After a stressful day at work with uncooperative colleagues, or a tiring day at home with equally uncooperative kids, wouldn’t it be wonderful if your husband or partner surprises you with a gift to make up for your bad day? You would be thinking “What a gem of a man I got myself!”

Yes, getting a gift can make us feel all kinds of wonderful. We all love getting gifts, be it on special occasions like anniversaries, birthdays or even festivities like Christmas. Nevertheless, we trust that nobody, not even people who are obsessed with gifts, wants a ‘surprise’ they are not expecting.

The Right Stuff

You may be one of those women whose husband dutifully reads your mind, cheers to marital telepathy! If your other half always pleases you with his choice of gifts, be it that new Anastasia Beverly Hills eyeshadow palette that you have been eyeing or the satin Zara top that you have been sighing over, count yourselves lucky.

However, if your husband always tunes out whenever you are speaking and presents you with another vacuum cleaner for yet another year, you may not be thinking he’s such a gem at all. Instead, you may be mentally writing a list of methods to kill him!

Another Household Appliance?

What is the quirkiest gift your partner has ever gotten you?

Let me start with mine. For my first birthday after marriage, my husband was acting all mighty and smug because he said he figured out the best gift he can get for me. Naturally, I got excited as we counted down the days for my gift to arrive via post.

I was already dreaming along the lines of Chanel, Dior and Bobbi Brown. When my gift finally arrived, I was too numb to speak. It was a grill pan. I lost hope then. My husband and I have been married for almost four years now. Along the years, I have received an oven, a pressure cooker, a cake mixer and even car wipers as presents!
I thought I had it bad, that was until I found out what my dear friend received – a random leaf! Yes, you heard me right.

She was gifted a leaf by her partner who is a tad too focused on the environment. Being the sweet self that she is, she still keeps the leaf as a memento, to this day.

I also know a couple who didn’t get quite a right start with gifts. The wife lost her father on the day she got married. In a bid to make his wife happy, the husband ordered a rather large-sized canvas painting of her father as a gift. The wife could not stop crying in sorrow every time she looked at the picture. After that incident, the husband was definitely more careful about gifts!

I Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want

To avoid all these messy gift situations, dropping hints of what you actually want, really could work wonders. Teacher Anita Karasu couldn’t agree more.

“Gifts should always be valuable to the person receiving them. It would be unfair to buy them your personal favorites. As a teacher, I dislike receiving a pack of red pens because most times only one or two would work or sometimes, none at all. I would have candles and soap bars lying in my drawer until it’s time for disposal because I am not a big fan of such gifts.

“That is why I honestly feel that it’s okay to drop hints. So, I try as much to drop hints. But don’t ever go on like a broken record!” she said.

Another way to get what you really want is to stop dropping hints and just straight up tell the giver what you want. Send links of examples, or prepare a wish list of some things you would really appreciate. Simple right? You get what you want, and the person giving the gift doesn’t have to keep guessing and stressing. Win-win situation. It doesn’t get better than that.

At the Heart of Gifts

But if you ponder deeply, do the types of gifts we receive really matter? The gifts should just be a little plus on top of the huge love you get from a person. After all, they did make an effort to get you a gift in the first place.

So, when your partner or husband  gifts you with another kitchen appliance or that fake Prada handbag from Petaling Street (gasp!), take a deep breath, remember what’s important, and show some appreciation.

Because at the end of the day, as clichéd as it may sound, it is, honestly, the thought that really counts.

When my husband and I first saw little Doughnut in a sonogram, we were beyond elated. As a couple, we thought we were ready. I mean, how complicated could it be? I’ve read up and learned everything I could, so this is a change we were well prepared for.

When she finally arrived, we fumbled through the days but things were manageable. But what we did not expect, and were totally caught off-guard about, was the change in us. Or more specifically, in our relationship.

Dotting parents, forgotten spouse

In the midst of playing the role of dotting new parents, we were absent for each other. As day became night and night became day, all of our time and attention were focused on the tiny 6-pounder, whose tiniest cringe and softest cries made us drop everything we were doing and sped to her side.

Soon enough, the cracks started to show. My husband – the man I vowed to spend the rest of my life with, through thick and thin, in good health and in sickness – had become one of my least favourite person in the whole world. After having a baby, nothing he did seemed right.

With little Doughnut crying almost 24/7, sleep deprivation, hormones and everything else that went wrong, we began pointing fingers at one another. Different parenting styles, upbringing, who needed more rest and every other petty matter would just trigger a fight. Our world turned upside down and inside out, and the supposed joy of having a new baby was somehow short-lived. We just couldn’t find the happiness we thought we ought to have.

This went on for a while until Doughnut became a toddler. While we agreed that our daughter’s needs were most important, fulfilling those needs came at the expense of our time as a couple. Our social life was close to zero, and all our attention was focused on the baby. And to make things worse, the other party was always at fault because the baby was only a baby and can do no wrong.

It gets better

Looking back we realised how naive (and in denial) we were. Now that Doughnut is 3 years old and we can breathe easier, things become instantly clearer. Before she came, our love and attention was solely for each other. After she arrived, everything was halved. Or in our case, the entire 100% went to her. So that’s 200% for her and none for each of us. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that this equation just isn’t going to work.

And all the arguments, squabbles, quarrels and fights? They were all because of LOVE. Prior to having Doughnut, our fights were about love; our love for one another. After having her, our fights were only about her. But when we looked deeper, it was all about how love has evolved — it was how we wanted to love her in our own different ways. Two things were undeniable though: that we both loved her more than anything else, but we should have loved ourselves and each other more. Because, THIS is what through thick and thin was all about.

So, if I have to summarise the whole experience, it would be:

1. When you become a parent, don’t forget to be a husband / wife.

2. Everything happens because of LOVE. Love the baby, but love each other and yourselves too.

3. With a baby, life goes on. And there’s life beyond the baby.

4. Whatever you have for baby, save some for him / her too. Patience, especially.

5. Ladies, be a wife first, then a mother. And guys, happy wife means a happy life.

I’m not writing this to boast about how we got back to “happily ever after”; we are still nowhere near that. It takes time and it takes the both of you to work it out. When you are ready and all up for it, then it’s time for another round of excitement looking out for those two blue lines.

Related Posts:


My Story: Working Harder to Stay at Home


My Story: Why My Husband Comes Before My Baby

Lai San is an ex-marketer living in Jakarta but her heart has never left KL. Mother to 3 years old Doughnut, she is close to total cure of her OCD with a toddler to clean up after at home. When not stuck in a jam, she writes freelance as a cover up for her total inability to cook, bake or sew.

Image Credit: American Pregnancy.

Book Review April Main

I found a recent Makchic article written by my friend, Michelle Lim-Chua on “Why My Husband Comes Before My Baby” insightful and inspiring.  It reminded me of how easy it was to lose sight of being husband and wife when you become Mummy and Daddy with chores and responsibilities.

Interestingly, putting your partner before your offspring or prioritising couple time over family time can come across as a radical viewpoint but it may be rational thinking after all, as pointed out by Andrew G. Marshall, well known marital therapist and author who also contributes to Guardian, The Times and Daily Mail.

I’m not usually a big fan of the self-help genre but I really enjoyed Marshall’s latest book – I Love You But You Always Put Me Last: How to Childproof Your Marriage.  If you have recently had a baby, this book will give you a sense of the road ahead and how to avoid the pitfalls. It also remains relevant if you have older children, as it will help you diagnose where problems may have started and address the root causes.

Marshall found that despite many of his clients doing everything in their power for their children to be happy, confident and successful (the best schools, extensive extracurricular activities and all the latest gadgets), they eventually exhausted first their marriages and then themselves. He decided to write this book to address much of the misery he encounters amongst the patients at his own practice; to help them protect their marriages and avoid turning their children into future therapy clients.

Marshall starts off by asking couples to take stock of and rank their individual priorities. Usually, men find that they come after the children, housework (especially when their wife won’t come to bed because she’s wiping down the kitchen worktops), her job and maybe even the dog.  Women frequently discover that they come after their husband’s work, the children (because he’s happy to play with them when he comes home), and sometimes rank lower than his football team.

Sound familiar?

If it does, Marshall can help stop your relationship cracks from turning into chasms.  He can offer you lots of practical advice and tips that will help you talk and listen to each other as well as find mutually acceptable solutions. He boils everything down to 10 golden rules that he shares at the end.

In modern parenting, the established wisdom is that you should prioritise the needs of your children above all else.  However, Marshall argues that couples who tirelessly put their children first aren’t only sacrificing each other’s needs and desires, but also increasing the chance of marital breakdown and creating unhappy, insecure kids.

Hence, he advocates two revolutionary ideas. The first is that you should put your children second as children are just passing through while marriage should be forever. He adds that prioritising your partner isn’t only good for your marriage but is also good for your children. He provides many practical tips on how you can put your partner first in your day-today behavior. For example, there’s ‘Guarding comings and goings’ e.g. if your partner is already home when you return, go immediately to where he or she is to greet and kiss him or her first, even if she is busy or preoccupied (rather than settling down for a drink in front of the TV or cuddling your kids). He also advises parents to put a lock on their bedroom door, as it will make children think twice before demanding attention and help them realise that even parents need a private space.

His second idea relates to being just a “good enough” parent, which simply means looking out for your children but not micromanaging them. Being a “good enough” parent is not generally a popular idea with today’s parents who always want the best for their children. These concepts will help you keep your sanity, accept that every parent makes mistakes and also stop you from competing with other parents “in some kind of arms race” over whose child reached which milestones first.

Marshall questions whether, due to our smaller families, we’re today creating a generation of ‘red-carpet kids’ that aren’t resilient and self-reliant. Making your children the centre of your universe and providing them with a pivotal role in the family can actually very easily unbalance and stress them. When children are the main focus in the family, it’s also easy to overlook your marital problems. He illustrates how parents can roll up this ‘red carpet’ and introduce new rules to redress the balance, if needed. Marshall encourages us to use ‘descriptive praise’ i.e. describing the good behaviour and making the feedback as detailed as possible (thereby encouraging your children to repeat the desired behaviour) rather than just giving empty compliments like ‘What a clever boy’.

As Marshall says, children are wonderful and give your life shape and meaning. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get carried away, put your children first and run yourself ragged trying to be perfect parents. Ultimately, as Michelle pointed out in her piece, we need to keep in mind that our children need parents who not only love them, but also love each other.

Li-Hsian recently left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.

Image credit: Pan Macmillan Australia