By NORLIN WAN MUSA
When it comes to raising children, going at it alone can be daunting. In cultures where child-rearing is a communal effort, women can always rely on their extended families
and community for help and support. As an African proverb goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
But in the urban areas, families are mostly nuclear. The extended network of grandparents, siblings and cousins is quite likely to be living on the other side of the city or in their hometowns hours away. Many families depend on paid help, but some women have also found they could create their own “village” to meet challenges of raising their families and weathering all kinds of storms.
|(From left to right) Sutri Ng, Ishra Kamiso, Amelia Henderson, Latiffah Leh Henderson, Katelin Esme Horsley, Tisha Dwi Shah, Raniya Zubaidah Shah and Melina Charu.
Stay-at-home mother Latiffah Leh Henderson, who hails from Kuching, Sarawak, has six close friends whom she knows she can count on, rain or shine.
“We are so close we regard each other as one big family,” said Latiffah, 46, whose parents and siblings live across the South China Sea. “Even though I know my (biological) family will always be there for me, I am more comfortable confiding in my other family here. I also don’t want to worry my family with my problems. They have fixed ways of doing things whereas my friends are very accepting. With them, I am free to be myself.”
For the past six years, Latiffah and her friends have supported each other in many ways.
“We babysit each other’s kids, organise sleepovers for them, go on family outings, carpool and help with grocery shopping when there’s a need. The thing with our group, though, is we do not have to assign the tasks, as everyone is just happy to chip in and do their part whenever possible.”
Latiffah, who has an eight-year-old daughter, said their husbands and children get along well too.
“My husband thinks our daughter has a great start in life as she’s surrounded by loving, generous and kind people.”
She said she completely trusts her group of friends with her only daughter, Amelia Henderson. “If I have an emergency, or need to go somewhere on short notice, I know my daughter has a safe place to go to.
“In fact, when my husband was hospitalised a few years ago, I was comforted knowing that Amelia was in good hands.”
One of her close friends, Anna Adidepvoraphan, looked after Amelia then.
|Latiffah (left) and Lim have supported each other through thick and thin.
Latiffah met Anna through another friend, Lim Siew Chin, who also has a daughter of Amelia’s age. They first met at the park in front of Latiffah’s house. Lim then invited Latiffah to Anna’s playgroup, and they now take turns to host and plan a ctivities for their children.
Lim, a unit trust advisor, has three children, Ethan,12, Caitlin, eight, and Ean Hor, five, while Anna’s only daughter Nitarn Khor is eight.
“Our friendship today took years to build. We learned to accept and respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses through the activities we organised like birthdays, picnics and educational trips. I feel that with each moment we spent together we bring our friendship to a deeper level.
“I am grateful to have friends I can rely on in times of need. On days when I need help to pick up my kids from school or other activities, I am thankful I have them.
“Once when Ean wasn’t well, Latiffah ferried Caitlin to her gymnastics lesson.
“I also take turns carpooling with another friend in the group, Pat, whose daughter goes to the same Mandarin class as Caitlin. This really helps as it allows us some time to do other errands,” says Lim, 43.
Practicalities aside, it is also so much more fun for the families to spend time with each other.
“It makes bringing up my own family livelier and more fun. It is much more fun to spend it with friends’ families as our kids can play while we adults sit back and catch up.”
Lim organises a regular meet for their group on Fridays, at a recreational club near her house.
“This is a free and easy meet. When weather permits, the kids would swim while the adults play badminton or chill out by the poolside, watching over the kids. We always end the day with dinner at the cafe.” The person whom Latiffah and Lim agreed is integral to their group is Anna.
“She is all about keeping family together,” said Latiffah, while Lim added: “She is the most creative and resourceful mother I’ve ever met. She’s also the captain of the kids, and a kid magnet.”
Anna who enjoys being around kids often initiates family activities, and organises weekly art and craft activities for the kids. She described their friendship as maintenance-free.
“That’s the beauty of it. What keeps us together is, even though we are great as a group, we are free to be ourselves and everyone has a role to play. We are all different. Each one of us handles things differently. We delegate, we don’t duplicate.”
|The children get together for activities such as participating in drum circles.
Stay-at-home mother Julie Teoh’s network of friends was brought together by common interests. Some of them are from her church, and some are fellow homeschooling families.
“It’s good to have friends to depend on especially because I do not have any extended family members around,” says Teoh, 41. Her family gets together with other families for arts, swimming, ice skating, field trips and church activities.
“In July, I have made plans with a homeschooling mum to go ice skating once a week. Recently, we went to Bukit Cahaya, Shah Alam, for a family day trip with my church group and other friends,” says Teoh, whose daughter Megan Elizabeth Teoh-John is 10. Teoh, who believes in teamwork and community support, recently organised a science fair with the Malaysian Homeschooling Network (MHsN) members. “I wanted to cultivate our children’s interests in Science, and for us to get to know each other better.”
MHsN founder Zaszima Abu Samah, 35, started the group on Facebook two years ago because she wanted to gather like-minded parents who enjoy homeschooling their children.
“When I started the group, my daughter Awwal was two years old and I didn’t know anyone who homeschooled.
“So, I recruited about 20 close friends who were non-homeschoolers. I roped them in because I was confident they would not desert me. I needed to start somewhere,” recalled Zaszima.
|Zaszima started a group to link like-minded people interested in homeschooling.
The group organises plenty of activities, which includes field trips, sports day, drama, music, archery and horseriding.
“The activities have brought members closer. Some who meet regularly and live in the same area, end up becoming good friends.
“They create their own support system where they sometimes babysit each other’s kids, do projects or learn together. Some, who are more proactive, would organise field trips, science experiments, nature appreciation activities ... and the list goes on.”
Some families get together because they share a common belief or philosophy. Jasmin Choy’s network of families is united by Malaysia’s top preoccupation, food, except that their diet is healthy.
“I realise that a lot of Malaysians have bad eating habits and it’s something I could relate to.
“I ate badly as a teenager. I was fat, had really, bad volcanic painful acne, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome. I started to eat better in my 20s and gradually my health problems went away. My skin is wonderful now and I have lost so much weight,” said Choy, who started the group Raw Food Today.
She bonded with people who are also into healthy eating, and they motivate each other by meeting regularly, chatting online and sharing recipes.
“As a group we have managed to get our kids off junk food. Most of our kids enjoy making their own raw food creations.
“The men are eating way better and have fewer health issues. A healthy family is generally a happy family,” said Choy.
“We also have group buys, once a week or fortnightly. This saves us plenty of money. It is also heartwarming to see a big group of people banding together to help each other.”