Parenting is Work, Work, Work

Last week was the celebration of St Joseph, The Worker.

As I sat in church, half-listening to the priest, I wondered what St. Joseph had ever done to deserve this great honour that lasted over 2,000 years. The Worker? It wasn’t as if he built roads or led armies to war. He didn’t do all that much. He didn’t even preach. Not much was written about him in the Bible.

Then I thought back to the biblical tale of the boy Jesus who got lost in the temple. At that moment when He was found, Joseph was a better parent than Mary. It takes a lot to be a good father, I realised.

The most difficult thing is resting the “I” in order to be able to rise to the role of being a parent. A parent is a safe haven, fair judge, tireless servant, kind heart and pair of loving arms. To fulfil all those important roles would require a serious reallocation of priorities, intentions and energies. It is a BIG job. Some would say it is the biggest and most important job you will ever do.

My children’s father did not consciously choose to become a father. He was in his twenties when it was forced on him. He was having the time of his life, why would someone what to change the rules when the going is good? And the going was indeed good for this happy chap from South East London. He was sharing a small house with another bachelor in my hometown, had three sailing dinghies and did what he wanted with his life. He was planning to move to Paris. He certainly did not jump for joy at impending fatherhood. But he had such a magical and beautiful childhood that he automatically, unconsciously, created that sweet, happy space when the honour was bestowed on him. It was as if he could not be anything else but the parent his were.

I, on the other hand, liked the idea of motherhood, largely due to teenage idealism, but then realised very quickly that it required life-changing sacrifices. My life was no longer my own. I couldn’t even afford to go to the University of my choice, because there was no affordable childcare. I wasn’t raise to be a worker, I was raised to be a princess by my adoring mum. It was a shock to my system. That resentment could have lasted for years, blighting my children’s childhood. There is nothing more damaging than a resentful mum, because resentment breeds discontentment, impatience and unkindness.

But fortunately, with investment from my Ma and my in-laws, the resentment did not take root.

Slowly, with humour, warmth, kindness, love and tough love (from my in-laws), I found my way to a different life than the one I envisaged. Some would say it is a better life. Parenting is not a sacrifice, but a compromise. I had to work harder, I had to work longer, just to keep up, to stay afloat. I didn’t have any time for myself, and I no longer owned my own life. But I had little people who looked at me with adoration in their eyes and a man who laughed uproariously with them. We had a crazy-busy life, with me trying to juggle University exams and part-time work, but our life was sweet. Slowly, I learned that compromise is beautiful when those chubby baby-arms and starfish fingers wrap themselves round me like octopi.

I no longer missed what could have beens and found great contentment in what I have. It wasn’t the life I planned for myself, to be cleaning the bathroom on my one day off and working in minimum-wage menial jobs to pay the bills, but the rewards were huge. It was then I became a Worker, with gladness in my heart.

Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.

Kahlil Gibran, Artist, poet and writer

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Parenting is EASY

I think the most significant thing I have done in recent months is getting my parenting philosophy into the lives of so many parents who downloaded my book on Kindle in such great numbers that my book, Easy Parenting For All Ages, ended up on the coveted #3 spot in the Parenting genre.

But is it false advertising? Can parenting ever be easy?

I read some of the comments that popped up in forums: “She has five kids, it gets easier the more kids you have”, “She is rich, she has maids to look after her children”, “Her kids have good genes.”

Not so. (i) Parenting got easier once I sussed out what I was doing (note: I have a child on the autism spectrum) (ii) I had no maids, no cleaners and no parents helping me when I was a penniless student at University 250 miles from home and (iii) my kids are mischievous, all of them are so different from one another, but the parenting philosophy is the same.

Well, straight from the horses mouth, it is easy because there are two principles to sort out first and foremost when it comes to parenting, and then everything flows:

The First Principle


The Second Principle


Simple as that. My children’s father came from a very happy household and he sussed that out early. We all need to be happy even when life was tough.  This was why he focused a lot of his energy on getting us all laughing, especially me, instead of earning more money. I was a spoilt and uptight little cow and he sorted me out.

If the energy of the woman isn’t right, the household isn’t right.

Without sounding sexist, mothers have a huge potential to damage children because our voice is the house that our children live in. It is by far the loudest voice our children hear, even in adulthood. How we speak to our children become their inner voice.

Without a mother who is contented with her role, happy with where she is, feels supported and is accepting of her path (imperfections and all), the household is rudderless and not peaceful, however big or however rich. Granted, it is difficult in the real world to be happy-clappy all the time, but I strongly believe that if we hold on to these two basic principles, then we go a long way already towards raising happy, strong and balanced children.

I do have some stresses in my life at the moment, but I often remind myself to maintain a sense of equanimity and normality for the sake of my household, and hence, my daughter. The best I can give her is this.

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Insurance for your child’s future


A few days ago whilst we were driving along the backroads of Phuket we saw these three boys in front of us. The oldest one who was riding the bike did not seem a day older than eleven, swigging Coke from a can whilst confidently navigating the roads like a seasoned rider.

“What a lovely way to grow up,” my children’s father commented. “When they are all grown up, they will have such happy memories of days like this.”

I have a different mindset. My immediate thought was about the tiny boy in front pitching forward and suffering catastrophic brain damage. I looked at my children’s father’s face. I could tell he was remembering his own childhood. He was the South East London version of these three boys. He and his mates would go off cycling deep into the Kent countryside from a very young age. They would go for miles. Once they decided to try to find Dartford Tunnel. They were gone for a long time and when darkness fell the police was called. The tired little boys were given a severe hiding by their mothers but no harm done, there was so much love. It was all part of growing up in a childhood couched with love.

Money and social status counted for nothing. There were no playdates, enrichment classes or tuition where my children’s father grew up. Sure, he could have done better at school and he could have done better socially if his parents were more educated, if they were more ambitious for their son or if they had more money to spare. But they did not and I am glad.

For he has grown up with beauty in his heart from his happy childhood days and has the simple ambition to create the same for our children. In my 48 years of having lived a rich and varied life, I have seen how important a good foundation is in building a happy and successful life. Though academic success is often hailed as the most important foundation of them all, look around you: how many people in successful careers are actually truly and deeply content with their exalted status quo compared with those with humbler lives? Do they actually live ‘better’ lives than those with less grand jobs, the teachers, the office workers, the carpenters, the shop assistants?

It is never worth sacrificing substance for form. It is my strong belief that a child has to have a strong foundation and that foundation is a happy childhood that they can always return to in their minds when the going gets tough, a safe refuge in the belief that there is a happier place always however dire the present is. I strongly believe that as parents, we should invest in building that place for our children. It is their insurance against bad days in their adult lives, far more so than a ticket to glory.

Here’s an analogy. This is one of the many stray dogs (called soi dogs in Thailand) who lives on the beach near my house. I see him almost every day. He is smart, sociable and healthy. The food vendors feed him well. There is a charity called The Soi Dog Foundation that takes care of strays. Someone put a collar on him but he belongs to no one, according to the food vendors. I thought of taking him home to keep as my pet. But I ask myself this, will this dog be happier in a ‘richer’ life than he is living free on the beach? A nice house means nothing. I once knew a person who said he couldn’t wait to leave home – and home for him was a big house in an affluent suburb.

This comes to my point: life cannot be measured in achievements or possessions but in happy moments that make up the story of our lives. To use the old adage, it is not the destination but the journey. It is how you lived the days of your life that matters.

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Pancakes & Parenting

My youngest child Georgina does not like to cook. She thinks it’s a waste of time. She thinks she has more important things to do with her time. If she needs food, she’d rather blitz something in the blender and chug it down. We have enough chia seeds, maca, acai berries, Udo oil and stuff like that in our kitchen to open a health food store. Optimum nutrition, she calls it.

Me, I come from the school of old-fashioned parenting. My Ma who asked very little of me, insisted that I spend time in the kitchen when I was growing up. That, rather than studying for exams. “I don’t care, Jac, even if you become the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, you are still a woman, a wife and a mother first and foremost.”

I rebelled (of course) but took on board her indoctrination. In time, I began to love cooking. “You can’t teach someone how to cook, you’ve got to teach people how to love domesticity and to have the desire to nurture others and build a home,” my Ma said when I told her I wanted to run a cooking course years ago. “It’s not just about putting ingredients together.”

A couple of days ago, I made this flourless, sugar-free pancakes which went down a treat with my family:

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Last night, my undomesticated child asked, “Mum, can you make me more of those pancakes, please?”

I told her that the batter was in the refrigerator. She could easily make some for herself. This was her result:

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The first pancake was burnt because she put the pancake pan on too high a heat (typical of her, rush rush rush). She tried again. Her logic: cook for a shorter time. The result: the second pancake was not burnt, it actually looked nice on the outside, but it was sticky and uncooked on the inside. it never occurred to her to turn the heat down, because turning heat down would imply more time to cook, more time in the kitchen, more time doing something she does not enjoy.

Her pancakes made me think: this is just like parenting! As parents, we are given raw batter when we have children. Notwithstanding fatal diseases and accidents, we end up with a pancake after 18 years when the child grows into an adult. What sort of pancake you get depends on what you do in the 18 years. Thus, I strongly believe that slow-parenting with a deep love for the path produces the best result.

This is Georgina’s latest attempt, once she realises that you can’t hurry life if you want to bring out its full flavour 🙂photo 1-130.JPG

You can browse my cookbook, inspired by my mother-in-law, here.

Related article: Killed by Busy-ness.

Six ways of having a fabulous summer on a tight budget

As the summer months edge into September, I cannot help but feel a tinge of regret. I always do, because summers had always been magical for me ever since my children were born. We were financially not well-off in those days, given that I was a University student and my children’s young father did not have a highly paid job. But we had something infinitely more precious than cold hard cash, and that was time plus the mindset to enjoy that time with our children. OK, I must confess here that in the beginning, we used to fight over this: I would rather we worked during the summer months to ease our tight financial situation, but he resolutely would not work at all from July to September. Oh, how we fought over our ideals, but I am glad he won hands down in this instance, because we have had close to 30 magical summers in our lifetime together.

Here are our trialled and tested ways of having a fabulous summer on a tight budget:

  1. Home exchange

This sounds unbelievable, but we exchanged our humble council house in a rough estate in Manchester with a couple from Italy who wanted two weeks of ‘hard culture and party’. Welcome to the Barlow Hall estate, folks, where most of our unemployed neighbours stayed up late drinking cheap beer and watching football on television (you could hear the swearing though the thin walls). The couple from Italy was quite tight-lipped about what they had to offer (they posted photographs that gave very little clues), but we thought we had nothing to lose anyway because no house could be crappier than ours. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at a small palazzo in Venice. Apart from the stress of our children wrecking priceless carpets and falling into the canal, I must say it was one heck of a fabulous summer.

Websites for home exchange:

  1. Camping

Over the years, I have visited some really amazing places, but when it comes to sheer magic, nothing could ever beat waking up in a tent in the morning, stepping outside and seeing hundreds of wild New Forest ponies streaming past within feet of me. My children were completely blown away.

Thus, investing in a tent was the best investment we ever made. If you are a camping newbie, you could try ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) or camp in specialised campsites where you could find help on hand, running water and loo.

Though for me, nothing beats hitting the road with the children in the backseat of our old Land Rover, pitching up our tent wherever fancy took us. We camped in a cornfield in Luxembourg one summer (which must surely be the weirdest place ever) and had such a beautiful time in the fields of gold, feasting on corn, making corn dollies and going on long walks. Sometimes we ventured into the town for showers, to buy provisions and visit the sights. We waited every morning for the farmer to evict us, but he never came. We left a bottle of wine and a heartfelt Thank You note thanking him for one of the most magical holidays we have ever had.

  1. Visit hospitable friends

My eternal gratitude always to my dear friend Ruedi Achermann who very kindly loaned us his sumptuous apartment in front of the Rhine when we couldn’t afford holiday lets. We would chug to Basel on our trusty old beast of a Land Rover and live like lords for weeks on end. Look earnestly into your address book – you will have friends like Ruedi Achermann somewhere in there.

  1. Pack up with similar friends

Exploit economies of scale. Go on holiday with like-minded friends with children of the same age group. Not only do the children entertain themselves, adults can trade babysitting duties too.

  1. Collect coupons

We painstakingly collected coupons from The Times for free ferry crossing to France in low-season February, sailed to France for Valentine’s Day and made our magical third daughter there, all on a shoestring budget.

  1. Work for your board

My daughter’s martial arts coach from the UK will be running a three-month martial arts training camp on the beautiful tropical paradise Phuket. His wife and daughter will be accompanying him for this experience of a lifetime. And you guess it, free board and lodging for the whole family, an opportunity to visit somewhere amazing and start something …. all on a shoestring (airfares covered as part of the deal).

An evocative article on autumn:

Dare To Be

When I was at school, the prom queens and the UK-cheerleader equivalents made my life a misery. They didn’t like me based on the fact that firstly, I did not care to follow their style dictates, and secondly, I did not beg to join their silly little clubs. And girls can be mean, much meaner than boys. I would have preferred a straightforward punch-up in the playground than years of subversive torture that I was subjected to by the fairer sex. Little things of mine went missing: calculator, homework book, gym clothes. Nobody would partner me for science experiments. I was told the wrong things to do for homework. I was called names, unpleasant ones, just because I dared to be myself rather than follow the herd or fade into the background.

I hated school because of girl politics. To make my life better, I could capitulate and beg to join the herd, or I could keep my head down.  Or I could be strong and stick two fingers up at them and do as I wish. I chose the third way, simply on the basis that I would rather be a social outcast than a fashion victim or a wallflower.

Of course, no boy invited me to the prom. No corsage arrived. No hired limo. No wedding-cake dress. No highly strung anticipation or squealing excitement. But did I care?


Reason: I was already dating an older boy, a scion of one of the most influential families in England and having a great time. On the night of the prom, Jamie and I were in the oh-so-romantic Angel’s Garden, lying on a horse blanket, looking at stars, drinking champagne from the bottle. It was waaaay cooler than hanging out with a gaggle of hysterical girls or worse, being fumbled by a pimply date at the prom.

Over the years, I stuck to my own dress code. When my mother asked me (nicely) to dress up in something decent, I put the family tiara on. With jeans and sneakers. But at my first year at Oxford, I capitulated and shoehorned myself into my aunt’s old ballgown for the May Ball. My feet were too big for her dainty shoes unfortunately, but I wasn’t going to buy shoes that I will never wear again. Thus, I went to the ball in the appropriate dress but in wellington boots that I wore to rake out the stables. I had a great time dancing the night away, because my feet weren’t hurting in ridiculous shoes.

My younger daughter is 14. Her wealthier friends wear branded goods. Her less wealthy friends pore over magazines and made do with cheap Far East imports from value retailers. Do you know, you are polluting the planet and encouraging child labour each time you buy an item of these unethically produced cheap clothes?

She shrugged. Like me, she is not into fashion. Or girl politics. Plus, she has no money. That is a blessing, because she has so much fun with boys. And so, this mother-and-daughter partnership has developed our own style concept. It’s called HOBOism. There is no shop or internet store to wear HOBO. The label is your name. The only rule is “enjoy wearing yourself”. (The name HOBO is a take on the great British fashion brand HOBBS).

I ran a competition for HOBOs. Hajar Nadhirah Onn from Malaysia takes the biscuit (or crown). Hajar wears the head covering of her religion with pride, but it has never stopped her expressing her individuality and joie de vivre. She is seen here wearing supercool headphones and a quirky batman mask. When I first knew about her HOBOism, she had a Goth make-up on (read: overdone, smudged kohl), walking around a small town in Malaysia, giving people heart attacks. Way to go, Girl! It delights this old aunty’s heart no end to see this.

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And with the hindsight of experience, I would like to exhort all girls out there to have fun with fashion, rather than let fashion wear you. Wear a tiara/batman mask if you want, dammit, you are worth it.


Energy Food: Transformation of the Classic Pancake

My 14 year old daughter is a competitive athlete, and one of the best things about sports is it makes young people aware of the value of nutrition and taking care of their bodies instead of opting for heroin-chic beloved of the fashion industry and unthinking women, or eating junk food.

Georgina has a small frame that is packed solid with muscles. With her high metabolic rate, she burns a lot of calories. Thus, we have to be careful that she meets her nutritional requirements plus more. I don’t want her to go down the path of supplements and vitamins, because a happy and balanced view of food and a healthy approach to eating is a lifelong state of mind. I don’t want my daughter to grow up dependent on pills and chemicals.

Thus, we have one simple principle in our kitchen: we ask ourselves, “Is it nutritionally empty?”

Pancakes, for example. It is mainly flour, egg and some milk. Flour is a filler, nothing else. Is it worth eating it, apart from the pleasure of the taste? Do you want to fill your stomach up with white flour?

But we love pancakes!!!

Here’s our super-version of the classic pancake, it’s full of goodness:

Ingredients for the batter:

120g unbleached white flour

2 heaped tablespoons maca

1 tablespoon caster sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

140ml milk

1 large egg (please read about safe eggs here)

2 tablespoons of melted butter

More butter for frying


The garnishing:

1 banana, sliced

Udo oil

Wild honey

Nuts and seeds

Bee pollen


Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. In a separate bowl or jug, lightly whisk together the milk and egg, then whisk in the melted butter.

Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and, using a fork, beat until you have a smooth batter. Any lumps will soon disappear with a little mixing. Let the batter stand for a few minutes.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter. Cook the batter until light gold in colour.

With the remaining butter, caramelise the banana slices. Pour over the pancake, drizzle Udo oil and honey on it and sprinkle with bee pollen, nuts and seeds.


She had green smoothie and the super pancakes, and off she went for an activity-filled day with a big smile on her face and bags of energy. It’s a super energy-charged breakfast, that’s for sure!





My Daughter, My Role Model

Georgina has my body shape: the skinny ‘slim’ look so beloved of Asians and women the world over too, I guess.

But she never had any intention of pandering to the majority’s perception of beauty – this girl has worked hard (not only through exercise but through optimum nutrition) to have a strong powerful body that wins her trophies and gold medals.

She has bigger thighs and bigger waist than me, and she laughs about it. Her shoulders are wide, which makes her a strong swimmer though she does not compete in swimming.

She is larger than a lot of girls, but she doesn’t care. Because she knows she is solid muscles, and she is proud of them, even if she is perceived as ‘big’. She revels in the fact that she is very seldom sick – in the last ten years, sore throat is her only ailment – and that she has bags of energy to have fun. I don’t stress about her wearing tight clothes, because she is not a feeble little thing pandering to ideals of beauty, but merely showcasing her muscles. Her role model: Jessica Ennis, the British Olympian, and she is on her way there.

Her physical strength gives her mental strength and a different approach to life …. to my surprise, she listens to Martin Luther King’s speeches on her iPod!

Way to go, Warrior Woman!

No to Anorexia

Anorexia Kills

Finding Their Own Way

Religion is actually a very beautiful philosophy. It is sad that these days, the world is so polarised, over-sensitised, fearful, filled with irrational hatred and cowed by political correctness when it comes to religion. I had to think twice before writing this, so conditioned am I into thinking that the r-word is a tinderbox that could incite a large, destructive flame.

My view is that it is a personal journey, a private choice and a joyful way to be. Religion has killed loads, but it should not be buried any more than cars, sleeping pills and guns should be eradicated. It is the darkness of men’s hearts that brings about the destruction over the centuries, not something as simple and private as religion.

It all goes wrong when we try to enforce our own interpretation of what we think religion is. I often have pious churchgoers correcting me, believing with close hearts that their views are right, and mine wrong. Wasn’t that what killed the millions? A book read with 10 different eyes will yield 10 different perspectives; a sermon heard by 10 different ears will hear 10 different messages. We each have to find our own truths.

My mother-in-law knew me when I was a spoilt teenager. She expected much of me, she was tough on me and she did not tolerate my nonsense which my indulgent parents thought was cute. It was non-negotiable where my mother-in-law was concerned that I had to learn how to cook and clean, and care for her son and her grandchildren. I did not think it was that important to clean behind the refrigerator a week after my son was born, but my mother-in-law chided me for my lack of hygiene which she believed stem from my fundamental laziness.

“How would your baby survive?” she said with a shake of her head.

Fine. Point taken. Cleanliness is next to godliness. But learning how to sew? Apparently, that was in the must-have toolkit in my mother-in-law’s view.

However, she never expected me to follow her religion. She naturally assumed I was a heathen, since I had a laissez faire attitude towards going to church at that time, and I was someone who consented to a one-night stand with her son whilst I was already promised to another.

She just went about her way, taking the grandchildren to church.

And that was how my children were brought up. Catechism classes and Catholic schools. Baptisms, Holy Communions, Confirmations. The four older ones grew up beautifully, blessed with an inner grace even when they were at their worse.

But my youngest, Georgina, she fights it.

We persevered. She fought our implacability with anger, and we did something we would never ever thought we would do: we made deals with her. If you go to Sunday school and the church service later, we’ll go swimming. We’ll buy you this. We’ll allow you to have a fizzy drink (she was not allowed them). It was bad parenting, because after all, isn’t parenting about enforcing laws and forcing children to follow the ‘right’ path?

But if we had done that, we would have ended on the same track as the zealots who believe “I am right and you are wrong”, or “my God is greater than yours”. When it comes to religion, our sole aim is to give the children the foundation to make their own choices. we flood G and her older siblings with prayers, love and the light of the church. In time, they will follow the path, because parents’ faith is like a candle in their children’s lives. It doesn’t require force, but grace in how we lead our lives as parents.

G is still a long way off from being a devout Catholic. But then, I wasn’t, until I loved my mother-in-law and saw the beauty and grace in her ways.

This child of mine “loses” her rosaries. Intentionally, I think. But we never scolded her. Instead, we buy her beautiful ones every time we visit a holy place.

“I already have ten,” she would say stormily.

“Ah well, keep this one in your school bag then,” we would answer. ‘Or your pencil case. Or football kit. Who knows when you will need it, eh?”

We go to church. I hold her father’s hand during the prayer. I feel the electricity of his fingers. Almost thirty years of history in his touch. I know G feels it too, though she glares defiantly at the priest.

“Why are you praying so hard?” she demands. “What are you asking God to give you?”

“Nothing,” I answer her. ‘I make it a point to ask God for nothing.”

“You are praying for my brother’s safe return from the Middle East,” she says. ‘You are asking God to spare his life.”

“No, Kit is a good Catholic. He can pray for himself. He does not need his mother to pray for him.”

“And then?” she insists.

I give her the answer. “I pray for your grandmother, G. She who taught me to love God. She who prayed for us all. I pray for her, because she is unable to pray for herself now.” (My mother-in-law has advanced Alzheimer’s and no longer functions).

Her eyes grow wet. Love will bring her to the light. With softness.

And for me, this is religion, the realisation that there is something beyond the narrow confines of the self, beyond the here and now, and a pure love that goes on and on, through the family, by the grace of God.