(This article was first published in TODAY newspaper, 16 October 2016)
“I have good news for you,” said the son when I rang home the other day.
“Let me guess. Your teacher did not return the CA 2 papers today?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“She did. And I got 48/50 for Math and 49/50 for English.”
I took a deep breath and braced myself for the other half of the story. As it turned out, his Math score soared and the Science score nosedived. It was the other way round last term. He seems to take turns to do poorly at these two subjects.
Well, that is some kind of consistency, I told myself, just not the kind I wanted.
Before you judge me, let it be known that right after the Continual Assessment, I had pulled the young man aside and awarded him an A-plus for attitude.
“You were more accountable for your own revision and homework, and more independent in your learning,” I said with my heart thumping. I felt like I was counselling an employee whom I was trying not to fire.
Am I alone in this struggle to manage my own emotions and sentiments during exam season?
Case in point: After the mid-year exams in which the young man scored dismally for Math (remember Math and Science grades have an inverse relationship), I went to the husband weeping and thumping my chest.
He put down his Playstation remote control with a sigh, and said: “Hon, you need to moderate your expectations.”
There it is again. Mummy Monster.
MUMMY MONSTER VS DADDY DEVIL
How many fathers do you know angst over their children’s academic performance?
Exactly my point.
In my household, Fifa video soccer game scores are discussed in sombre tones matched with furrowed brows. School grades? Well, the prevailing male attitude can be summed up in four words: Buddy, better buck up.
But surely there exists a Daddy Devil to match my Mummy Monster? I had to find out.
Florence Hoo, owner of Florence Hoo Learning Hub and a private tutor with 30 years’ experience teaching children from Primary One to Primary Six, told me: “From my experience, mums are more stressed out than dads. For every 20 parents I meet, only one dad is a hands-on dad.”
Another private tutor Marie Bernadette of Bright Minds Tuition concurred that mothers tend to be more anxious about their children’s grades.
Singapore remains deeply entrenched in fixed gender roles, that is, mothers are responsible for nurturing the child in most aspects of development, except maybe sports. So naturally, we think we are accountable for their grades.
“80 per cent of the exam stress and anxiety are from mothers. Mothers have told us that their husbands are the main breadwinners of the family and pay most of their children’s tuition fees, hence they feel a strong obligation towards their husbands that the children have to excel in their studies, otherwise it’ll be a waste of hard-earned money,” said Bernadette.
Still, with fathers taking on bigger roles in their children’s lives, I wonder if we will see more dads stressing out their kids over academic performance. Certainly Bernadette said that she has had to deal with an increasing number of fathers over the last three years.
However, James Satchy, a Family Life educator from Built 2 Last Training, refutes the gender theory.
“Roles, abilities and personalities play a bigger part than gender stereotypes,” he said, based on more than 20 years of experience as a trainer and counsellor.
So for example, a stay home dad may be more focused on results compared to his wife who is working. He believes that as more fathers get involved in their children’s lives, the gender issue will become less significant.
One thing’s for sure, parents are one source of “stress triggers” in children, said Satchy. Other significant people who can trigger stress include teachers, peers and the children themselves.
HOW DO WE KEEP MUMMMY MONSTER UNDER CONTROL?
So after my mini meltdown post mid-year exams, I wrapped my head around the fact that I had to change. It is time to rehabilitate Mummy Monster. The question is how?
Here are some useful tips I gleaned from the experts I spoke to:
• Sharing the load
“Parents can take turns to supervise their children during exams and not let the burden of responsibility fall on one parent alone,” said clinical psychologist Dr Matthew Woo. “Having both parents supervise and manage can lend a measure of perspective to the situation, especially if one parent is ‘more chill’ than the other,” he added.
• Accept your child’s capabilities
Stop comparing your own child’s results or learning ability with other children, whether they are siblings or other classmates, said Bernadette. “Parents who constantly compare seem to be more anxious and stressed out than parents who do not do so. Parents need to accept their our child’s ability to study and learn. Every child is special, with unique combinations of abilities that affect his or her learning.”
• Be structured
Chong Ee Jay, senior manager and coach from Touch Cyber Wellness, advised creating a revision timetable that parallels with the school’s timetable system. “For example, (keeping it to) one period block of 45 minutes. Typically for primary schools, this will be 30 minutes,” he said. He also advised utilising some good mobile applications to manage stress and worries, for example apps such as Stress Check can help parents observe and monitor their stress levels.
• Farm it out
Hoo says parents should trust tutors to do their jobs. “Leave the stress to experienced tutors to guide the kids right up to PSLE. We know how to pace the kids, stretch and help their minds achieve the best that they are capable of,” she said. “Parents (can) just monitor that the kids do their work regularly, and show lots of emotional support and love to their kids.”
• Be realistic
“Focus on your child’s own bar for each subject (whether it is in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s or 90’s etc). This bar can and should be adjusted so the child competes with himself more than others. For example, if the child is getting 60, then the bar should be adjusted to 65, then 70, then 75,” suggested Satchy.
To keep myself on the straight and narrow, I ask myself what kind of a report card I would get from my son if I ask him to grade me as a parent.
I am not sure it’ll be all good (oh, I can just see him rolling his eyes).