Pastoral Perspectives

Loving Our Children Unconditionally

In the aftermath of the River Valley High incident, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has come up with various measures to safeguard the mental health of our children.

The examinable curriculum for graduating cohorts has been reduced, and all other students will have the scope of their year-end examinations trimmed down. Schools will be staffed with more counsellors, and teachers will also be better equipped to identify students who demonstrate signs of distress so that early intervention can be meted out.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing also urged parents not to pressurise their children but to love them unconditionally. I thought to myself: “That sounds very Christian, but how often I have allowed myself to be squeezed into the world’s mould so that I do the opposite.”  

Gavriel, my youngest, is taking his PSLE this year and you’d have seen in the Church Prayer Calendar that I have always asked for prayers for him as he prepares for his first major examination.

I have been helping him with his Science and English. I am often impatient with him because he is so careless. I’d show him how many more marks he could have gotten if he did not make those silly mistakes.

While preparing him for his English Oral, I find myself getting more and more uptight because he isn’t consistent in following the advice that I have given him. I want him to read with more expression, pronounce the ending of the words (‘t’, ‘d’, ‘k’, ‘s’, ‘th’) loud enough for the examiner to hear since he will be reading behind his mask, and speak logically and coherently in the conversation segment.

I am frustrated because I feel that he can do much better since we speak English all the time and I have also seen the more expressive side of him when he is at home, whereas in front of strangers, he is very much subdued.

In my flustered moments, I have said some not-so-nice things to him. I usually feel very bad after those words come out of my mouth.

Every child is different. Their attitudes towards studies are different. Some are enthusiastic but the results don’t show, while others are plain lazy or playful. We have to use different strokes for different folks. Regardless, as parents, we really need to be careful with what we say to our children, especially when we are upset with them.

Every child is different when it comes to how they will respond when they are given a dressing-down. Some shrug it off (one ear in and the other ear out), while others may quietly nurse the hurts inflicted on them and, over time, those hurts can fester and take a toll on their mental health.

Exercising self-control over our tongue is needful. We must constantly ask God for wisdom so that what comes out of our mouth will build our children up rather than tear them down.

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27)

We tend to be very stingy with our compliments, perhaps fearing that our encouraging words will only breed complacency in our children. Instead of affirming the progress that they have made, we tend to zoom right into the single black dot on the piece of white paper and make a big deal out of it.

There is more to life than just securing good grades. As adults who have gone through so many major examinations, when we look back, we can say that perfect grades are not everything.

Failing to do well in an exam does not mean that they are headed into a hopeless future. Different children mature at a different pace. Even if their academic results remain dismal throughout, are we able to accept our children as they are? Should they be more adept with their hands, would a vocational route be more suitable for them?

Truth be told, most parents would want their children to complete tertiary education. They worry that their children will not go very far in society if they don’t have the necessary paper qualifications. Are they really concerned for their children or are they more concerned about not losing face?

Do not make comparisons. Not with other children and not even with older siblings who may seem to have effortlessly breezed through the whole education system. Comparison can also lead to pride or self-pity.

Sure, we should urge our children to study hard and guide them along to the best of our ability, but we must also learn to be content with their results and continue to love them unconditionally, the way Christ has loved us.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

But godliness with contentment is great gain… (1Timothy 6:6)

Loving one another will include loving our children. Perhaps our young ones can catch a glimpse of God’s unconditional love through the love we extend to them.

Let them know what grace is: Undeserving favour. In my family, we always have a small celebration immediately after the children’s exams, rather than wait till the results are out. We celebrate their efforts and it is our way of showing them grace, especially if in the end, their results come up short!

At the end of the day, our children’s relationship with God is what matters the most. Although I pray for Gavriel that God will help him in his exams, I will also inevitably find myself praying that he will know God in a more personal manner as he experiences his help.

My constant prayer for Gavriel is that he loves God, puts his faith in Jesus because he genuinely believes, and has a living relationship with him. If he fears the Lord and possesses wisdom from above, it will stand him in good stead whether he enjoys earthly riches or otherwise. If he does not fear the Lord, whatever amount of riches he acquires will amount to nothing.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (John 16:26)

This draws us back to our role as disciple-makers to our children. As parents, have we been faithfully sowing Gospel seeds into their lives so that when they grow up, they will not depart from their faith but will grow into the next generation of disciples who will continue to build Christ’s church and bring the good news to the ends of the world?

Continue to remind them of their identity in Christ. They are God’s beloved daughters and sons. Parents need to repent when we don’t walk our talk. On the one hand, we tell our children that their identity is rooted in Christ. On the other hand, we keep pressuring them to do well in their studies as if their identity is dependent on their grades.

But take heart, for by God’s grace, by the empowerment of his Spirit and by the support of the church community, as parents who love the Lord, we should be able to take heed of Education Minister Chan’s urging and lead the way in creating an environment where our children can enjoy learning and grow into godly and useful citizens.  

Rev Lee Kien Seng

August 1, 2021