Upon the very persuasive ‘recommendation’ of Karli (I can’t find the exact post but it’s the one with the book memes or something), I went and bought a copy of Dr John Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child (link at my sidebar, too lazy to copy and paste).

And man, is this some book.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about never having read a parenting book (again, too lazy to look the post up), so Raising is really my very first one. And with every page, I was just riveted, nailed to my side of the bed or the couch or the can or wherever and whenever I might be reading it. More than once, it’s made me stare into nothingness, thinking about all those times I’d said or done all the things the book said were not the best approaches or methods to employ, and basically how my husband and I might’ve destroyed the self esteems of our two little girls forever. And then I’d jump out of wherever it was I was sitting, and look for Rae, and then give her a hug coupled with several slobbering sorry kisses, ending with my first born violently pushing her emotional mother away as though I was the plague.

For over a week now, Lokes and I have been trying out the approaches and strategies detailed in the book. What I really like about it is that it gives us real examples and situations where we might try and apply these lessons, instead of just throwing a ton of psychobabble at us which we might not be able to fathom, much less use in everyday parenting situations. So far, the results have been promising.

Yesterday, I was just reading the chapter on how we as parents should not try and solve our kids’ problems right out for them, and instead pay attention to their feelings when they share these problems with us. The example quoted was a typical situation between a husband and wife. I decided to read it aloud to Lokes. Basically, the example showed the difference between trying to tell a distraught wife how to solve her problem at work and resulting in making her feel stupid, versus giving her a backrub, listening to the problem and THEN after she talks about what she might do, to offer some advice WHEN she asks for the husband’s opinion.

This is totally OUR problem, Lokes and I. Being the ever-methodical, logical problem-solving guy, you can set a clock by Lokes’ approach to every dilemma and situation that needs to be confronted – even with the conflicts that occur between the two of us.

Having said that, you may imagine that I am quite the opposite. And I am a very emotional, sensitive person. But I’m not devoid of logic. Sometimes, I find that when it comes to HIS problems, I too use his approach, the cold, unfeeling method of attacking the problem with solutions, half because I know that’s his way of dealing with it, half because I want him to know how it feels.

Of course, how do you make someone who refuses to feel, feel?

The good news is, whatever problems we have, when it comes to our kids, and for the sake of our kids, we are willing to make changes. And Dr Gottman’s book has definitely started something wonderful in our family. As I read this chapter to him this evening, Lokes actually paid attention as I went through the passages, instead of pooh-poohing at all this time-wasting emotional stuff, had it been my idea and not some doctor’s research.

“Why does it have to be like that anyway?” he asked at the end of it.

“Because even if it’s something to do with work, where we’re not supposed to be emotional, we ARE human beings. And we have feelings,” was my answer.

In many Asian cultures, to show emotion and to indulge in them is a sign of loss of control and weakness, and a source of embarassment which may bring shame and dishonour to one’s family as well. For example, Chinese movies or serials rarely have kissing sequences, except for the really risque ones that are made for less than artistic reasons. To see a Chinese or Malay couple kiss in public will invite havoc, even if they’re married. “Why are they behaving like gwailos?” would be the usual remark, when it’s really just two people celebrating their love for each other in a moment of passion, and probably have nothing to do with whether or not they’re imitating what they’ve seen in a Western movie. Inevitably, it will lead to a discussion of the erosion of Asian values and what the country is coming to and how the world is going to hell because people are all following the gwailos and kissing on the streets.

Part of the teachings in this book is to allow our children to go through the full spectrum of human emotions, including the negative ones, such as anger, sadness, jealousy and so on, because they are, after all, natural. This means allowing them to cry and to throw a tantrum, as long as nobody gets hurt or nothing gets wrecked.

This brings me to one of the most deeply entrenched tenets in Asian societies: the respect of one’s elders. This is true throughout a person’s life. We may not love our ancestors but we must honour and respect them, without question. As such, being loud and rude to one’s parents is never, EVER, done, even at home, no matter how angry one is.

However, anger and frustration are natural human emotions, and the tendency to act or lash out is just the result of these emotions. If these feelings are let out towards a parent, we will most certainly push our parental agendas to quash them simply because it is a big no-no, as uttering a loud word in anger or disappointment is as serious as slapping a younger sibling or smashing furniture around. And if even speaking loudly is not permitted, how else does one express anger?

As I continue to read, I can’t help but wonder what Malaysians would think if they see me telling Rae that it’s okay to feel angry or to be sad, instead of telling her to stop crying or to stop being silly about throwing a fit about a toy. They’d probably think I’m ‘one of those overindulgent parents who spoil their kids rotten’, letting Rae walk all over me.

And if I tell them that I read this somewhere, they’d think, “oh no, another touchy-feely book parent”. Which is, I’m sure, another gwailo thing.

Coming to the US has become more than a cultural experience for my family and I. It’s become educational as well, and I’m glad that I got to start doing this stay-at-home parenting thing here because I am just learning so much, things we wouldn’t have learnt had we remained in Malaysia because we’d probably have a maid and our parents telling us how to raise our kids (or raising them for us) instead of having to acquire the skills and knowledge to do it properly.

In learning to be better parents, Lokes and I are now learning to be better partners as well in this endeavour we call marriage. Back home, we probably would’ve lived our lives out as husband and wife, daddy and mommy, without ever experiencing the challenges we’ve faced winging it here on our own. These challenges have tested the strength and foundation of our relationship, our trust in each other and the tenacity of this love we always profess to have, without really knowing what it truly means – until it becomes so hard to hold on, but letting go would simply tear you apart.

Many years ago, a friend of mine asked me how I knew that Lokes was ‘the one’. My naive answer had been, that I didn’t feel the slightest doubt about the prospect of marrying him. Today, I know that he’s the one because I could not imagine a better dad for my kids.

Or a better partner to clean house and wipe butts with.