Friday 7 October 2011

On Raising Babies and Buildings

It’s been over 2 weeks since my last post and I’ve been itching to write, if not for my extended mileage in the office.  It’s one of the many endless overtimes that architecture is infamous for.  I’d say the more developed the city is, the more impossible the deadlines are. Whoever starts a 17-block condominium from scratch and targets to launch in 4 months time?  It does not come as a surprise that repeated visitors to Singapore are constantly amazed to see the city transform overnight!  The construction industry here gives the hard-working ants a run for their money.

When my supposedly half-day work stretched to whole day for two weeks running, I feel guilty that my little girl has been spending all these time alone in the house with her ‘yaya’ (the most difficult part of living abroad – non-existent extended family to help look after her).  However, when I reach home, I also feel guilty knowing my colleagues will be spending the night AGAIN in the office and I know so well how an extra head and pair of hands make a huge difference.  Not that they mind, on the contrary, they are actually very supportive.  I am also pregnant, after all.

I realized after reading the book, “What Happy Working Mothers Know” a New York Times Bestseller by Cathy L. Greenberg, Ph.D. and Barrett S. Avigdor J.D., a working mom is synonymous with being a guilty mom.  It inevitably goes with the territory.  The gist is to find the elusive ‘balance’ of work and home and most importantly to stay happy.   The mother sets the emotional climate in the family and activities at home mainly revolve around her.  Thus, it is imperative that the mother does what is in line with her values.  If she finds contentment and feels her work, to a large extent, defines who she is, then she should do it.  No point in forcing the issue of being a full-time mom just because society expects this of her and is unhappy while taking care of the baby.  I think it does more harm than good. 

Having said this, I made a self-assessment to find out what truly makes me happy.  Without a doubt, being with Ava and seeing her grow more beautiful each day - inside and out, and knowing that I am an active participant, is what truly makes me happy.  But in all honesty, I also realized that I could not do it the whole day.  I need to go out there – design buildings and see them built.  It gives me renewed energy which I believe benefits Ava too.  This is mainly the reason why I opted to go for a part-time job.  It is an attempt to bridge the gap between two ends of the spectrum – the career-oriented working mom and the full-time homemaker.  It is the perfect compromise.

How do we deal with feeling guilty then?  The book emphasizes on prioritizing what matters most, on setting a simpler goal each day and acknowledging achievements no matter how small.  If it means putting my career on a backseat for the meantime, so be it. When I was pregnant with Ava, I had to give up a project I designed from scratch and oversaw the construction for 2 years.  With the pending birth of my second, I am slowly turning over my current project too.  It frustrates me not seeing it to completion.  It also means a stall in my career path.  But still at the end of the day, nothing compares to the milestones Ava achieves everyday and BEING THERE to witness it.  Priceless.

Construction of 30-Storey Residential Building before turning over to my colleague.
Ava helping Mommy with Grocery
This brings me to another point why being there for her at her early years is very important.  It is her formative years – when the window of opportunity to influence character and experience is greatest. The American Academy of Pediatrics defines early childhood as the ages between one and five years.  According to The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Harvard University, critical aspects of brain architecture begin to be shaped by experience before and soon after birth, and many fundamental aspects of that architecture are established well before a child enters school. 

The science of early brain development, established over decades of neuroscience and behavioral research, is sufficiently mature to support a number of evidence-based implications.  Central to this conclusion are the three core concepts: First, both brain development and behavior are shaped by experience over time.  Second, both the architecture of the brain and established patterns of behavior are increasingly difficult to change as individuals get older.  Lastly, it is more effective and more efficient to get things right the first time than to try to fix them later.

So spending plenty of bonding moments with Ava not only gives me joy and contentment, it’s practically sound too.  I want to get it right the first time and I have that big chance now.   This is the chance to instill the values that is important to our family - during the years she’s most receptive.  Jacky Kennedy Onassis once said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much”.  Ava’s development in her formative years is definitely one of the constructions I don’t want to miss.

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