As the school year draws to a close, one mama takes a moment to marvel at the growth and resilience her firstborn child has shown
My dearest eldest child,
Tonight, I laid next to you till you fell asleep like you always need me to. I watched you sleep soundly and marvelled at how much you’ve grown. Those chubby cheeks have given way to a slim face and sharp chin, that little body that used to snuggle easily in my embrace now has such lanky arms and legs. And the reality hits me hard – this could be the last few years I get to hold you to sleep.
The past eight years went by so quickly it all feels like a blur. You’ve become so independent now, handling your daily life and school work with such ease. You’ve developed such a beautiful sense of empathy for people around you and your quirky sense of humour amuses me to no end. It feels so easy to love you and be your mum.
The truth is it has never been this easy. I never knew how to parent you in those early years because you were my first. I’ve loved you with all my life since the day you were born but back then, I wondered why some days and nights had to be so hard. You wouldn’t go down for naps or bedtimes without bawling; we even had to resort to lulling you to sleep with car rides. You had full-blown tantrums where once you even threw up all over the bed from all the crying. I yelled at you when I got frustrated and impatient, and my temper worsened from the lack of sleep. I hated the person I became. I felt I had failed miserably as a mother, and most importantly, I had failed you when you deserved so much better.
Then one day, I chanced upon a book about brain science that explained how the human brain develops through childhood. As I began to understand stuff like how your amygdala hijacks your brain, making it hard for you to regulate your emotions, everything started making sense. I realised I had been parenting you all wrong. I read more and more books on how to parent positively because I owed it to you to do that much.
Armed with my new knowledge, I set about parenting you differently. When powerful emotions sent you into a meltdown, I’d hold you gently in my arms till you calmed down. I named and empathised with your feelings rather than tell you “don’t cry” and diminish your emotions. I tried to set a good example for you. I learned how to manage my anger, hold my tongue, and be mindful of my speech and actions. While it seemed like I was trying to raise you up to be an emotionally and mentally healthy individual, the truth was, you made me strive to be a better person.
The days got easier as you grew older and could communicate better. I watch in amazement how mature you’ve become when you take care of your younger sister and help with household chores. Sometimes, you still have a hard time managing those big feelings and sleep still doesn’t come by easily, but that’s okay, I know you will get better at them in time.
I know I’m now a better mum to you compared to those early years, but it doesn’t mean I know everything. When you started primary school, I gave in to kiasu-ness and signed you up for Math and English tuition. They bored you but I wouldn’t let you drop them. Then one day, you did a mental sum calculation faster than I did and I realised maybe you didn’t need extra help and you could manage on your own. After we stopped tuition, you continued to keep a high standard of work in school but more importantly, I could see that you had become happier.
Being the older sibling, you’re always expected to be the one who knows better than your younger sister. You’re expected to look after her when I’m cooking, you’re expected to hold her hand when my hands are full of groceries, and you’re expected to help your sister with her schoolwork when Dad and I are at work. All these expectations fall on you but you only grumble a little, and then you take on the roles with gumption. I’m sorry you have to live with such expectations just because you’re the firstborn; sometimes I forget you’re all but a kid yourself.
As you can see, I still don’t know everything, and I never will. Most of the time I see myself as muddling through being a mother to you. If you become a parent one day – I truly hope you would – you’ll realise it is a lot of trial and error with your first child. I’m sorry as the firstborn, you have had to bear the expectations that fall on an elder sibling, and the parenting mistakes your dad and I made.
There will be new challenges for us as you grow – academically, socially, especially in this digital world which is also new to me. I can’t promise that I won’t make mistakes along the way and sometimes I may forget the parenting lessons I’d learned — we are humans after all. But I can promise you, I will never stop learning and trying.
I held you a little longer in bed tonight because I’m afraid very soon – like you did with bathing and brushing your teeth – you might tell me “Mummy, I can do this on my own.” Right now, you still need someone next to you till you fall asleep and it’s not always easy for me or your dad when we have work to finish at night. But I promise we will always be there to hold you to sleep until you tell us one day, you no longer need us to.
I feel so lucky to bask in your love. You still hug and kiss me, jostle with your sister for my attention, and tell me about your day before going to sleep. But I know in time, all these will slip away and your world will get so much bigger than home. One day, you’ll prefer hanging out with people your age and I will no longer be your favourite person.
But it’s alright, just remember if you ever need help or just a listening ear, your dad and I will always be here for you and we will never judge you. Remember, you are our first love and remember how we always held you to sleep. In time, I’ll learn to let my first baby go to live her own life, but for now, let me snuggle with you, kiss you and hold you to sleep a little longer for I know, these seemingly mundane moments are really the best moments of my life.
Love, your biggest fan,