Hugs mean all is forgiven and well again

I have an old buddy whom I have known since I was 15. He is blessed with four children, the oldest of whom is 21.

Last year, his wife invited me to his surprise 50th birthday party. I couldn't make it, but wished him happy birthday on the telephone.

We caught up recently and he confessed to being completely taken by surprise by the large turnout of relatives and friends when he walked into the restaurant.

He had expected a low-key dinner with his wife, two sons and daughter. His eldest son was away attending a matriculation course, or so he thought. He said he was so delighted at seeing his first-born that he grabbed him in a bear hug.

Although he went on to tell me a great deal more, the brief mention of his reunion with his son stayed with me long after the rest of his account was forgotten.

It's comforting to know that my friend, a hard-nosed businessman not known for public displays of affection, was able to negotiate through his son's angsty adolescent years without allowing the chummy father-son relationship to deteriorate.

As my two daughters start to hit the teenage years - Yanrong is 13 and Yanbei 11 - I have been wondering how my relationship with them will evolve.

It is, of course, an exercise in contradiction. On one hand, I'm fond of telling them to grow up quickly during moments of exasperation, of which there seem to be more as the years go by.

On the other hand, I want life to stay still so they don't grow up so quickly because, frankly, I can't keep up.

No doubt I am indulging in useless nostalgia, but I suppose this is my coping mechanism as I find the job of being a parent harder as the children grow older. Just to be clear, my lament isn't an indictment on my daughters, who are filial and kind.

But parenting can sometimes feel like a never-ending task that becomes more emotionally draining as the children grow older.

Much of the current dissatisfaction revolves around school life. When my daughters were younger, we mostly spent our weekends at playgrounds and parks, or hanging out at the malls for the air- conditioning.

These days, weekends are spent mostly at home as they grapple over their school work.

Yanrong, who is in Secondary 2, is stressed over her many class assignments and having to stay up as late as 2am to complete them. Yanbei is stressed over her Primary School Leaving Examination in September.

My wife is stressed because one daughter is perpetually tired while the other has difficulty focusing on her school work. I am stressed because everyone else is too.

Although I have always been a keen parent, I sometimes feel I'm not cut out for the job.

In my book, a good parent is one who is able to shape a child's values and habits but yet give her sufficient slack to develop her own individuality. It's a delicate balance that I often get wrong.

It has been said that teaching your own children is one of the hardest jobs because you are emotionally invested in them. When they fall short, the overly anxious parent may take it as a personal failing.

In recent months, I have had more heated exchanges with my daughters than before. Much as I regret them, I doubt these outbursts would be the last.

Today, I fret over their school work. Tomorrow, it may be something else - differences over their relationships, career choices and so on.

Once the turbulent phases of their growing-up years are done and dusted, I hope there will be no lasting damage to the close relationship between me and my daughters.

So far, we have been quite forgiving of one another when tempers cool. It helps that no one, including me, is above saying sorry for overreacting or acting unreasonably.

As it is, I am still getting hugs from my daughters daily. Just like my friend's experience with his son, I hope these will continue when they are well into their adulthood.

To me, a hug is more than a sign of affection in my family. It means all is forgiven and well again.

This article was first published on April 12, 2015.
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