June 29, 2011

MALAYSIA: Family adopts a positive attitude to reduce stress

KUALA LUMPUR / The New Straits Times /  Family / June 25, 2011

chunghoo@nst.com.my

All in the family

Goh (front, seated left) falls back on her faith and adopts a 
positive attitude to reduce stress in her family

Families deal with stress in different ways, from maintaining a positive outlook in life to practising yoga, writes JOHN TIONG

TWO families. One, a young couple with three daughters, the other, a retired couple with two sons and a daughter. Both face similar stresses as they strive to take care of their family. Says Salina Jaffar, director of a property and plantation investment company, and raising three girls with her husband: “Malaysians are so reliant on maids, so our children end up as spoilt brats. I am also guilty of this. It’s hard to change the kids’ mindset when they think, well kakak can do it for me. The only way to do this is to get rid of the maids!” We know that is almost impossible to manage without a maid when both parents hold jobs. To make her daughters less dependent, Salina makes sure they help out at every opportunity. 

 
Salina and Spatafore with their three daughters

“The kids take their own plates into the kitchen. I also make them pick up after themselves after they play, clean their rooms, shower and dress themselves.” Retired government auditor Amy Goh and civil engineer Hing Kok Yin never believed in having maids, and had Goh’s mother or late mother-in-law look after the kids. Her eldest son Nicholas is now grown and works as a pharmacist while second son Nigel will be leaving for the United States for his tertiary education. Their daughter Audrey is still in secondary school. Goh is worried about Nigel because he has eczema, it requires him to be on a special diet.

Goh says that in stressful situations, she usually falls back on her faith to maintain a positive outlook that things will work out on their own. She did so when her eldest son was hospitalised for more than a week because of food poisoning and later for dengue. To make responsibility a family affair, she had them do some things and activities together.

“I am very involved in their life. I teach at the Buddhist Sunday School where I enrolled them for classes. We also attend yoga together. A few years ago, the Malaysian Yoga Society organised a food fair where I managed a stall and the children looked after another. This helped build confidence and also cultivate a sense of charity,” says Goh.

She adds it’s important to keep family’s expenses in check because any financial constraints are bound to cause stress. Having a co-operative and mature spouse does wonders in reducing stress in a family, she says. Hing uplifts Goh with his “take it as it comes along” attitude.

Hing says: “Having financial freedom helps in alleviating stress. Running around to send and fetch the children is tiring but that is part of married life. Now that I am retired, all stresses have disappeared, except I am a bit concerned about my second son’s departure to the United States. But I stay positive.” Hing’s other recipe for a less stressful life is mutual respect among family members. Never compare your children with someone else’s. “Never make fun or abuse any member of the family,” Hing adds.

On this, Salina says she grew up as an only child and finds it hard to handle sibling rivalry among her three daughters. She learnt that the best way is to let the children resolve their fights themselves.

“I used to mediate but realised that easily gets out of hand. Now, I only get involved when it’s a big issue or when there’s blatant injustice or bullying. I tell myself that the children have to start learning how to deal with their own conflicts as mummy and daddy won’t be there all the time to protect them.” So, Salina and her husband Jamie Spatafore, who’s an American, make sure they take a step back sometimes to enjoy a good laugh at the pranks and fights, treating them as one of those precious moments to be remembered. Laughter, after all, is a good de-stressor, say the couple.

Spatafore says we get stressed because we allow it to get to us. He is Salina’s pillar of strength especially when she experiences tense situations. “He is good at calming her at most situations. He knows the right things to say in a stressful situation. I’d give him a nine, on a scale of one to 10,” Salina says.

Spatafore says: “Yoga and meditation are good. Basically anything that allows you to ‘lose yourself’ in the process of whatever you are doing. Hobbies help to reduce stress too. And it helps to have 30 minutes to an hour of ‘me’ time each day.” Salina says on the contrary, their different cultural backgrounds never add to the stress thanks to her husband’s innate interest in other people’s cultures.

“My husband has always been curious about everything Asian. Coming to Malaysia was like an extended vacation for him. He absorbed the culture, language, food and environment like a sponge. It didn’t take him long to learn the business culture here as well.” “Now after nine years in the country, Jamie can speak Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia fluently,” she says.
Salina adds: “He knows more places to eat than I do, has travelled to many smaller towns and knows the roads in KL and PJ inside out. He has completely embraced Malaysia as his own.” One reason why he has been able to adapt so well in the country is that he is from the south of the United States. People from the South have more conservative values and also tend to be very close to their families, Salina says. “My in-laws as very open and understanding people that never made me feel apart from the family even though I am different culturally and religiously from them. We respect each other’s way and do not inflict our own judgments something.”

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