Around a year and a half ago, I blogged about why my parents should not be raising my kids.
It is an opinion I’m sure not many people agree with, given how Malaysian society is all about family support and all that. In fact, it even sounded a little cruel.
A few days ago, before the arrival of my in-laws, Lokes and I talked about the importance of a grandparent’s role in their grandchildren’s lives. Given my beliefs, this is a hot-button subject. And yet, after all that, I still believe that there is an undeniable value that grandparents bring to the overall upbringing of one’s child.
Having lived here in the US for over a year, I’ve witnessed a sad fact in American society (which may be common knowledge), and that is that people here generally do not care a great deal about their elders (and vice versa).
While I do know quite a few moms who are in constant touch with their own parents, the latter’s presence in the lives of the former’s children is one of cordial civility, with bouts of affection demonstrated during Christmas and Thanksgiving via gifts, postcards and emails from a tolerable, respectful distance. Visits are kept at a minimum and as short as possible, and phone calls are few and far between. Independence asserted. Privacy understood. Respect maintained. An arrangement I myself appreciate on many levels.
Want to know how it’s done in Malaysian Chinese society?
The moment one’s baby is born, one’s parents and in-laws descend en masse upon one’s household like hens fluffing their feathers importantly, clucking orders on all things maternal, feather-dusters at the ready. Add to the mix a superstitious confinement lady for one month and a girl of 17 (or so your agent says) from Indonesia, herself a mother of two, and you have a cacophony of females in the house, one contradicting another on the best way of placing a sleeping infant without flattening the back of its head and thus cursing it to a life of flatheadedness, without accidentally suffocating it.
One month, dear readers.
As horrific as this may sound, such stifling, all-encompassing support is a comfy arrangement for the new mother. For one, she has the choice of going back to work without worrying about daycare. For families who depend on dual incomes, this is more than just a convenience. It is necessity.
While both camps of thinking have their own nice little plusses, there is one intrinsic value of having the grandparents around that I fully agree with, and that is by involving our own parents in the raising of our children, we are teaching our children to involve us when we face our twilight years.
Don’t get me wrong. Malaysia is not immune from cruel abandonment and neglect of senior citizens by their own children. Such plights are published almost on a daily basis in our Chinese newspapers (such is the level of what is considered news back home. This and people being eaten by snakes). But by and large, I believe, estrangement from one’s parents is a sin more serious in Malaysian society than in America.
And I’m not saying I want to impose upon Rae’s or Sky’s lives in the future. Nor am I suddenly recanting my earlier views about grandparents being not suitable for raising kids. But to be able to have my in-laws or parents over for a few months a year so that the kids might appreciate them, and hence appreciate our love for them is itself I think a crucial lesson in life.
For it is unfathomable that I may never see my children until and unless invited, as though I am but a friend. It is incomprehensible that I will deny my in-laws or my parents a chance to play an active role in my kids’ lives.
And while I will strive very hard not to be a burden and to keep out of their hair as best I can, it is inconceivable that I might be raising children who will not give a whit about their own parents once independence is gained and when we’re no longer needed.
Is such independence a natural next step in evolution? Is it enlightenment? Is this what it means to be adult?
If so, it is quite sad. What does that make us if we do not care for our old? What kind of principles will we impart on our children when we cast away those we do not need?
And so, I shall face the next six months, and all other six-month visits in the future, with this purpose in mind. That by showing my children how we welcome our elders into our lives, that hopefully in the future, they will welcome us into theirs.