Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The myth of the perfect kid

I know a mother who seems to have the child every parent dreams of having. He's extraordinarily bright - scored 270 for PSLE and got into a top secondary school. He's also an impressive all-rounder - head prefect of his primary school, represented the school in his CCA and is now in the water polo team of his secondary school. Added to that, he's a very upright, unassuming and down to earth kid. When I expressed admiration to his mother, she confided in me that he is a procrastinator and she has to nag at him to do his homework.

Have you ever encountered this? We meet kids who appear so bright, motivated, charismatic and 100 other superlatives compared to our own. Yet when we speak to their parents, they often seem surprised and have some criticism to offer about their kids. I find it happens with me too. Eg, Lilian always admires Lesley-Anne and I, on the other hand, think her Brian is a mother's dream.

Could it be that there's an epidemic of false modesty? Sure, some parents are transparently fake - they pretend to dismiss their kids' achievements but they're actually loving the attention. But I know that's not true of the mother I cited above, she's a very genuine person. I offer an alternative reason for this behaviour, ie we have come to pitch our standards against those of the imaginary perfect kid.

As parents, we see our kids everyday and we know that they dwaddle when it comes to revision. We have to remind them to do the simplest tasks like wash their hands or brush their teeth. They don't put their things away, they bicker endlessly with their siblings, etc. We see all their annoying little faults and therefore feel that any admiration for them is unjustified. Whereas with other kids, we generally only see the best parts that are on display in public, and we assume that they are the paragons of virtue at all times. So our own flawed kids inevitably fall short when measured against those ideal beings.

Here's the crux of the matter: the perfect kid is a myth, there's no such thing. Just as there are no perfect parents. A diamond is still a diamond, even if it is encrusted in dirt. So instead of wishing that the stone we have is as sparkling as the one in the showroom, let's work on polishing that diamond we have on our hands. And be grateful that we are blessed with such a gem.


Anonymous said...

"...A diamond is still a diamond, even if it is encrusted in dirt. So instead of wishing that the stone we have is as sparkling as the one in the showroom, let's work on polishing that diamond we have on our hands. "Wow, words of wisdom indeed! Been following your blog for some time, 'cos it's been so entertaining, brilliant and subjects discussed so close to heart.

I hope you will continue to write everyday as I am addicted to your blog and checking daily. Haha...and, I find my English improving too. A BIG THANKS!


Lilian said...

Wonderful advice. But that boy you talked about, really perfect lah :)

Let me put forth another explanation. It's just our self-effacing Asian way of making others feel better. When someone praises our kid, there are 3 possible responses:
i) Most of us would find something negative to talk about if only to make the praiser feel better about their own kid. I put that down to our self-effacing nature.
ii) Say thank you and leave it at that. This is more western culture, but tends to stop the conversation dead on its tracks.
iii) Agree effusively and then start adding even more positive traits that you hadn't known before. I've met mothers like that from both Asian and Western backgrounds, but they are the minority.

So social cues call it upon us to go for response (i), not that we think our kids are that bad; I'm sure no matter how many accolades other kids garner, in our eyes, our kids are still "the most perfect" haha. But we could probably tone down on the Aiyah, you don't know how bad he/she is at home. When talking to western mothers, I try to do (ii) cos if I go with (i), they usually look at me like I'm some abusive mother :)

I could never do (iii) consciously, that's just annoying, don't you think?

monlim said...

SC: Thanks for the encouragement! Readers like you spur me to keep writing even though I feel so lazy sometimes :D

Lilian: I agree sometimes I do i) if out of embarrassment. There's another more typical response from me which is a variation of ii) - I say thank you and then say something nice about their kid. I mean, I wouldn't make something up just to please them but I think every parent wants to feel good about their kids and it's comforting to know that others can see their kids' good points especially when they feel that other kids are better than their own. Makes sense?

But yah, excessive modesty is just annoying and can be demoralising if done in front of the child. I could never do iii) though! Completely cringe-worthy LOL

eunice said...

Just as there is no perfect kid, there is no perfect parent :)

But I think the thing you mentioned about parents not seeing their kid's achievements or wanting to comment on it is a pretty Asian thing. I remember my mil telling me not to say good things about Sean too much cos he may turn bad. Never got the logic.

But on the other hand, you have parents who think their kids are perfect, perfect, perfect (which honestly i find irritating).

Lilian: many western mums think I'm Mummy Dearest cos I don't let Sean get away with murder.

Anonymous said...

Mon, Thanks for sharing the thoughts.
Just over the weekend, my child's shifu made a comment that my girl was very "guai". When I heard that whole body cringed and my eyebrows raised. LOL... To many people, my child seems perfect, but far from it in our eyes, not because of modesty, maybe partly because of our expections and partly she just has not made the mark? :P And when the other shifus hopped in to echo that shifu's sentiments, I said, "No parents will think of their kids as 'guai', when you spend 1 hr with her, it is different from spending 24 hours with her." Then we all laughed. Also, God must have put parents in place for a reason, if our kids are "perfect" so soon, we will very quickly have no more contribution in the lives. :P


monlim said...

Eunice: good to have you back! I've encountered people like your mil, I guess there're still many "pantang" people in Asia!

QX: I believe your girl is very guai, like the shifu says, esp since others agree. You probably have very high expectations! Sure, not perfect lah but sounds like you have a great daughter there :)

Veronica_L said...

Parents, parents...can't they appreciate their kids?

Wow, Monica, very philosophical quote about the diamond. You should write a book and stuff all your quotes inside.

Still crying...because Man U lost to Barca

Jo said...


Whenever I start thinking why my kids can't be more like this or that, I take a step back and tell myself to be grateful for my kids as they are. I have friends who have kids with special needs and for them they rejoice in every little milestone achieved. Am in total admiration for their strength and perseverance.

Alcovelet said...

I totally agree with this, and I think I fall into Lilian's (1) category. Does that make me the (3) category now? Hahaha!

Basically, I can't stand the #3's cos, too deluded lah. Where got so perfect one, especially cos, as the parent, we're in a position to see so many negatives.

And the reason we see so many negatives is because it's part of the human survival instinct to notice the bad rather than the good. When we're with our kids 24/7, the little things that annoy us just become so huge that sometimes, it engulfs everything.

My own (very recent) antidote is to make sure I have some me time. And it really helps to read your blog to keep things in perspective, Mon!

Lilian said...

Adeline, you are big-time Category 1! But that's what makes you so endearing, you have it all but you never ever show off about it(I'm not just talking about RK here) or make others feel small.

Alcovelet said...

Gosh Lilian, thanks for that. I think what we all have in common is that we love our families so much. We face these unfamiliar and difficult situations everyday - it's vital to have the support of so many down-to-earth people like you and Monica and the rest of the mummies. So I'm reflecting what you guys do for me.

Thanks for being my friend.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mon. :) Perhaps I should send her to you for 24 hours.. bwaaaah..


monlim said...

Can, can, maybe we exchange, I send you Andre :D

Anonymous said...

Wah..that is a tough mission for me cos I don't know how to handle boys with all the pinky things I have at home. :P


tricia said...

Hi, I am a mother of 4 boys. I just came across your blog and hope to seek your help wondering how to improve on my sons' writing. He is in P3 now.

This is what he had written for "Lost in the shopping centre'.

One sunny afternoon, Ben and his mother decided to go to the shopping centre.First, they went to the Ladies Apparel.It was very crowded there. Ben's mother saw some beautiful clothes and decided to buy some.

Next, they came to a toy department. There were many toys over the. As soon as Ben was attracted to the toys, he wandered off to the toy shop without telling his mother.

When Ben came out from the toys department he realised that he was lost! He searched for his mother everywhere but she was nowhere to be seen. Ben was extremely frightened and cried "Mummy!"

After his mother heared the noise, she followed to where the noise was coming from. To her surprise, she was shocked to see Ben crying bitterly. His mother calmed Ben down and said politely to him "don't wander around again okay darling?"

Please help me to correct his English. Your help is much appreciated, teacher monlim.

monlim said...

Tricia: Umm.. I'm not a teacher! If I was, I wouldn't have so many problems trying to teach Andre English :P

Your son looks like he knows how to use some good words appropriately. If I were you, I wouldn't worry too much about language since he's only in p3 but if you like, maybe you can help him come up with a less abrupt conclusion to his piece, something that can round up the compo nicely.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...