“Children are the most important work you have”

Image credit: Monica Gupta

The Parenting Journey is a five-part interview series where real parents dish out real talk about their parenting experiences. Follow the series here.

For part four of our parent interview series, Monica Gupta shares her experiences bringing up her three children. The Business Operations Lead is mum to a pair of three-year-old fraternal twins, Timothy and Sonia, and a five-year-old son, Ben.

Share with us how you discipline your children based on their personalities.
So far, we do not discipline our children according to their personalities. We have blanket rules at home that apply to all the kids. Certain offences are a complete no-no in our household. These include any form of violence, disobedience or being rude to siblings, parents, grandparents or any of the care-givers. My husband’s motto is “if you are violent to your sibling, I will be violent with you”. We use “time-out” as the most common form of discipline, unless the child has been violent. It can be time-out from playing, not letting them have their favourite snacks or just isolating them. Recently, I also threw away some toys because they refused to keep them after playing. After that incident, toys got kept in record quick time.

Ben is at an age where he’s able to understand and rationalise his actions (as well as our reactions), so we usually spend some time to explain the reason behind the punishment.

While we do not discipline according to personality, we show our love and care based on personality. My husband and I have recently come to realise that just like adults, different children appreciate different things.

For example, with Ben, words of love and affirmation mean the most to him. He once told me to write him a letter to tell him that I love him. So now, I write to him weekly. Not surprisingly, he shows his love for us in the same way. With Timothy, he appreciates certain acts, for example cooking him his favourite foods like chicken rice and jelly. Sonia, being the only girl, can get overshadowed by the boys. So, I make it a point to spend time with her, such as bringing her along when running errands.

Do you share aspects of your jobs with your children?
It was always “mummy has to go to work to earn money” until recently when I started using some products I work with in my company to engage Ben. I’ve told him that the books he reads at home are the same ones he will use when he goes to Primary 1, and they are published by my company. My husband and I also get them to pray for us, if we have a challenging day at work. Kids need to know that parents work hard to provide for them! There have been times when I needed to do a Skype call from home and my colleagues at the other end have ended up speaking to my kids for a few seconds.

What is it like juggling parenting duties with work?
It is not easy, I will admit. It is a conscious effort to balance time spent at work and time spent with kids. I start my day early and am at work by 7.30am. I leave at 6pm or 6.30pm so that we can have dinner as a family. The lights go off in our house on weekdays at 8.30pm and I usually catch up on emails after that. I am also fortunate to have a network of support – good helpers, both parents and parent-in-laws who live very nearby and are ever-ready to take care of the kids. My three kids are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family so we constantly remind them that they are very fortunate. While I do wish I can be with my children more, working and interacting with like-minded colleagues gives me a sense of purpose. Getting dressed for work every day keeps me sane!

What is your husband’s role?
Other than cooking for the kids, my husband can do almost everything else. (Note that able and willing are two very different things!) Very often, he picks them up from school, takes time off to bring them to the doctor when they are ill and plays with them. I guess because Ben is the oldest, he also spends a lot of time with Ben for example, getting him ready for school in the morning and for bed every evening. He is also the disciplinarian. He is more strict and firm. I can be quick-tempered but I sometimes waver when it comes to discipline.

What do you think of using electronic gadgets as learning tools?
When I was pregnant, my husband and I were swamped by all sorts of advice from well-meaning friends and relatives about introducing electronic gadgets to kids. We only have one iPad at home and it is primarily used to watch videos on YouTube. Very often, I find myself not being able to explain something, for example, how whales and dolphins give birth. So, we look for videos on YouTube to show the kids.

Currently the kids don’t know how to play games because they are still young. So, the iPad is used more for learning – videos, nursery rhymes etc. They do watch shows for entertainment but we screen the programmes to ensure they have educational value. We also limit their iPad and TV time to no more than one hour a day unless they are ill or it is the school holidays. But that also means that we have to constantly think of activities to occupy the kids with. Like everything else in life, my motto regarding electronic gadgets is – do what works best for your family and use it in moderation.

What are some educational products you use to encourage your children’s love for learning?
Other than the iPad and books that I have bought from my company, I have not bought anything else! I do trawl the internet for meaningful and appropriate activities that we can do together, for example, making a lava lamp, art and craft, simple science experiments, and word games. Most of the materials for our activities are everyday objects you can find at home or in the supermarket like baking soda, oil, paint, food colouring, fruits, cotton wool, clothes pegs and LEGO.

Some of the biggest lessons I have learnt:
1. Kids don’t require sophisticated gadgets and toys to be happy. What they really want is your time and affection.
2. It doesn’t matter how smart or intelligent my child is. What I ask of them is obedience and kindness.
3. Children are very good at mimicking actions, so I ensure I set a good example for them.

What advice do you have for fellow parents?
Parenting is a journey like no other; you are responsible for another human other than yourself. A physician from the US who was speaking at a conference said this, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work”.

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