Other than being an extraordinary statesman, the late founding prime minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), was also a well-loved fatherly figure in his own home, raising three equally extraordinary children who are each extremely successful in their respective field.
All three of his children were President’s Scholars – the pinnacle of educational achievement in Singapore.
Eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) is the current prime minister of Singapore. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge University, as Senior Wrangler in 1974 (gaining a Diploma in Computer Science with distinction as well) and later earned a Master of Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Before he entered politics, he served in the Singapore Armed Forces, becoming the youngest brigadier-general in Singaporean history at age 32.
Younger son, Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) is the current Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. He was previously a brigadier-general in the Singapore Armed Forces, the Chief Executive Officer of SingTel from 1995 to 2007, and a Non-Executive Director and Chairman of Fraser and Neave from 2007 to 2013.
LKY’s only daughter, Lee Wei Ling (LWL), is the head of the National Neuroscience Institute in Singapore.
What are some parenting tips we can learn from LKY to help raise such high achieving and morally upright children?
LKY made sure his children learn to pick their own ball from young and learn to be independent. Shared LKY in his book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Man And His Ideas, published in 1998:
“I carry my own bag as a matter of principle, because otherwise, for 30, 40 years, with everybody pushing chairs for you, your limbs will atrophy. And I was very keen that that shouldn’t happen to my children, that nobody pushed chairs for them. If a ball fell down and the Istana boy wanted to pick it up, I would stop him and say, ‘No, that’s his ball. Ignore him. He will go to the drain and pick it up.’ They had to learn that, and I think they have benefited from it.”
LKY sent all three of his children to schools which are known for their bilingual language prowess. LHL attended Catholic High, LHY attended Chinese High, while LWL attended Nanyang Girls’ High School.
Shared LHL in 2015 at the 80th anniversary of Catholic High’s founding: “They (LKY and wife) chose it because it was a Chinese-medium school. But it has high standards of both English and Chinese — bilingual.”
Madam Ouyang Huan Yan was a former housemaid with the Lee family for more than 40 years whereby her tasks including caring for the LHL, LHY and LWL.
In an interview with Apple Daily in 2015, she shared that the children were always “courteous, respectful and obedient” as a result of their parents’ strict discipline. Unlike other children born in a well-off family, the three children were said to have to seek their parents’ approval to buy anything.
When LKY became the prime minister of Singapore, Madam Ouyang started calling Wei Ling as “Da Xiao Jie” or “employer’s eldest daughter” in Mandarin.
But she told the maid: “It’s my father who’s the prime minister, not me. So please address me by my name.”
LKY is well-known for his frugal and simple lifestyle, choosing instead to focus on more important things in life than material wealth. He impart this value to his family as well, as shared by LWL in an article on the Straits Time in 2015:
“We had to turn off water taps completely. If my parents found a dripping tap, we would get a ticking off. And when we left a room, we had to switch off lights and air-conditioners.
My father’s frugality extends beyond lights and air-conditioners. When he travelled abroad, he would wash his own underwear, or my mother did so when she was alive. He would complain that the cost of laundry at five-star hotels was so high he could buy new underwear for the price of the laundry service…
Frugality is a virtue that my parents inculcated in me. In addition to their influence, I try to lead a simple life partly because I have adopted some Buddhist practices and partly because I want to be able to live simply if for some reason I lose all that I have one day.
It is easy to become accustomed to a luxurious lifestyle. Some people believe that they will not miss their luxuries if for some reason they were to lose them, I think they are mistaken. I think they will miss them and be unable to reconcile themselves to a simpler lifestyle.
So I have trained myself to be satisfied with necessities and forgo luxuries.”
It is a well-known fact that there is no television set in the Lee family home. LKY felt that television serves to distract and he would prefer his children to focus on the things around them or to read books to stimulate their minds.
“Life is not just eating, drinking, television and cinema. The human mind must be creative, must be self-generating; it cannot depend on just gadgets to amuse itself.” Shared LKY.
Given that the LHL, LHY and LWL are squabbling publicly online now on social media channels like Facebook for the whole world to see, if LKY raised his children in the post-internet age, it is likely he probably would have banned his children from spending too much time on Facebook or gave them a solid education on Internet privacy.