I remember, at 16, studying for the GCE ‘O’ Level examinations in my final months of secondary school. Many parents in Singapore somehow believe that their child’s entire future depends on doing well in these nationwide exams and go out of their way to prep their child: arranging extra tuition classes, imposing curfews, brewing potent tonic soups to somehow improve memory/alertness/ability to solve trigonometric equations and the like. But not my mum.
My mum went on a wonderful holiday to South Korea during my highly stressful two-week exam period. The one thing she did for me? Set an extra alarm in the morning just in case I couldn’t get up.
Apparently, my mum’s friends and colleagues are often shocked by her lack of involvement in me and my brother’s lives – she’s the complete opposite of the stereotypical Tiger Mum. From infanthood we spent most of the day in the care of babysitters while she worked, and she’d use her hard-earned vacation days on travel rather than at home with us. It sounds negligent, but I never really minded.
I never minded because when she came home, she’d tell us stories of all that she’d seen. We’d upend fat envelopes of glossy 4x6s fresh from the photo store and shuffle through them together, then stick the best ones in an album. France, Spain, the Netherlands. L.A. and Las Vegas. Hong Kong.
Through her exclusive travel tales I learned that out there was a fascinating world waiting for me. And her hands-off parenting was perfect for the seed of wanderlust she’d planted in me: with no pressure to excel in school, freedom to explore my interests, and responsibility for my own affairs, I grew to be fiercely independent. Of course, Mum also did her best to take us overseas as often as she could. Despite the fact that she was a single parent and not highly educated, I frequently got whisked off on trips to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and even Australia.
When I was hesitating to quit my job to travel, it was my mother who encouraged me to go for it. She trusted that I’d thought carefully about my decision and reassured me that no matter what happens, she’s always there for me. In fact, upon seeing me at the airport when I returned, her first words were “Why back so soon?” As we say in Singlish: Win liao lor.
So mums (and dads), don’t hesitate to travel without the kids. Even if you work full-time. Even if they’re only 12 years old, or six, or two. No, I’m not a parent myself, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to leave your children behind rather than take them along. But please – you deserve a break from being a parent (and we need a break from you guys :P) You’ll get to enjoy yourself a lot more, you’ll pique your children’s curiosity about different places and cultures, and you’ll have the best bedtime stories to tell them.
Thank you, Mummy, for fueling my passion for travel and for all your love.