One mother shares the headache of getting her firstborn into their primary school of choice and all the worries that come with this next stage of a child’s life
It is always said that there are a few moments in a parents’ life that are tense moments: childbirth, when your kid first starts primary or secondary school, when they get their PSLE and O’Levels results, NS enlistment (for boys) and when they are getting married.
My eldest son, an SG50 baby, was born in the year when the nation had a record-breaking fertility rate unseen since the 80s. That also meant I had a headache when trying to put him in a nearby childcare centre and had a hard time with the balloting process for primary schools near our residence. It didn’t help that our well-meaning parents and relatives constantly pressured us to apply for a primary school for our son even before the balloting date opened. It didn’t make things any better when we read on parenting Facebook pages about the over-subscription rates on non-prime primary schools in the estate where we live.
Understandably, the proximity to our house and being Singaporean citizens are among the criteria considered for placement in a local school. So in that aspect, we had no worries. However, due to my child not being in a MOE childcare, that put him in 3rd place of the balloting process, behind those whose parents are alumni and students presently at the primary school’s childcare premises.
Our worries and fears were gone when we finally received news that our child was accepted into the neighbourhood school, which we applied for as our first choice. At first, all was alright until the weeks passed when we had to get all the preparations ready for our son’s next stage of life.
The Worries of Parents
Firstly, I managed to get acquainted with other mothers whose children were going to the same primary school as my son through our estate’s Facebook page. A Telegram and WhatsApp chat group was created for parents to participate. Typically, my spouse and I are pretty ‘chillaxed’. We don’t like to worry or rush. But the anxiousness of other parents in the chat groups put us at the edge of our seats. From getting school books, to school uniform and name tags, discussing the menu at the school canteen, deciding how much pocket money to give him weekly, to finding the nearest available phone booth for our child to call us in case of any emergencies. From worrying whether he would succumb to peer pressure to do ‘silly things’, to what if a stranger approached him outside of school, it was full of “what ifs” racing through our minds.
Peer Pressure and Bullying
And then, there’s also the worry of school bullying and being able to catch up with the fast-paced syllabus taught in school. Primary School was a scary time for me personally. I remembered being the target of mean bullies due to my petite stature. My son on the other hand is overweight, much as I have tried to monitor his diet and daily activity. I don’t want my child to experience the fears of going to school as I did back then but I worry that he will be singled out for his size and picked upon. I forewarned him not to take notice of any mean comments from fellow students.
Having started tuition at a neighbourhood RC (Residents’ Committee) a little late, my son was having difficulty differentiating all 26 letters in the alphabet at age five. Although his situation had improved a year later, it was still worrisome as he couldn’t read. Stories from friends whose children are already in primary school shared that English and Mandarin spelling (also known as Ting Xie) are quickly introduced and taught at a fast pace in schools. I was told, if your child doesn’t get a head start in these before primary school, he’s a goner. I envisaged that horrified face emoticon screaming in my head when I heard this.
The Tough Choice I Made
With the above on my mind, I left my well-paying but hectic job in the healthcare sector, where the 13-hour days and weekend work demands burnt me out. I wanted to be there physically, emotionally and psychologically for my son when he enters primary school. I want to be there when he shares with me about his day in school, or if he was being bullied or not, his uncertainties and fears. I didn’t have all this support when I was in primary school as in that same year I entered primary one, my parents divorced, and neither one of them were there for me for the next few years during my darkest moments. I didn’t want my son to go through all this.
Upon discussion with my spouse, we agreed that I should take a step back in my career until my son makes new friends and is settled well in his new school since our finances are stable on the home front. Unfortunately, this move also caused my son’s application to student care to be rejected due to the overwhelming demand for after school care. This would be another hurdle in my life for 2022 as I foresee juggling caring for my child after school hours and getting a full-time job that allows me flexible work hours.
In the months following up to the end of 2021, I made it a point to coach my child on independence and learn how to read, apart from his twice-weekly tuition. In addition, I taught him to make healthy food choices and how to behave appropriately in different settings. Ultimately, I hope he can adapt quickly to his new school and blend in with the new environment and culture, make new friends, and enjoy going to school. And with all these settled, I can safely return to the workforce full time with some peace of mind.