The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

I’ve barely started on this book

and I’m already sold on most of the arguments presented…

…around us did”

I’m sold cos I experienced most of them all in a week, all in relation to Parenting.

1) We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice instead of rebellng against them

So true! B and I went to East Point Mall on Saturday. They were having some sort of Buy-2-get-1-free sale of books and we chanced upon a whole spectrum of Parenting books. I was almost tempted to ‘buy 2 get 1 free’ but hesitated quite a bit cos there were just too many choices! In the end, B made the wisest decision to just stick to the current book we were reading and make the best of it. After that, I felt such a great sense of relief and we had a longer afternoon ahead of us to explore other places. ‘Less is indeed more’.

2) We would be better off seeking what was “good enough” instead of seeking the best.

Just a few days back, my neighbor and I were lamenting that being a parent in Singapore is so highly stressful and intimidating. Things are getting so competitive and everyone seems to be enrolling their kids into pre-schools at younger and younger ages. I know of a couple who enrolled their precious bundle into an elite preschool the day he was born and already, he was put on a long waiting list! It’s crazy…

While I hate rivalry and back out of any race of this sort before the competition starts, I do find myself worrying if I’m not giving my child ‘the best’ by refusing to participate in this frenzy to buy the ‘best’ education for my child? Shame on me, I don’t intend to send my child to any pre-school till she’s four. Shame on me, I don’t think she needs to learn Multiplication and Division at age four. Shame on me, I find it ridiculous to hire a tutor for a kindergarten kid, not to mention a SECOND tutor to tutor the kid cos he can’t cope with his first tutor’s work!

And when you start to define what exactly is ‘the best’, it becomes quite a big headache. To make things easy and clear-cut, in Singapore, this seems to be a formula that works:

Most expensive
+ most branded
+ most popular
+ most credentials
+ highest ranked
+ hardest to attain
+ longest queue

So you see a surge of super-expensive pre-schools/ tuition centres with classy names sprouting like weeds across the whole nation, many of them in varying degrees of this:

Which brings me to the next point:

3) We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of our decisions

I guess the parents conned by Kelvin Ong were probably angry and disappointed. They probably expected their perfectly normal children to suddenly develop supernormal IQs of 180 after the whole programme and be enrolled into ‘the best’ elite schools in Singapore. I don’t feel sorry for the parents. But poor kids. Poor, poor kids!

Yes, almost from the time they are born, they have the elite schools to worry about. Many people actually feel ashamed/ apologetic if they don’t come from any of the top schools in Singapore. Nowadays, it seems everyone comes from RI or Hwa Chong and the like. Yes, everyone, cos if you don’t, you’re a nobody, and that doesn’t make you part of ‘everyone’.

When people ask me which school I studied in, sometimes, I like to reply ‘Silat Primary’ and observe their response. Usually it’s silence or an embarrassed nod or ‘oh’, after which I’ll helpfully add, ‘it’s closed down already.’ They usually change the subject by then. If I’m not in the mood, then I’ll give the more boring answer, ‘Nanyang Girls’ or ‘NJC’ and let them do the mental CHECK and go,’Oh, good school’! Thanks for your approval. Maybe all Singaporean schools should be called RI or Hwa Chong and the like and have branches set up all over the country. It would save a majority of us the embarrassment.

I’ve nothing against elite schools (I can testify there are perks, no doubt. Oh, what pride and hypocrisy!) it’s just that sometimes, parents see getting their kids into an elite school as an end in itself; as if their whole mission in life and duty as a parent were to raise children who can get into elite schools. For their own glory and validation? Who knows. Thankfully, my parents never went to such extremes. But this generation of parents seem a new breed.

5) We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us did

For every decision that we make for our child, someone else seems to have made ‘the better’ choice. In Singapore, ‘the better’ choice seems to be to have both spouses working full-time and sending their children to the best infant/ toddler/ child/ teen care that money can buy. If I decide to quit my job to be a homemaker, suddenly, I feel that I am seen by society as a liability. You mean you spent one quarter of your entire lifespan studying to get a degree and now you want to be a homemaker??! As if being a homemaker were the easiest job in the world that didn’t require brains or contribute to society.

People seem to have this mental bias that if you are a female homemaker by choice, you must be a rich, pampered and lazy tai-tai; and if not by choice, then you must be poorly educated and incompetent. And if you are a male homemaker, you are either gay, or henpecked and incapable of earning more than your spouse. Of course, nobody says it to your face. They just casually ask the same question every now and then, ‘SO, when are you going back to work?’ Sometimes, it can drive you crazy thinking about what others say/ think about you. It’s healthier and more liberating to just focus on what you believe in and not look to your left or right and compare.

If you noticed, I skipped No. 4) cos this was the one I didn’t really understand yet:
4) We would be better off if the decisions we made were non-reversible
I always thought the decisions we made WERE non-reversible. I need to read more to understand this point better. So far, this has been an engaging book. So much for my rambling response to it’s first 20 pages.

You’re probably a very kind and patient person if you’ve read this far. Don’t let my gripes and ranting bother you too much. I love Singapore 99% of the time. This is just part of the 1% about living in Singapore that bothers me. And I felt I needed to get this off my chest before moving on to the happier stuff (which reminds me, yay! National Day is coming up! We’ve put up our flag and public holidays always put me in a good mood! Hehe… Looking forward, looking forward!:))

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