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  • Gail Wong

Mother's Day: celebrating Cycle-breakers

Updated: Jun 24



Parenting, unconsciously, isn’t easy. 


Parenting with restraint around one’s baggage, pain and expectations… that is next-level dedication. 


My mother and her mother (popo, who left the physical world in 2020) are cycle-breakers of their generation


My brother and I, the primary beneficiaries of that. 


Popo, me and mom.

Despite being imperfect beings, my parents gave me the gift of a core and unshakeable experience of love, belonging and freedom. This priceless state of psychological wholeness enables me in everything I do. 


It is, perhaps, the only posthumous reward/ legacy my ancestors have to show for their hard and heart work - that they did in times when neither therapy nor any cultural awareness of mental wellness existed. Lord knows how they managed it. 


In the course of helping others heal from their upbringing, I’ve borne witness to old and deep active wounds. For those who chose to reparent themselves, the road to repairing one’s broken spirit and breaking their cycles is one of heartbreak, courage, intent and continued efforts (and eventual victory and wholeness), every d*mn day


Mother's Day greetings sounded like trite cliches to me, until I saw, with my own eyes, the weight and impact of trauma, played out over generations. It seemed to happen much more often than it didn't. That's when I realised that the labour of my elders who chose to interrupt the passing down of unconscious trauma is no accident, but an extraordinary feat.


It inspired me to honour the 2 cycle-breakers I've been privileged to be loved and taught by.


 

Popo 婆婆


Did you know that the human egg you came from was formed in your grandmother’s womb? When I first learnt this fact, 2 years after my grandmother passed, I was viscerally moved.



Being the first grandchild, I spent my early years being cared for by popo. 


The most persistent memory of my grandmother is: she was always feeding us well. After we moved into our own home, she was a regular weekend visitor with bags of hao liao 好料 - the best chicken/ fish that she knew to get. A full stomach of nutrients meant a child could study well, and that was the ticket to a better life than what she knew growing up. This was her life’s mission, what brought her to Singapore in the mid-1900s. 


Even after her firstborn became a mom, she continued to feed us. Here we are in the hospital, where my little brother was born, with another homecooked meal.

Despite the struggle of poverty, adversity as a new migrant and loss as a premature widow - all of which made her a nervous worrier and IMO contributed to the dementia in her last years - she always loved for her grandkids to tell her about our lives. 


She saw me move across the world, get married and become a mom of 2.

I wish I made more effort to go beyond my default parsimony of details, so she could draw satisfaction and comfort in knowing that she made it possible for her flesh and blood to experience an rich life, in places beyond her imagination.



While struggling to find rare photographs of all 4 generations of my maternal bloodline, I’ve realised the importance of documenting moments. When I look at the photos now - mostly courtesy of my dad - I don’t see bad hair, not-my-best clothes, awkward stances and imperfect conditions anymore. 


What I do see that sparks my spirit is the wonder of many moments shared across 4 living generations. There are perhaps only a handful of instances where my grandmother was lucid, conscious that I had a daughter. 


My daughter in her first year, held by mom, next to Popo celebrating her 9th decade.

Holding the hand of your great-grandmother is a big deal - many of us don’t get to experience that connection to our ancestry and place in the world. 


 

Mom


Popo’s legacy is well and alive in my mom - courage beyond her nature venturing into new ground, prioritising the collective good over selfthe quiet engine room at the heart of others’ accomplishments. She also brings the best goods (at best prices) every time she visits! 


Unlike popo, she was a working mom, mandated by the circumstances of her times. No attachment parenting there - back to work a month after childbirth. If she experienced bias in the workplace (she must have seen plenty of it), she never breathed a word. Pragmatism is still her calling card today. 


Another hallmark of my mom is the relentless spirit of improvement. Her 3 masters’ degrees and our family recipe anthology (in book 30+ territory, with version 5.0 on certain specialty dishes) is testament to that.



I got my eye for beauty, capacity for meticulous detail and drive for excellence from my mom. (She would say, “I’m just glad you didn’t inherit my height.”) 


Growing up, I often felt she was impossible to please; in adulthood, she has been nothing but a rock, cheerleader, security blanket and judgment-free supportive force. 


That brings me to my children.


 

me as a mother 


Scaling our first Austrian alp.

Parenting two unique beings has called me to grow (not always willingly) in many unexpected ways. Top 3 for me are: patience, compassion, and the ability to navigate uncertainty. The cycles I have broken to get there: perfectionism, overachieving and self-denial. 


While I endeavour to instil values, not accomplishment/ results, their behaviours or the things they say are often uncomfortable mirrors to the soul, and lead me to new truths about myself. Most recently: self-identifying as ADHD, and undoing the masking I’ve developed to cope with a lifetime of feeling different. As I support my children to fully inhabit space without fear of repercussions or isolation, I am compelled to model living as true a life as possible. 


On the days of feeling overtaxed and unappreciated, where life sans kids seems so much easier, what has helped me rise above is to draw from my elders’ courage and fortitude and ask myself - not “what would mom do?” but - "what cycle needs to be broken now?” 


I certainly hope that the 2 human beings I'm raising will always have the necessary fortitude to outgrow their old stories and break their cycles, time and time again. 


 

Ending this on a lighter note, here is my favourite Mother's Day greeting this year, courtesy of a 'Dance Moms' chat:



and one extract from my daughter's note that most mothers out there ought to hear:

I can never thank you enough for all that you do for me.

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