Why I call my children the “garbage siblings”

Image credit: KC Wong

Dad Talk is a fortnightly column where our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.

The last I checked, my family came from a village in Guangdong province with no blood ties to the Chinese royalty. Hence I have never referred to my kids as princess or prince. Instead, my daughter and son are collectively known as the “garbage siblings”.

You see, we live in an old walk-up apartment where every unit has a rubbish chute in the kitchen. For aesthetic and hygiene reasons, we sealed ours. As a result, we have to take the rubbish out, walk past two car parks and dispose of it in the main bin about sixty metres away. It is the kids’ job to do that after everyone finishes dinner. In the beginning, like all pseudo-princes and pseudo-princesses, they whined and complained about the dark. Now, the “garbage siblings” just knuckle down and get on with the job whenever I summon them. This is but one of the instances when my kids are trained to be independent and start contributing to the family instead of constantly being spoilt and pampered by their grandparents.

Since young, the kids were reminded to put their toys and books away after they were done with them. Failure to do so would result in confiscation of the offending items. The moment the kids could run, we stopped carrying them when we needed to walk from point to point. “But, daddy, I am very hot and tired,” one or both of them would protest. “I’m hot and tired too, but since we are lucky to be born with a healthy pair of legs, let’s use them,” was my retort. After a while, they wised up to what kind of father I am and the whining stopped.

When they entered primary school, they were and still are required to pack their own bags because they should know their timetables and which books to bring to school. They make their own beds every morning, even if they are running late (they are slow eaters). Some nights, to save time, they simply sleep on the quilt with as little disturbance to the bed as possible. They also have to wash their own dishes after every meal. When we dine at hawker centres, they have to clear the tables after eating and return the crockery and cutlery to the collection point. I believe that we should not ask others to do tasks that we are capable of carrying out ourselves.

Now that my daughter is in primary five and my son in primary three, I am still awed by how some parents fawn over their children even if their kids are already taller than them. They stop their cars at the school’s driveway, get out of their cars, walk over to wake their kids up and pull them out, and then help put their school bags on their shoulders, all the while holding up the long snaking line of cars during the morning rush hour. Some children who take public transport have parents or domestic helpers who help carry bags for them. I often see one very dedicated father who not only carries his daughter’s bag, but also shields her with an umbrella, rain or shine. His daughter is twelve. I told my kids: “Do you know how much these ergonomic bags cost? You will carry them because they are made for people just like you. Not only that, they are so well-made that they can definitely last you all the way till Primary 6!”

My daughter had her maiden solo bus ride at age ten – I wanted her to start earlier but my wife vetoed the idea – with her then-eight-year-old brother tagging along. Now that the boy is one year wiser, he can manage on his own.

Instead of lamenting the rise of the ‘strawberry generation’, I try to do my small part in bringing up kids who are less self-entitled, more independent and who hopefully possess street smarts gleaned from being exposed to fluid and potentially unpredictable situations on a daily basis. For the record, I do not just throw my kids into the deep end without prior warning. I rode the bus with them to make sure they familiarised themselves with the route. I prepped them for times when things could go awry: boarding the wrong bus, alighting at the wrong bus stop, breakdowns, foul weather, strangers approaching them, etc. I emphasised road safety, and drilled into them the habit of watching for traffic and not watching the traffic lights because there are many idiotic and crazy drivers out there with scant regard for traffic rules.

You might ask, “Why put myself through such agony and trouble in the first place?” Admittedly, it is far easier to show “parental love” by keeping my kids close to me, making their lives comfortable and watching over them 24/7.

All parents know that the hardest thing to do is to let go. I know my kids will eventually leave the nest to pursue lives of their own, preferably outside of our tiny island to expand their horizons. By making them go through all this, it is as much confidence-building for them as it is mental preparation for us. Nothing is more gratifying than seeing the pride on my son’s face when the notoriously absent-minded one came home on his own, in one piece; nothing is more assuring than seeing him cross the road unaccompanied after surveying the traffic with unusual focus. The kids never fail to surprise me, as long as they are are allowed to shine.

These are mere baby steps on my part in bringing up self-reliant kids. Hopefully, by the time they face the real world, they will not expect their bosses or colleagues to parachute favours into their laps, clean up their mess, and call them prince or princess.

I love it when my daughter calls me a “meanie”. To that, I reply: “If you can handle such a mean dad, I’m sure there are no bosses mean enough for you!” By treating them like young paupers, I pray they will become king and queen of the world when they grow up.


KC Wong is a photographer and father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.

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