I sat in the hallway and observed the two lovely girls, Tricia, aged 8, and Sarah, aged 5, speaking gently to each other. When asked who the more talkative one was, Sarah cheekily admitted it was her, while Tricia giggled and looked towards Sarah’s direction. I felt welcomed and comfortable in their presence, and thought to myself how blessed their parents, Gregory (Greg) and Joy, are to have such obedient, mature and loveable daughters.
The Fok family: Joy, Tricia, Sarah and Greg
Greg started his career as a financial planner 11 years ago. “Being self-employed, I had to work hard, sometimes even up to seven days a week, so that I could earn and save for the future to build a family. Joy, whom I was dating then, prompted me to consider serving the community at Rite of Christian Initiation for Youths (RCIY). As a couple, it was a fruitful journey serving together doing God’s work. I had my initial reservations – about serving God in RCIY meant taking time away from my work on a weekend, and this could compromise on my earnings. Interestingly, I found that when I said “Yes” to God, I was instead blessed with so much more. It felt as if God had a presence and made everything, including work priorities, fall into place. It was God’s way of saying, “As long as you trust me and take care of my work, I’ll take care of your work.”
And this has been the way forward. Moving on from our dating days to our marriage and parenthood, Joy and I have, ironically, experienced God’s love and blessings each time we took on more work from the Church. Not only were we active in RCIY as facilitators and godparents, we subsequently enrolled to be part of the Couple Empowerment Programme (CEP) in 2010 when Tricia was about two years old. We attended CEP because Joy had heard from others how it helped to improve couple relationships and their marriages. As participants, we felt impacted by the in-depth sharing sessions that we had.
We have to realise that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal.
CEP consisted of 10 sessions held weekly, where married couples come together to talk about real-life issues about their faith, sex, communication, spirituality while growing together as one. It helps couples to bond and recognise that it is possible to have a marriage made from Heaven, but lived here on Earth purposefully. During this time, both of us also realised that change in the marriage had to come from two parties with willing hearts to be open to where God would lead.
In acknowledging the different set of problems that dating, marriage and parenthood had, for example: attention shifted from spouse to child when kids came along, it creates an opportunity for couples to be more aware of the need to re-ignite the dating time that they used to have, even with a child. Above all, the Community support was a constant reminder for us to face any conflicts in our marriage and not run away from it. Having enjoyed and benefited from our learning journey, we decided to serve, and give our time and experiences to empower other couples.
Shortly after helping out in CEP for a year, both of us also decided to be brave and try for another child. Having cultivated life-giving values, our initial fears and conflicts about raising children were cast aside. Both of us had very different family upbringing and values, which resulted in different styles of parenting. Joy’s parents doted on the children a lot: They travelled and dined together frequently. Every birthday was celebrated in a memorable way, and Joy had a McDonald’s party when she was in her Primary School. Her parents believed in creating the best memories for their children, in the most nurturing environment. On the contrary, I came from a traditional and practical family. Birthdays were just like any other day, and hence celebrated in a modest way at home. My first big celebration was my 21st birthday, and it was my friend, whose birthday was also in the same month, planned it. I did not board an airplane until I was 14 years old, and it was to a nearby destination in Hong Kong. My wife, at that age, had already set foot on the Western continents.
Through time, we were able to have a more open dialogue and communication in a safe environment. We’d share more, instead of assuming and setting one’s own objective without consulting the other.
The disparity in our lifestyles and upbringing also meant that we’d raise Tricia with different expectations. As first-time parents, both of us had to learn to cope with having a new addition to our lives. From packing the diapers to minding Tricia in a baby walker, I was definitely more laidback, and sometimes, appeared a little absent minded; Joy, on the other hand, was the more uptight mum and wanted her baby girl to grow in a safe and sterile environment.
Through time, we were able to have a more open dialogue and communication in a safe environment. We’d share more, instead of assuming and setting one’s own objective without consulting the other. Although it doesn’t mean that we agree totally with each other, at least we’d express our views freely without being judged. Joy values my practicality, and understands my rationale about not throwing the most extravagant birthday party or sending our kids to the best childcare centre, even though we can afford it. Similarly, I am grateful for Joy’s consciousness and dedication as a Mother, and for wanting to give the best she can to our child. Such mutual understanding and common beliefs made us feel that we can successfully raise another child together, and hence, Sarah came into our lives in 2011.
Joy and Greg expects a third child in their 10th year of marriage
And just for this year, we have planned a joint birthday celebration for both our girls within our apartment premises, since both their birthdays are in the same month. We have also taken the time to explain to both Tricia and Sarah that a joint celebration is ideal, and that they can still have a good time together while coming up with the party invites, cake and food orders within a modest budget. Quite naturally, and comfortably, I took on bulk of the logistics while Joy managed the planning.
Your Children as Shoots of Olives
Greg and Joy will welcome baby number three into their Fok family this year. Coincidentally, it is also their 10-year wedding anniversary. Now that both girls are able to take care of themselves and each other, Greg added, “We miss the younger days again when our kids are young. They grow up too fast! While it is not a must to have another child, the funny thing is when we don’t close our doors, God will provide.” Joy added that seeing the sibling relationship strengthen day by day, and how they are able to be independent yet also take care of each other are one of the joys of parenthood.
Of Surprising Mommy, Learning and Encouraging the Kids
On Mother’s Day, the thoughtful girls treated Joy to ice-cream from the money they had saved from their piggy bank. She was touched by their innocent and kind gesture. She also learnt from their ‘heart of forgiveness’, and how they love you (parents) for who you are, with no conditions nor expectations. “Building the self-believe for the children to learn to love themselves is fundamental. They should be nurtured to believe that they are made for more-not being overly-obsessive nor proud-but to bring out their resilience, humility, and self-esteem (confidence),” Joy added. For example, when Tricia was studying for her Chinese test some time back, she said that she will want to do her best because she’ll want to go into the best class. Joy also echoed that it is good to aim high and try her best in everything, but did not give unnecessary added pressure even if they did not do well.
What is your Advice to Young Families?
Joy: As much as it seems impossible, try to invest time and be part of a like-minded community of similar faith and values. This keeps one grounded, as everyone in the group strives for the betterment of family and relationship-building. When everyone comes together to reflect and share their problems in a safe environment, it helps to balance things, and issues are not blown out of proportion. The family problems might always be present, but the coping mechanisms are different. Such a support system is useful to help young and new parents find positivity in reaching their end goals.
Greg: When one integrates faith into their lives, and stays close to God, things will eventually work out. Greg agreed and added, “If you have a spiritual dimension to your life, you can’t go far wrong. Even as humans or parents, we may fail our loved ones. So it is important for them (us) to know that God is always there, in good times and in bad times.”