting that his interest in his physical appearance is reflective of his self-centered view of the world, but I am... His buddy in the passenger seat cringed upon hearing what his friend said to me.

All I could think to say back to him was, "Your mother would not be proud of you!"

I know. That sounds like something an old lady would say to some kid trampling all over her geraniums. But that's the first thing that crossed my mind - that somewhere, this young man's moral education had gone awry and it was either his mother's fault or worse, she'd done her best and still he turned out to be morally bankrupt.

As parents, we think about teaching our children manners, basic common courtesy, and right from wrong. Because I might not live to watch Toby and Josie grow up, I think about this sort of thing more than the average parent.

When Toby and Josie don't greet visitors properly, when they don't say "thank you" and "please", when they speak rudely to adults, I can just hear people thinking, "Didn't their mother teach them properly?!"

I even tell the kids that people will think that. I tell them that if they have bad manners or behave badly, people will think they had a bad mother. (This is the passive-aggressive guilt technique that Korean and Jewish parents are famous for.)

For some reason, lessons in manners and basic codes of behavior seem to be the province of mothers, not fathers. I didn't tell that twenty-something driver that his father would be appalled by his behavior. It was his mother I blamed.

Maybe Toby and Josie will be given a pass in this area of their lives. When they burp in public, when they let a door slam into the face of the person behind them instead of holding it open, when they walk into an elevator before the other passengers get off, when they don't use their signal lights in the car, when they don't let pedestrians have the right of way, when they treat shop clerks or waiters with disrespect, when they don't clear their own litter in public eating places... people will whisper to each other, "They don't know any better. You see, their mother died when they were very young." And people will nod their heads knowingly, with sympathy.


Ivy Goh said...

Your story reminded me of my late father.

I am grateful to him for teaching me good table manners. I remember he lectured me after we attended a wedding dinner as I was greedy with the food I liked without considering other guests (of course that was in my younger days).

He passed away last year after suffering from much complication. I miss him even till today.

ML said...

I cannot believe the number of parents I meet these days who simply do not coach their children from an early age. Just the simple things like "please" and "thank you" to start with. I am similar to you with respect to how we bring up our children, to respect others and use manners etc. I find it awkward when out in public and my daughter comments on things she can't get away with and others can. She is usually right and I explain that this is how we do things and other people do things differently. I firmly believe that we need to teach our children to do the right thing by themselves and others, especially the way the world is behaving at the moment.

What really baffles me are the parents who let their kids get away with all sorts of things up until a "certain age" then parents get embarrassed because it's not acceptable behaviour in the real world and the kids have to change overnight. This is not fair, but some parents just don't get it. If we start gently from when they are little this surely would be better!

I am old school but a confident parent. I do enjoy watching others and how they interact with their families. I learn something new every day and apply what I think would work for my family. This is how we change and grow.

We must always have lots and lots and lots of love.

Love and hugs to you Shin.

ML x

<*ANGEL*> said...

I think it is very Asian to do the, "If you don't behave, people are going to think you have a bad mother" thingy. My mum said that to me ALLLLL the time.

Now that I am grown up and married with my own kid, I still get that from her. She would tell me, "If you are a lousy daughter-in-law, people are going to think you have a bad mother who did not teach you well."

I don't worry too much about what other people think about me or my teachings though. I think children also have a choice in picking up what things to learn.

I do agree, though, that parents usually have a strong influence over a kid's behaviour.

At any rate, as I always say to my friends who blame themselves for being bad mothers... All parents do their best, no matter how bad it might seem in some people's eyes.

No matter how well we do, our kids are going to find something to blame us for.

SQ3169/Fang said...

Hi Shin.

I am in my mid-twenties, not a mother yet.

I detest students not giving up seats to elderly or those who really need the seats more than they do. I would walk up to them and ask them to give up their seats (politely of course!)

I hate MRT commuters who don't allow those on the train to alight before they DASH aboard. These commuters are usually in their thirties, forties and fifties, particularly, office ladies. I would always strategically position myself to allow those on board to alight while preventing those behind me to dash in. Of course, there are people who find me a nuisance and overtake me.

Yes. Their parents (not only mothers) have failed to teach them well!

If you take a bus on Sundays, you would understand why. You will see parents who allow their young adult children (who are perfectly healthy and playing PSP) to sit while they stand throughout the journey. How will these youngsters learn to give up seats for elders???

Absurb world isn't it?



Ronnie Ng said...


I think I can understand this thing pretty well. My parents were separated when I was 3, & I lost my dad to liver cancer when I was 10. Since then, I lived with an "Auntie". Auntie & Uncle were kind-hearted enough to include me in her family of 8, even though they were just getting by.

I grew up with a lot of freedom and they left me alone most of the time. Auntie & Uncle never interfered with the things I did or the friends I made. They hardly corrected/scolded me for bad habits, bad behavior, or bad manners.

I had mixed feelings about the lack of proper parental guidance. One was of envy & self-pity. But most of the time, I counted myself lucky I didn't have parents who interfered with my conduct (i.e., nagging, scolding, caning, curfews, etc). I developed a lot of poor habits and behavior such as walking in an awkward manner, slouching, talking to myself, etc... and by the time I was aware of these habits, I didn't try to correct them. I also tended to attribute them - my laziness, my ignorance, & inadequacies - to the lack of parental upbringing, and conveniently chose not to pay attention to those poor habits/behaviors.

But I think even if my dad were still alive, I wouldn't be much better off. At least I don't have to be tagged with the "Like Father, Like Son" label.

Anyway, I feel you don't need to put too much undue pressure on yourself as a parent, or overly worry what'll happen to Toby & Josie after you're gone. The turn of their events in life will be shuffled by an Invisible Hand, as the world is just a super-big lottery with 6 billion different balls and how each of us start life will be represented by one of them. We have absolutely no control over it. I think I'm still extremely lucky, for I could have been born with some physical disabilities, or I could have been born in Afghanistan...

Kathie said...

Dear Shin,

Like to share a short story.

The setting of the story is in the MRT. A father and 4 children boarded the MRT train at Outram Station where SGH [Singapore General Hospital] is. The 4 children started climbing up and down the seats like monkeys and were out of control. Passengers frowned at the father, who was obviously too absorbed in his own thoughts.

One passenger finally went up to the father and said, "Sir, can you please manage your children? They are getting out of control."

The father looked up and said apologetically, "I am sorry. Please excuse these poor kids of mine. They have just lost their mother."

Suddenly, people in the cabin looked at this father and his children differently. Their faces showed only empathy and understanding. No, somehow this moment the children didn't seen that rowdy at all. Perhaps their behaviour was their way of coping with their loss of mummy.


Ronnie Ng said...


I think it's not just an Asian trait for someone to believe that bad moral conduct is caused by poor parental upbringing. I feel it's just worldly wisdom. We human beings are pre-wired to demand an explanation for everything, even when there is none, leading us into thinking that when someone has done something morally wrong, his mother probably didn't teach him the right things.

Psychologists call this the “hindsight bias”: the inclination to see events that have occurred as more than they in fact were before they took place.

As for me, I think it's just a long string of seemingly unrelated events that leads to a person's moral bankruptcy. It's not largely attributable to parental upbringing.

Ronnie Ng said...

SQ3169/Fang said, "You will see parents who allow their young adult children to sit while they stand throughout the journey. How will these youngsters learn to give up seats for elders?"


Your account reminds me of one of Aesop's fables - "The Man, His Son, And Their Donkey":

A Man and his Son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said, "You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?"

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said, "See that lazy youngster, he let's his father walk while he rides."

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. They hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other, "Shame on that lazy man to let his poor little son trudge along."

Well, the Man didn't know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up with him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.

The men said, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours?"

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey's feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders.

They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together, he was drowned.

Ronnie Ng said...

Ronnie Ng,

You ought to write a book, you obviously have a gift. You make people want to know more about you. So go on, do it.

Shin said...

Ronnie Ng,

That's quite a compliment. A number of others have suggested I turn my blog into a book. My hesitation:

1) My story would have a very limited audience - mostly friends, family, and others touched by cancer. As a publisher, I wouldn't see much money in this.

2) The literary process of turning a blog into a book... not sure how that would work. Has anyone every seen a blog-turned-book?

3) I'm a good writer. I know when to use a semicolon and what to do about dangling participles. That makes my writing easy to understand, not necessarily INTERESTING. That's something else entirely.

But thank you for the thought.

Ronnie Ng said...


That last comment about writing a book wasn't left by me, but by another "Ronnie Ng". I've no idea if the impersonation was intentional or accidental, but his/her comment represents exactly the same sentiment I have of you: You are a good writer. ; )

I have a bit of experiencing in publishing, so let me share my bit with you. If you're not worried about profits and all that, you can consider self-publishing through a contract-publishing agent, who'll arrange the marketing & distribution for you.

The minimum print-run for self publishing a book is 1,000 copies and the cost is somewhere less than $5k if you self-edit. The agent will then help you distribute 700 copies to local book store chains (such as Popular Bookstores, Kinokuniya, etc). The remaining 300 copies is for you to give away to your friends or sell on your own (say, for charity). The local national library will also buy nearly 40 copies from you to lend to their readers.

If all first 1,000 copies are sold out, you can go for a 2nd print-run and print more, say 2,000 copies this time. Then your cost will be lowered because you already have the original typeset, and due to the economies of scale.

I'm confident your book will sell well, given that you already have 2 documentaries in your name, and you're already fairly well publicized.

P.S. I want to thank you for editing my comments, helping to correct those grammatical mistakes. ; )

The Real Ronnie

Shin said...

Ronnie Ng/The Real Ronnie,

Thanks for that rundown on the local publishing industry. I learned something new.

I honestly can't imagine anywhere near 1,000 copies of this thing selling, ever.

Besides, my story is not that interesting. Go to the cancer section of your bookstore. There are many books written by cancer survivors, most of them as boring as mine would be.

Jason Goh said...

Hi Shin & Ronnie.

Think it's a good idea for you to pen some thoughts, pictures, etc in a book of your own.

It would be the perfect present for Toby and Josie besides this blog that you've set up.

Think all of us reading Shin's blog wouldn't mind helping out one way or another to get Shin's book out.
; )

Jason Goh

Shin said...

Jason Goh,

Thanks. I've been keeping journals and albums for the kids since they were born so they will have plenty aside from this blog to remember their mother by.

Broken said...

Belle du Jour was one who turned her blog into a book. I used to frequent her blog regularly, but I think it's been shut. Her book can be found at Amazon.

Full title: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl - Belle du Jour

Serene said...


I so agree that many parents these days do not know how to coach their children or simply do not bother. I have been bugged by very noisy neighbours with uncivilised parents who stomp louder when told by HDB [Singapore's housing authority] not to & do not have a control over their wild kids who stomp the grounds everyday! ARGH!!! My sick mother is suffering from all this & cannot even rest well and this is severely affecting her health.

Cheryl said...


The best-selling book, "Julia and Julia" (based on one woman trying to recreate Julia Child's recipes) originated from a blog. It is now being made into a movie.