Family

Mum, thank you for staying home with me

Salt&Light wishes all mothers a Happy Mothers' Day!

Gracia Lee // May 10, 2019, 12:30 pm

My mother, Ai Tin, has been the most constant presence in my life since I was a little girl. Photo courtesy of Gracia Lee.

My mother, Ai Tin, has been the most constant presence in my life since I was a little girl. Photo courtesy of Gracia Lee.

I grew up with a stay-at-home mother. In my case, because of my mother’s penchant for efficiency and order, that meant that home-cooked food was always on the table, clothes were always washed and folded, and floors were always squeaky clean.

Growing up, I often took these homely comforts for granted, assuming that it was something to be expected in every household. It was only when my friends came over with their mouths agape that it dawned upon me: My mum is one exceptional homemaker!

However, looking back at my mother’s presence in our home over the past 23 years of my life, it is not the hearty meals or dust-free furniture that I appreciate the most.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely fortunate to have them. But they were much less important to me than the simple fact that Mum was, quite literally, always there.

Honest conversations

Being at home all the time, Mum was the go-to person for everything. Hungry? Mum had some food. Lost something? Mum can find it. Need to talk? Mum’s in the next room.

Once when I was 11, I came home sorely disappointed that I had not been selected to be part of my school’s competitive gymnastics team even though I had been training hard for it.

When I stepped into the house, Mum was there. I went to her and cried, and we spent the next few hours lying side by side on my bedroom floor, talking. She listened to me, shared in my disappointment and helped me to process my feelings in a positive way.

After listening, Mum would encourage me to trust God by pointing out His fingerprints in my life.

Though I can’t remember much of what we discussed, I do remember feeling encouraged after we peeled ourselves off from the floor. I made the team the following year, and Mum (and Dad) was there to see me compete.

It was in little moments like these that I grew to trust that my mother truly cared about me, and this opened the door to more honest conversations as I became older. I trusted her enough to share my struggles in my studies and relationships, and even my doubts about God.

As always, she could be found somewhere in the house. Regardless of whether she was in her bedroom ironing or folding clothes, in the kitchen cooking or in the living room reading or watching TV, I could just go up to where she was, plonk myself down and pour my heart out to her.

I’m thankful that Mum was often the first person I went to, because after listening to and discussing the issue at hand, she would encourage me to trust God by pointing out His fingerprints in my life.

“Remember when you were worried about this? See how God took care of you,” she would say.

This was the one thing she repeatedly assured me through life’s different seasons — that I can trust in my heavenly Father and am safe in His loving hands.

Catching wisdom

Even though Mum had given up so much for my two brothers and me, it was only when I grew older that I realised what a thankless job my mum had.

Sometimes it took me years to appreciate the lessons Mum was teaching me.

We children had (and still have) our fair share of bratty and ungrateful moments. Sometimes it took me years to appreciate the lessons Mum was teaching me.

I vividly recall when I was 12 going 13, a month or two away from starting secondary school. I was convinced more than anything that what I needed to be successful (read: popular) in this next phase of my life was a pair of white Converse shoes.

My plans for popularity were going well until Mum refused my request. It’s absurd to splurge on things for the sake of being liked, she said. Plus, she plainly assured me, nobody is going to care about your shoes.

Being the dramatic tweenager I was, I protested and sulked, especially when she headed to the nearest Bata shop to buy a much cheaper pair that I thought was going to be my one-way ticket to the trenches of unpopularity.

When we got home, I – still sulking – shut myself in my room, opened my diary and furiously scribbled the incident under the title: THINGS MY MUM DID TO ME THAT I WILL NEVER DO TO MY CHILDREN.

“I wanted you to know how to spend money wisely … Your heart is more important than the shoes you wear.”

We look back at this incident with fond amusement now, but back then it was quite the drama.

“It would have been so much easier for me to buy the shoes for you,” Mum later told me, “but I wanted you to know the value of money — how to spend it wisely and not on things that just elevate your status. Your heart is more important than the shoes you wear (1 Peter 3:3-4).”

It took me a few years to really see where she was coming from, but I can tell you now that I have since cancelled off the “NEVER” in that diary title.

(Just in case you’re wondering, I survived secondary school just fine. Mum was right.)

A true reflection

As I stand on the cusp of adulthood, I can better appreciate what my mother had to give up to be ever-present for us — her career, half of our family’s income and, frankly, her sanity, because facing three not-always-cooperative children and attending to their never-ending needs is no easy task.

Knowing that she willingly sacrificed all these things to raise us, I am surprised when she tells me that her biggest reward is neither our gratitude nor seeing that we have turned out well.

Rather, she says, it is her own sanctification.

With us privy to her every action and reaction at home, she had to be more conscious about modelling Christ-likeness, not just preaching it, she says.

She remembers an incident when my elder brother, Gaius, then in Primary 2, had slammed the door in anger.

“When I corrected him about slamming the door, he told me, ‘You’ve done the same.’ That hit me very hard and got me thinking that I don’t teach from what I say, but from what I do.”

“As parents, we never, ever give up on our children, no matter what. If I as a human mother can do that, what more God?”

It has been a long and still-ongoing process of learning to display love and self-control, and she admits that she still falters time and again. But she believes that God will redeem her failings.

Dealing with us over the years has also given her a better understanding of her own relationship with her heavenly Father: “The way my children do wrong again and again is pretty much the way I have sinned against God again and again, and I can catch a glimpse of how He feels when He deals with us.

“But I also begin to see, from God’s perspective, that no matter how many times we fail Him, He will never quit on us. As parents, we never, ever give up on our children, no matter what. If I as a human mother can do that, what more God?”

Ultimately, she says, she has learnt to find her identity, not in her parenting accomplishments or failures, nor in the career that she doesn’t have, but in her Lord Jesus Christ who truly satisfies.

And this lesson is the best gift she hopes to give to us.

“God wants you to forgive and restore your family”: Esther Tzer Wong

About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism undergraduate at the NTU Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. She was chief editor of the NTU campus newspaper, The Nanyang Chronicle, and an intern at The Straits Times.