Growing up in a traditional Asian family, I was the eldest in a line of eight children – four brothers and three sisters. This meant pulling my weight around the house, helping mum with cleaning chores while minding the little ones. By the time I was 10, I was an expert at ironing, changing diapers and making sandwiches.
It’s not that I wasn’t happy to help, I loved my family, but between that and school, I hardly had any time to myself or to socialise. I also felt invisible, except when someone needed something, then it was “Diane*, do this…” or “Diane, get this for me”. Nobody ever said a “please” or a “thank you”. Being the traditionalists that they were, my parents just expected me to do what they said and not expect anything in return. And since I was the oldest, it also meant making a lot more sacrifices than my siblings.
“We are preparing you to become a good parent later on,” my father would say. I believed him. When I entered into young adult life, I started having more free time for myself and a chance to socialise. However, I would always find a way to “attract” people to hang out with me. If a friend agreed to lunch, I would end up footing the bill. Or if a bunch of us went to catch a movie, I would always buy everyone a round of drinks. I felt I had to reward everyone so that they would continue being my friends and also notice me more.
Even when I started dating Ivan*, who was to become my husband, I insisted on paying on the first date. I liked him so much and really wanted the relationship to work that I was willing to “buy him a car”, so to speak, if he would stay by my side. Ivan was initially uncomfortable with being showered with gifts, but when I insisted that it made me happy to see him happy, he loosened up to the idea.
Ivan and I have two kids, Samantha* is 16 and Simon* just turned 14. They are the apple of my eye and I never fail to tell them that I love them every single day. But since I’m also the disciplinarian (and daddy is the “fun one”), my kids tend to be on their guard when they’re around me. Due to my strict upbringing I know no other way to raise my kids and it made me sad that it was causing a rift between me and them.
So, I decided to buy my way into their hearts. As a litigator in one of the top law firms in Singapore, I make an enviable salary so I hardly feel the pinch when I shower my brood with anything their hearts desired. Samantha and I have regular girly weekends where I would take her to the spa and shopping. She’s only a teen, but my little girl already has her very own Louis Vuitton bag. Nothing beats the smile and glow on my daughter’s face when she sees the latest thing I’ve bought her. Then comes the affection that I was craving… what a high!
Simon changes mobile phones as often as he does his underwear, has the latest iPads and tech gadgets and because he’s an avid gamer, I converted one of the rooms in our house into a little gaming centre for him. He enjoys bringing friends over for gaming sessions and would proudly boast that his “cool mum” bought everything, from consoles to extra-large computer screens.
Ivan thinks I spoil the kids too much, but I reassure him that I’m still keeping them grounded – as I slip him another expensive white gold, diamond-encrusted luxury watch. He’s so used to my gift-giving behaviour that he hardly blinks an eye.
You may judge me and berate me for passing down such bad life lessons to my children. But after being starved for love and attention for so many years, I really don’t see what’s so bad about dangling a few gifts here and there to get the affection I deserve. They say love shouldn’t cost a thing, but there’s nothing wrong with tossing in an incentive! W
*Names changed to protect privacy
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