Photos taken in collaboration with Ang Wei Ming and Larry Toh
When I became a mother, I sought to be the best I could be. I had a happy childhood, played downstairs every day, and was given nearly everything I wanted, so I vowed to give my children the very best too.
With the perspective of years, I can now say that my mother was, hands down, the best mum in the world.
She knew how to reward and discipline with balance, cooked the most delicious food, taught me to cycle, bake, how to wash my school shoes... and probably secretly hid her superwoman costume under her clothes.
But she wasn’t perfect.
I remember an incident while buying clothes at around age five. There was a white button dress with pink polka dots that I fancied.
But Mum, who didn't want to buy it, said to me, “You wouldn’t like that, it’s too pricky-pokey."
She knew intimately that sensitive me hated rough clothing scratching against my skin. And though she bought the dress anyway, her words kept ringing in my head. You wouldn't like it.
I, indeed, started to dislike that dress.
When I wanted to follow a friend’s choice of secondary school, she chose an alternative. She also chose my CCA, one that she was too poor to afford as a student.
She even did my school projects for me (which resulted in an "A", of course).
I could only articulate this years later, but I was afraid of what she thought and felt inconfident of myself and my choices.
AND THEN I MET MY DAUGHTER
I overcompensated when I became a parent, making up for what I perceived to be my mother’s shortfalls. When my first child, a baby girl, came along, I used any opportunity I had to give her a choice.
Don’t want to eat noodles? OK, we’ll try rice. From age two, she picked her own outfits, and was labelled a “tough cookie” by her teacher. I sought to accommodate her wishes and wants as best as I could.
Then, the terrible days of threenage came along. She started negotiating with me. And till now, I can’t force her to do anything. She is strong, independent minded and opinionated, like the women on both sides of the family.
The affirmation of my choices that I sought from my mom while growing up resulted in my tentative parenting. Looking back on the early days, I probably gave in and accommodated my daughter too much.
It took several episodes over the years, coming head-on with my strong-willed daughter, to reach a fine balance between firm parenting and allowing my child the freedom and room to grow.
I still tread delicately on the fine line of respecting my child’s choices and pushing her to do the things she should.
GROWING INTO MOTHERHOOD
After speaking to several parents, I realise that in some ways, we all try to emerge from the ghosts of our own childhood, and vow never to become like the worst of our parents.
And yet when the going gets tough, we sometimes find ourselves making the same mistakes they made – losing our temper or being overly harsh, perhaps.
Until today, I hear this voice of self-doubt and self-criticism as a result of my typical Asian upbringing. You wouldn't like it.
Or would I?
Often, I have been overly harsh with my kids because of my own critical internal voice.
Motherhood is a journey of maturity for me. As my children grow, so do I. Parenting has made me confront all my humanity, my flaws and strengths, my anxiety and insecurities.
Once I realised that I was measuring myself up to an impossible standard, I gained the freedom to make mistakes and find my own way.
I realised that I was the one chosen to be my children’s mother, not anyone else. Not even my nearly perfect mother.
Each parent-and-child bond is a unique blend of personalities, and in getting to know my children, I have come to understand myself.
It is through the process of coming to terms with our childhood, recognising who we are, taking the best from our parents and trying to overcome the worst of their mistakes, that we can find our own parenting way.
It took me time to emerge from the shadow of the best mother in the world, but I am finding my way. You will too.
Sophia Huang is a mother of three, copy editor and children’s book author. She believes that children learn best through play and should spend as much time as possible outdoors. She is passionate about upcycling trash into toys for children and records her journey at Nature Playtime and Craftcycle For Kids on Facebook and Instagram.
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