Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How to be a fair-weathered friend

My recent post about friends elicited some interesting comments about friendship, which got me thinking. There are many quotes about friends and how true friends are the ones who are there for you during the bad times. But to me, I think another important (perhaps more important) measure of a good friend is one who can rejoice in your good times.

I don't mean having fun together, I mean friends who are genuinely happy for your good fortune, especially when they don't enjoy the same blessings. I've come to realise that for many people, it's far easier to be sad with you when you're down than to rejoice with you when you're up. I attribute this to the very competitive landscape in Singapore, where success and value seem to be measured largely by material wealth and tangible achievements in comparison to our neighbours.

I was always vaguely aware of this. I'd heard of people who were always comparing how much they earned, the types of jobs they held, what brand of handbags they carried, even how rich their husbands were. That never happened to me, I was fortunate to have down-to-earth, relatively easy-going friends. I think it was because I never moved around in those social circles and I roll my eyes when I hear such stories. I'm pretty much anti-class, even till today.

Things changed when I became a parent. I began to realise that while friends can maintain a non-competitive relationship, it gets more difficult when it comes to their kids. It's easy to empathise with your friends' kids who are struggling in school but hard to be happy for those whose kids seem to sail through, even more so when our own kids are the ones who are struggling.

Commenting on Lilian's post, QX mentioned that a mother openly broke into a big grin when she realised that her daughter did better than QX's. In another instance, while exchanging news with a close friend, QX shared how her daughter did well in a national competition. Instead of congratulations, her friend's face turned serious and tried to find out details of participating in such competitions.

I've personally encountered such situations as well. Once, I was chatting with friends and it emerged that Lesley-Anne was in GEP. There was an awkward silence and the husband, tellingly, changed the subject. Later, his wife told me casually that even if her son got into GEP, she wouldn't let him join the programme because it's very stressful. I nearly laughed out loud because these two parents are possibly the most competitive people I know and they drive their son very hard academically.

This was by no means an isolated incident. I don't know why it has to be this way. I mean, I'm not expecting friends to fawn over me and gush over how wonderful Lesley-Anne is, that's just silly. But when I'm greeted by surliness, I start feeling like I have to be apologetic, as if my child being smart somehow diminishes yours. And then to soothe the parent's ego, I normally find myself bringing up my exasperation over Andre, as if that somehow compensates for Lesley-Anne's abilities. It's utter nonsense! Yet it has become something of a defence mechanism for me.

I think it's the scarcity mentality together with the competitive environment. Our kids can't just be good, they have to be better than somebody (preferably somebody we know!) Our kids have become a projection of our own insecurities and competitiveness. It's not without its side effects, you know. I think that's a huge reason why many kids themselves have internalised this unhealthy competitiveness, obsessing over 1 mark on a test paper, setting up their classmates as rivals, angst-ing when they lose and gloating when they win. All in all, not very attractive or likeable children. Are these really the people you want your kids to be?

Back to friendships. Lilian and I are kindred spirits, especially during this period when we're undergoing the DSA ordeal together. But I did wonder, let's say Brian was a girl, our kids were applying to the same schools and Lilian's was successful at DSA and Lesley-Anne wasn't, would I be genuinely happy for her? Or would I be bitter and envious? I'd like to believe that I would be magnanimous enough to be the former but I'll never know for sure (and I'm glad!) Jealousy is a powerful emotion to battle.

So maybe the term "fair-weathered friend" is something of a misnomer. It's not that easy to rejoice in a friend's good fortune. If you have friends who can be sad when you're sad AND glad when you're glad, then you're truly blessed. But you know, perhaps it's up to us to first be that friend.

36 comments:

Lilian said...

Excellent, excellent post! The same thought did cross my mind in recent days after QX's comment, wondering if we are able to be as magnanimous with each other had our kids been the same gender going for the same school? And then I thought of my friendship with Slim whose boy is a shoe-in for DSA, and I know I would be truly, genuinely happy for him and for her, even if Brian is unsuccessful.

So it's very much parent-dependent, cos you and Slim are such generous, uncompetitive people who also like to moan and groan like I do, and both your kids are just such wonderful kids, not those obnoxious, arrogant, makes me want to slap them, kind of kids, of course I'll be really happy for them.

And I had actually wanted to email you to tell you that in the event that L-A gets DSA and Brian doesn't, I would not want you to hold back your happiness and elation. Please, please, please, blog about it, talk about it, be rightfully ecstatic about it. I will be truly happy for L-A and for you, honest! Really lah, never bluff. :)

Lilian said...

Btw, we know that Schadenfreude is "happiness at another's bad fortune."

Some time ago, there was an article in the Straits Times that talked about a related word, but for the life of me, I can't remember it. Also a German word, and also ends with -freude.

It means, "unhappiness at another's good fortune." Would you happen to know the word, it's killing me!

LadyB said...

I still remember vividly the encounter I had last yr during the prize presentation ceremony at sch. This mother (I din't know too well) came up to me, after my son and I came down from the stage, told me many *BAD* things abt GEP and how *LUCKY* she was tt her son din't make it to the program. She even advised me to reconsider sending my son to the program. In my heart, my response was an instant big *HUH*!!! Then, I congratulated her tt her wish came true tt her son was not selected for the program, with a smiley face, and walked away trying very hard to maintain my cool. *hiak hiak hiak*

monlim said...

Lilian: You make me feel so lucky at having known you. Where to find such a generous parent to share experiences with? Sounds like it's a rarity these days! Same here, if Brian gets DSA, I will be sincerely very happy for both of you (and not surprised too since I've always had full confidence in his abilities!), regardless of whether L-A is successful. I think the best part is that we both genuinely like each other's kids!

Oh, I googled, the word is Freudenschade - sorrow at another person's success. Isn't it awful that there's actually a word for it??

LadyB: Some people can't even hide their sour grapes successfully huh? Quite, quite funny!

Anonymous said...

I cannot agree more with you, especially about playing down on our child's abilities.

I find myself trying to justify why he's more advanced than his peers - he's a Jan kid so naturally he's more advanced; he's just obsessed with the topic so he delves deep into it, no big deal; he's really not so good ...

I realise I need to recognise and celebrate his gift yet I'm wary that my friends might feel 'small'.

Anonymous said...

Mon, your message is spot on! Lilian and your discussion truly echoes my thoughts. LOL So now I have become a "bad-news" mother which lands me with another set of problems which are easier to manage. LOL My bad news become competitive people's good news and if they are happy, the world becomes a better place with a twist. :) This is probably the better lesser evil I can get. LOL

Celebrate your friendship and I rejoice for you. As mentioned, confident, secured people will take things in stride and know how to share woes and joys the same. God bless!

Now it's time to head to Pine Garden for the cakes....the temptation is killing.

qx

monlim said...

Anon: are you playing down his abilities right now? LOL! No need lah, on my blog we celebrate all achievements :)

QX: So terok lah, have to share bad news to make others happy! Just don't do it in front of your kid, as long as she knows you're proud of her, that's the most important.

Now, how can I get you to send me a few of those cakes...

Anonymous said...

hi dropping by... have been following your blog silently...
can't agree more... that's human, isn't it?

Alcovelet said...

This is so straight to the heart, Monica. Whatever it is, in the event that anyone here meets a crazee (and there's no other word for it), just know that you can be generous all you want, but no friendship can work if the other party takes you and your kid as a live benchamark to beat or to rail against for just being alive. The beauty of it though, is that you will never be alone. Other mums would have felt it too, so there'll be plenty of people to acquiese with. Like my son says, these crazees are famous because they have to keep making new friends as they lose their old ones, and in so doing, other people will get to know of how they really are.

The truth is, I've found that there are many generous and genuine women who are truly happy to share other people's success. And it is these people we must spend our energies on to grow meaningful friendships. That's why, I'm so glad to know you, lilian, and the other kind and generous mums that we hang out with (you know who you are!).

LadyB said...

There is a Chinese saying:gao1 chu4 bu4 sheng4 han2 meaning the higher position you are at, the colder it will be (hope I translated correctly). If you are fortunate enough to have true good friend(s), must treat them like national treasures or endanger species!!! Otherwise, jun1 zi3 zhi1 jiao1 type of friendship will be good enough for me :)))
Cheers to all parents that share the similar mindset as you and Lilian!

Anonymous said...

Good to know that there are more than just Monica and Lilian who thinks this way.

Good advice Mon, must remind myself that I do not do it in front of my child. Times like this, I quite appreciate her silly optimism about things, so she would not take it to heart. LOL

As for the cakes...will figure out a way to get to you.. :)

qx

breve1970 said...

Thats why I am so happy to get to know you, Lilian, Ailei, Cindy, Sarah and Adeline. I got to know Adeline through my good friend, Irene.

Irene is someone who is always so generous to share with me and her boy is REALLY REALLY BRIGHT. Hannah and her boy are the same age and they are great playmates.

Deep down inside, I know my friend's son is a lot smarter than Hannah and is able to grasp concepts alot faster. But that doesn't change anything or the strong friendship that we have maintained over the last 4 years.

I am so happy for this little boy who has done so well for his SA1 exams this year despite the fact that my friend is also quite bo-chap when it comes to giving her son enrichment classes.:) (Sorry Irene.)

And then, came Adeline who never failed to encourage me and pointed me to so much resources.

Thank you lovely ladies, I have access to so much more information that I never knew I could.

PeaT said...

yeah ... perhaps it's an Asian thing, appearing to be modest :)

I suppose it boils down to being tactful, being proud of our kids and at the same time not put down those who are not the same.

I've been following your blog for several mths now (a google search on the I Can Read prog brought me here).

I'm particularly intersted at your insights on having a gifted child in LA. I'm not sure if mine (both in K1) are in her league, tho recent IQ tests indicate tt one of them has score in the high superior range and the other in the high ave. So, it's like what now? Where to go from here? Or do nothing? Headache ...

monlim said...

Thanks all for your comments! Ad, I'm drafting a post on the crazees now as we speak... *evil grin*

PeaT: thanks for reading! If you suspect your kids are gifted, you can send them for IQ testing, Ad and Lilian have both done that. Although if they're "normal gifted" and not EG or PG, and you intend to put them in the local education system, then there really isn't a need. Just keep engaging their minds, expose them to more challenging work if they're interested (but don't push if they're not). In p3, they'll sit for the GEP tests and then go from there. That's what I would do anyway but then I'm quite bochap in this area!

LadyB said...

Guess what...I've finally tried making the Shepperd's Pie and purple-cabbage coleslaw for lunch. It's delicious and both hubby & son love it! Thks for the recipe. Hope to have more *short-cut* recipe from u hehehe cos moi prefer fuss free, quick and yet yummy :)

The Chengs said...

How is DSA stressful for you? There's just the interviews and maybe possibly tests (that your child won't need to prepare for)?

monlim said...

LadyB: Yay! Happy you liked it! Will definitely share if I come across more recipes :)

Cheng: Yah I know, doesn't sound like much right? But from the portfolio to test to preparing for interview, somehow it managed to be stressful! I think the worst part is the waiting...

breve1970 said...

Sigh... at my daughter's school (thought had better not mention which school though most of you mummies already know), I have come across parents who would spend chunks of money on GEP preparation enrichment. I remember reading about this in Mon's blog earlier this year as well.

Anyway, to my horror, some of the parents would brag and rave about how their kids got into the 1st round of GEP and how much they would have to spend on enrichment so that their children would get selected eventually, etc etc. One of the parents used to be quite active in the school's parent volunteer program but when she found her that her child was not selected, she refused to help out in school from that day onwards.

breve1970 said...

I sent my last comment off accidentally...

Personally, I feel that if your child is gifted, he will naturally do well and thrive in GEP. No point sending the kid for enrichment classes so as to prep him for the GEP selection.

Sorry! These parents who put unnecessary pressure on their offsprings due to their own silly insecurities, ought to be "slapped". #@*%!

monlim said...

Ann: This is the first time I've heard you use a pseudo cuss word!!! Hahaha, you're always so nice, shows how strongly you feel about this. Agree with you totally, in fact these parents should not just be slapped, they should be barred from having kids :P

Anonymous said...

Mon, I have 2 'friends' who only call me after every CAs & SAs since my dd started P1. They each has a dd, same age as my gal. They wanted to find out what marks my gal got for all her papers. Initially I told them, but I stopped revealing since she was P2, I just said she did ok, not the best but she did her best.

As for GEP, there were a total of four gals, including my gal, who did not accept the GEP offer, another transfered back after a term in a GEP school. You wouldn't believe one mummy came to me and told me that we should accept the offer, why did we stay back and spoil the chance of others. There are only 80 vacancies for affiliation admission.

Chris

monlim said...

Chris: Aiyoh, the more I hear, the more amazed I am at how kiasu some parents are! Can't believe some of the stories I'm hearing. Your tactic is right - stay far, far away from these nutcases!!

breve1970 said...

I totally agree with you, Mon! :).

elan said...

Wow this tpic has certainly elicited lots of traffic. I guess we all feel strongly the same way.
I have the same experience too - I find that I have trying NOT to mention my kids are in GEP in normal social conversations when people talk about their kids and when they eventually dig it out of me ("why did they change to this school halfway through?") I just sort of embarassedly have to say something bad about how my son is bad at sports and can't carry a tune or something to break the awkward silence!
That's one of the reasons I find your blog refreshing - to be able to talk about gifted kids without trying o downplay them.

monlim said...

Elan: It's scary how similar we are! Like "how come Lesley-Anne's exams are so early?" "err... cos she's in GEP." Silence. Me perkily, "Aiyoh her maths ah, quite terok!" LOL!! It sounds so silly even when I'm telling it here...

LadyB said...

We prefer keeping low profile among parents since begn. Not anti-social... we still greet and chat to friendly and down-to-earth parents but avoid boostful ones :P. Plus, I really dislike gossips and *people politic*. In order to "hear no evil", the best way is to stay low.
So far, I din't downplay my boy's abilities 'cos I believe "if it is a diamond, no matter how you cover it up, it still shines" :P. Let his abilities speak for him. Me, I'll be "the mom behind him *translucent* "with full support. I do remind him to be humble, confident and sensitive towards his peers. Utimately, it is important tt he acquires good *human* skills :). In fact, I used to tell friendly parents not to underestimate their kids. Look n listen closely, you' ll discover the gem in your kids.
Glad tt my boy is happy at his "new" sch, have fun learning n makes new friends. Althoug I'm still quite apprehensive , I've met a few friendly and helpful parents. So...keep my fingers cross.

LadyB said...

Elan: Could you shs with us your experience esp your kids are also transferred from other sch? Would appreciate v much.

Anonymous said...

This blog really enlightens me about the life of a GEP child and mum...Thanks for sharing... I'm just an ordinary mum of two ordinary kids - who managed to be shortlisted for the 1st round of GEP screening test but not the second .
I used to wonder what's life like on the other side of the fence for the GEP kids and whether my children have missed out lots by not being selected for the program.
Frankly speaking, I used to feel a little inferior when friends shared about the challenging projects/syllabus the kids are exposed to.
But over the years, I've realised my children have not missed much and they are special and gifted in their own ways. My son can write very well and I just realised rather recently that his standard is much better than some GEP kids (oops sorry) and he did not go for any expensive enrichment classes at all. I'm so proud of him... despite the fact that he's not a GEP student... he did extremely well in the GAT and interviews and was offered DSA to two top schools last year.
I didn't find DSA application stressful. I thought it's fun -I just helped to compile his portfolio neatly and sent him to the tests and interviews - praying that God will open the way for him if it's in the centre of His will- He will give him what is best for him, and not not what the world thinks it's best.
God did and we've not looked back since!

monlim said...

Anon: It's refreshing to find enlightened parents like you! I was beginning to think parents only existed in the 2 extremes... kudos to your son for doing well and yes, when you place your trust in God, only good can come out of it :)

elan said...

LadyB:
Not much to share especially since this is Mon's blog not mine! My sons transferred from a 'brother" school so the school song and culture were the same. The uniform and stationery only slightly different (saved money) and they had many old classmates from their previous school anyway who also got in together. Another thing was that they were already familiar with the school grounds because we owned a cafe there.So I think their experience is quite unique. They have enjoyed themselves thoroughly and I am glad I made the choice to let them take up the programme.

LadyB said...

Ooops I never thought Monica'll mind as her blog seems to have filled with parents sharing their views n experiences. Sorry for tt Monica :).
Thks anyway Elan...just tot may be able to say hi during the carnival:P
Ciao...

monlim said...

Hah? Of course I don't mind! I'm glad my blog can be a platform for sharing - definitely not limited to my views :)

LadyB said...

Mon: Just worry tt i might have hijacked ur blog :O

Anonymous: Actually kids' attitudes play an extremely crucial role in whatever they want to do in life. Getting into GEP does nor warrant success in future undertakings. Without hard work, genius also no use :P. Keep up the good work (ur son) n all the best!

P.S. Moi too is an ordinary mom, neither tai-tai nor career women *hiaks*

Anonymous said...

My son is in Sec 1 this year and thus has made a lot of new friends. Early in the first term, he called up his friend but was answered by his mom. And the first question she asked my boy was "What was your PSLE score?" !! Can you beat that?!

T

monlim said...

T: It's an epidemic! LOL!! I think the scariest part is that the mentality has become so ingrained in these parents that they don't even see what's wrong with their actions anymore...

Anonymous said...

LOL...this is as blatant as people always asking "How much?" when they like something that we have. Now is "How many marks?" When will they see the light? :)

qx

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