Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The responsibility of a child

As an 18-year-old college student who used to be an introvert until recently, I would be the first to admit that I'm no expert when it comes to the subject of relationships. But I'm starting to learn, and here's what I have learnt: the more you put into a relationship, the more you get out of it. It's a phrase that gets used often when discussing the subject of relationships, and I have discovered it to be true. Now, I'm still single, alright, so I'm not talking about romantic relationships here. But quite often, when we think that a relationship with a friend or a relative is at the bottom of a down curve, all it takes is a little effort on our part to get things going again.

Sure, a relationship is a double-sided thing, both sides of the relationship need to participate to make it work. But when you know that a relationship is slacking, whose going to be the first to pick up their end of the stick? It's easy to be selfish and to think, "They're friends with me, they should make more effort to spend time with me, listen to my problems, look out for my needs!" But don't you think that the other person might be thinking the exact same thing? Do they have any greater obligation than you to be a good friend to the other party? Otherwise, both sides of the relationship are just going to stop trying and things will never improve from there. A relationship that could have potentially been one full of trust and meaning would be lost forever, just like that. When it happens between friends, it's sad. When it happens between relatives, its tragic and could be devastating. Sometimes, all it takes is a little initiative from yourself, to make the other person feel like you care about them. It'll make you feel better, and they'll usually feel obliged to reciprocate. Things can only go uphill from there.

Some people are surrounded by a loving family and caring friends. Some may have only one but not the other, but for what they do have, it is crucial not to let it go to waste. Others may be surrounded by, as far as they're convinced, friends and family who as loving or caring as they wish they would be(and this may not necessarily be true). I am ashamed to admit that I fall into the third category. Having spent most of my life growing up with two sisters (and a third one these past few years), and me being the only guy, I haven't always been able to get along with them all that well. One of the things I used to whine to myself about back in those days was that "the other guys at school get to have brothers!" (Some people say the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but it seldom works when all the squeaking is done towards oneself. Not that asking my parents for a brother would have worked anyway. I was a right terror back in those days.) It took me a long time to realise that rather than constantly being at war with my sisters simply because they weren't my brothers wasn't going to make my life better. Instead, I decided I should try to get along with my sisters, because that might actually make my life easier.

So I started trying to live out my responsibilities as a member of the family. A lot of us learn all about this in school, in Moral class and "Sivik" class ("Civics" in Malay), but most of us dismiss it as a subject that you don't even need to pass to succeed in life. But these lessons are all useful, and I wish I'd picked up on them sooner. I started trying to be a good younger brother to my elder sister, a good big brother to my younger sisters, and a good son to my parents. I have heard that children play a crucial role in maintaining the happiness of the entire family. This would mean that any child in any family has a huge responsibility, whether or not they realise it. I have no evidence to show whether or not this is true, but it makes sense to me, and there is one thing I can say for sure: Whether or not it affected the rest of my family, I know that those times when I tried to be a better child of the family, I certainly felt a lot happier in their company.

In my opinion, it's reasonable to think that in a happy family, everyone is carrying out their responsibilities as a member. An orchestra sounds best when all play in tune, and a cart moves fastest when all horses pull in the same direction. For me, this meant I had to figure out what my proper responsibilities were as the only son. If memory serves, the whole process took months, and I think I've recorded some of it in my journal somewhere. But in the end, I figured I need to help my elder sister our in her duties as the Youth president at church, be a loving brother figure to both my younger sisters, especially the youngest one, and help my mom out around the house, by taking care of the youngest sister from time to time, for example. I don't know what the responsibilities of the other members of the family are. What I do know is, I know what my responsibilities to my family are, and I'm going to carry them out. I know my responsibilities as a child, and if I were to dismiss them, I would hardly have the (sense of) responsibility of a child.

Sometimes it's not that easy, though, to figure out one's responsibility towards a member of the family. For example, what am I supposed to do for my father? He's a great guy, working hard and enjoying his job as a doctor to raise our family, and he sent me to college to get an education and everything. What is there left that I can do for him? I've had a hard time figuring it out, and I still haven't figured it out yet. I actually asked him what he expects me to do for him, and all he said was "Study hard in college, don't get into trouble, be a good Christian." For some of us, that's all we need to do. Well, bar the Christian part for non-Christians. But one of the most basic responsibilities of a child is to do well in their studies so that they can secure a sustainable job and take care of their parents in later life. Fellow students, if you remember nothing from this blog post, remember at least this: You have to study hard and get a good job, and once you do, remember your parents. If you feel unmotivated or can't find a reason to study, think of your parents.
It's times like this that I realise how very, very young and inexperienced I am. I only know how it feels to be a son in a family, so I have limited advice and perspective when it comes to the roles of other family members. But one thing that I feel very strongly is that every family member's actions has a big impact on the whole family. The children are no exception. It is probably true to say that parents have the most influence in the family... but the children count too. If you're wondering what you, as a child, can do to make your family happier, start by changing the person you are most able to influence: yourself. Play your role in your family. The family will be happier, you will be happier, your life will be better. You should uphold your responsibility regardless of whether or not the other family members hold up theirs. Give it a try. Take the initiative and take up the responsibility of a child. It may have an indefinite effect on the happiness of your family.

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