Learning from mum the hard way

People always wonder why children tend to be much closer to their mothers even though they are the ones who reprimand, nag and punish them. I suppose it is natural since the bond was created right from the womb. Regardless of what our mothers do to us, we know it is for our own good (even though we deny it at that point in time).

My mum dictated a strict upbringing for me and my brothers in Singapore, where we live. Mum, who was a domestic helper to several expatriate families would leave very early in the morning at about 6am and reach home only at 6pm. Mum worked very hard (sometimes covering two to three expat homes a day) to ensure that we got the best of what she could offer.

We had a strict regime to follow, too. Our daily routine would entail waking up early to do our homework and then off to school. We would come home only to be shuttled off to Quran reading classes with lights out by 8.30pm. With whatever money she had, she would take us to savour the simple things in life like feeding the swans at the old Botanic Gardens and swimming at the Bouna Vista Swimming Complex (Singapore).

When it came to education, Mum was very strict. Having little education herself, she ensured that we did well in our studies. Naturally, she would get very upset when I came home with really bad marks. Compared to my younger brother, I was the “slower” one. I had a hard time reading as I was not able to spell and mum would use the long ruler to rap my knuckles (Ouch! The thought of that still hurts). But she didn’t give up on me. She made me read and spell in front of the mirror or to her.

It was years later that I realised my mum did not understand English very well but pretended to, so that I would become a confident reader. I was a determined child and, not wanting to disappoint Mum, I took up reading as a hobby in school. I read one book every 2-3 days during silent reading sessions and then learnt to write short summaries till I got the Star Reader badges.

When I came in third in standard for my O level examinations and eventually completed my Diploma from Singapore Polytechnic, majoring in Business Administration, I could see my Mum’s face beaming with pride. She didn’t say anything to me but I know she felt contented that her daughter had made it this far. I vowed that I would make Mum stop work with my first hard-earned pay cheque which she did – to my joy and accomplishment.

When I felt that I could not go far in my career, her advice would always be, “Be patient. Not all things come easily. Be patient and pray for the best.” Who would have guessed that a dyslexic child would end up in public relations which most of the time requires her to write and read? Obviously Mum wouldn’t have thought of that, especially with my reading difficulties. But her determination brought me here today and she should be proud. 

Kartina with her mum and daughter Sarah.

When I had my daughter Sarah, Mum was always there to help. I had so many teething problems as a new and working mum. There were days when I felt like giving up, and her advice to me was: “Being a mother is a challenge but it is also a blessing ... so live up to it ... and don’t give up.”

Having said all this, I don’t think that my relationship with Mum was a perfect one. It was not! There were many occasions when she would say things that would hurt me and I would ask myself if she meant it. But the next day, she would act as if nothing happened and still joked, and cooked the best meal for me. I know now, that as a mother myself, we only scold and nag our children because we are disappointed with their behaviour and we want them to learn and to be better human beings.

Today, being a working mother has also made me realise the importance of teaching my five-year-old daughter the ability to be independent and to appreciate the sacrifices that I have had to make for her own good. Maybe it will be a little hard for Sarah to accept, but hopefully over time she will, just like I did.

Given a choice, I am sure, my mum would want to be with us 24/7, but not having her 24/7 has made me what I am today – an independent woman who understands the needs in life, to appreciate what we have and not take things for granted. That is something my mother taught me and I hope to pass on to my children.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mums and mums-to-be!

Kartina Rosli

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