Parents' Guide

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My Parenting Journey – Shirleen Tan

Shirleen Tan and her family

Shirleen Tan is a mother of two energetic boys and a baby boy who arrived in November 2018. She is thankful for her mother-in-law's help so she can continue her passion to teach and sow seeds in her students' lives. You can find out more about her work at

What influences your parenting style?
Parenting is a life-long learning and every child is special and unique. As my husband and I walk through parenting for our boys, it is indeed not easy. We have to navigate suitable ways that work for our children, and not what that worked for me or my husband before. However, traditional methods like “spare the rod and spoil the child” is still effective for us to mete out discipline when we need to.

I read a lot of parenting books, especially on raising boys and these give me insights on how to manage an all-boys culture. We embrace both traditional and western parenting styles, and we learn by “trial and error”. One thing that we are strongly against is to show any form of bias among our boys, which was largely reflected throughout my growing up years.

How do you develop close relationships with your children?
With discussion and support from my husband, I quit full-time teaching and turned to private tutoring for the flexibility when my husband needs to work late. This is to ensure one parent is with the boys to tuck them to bed every night. I make it a point to ask them about their day in school, to show them I care.

This is tough, especially on some days I just need to hit the sack but they still insist on sharing their stories! But I enjoy these moments as that is how much time they will be young. I free my weekends lessons currently to walk my talk too. It is my desire to witness every growing phase of their lives while I can.

What is the best piece of parenting advice or guidance you have ever received?
No one child is the same, learn to live the “let go” life. I liken it to flying a kite. When I control the kite (child) too much, the string (communication) breaks and I lose hold (trust) of the kite (child). Learn to rein in and release the strings of the kite at the right place, at the right time, and the kite will soar high and confidently. That opened up my parenting perspective to a new level.

When I control the kite (child) too much, the string (communication) breaks and I lose hold (trust) of the kite (child). Learn to rein in and release the strings of the kite at the right place, at the right time, and the kite will soar high and confidently.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in parenting? How do you deal with them?
One of my biggest challenges is teaching my own children. I confess I need a lot of sharpening in this area. I used to think being a teacher has its advantage, i.e. no need to spend on extra lessons! Yay, right? Nay! The hard truth hit me in my face when my then four-year-old eldest boy told my mother-in-law he did not want to come home.

I am not a tiger mom (yet, I hope) – I merely insisted that he writes his name and simple letters correctly and properly. He could not differentiate between my role as a teacher and a mother. He was confused and he did not like it when I slipped into the teacher role. That made me reflect and in the end, I left the teaching to his kindergarten and focused on being a mother to support him in his learning. As and when he needs me to teach him to read or count, I will gladly do so, but at his pace and time. This is like the Kite Theory I shared above. It works!

As a parent, what is the one thing that you want to do better or be better at?
As a parent, I do have my blind spots, and my children can be my best teachers to help me reflect and re-align my parenting style.

What advice do you have for parents who have kids of the same age?
Listen to them. Kids of this generation are more vocal in their own rights, and they do deserve our time and attention. However, do draw a line between disciplining and listening. They are also smart to know whose heads they can climb over.

My husband and I make it clear to our boys that while we listen to what they want, we make the final decision within reasonable boundaries. Set rules and stick to them. If the rules are not working, reflect and amend. Start over again till what works. For older kids, give them a chance to set rules so they have an ownership and will tend to abide.

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