My mum kept hundreds if not thousands of photos, in albums or displayed on every possible vertical and horizontal surface. Was your mum like this? Amongst some of her old photos, I’ve found a Study Guide on Home and Family Life from 1968. I don’t think she read much of it, but it still makes for some interesting reflection!
Memories of my childhood
I joke that I was brought up in benign neglect. Don’t get me wrong – my siblings and I had a comfortable home, two grandmas and many aunties, house help and books, lots of books. My mum was a teacher, then an office manager and the first feminist I knew. She had six children of her own and hosted, for fairly lengthy periods, our teenage relatives who needed a quiet environment to study. My father was often absent (work and political struggle in newly independent Malaya) and mum being so busy meant my siblings and I were left to our own devices. My parents were not touchy feely and I don’t remember that they ever said they loved us. That was pretty much the norm for Chinese parenting then. But photos show beach holidays, children’s birthday parties and a happy, smiling mum.
How were other children brought up in the 1950s and 60s?
How were you brought up? Did your parents rely on Dr. Spock’s manual on infant and childcare? First published in 1946 with revised editions right up to 2012, it was the second best selling book in the US after the Holy Bible. Some of Spock’s advice resonates today. For example, he devoted an entire chapter to “The One-Year-Old.” Explaining that at this stage of development babies need to explore, the good doctor suggested baby-proofing the home to prevent accidents with a “wandering baby”. That’s absolutely relevant to my little grandson who’s one! Thank you Dr. Spock.
What advice would be relevant from my mum’s mostly unread manual?
The last chapter says this …
… parents will understand especially the child’s need for security. But emotional security is a spiritual value which cannot be given but must be developed by a child, through being fully accepted by his parents …
Somehow a measure of emotional security was instilled in my siblings and me. Maybe it was a combination of firm boundaries, constant interaction with grandmas and a large extended family … and God’s grace.
What I really want to focus on is that we grandparents now have a chance to help build emotional security in our grand babies. We can, if we want or need to, reflect and recalibrate our approach to family. Maybe it’s just instinct. My somewhat remote parents became doting grandparents, lavishing kisses and hugs on their grandchildren. We hear this all the time don’t we? Men who worked 7/11 when the kids were little, now have all the time for their grandbabies, reclaiming a chance to get things right. Women do this too.
What are your thoughts?
The featured photo shows my mum with J, my first born. He was thrilled to just sit in a car. This became a daily ritual, with a ride every now and again. Vroom vroom!
Hello Poh Ling. I very much enjoyed your piece. I understand that my Mother tried some Dr Spock techniques. My brother and I were raised in Aspley in Brisbane in the 1950s-1970s. We didn’t have grandparents around, but my parents provided an excellent childhood for us. I know Mum struggled a lot as her childhood was extremely sad in the orphanage, but she did a fantastic job nonetheless & I learnt a lot from her.
Hello Sue, you were blessed with loving parents and a comfortable safe environment. Your comment shows that many individuals struggle in their childhood but it can be overcome, and the trials of one generation need not be visited upon the next. Thanks for your contribution and looking forward to your views on other grandbaby matters!
Another reader comments –
[I was born] immediately post war … we didn’t have a washing machine or even a Hoover. All manual labour in the house and my mother made my sister and my clothes. Very few toys but I remember my brother lining up chairs in a row and he was the driver with a pan lid! The days before Lego and all the rest. My father was a very hands on father and … plenty routine and security. Growing up we did have a huge amount of freedom to go off on bikes, local parks etc. Guess that helped make us very independent. A huge loss for later generations [not having that freedom].