Tze Yeng


The kids in our family ‘talk back’ by our ‘Asian standards’.

Scene 1: Mom is desperate to convince the reluctant eight year old to learn Mandarin.

The unwilling kid ‘talks back’: “Mom, my goal is to work in NASA in the United States. By the time I work there, people will be speaking more Spanish than English. I should learn Spanish instead, and drop Mandarin”.

Mom tries to stifle guffaws and acknowledges the factual accuracy of the demographic projection.

Mom also  looks up the most desirable space agencies to work with together with said child. Mom still hopes it is one where he has to be proficient in another language.

Scene 2: Mom forgets to bring a snack when picking up the six-year-old after school.

Hangry (Hungry + Angry) kid shouting: “Mom, you are not being caring. You are forgetting the global goals of zero hunger! We have to go to the school café now to get me a snack.”

Mom acknowledges the son’s anger and reminds the son to say his “please” if he requests for something and not shout.

Mom engages with the child on the issue of poverty and socio-economic inequality.

How Dare you Talk Back to Me

Our kids may seem disrespectful to some.

However, we also view our kids challenging us as a way to engage with them, their learning, and our own learning. With more evidence pointing towards the neuro-plasticity in the ability to change our brain support learning, it is important that we model a growth mind set. It is thus important that as parents we model ongoing learning, and an attitude of perfecting the practice.

We also view this as learning to disagree agreeably. After all, a crucial skill in carrying out our professional and personal life is collaboration skills that require the exchange of ideas in a logical, rational and passionate manner to persuade and convince.

Let us Talk about this

I believe that children are natural critical thinkers. They are also curious beings, which explains why drains can be so interesting to a four year old. Our role as parents is to nurture their curiosity and critical thinking. The challenge, however, is to keep the exchanges and disagreements polite. Our family practices trying to turn heated agreements into loving exchanges by reminding ourselves:

That it is Not about Winning

The sign “Your Reaction is More Important than Who Is Right” hangs in our home. Winning an argument by shouting is not approved our family. For parents and kids alike.

To Stop and breathe

Like any human being, kids will naturally protest and argue if they are moved away from a pleasurable activity – like reading or playing. Clashes often happen when parents need to keep to schedule and get the kids moving.  We practise transitioning from one activity to another by agreeing on a set time, and setting the timer. When the timer rings, we (get a bloody) move on.

A Calm Corner

We have a corner in the house with a comfy chair. One kid decorated the big ‘calm corner’ sign, whilst the other invited an invented a ‘calm-angry-ometer’ using recycled material. We go/get sent there to calm down, take a break from the discussion. It has worked most times.

Ask “Is this a good fight?”

We tell our kids that our role as parents is to keep them safe and healthy, and there are areas that are non-negotiable. However, we also try to balance our family principle of challenging authority with the incessant contrary behaviour of children pushing the boundaries. This question is asked by way of stopping and thinking, before engaging in a potentially heated discussion.

Chatting Time

We try  to develop a deeper connection with our kids during those precious moments at bedtime, when the lights are off. We talk about the day, and what we are grateful for. This is where important aspects of our child surface, like the challenges they are having with a friend, or a big question about God. Having the lights off also works to mask a puzzled or annoyed look that can be quickly neutralised by a caring response.

We hope that more than ever, keeping our children engaged with us in their many ways will keep their communication channels open with us. For when the struggles in life gets hard, they know they can always, always turn to us by talking back.

With election fever still lingering on, have you been noticing more Malaysians talking about politics than ever before?

And against the backdrop of a Malaysia with a brand new government, why should more women get more political? What does it mean for Malaysian women if they get more involved in politics – do they necessarily have to join a political party, for example?

Women and Political Awakening

The very essence of politics is about challenging the concentration of power. Challenging  this power is through the  constant negotiation and action to redistribute that power. Trailblazing pre-Independence Malaysian women are no strangers to this concept and action, as the Sejarah Wanita Project haven shown.  

Shamsiah Fakeh (1924-2008) who fought for Malaysia’s independence with the political party Malay Nationalist Party (Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya). Image Credit: Sejarah Wanita

The Personal is Political

Politics and the lives of women are not separate. Until 30 years ago, domestic violence was a ‘personal family matter’ in  Malaysia. When a woman reported domestic violence to the authorities, there were no laws or protocol to help women who needed to get away from their abusive husbands. Some were even told to go back home.

It took the work of women, banding together with the late Minister of National Unity and Social Development, Napsiah Omar, to push for the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 1994.  This historical feat was driven by women, and not men, because it is women who face the lived realities of gender based violence. It is thus also women who recognise the need for society to acknowledge and legislate against this heinous violation.

Politics Impact Our Lives

There are many more areas in which larger political events affect Malaysian women’s lives. One glaring area is the lack of childcare support that leaves the responsibility of care to women. This results in women exiting the labour force.   It is important that  national policies and legislations support women in order to provide ‘real’ choices of leaving the workforce. Countries such as Sweden and Australia that have laws and policies to support both parents have also shown an overall improvement in the well-being of the family.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality reminding parliamentarians to “keep to their promise” after the 2008 elections. Photo credit: TV Smith

No Woman or Man Is Ever Too Insignificant In Politics

Yes, we need to increase women’s representation in politics.  This is the best way to ensure women’s rights and welfare are better championed and protected. Nevertheless, taking political action need not be just about changing laws solely concerning women. It can also be about child-centred issues, such as education, or our shared environment such as protecting a park, planting more trees, or even producing zero waste. These political acts  can be done through awareness raising and/or changing the way our families live.

Have you ever voted, or signed a petition? Have you attended a rally, participated in a parent-teacher association? How about writing a letter to the editor to voice your opinion, handing out leaflets, or volunteering at the neighbourhood gotong royong? Well guess what? You are already taking charge and effecting change. You are already participating in power redistribution.

The point is that in a process where groups of people come together, there is no voice or act that is ever too insignificant. Even in a daunting sea of 13.3 million voters, your one vote, your conscious choice of what you want for your future in this country is an important act of asserting your significance.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
― Howard Zinn

The Crucial Ingredient for Married Women To “Do” Politics?

Throughout my differing levels of political participation,  I had one crucial ingredient – my partner. He understands that for me to be politically active, I need his support and encouragement. This was especially important when we started a family whilst both of us were holding demanding jobs.  He cooks and watches the kids when I had late nights, weekend meetings and workshops. He read my writings and provided clear feedback. Once we even organised a ‘day care’ with him in charge, to enable my friends with children to participate in a 48-hour national clean up.

I suppose then that for those who are able to choose to marry and choose their partner, this choice is also a political statement. It is a conscious action of finding a partner who believes in your values, just as you do in theirs. It is the coming together of values that will create a partnership that helps strive to make this world a little better for everyone.


The first time I ever voted was 2 B.C (Before Children) in 2008. Ten years on, now as a parent with two young children, I believe it is more important than ever for us mums and dads to vote. Here’s why:

Voting brings (more) happiness

Psychologically, when we attach ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, we give ourselves a sense of meaning and purpose. Having a family is one of them.

However, parenting is a tough job. The joy our offspring brings also comes with the daily grind of preparing meals, cleaning, organising and executing the family’s daily activities. Whilst we are blessed to see our family bloom, it is also important to attach ourselves to other activities that give us meaning. Some parents train to become triathletes, whilst others mobilise the neighbourhood to provide a better living environment for the community.

Participating in the elections, either by campaigning for political parties, volunteering to become a Polling Agent or Counting Agent (PACA), or just by going out to vote at your polling station is an opportunity for us to feel connected to something bigger, and therefore happier. It also gives us great stories to tell the children!

We matter, and by that, we show them that they matter

One of the basic ideas of democracy is that each individual counts through their vote. However, its origins are also humanely flawed.  When the Greeks first practised democracy, neither slaves nor women could vote. Western women of the 19th century were considered “too irrational and emotional” to vote. It was only after the colossal struggles by the suffragettes that women began to vote.

Historically, groups that have been kept out of the democratic process have mobilised to stand up and be counted through their votes. Then as now, people around the world are braving  long queues, acts of intimidations, and old age  to stand up and be counted. If we do not vote, we literally do not count.

One of my favourite Peribahasa is “bagai ketam mengajar anak berjalan betul” (Like a crab teaching its child to walk straight).  Our children and families matter to us. If we want them to matter in the larger picture, to stand up and be counted, we must do it first.

A perfect family educational and bonding event

Elections are a great opportunity for children (and us) to (re)learn the three pillars of our country’s constitutional democracy.

It is also an opportunity to point out the difference between state and federal governments, and the enactment of local council by-laws and federal laws. For example, “why do some states in Malaysia have policies of paying 20 sen for plastic bags whilst others don’t?” can be a good discussion point.

The carnival-like atmosphere with the different political parties’ flags, a day out with the family to the polling station will make it a memorable family event (But please be sure to be more than 50 metres away for those who are not voting!). Adults can take turns to be with the kids and play “name the flag”,  or “ which teacher would you vote to be the principle of your school, and why?”, or even a game of “would you rather a RM800 handout or a higher (and fairer) minimum wage?” for the older children.

The vote gets us thinking about leadership

I believe that every human being is a leader in their own way. Voting give us the opportunity to start a conversation about the qualities of a good leader. In our children’s young lives, are their parents, teachers, or relatives good leaders by their actions and not just words? Are they honest, principled, hard-working and compassionate? Or were they self-serving individuals who lied when they did the wrong thing?

As voting is also an action of conscious choice, we can also discuss with our children the choices they make regarding the choosing the leaders in their lives. Did they choose the leader at playtime because that kid has the coolest lightsabre? Did that kid give others sweets to play a “game” that involved ganging up on a weaker child? What choices did your child make, and why?

To vote for their future

The elections of 2013 saw a historical turn-out of 85% of Malaysia’s 13.3 million voters who wanted to stand up and have their views be counted. This year’s 14th General Election is our chance to say how our country will run not only for the next five years, but also set the foundations that will be set for those after. Parental wishes for their offspring do not vary widely. We want a sense of safety and security, fair-play, access to good quality education and healthcare in order for them to achieve their fullest potential. So, on the 9th of May, let us vote to make our desires for our children’s future heard.