When the National Talent and Population Department sent an invitation to a dialogue for bloggers regarding issues on marriage and parenthood in Singapore, I knew I had to attend. As you might know, I am a big champion of facilitating change (as you can read about in my previous posts, such as this and this), instead of just complaining about it, and I felt that it is an honour to be called upon by your country to contribute.
My friend Meiling over at Universal Scribbles did a wonderful round up of the session here, so please do click through to read if you’re interested.
Senior Minister of State Mrs Josephine Teo was very friendly and affable, and it was very easy to talk to her, almost like talking to a friend, perhaps as some of us are not far from her age (or at least I speak for myself??), so it was easy to speak our minds. There was a diverse range of topics, some of which I have actually highlighted in an old post from 2014.
Child care, whether preschool or after school (primary), was a major concern for many. I think women in Singapore are fortunate that they can decide whether they want to work, or not work, or take on part time work, or start their own business, etc. I would imagine our figures of women in the working force are decent for a first world country. But our child care is still very traditional, we are still very dependent on mothers (whether or not working from home), domestic helpers, and grandparents not exclusively (so, it could be like grandparents + domestic helpers).
I have always thought that there might be a case for making child care available even to mothers who are not working, especially for those who have more than 1 child and find it hard to manage at home. The average age of women having their first child is increasing, and in order to pop them out as quickly as they can before they’re too old to keep up with the kids, or get mistaken as grandparents when they drop their kids off at school, we need the support during those early years. On hindsight, I wish I had had my kids closer in age, and I wish I was young enough to have another, but the truth is that I am already too damn tired at my age to be chasing them around the playground 😀
And then there is school. I’m at home and available to the kids each day after school, and I wish there were more time that we could spend together, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for working parents who only have a few hours together and often some of this would need to be spent on doing homework. I do see the benefit of homework, and I think it helps keep me abreast of what they are learning, but perhaps if school were a lot less competitive, kids had negligible homework, then parents could spend time doing what they’re best at – parenting. And not teaching or doing homework. Especially in lower primary where they really need to have good quality sleep, are we giving our children the short end of the stick? I have to admit that I have really been surprised by the quick announcement of the changes of PSLE, so I hope we can continue to improve education for our children.
Work-life balance is another topic that I’ve written about many times. We have many working mothers, much like the “western” countries (I hate to generalise, and it feels almost imperialistic), but our working culture has still leaps and bounds to go in emulating the western work culture. Many organisations have put in place flexible or work from home schemes, but the truth is that many bosses are still entrenched in their old ways. I was extremely fortunate to have been able to work for a company for many years which valued employees’ work and not just the hours they put in, so I know that it IS possible to have a wonderful working culture that respects an employee’s time in and out of the office. I’m not in favour of more government grants and laws and policies, I think what is really needed is more use of media to influence people’s thinking so that eventually bosses who aren’t flexible are the ones who are going to lose out. Of course, employees also have to be responsible and not go crazy watching Netflix the whole day at home when they should be working. Right?
We also discussed having babies. Singaporebrides.com enlightened us that many couples these days are spending ridiculous amounts on photoshoots and weddings. A friend working in the bank closely with credit cards also echoed the same sentiments about the spending trends, especially on weddings. It seems that many couples now are even turning to loan sharks to fulfill their every dream. The trend is probably also fueled by the unreal but ridiculously beautiful photos you see on social media. I wish the media and influencers could be more socially responsible. Perhaps what the media really needs, is more of the real side of parenting. Simply Her is great at having real stories and real tips on everything from schools to work (although I still frown at the occasional sensationalized story).
Sure, there are a handful of people who are really capable, who can do everything. Or so it seems. Social media doesn’t show you what goes on in the background, perhaps the number of grandparents and helpers, perhaps they almost never leave the house except for school, perhaps they eat the same dishes on rotation 3 times a week,etc. So, please, read everything with a pinch of salt and make up your own mind about your life instead of thinking you need to keep up with the Joneses.
From the discussion about money, we talked about the “sacrifices” that we are all making as parents, whether it’s cutting down on holidays, or expenses… But many of us feel the same, even though costs are rising, the joys of being parents are unwavering. Instead of throwing money (grants, etc) at a problem, I think the way to go is to gently push everyone in the right direction (as opposed to outright propaganda, which is so 80’s); and I hope social media such a bloggers will continue to have a positive influence on others.
Overall it was a really good session for me, because these are issues that I am passionate about. It was also eye opening to hear from Minister Teo who presented different points of view that she and the government have to consider since they cater to the people from every social strata and not just the beautiful people you see on Instagram. I feel that the government is actually very open to change, but often it is hard for the people on the street to see things from a broader view. And, it is difficult to implement policies that will fit or please everyone.
To be honest, I was not sure what I was doing there, being the most “junior” blogger, who has only a handful of readers (thanks for reading, Mum); but that did not stop me from contributing where I could. I think maybe I talked too much 😀 Maybe it was just that I was in the company of friends and acquaintances some of whom I have known for a while, and others whom I have known online.
It was certainly inspiring to be with people of the similar mindsets, and when it comes to parenting, I think that having people who keep things real is very important. Not people who make you think you should go to which enrichment class because everyone is going to it, but those who encourage you to live simply and happily, and maybe consider that enrichment class if you feel your child might be falling behind in school.
Overall it was an inspirational and thought provoking session for myself. What would make me want to have another baby? I’m pretty sure with my experience so far, I could easily wield a baby under my arms and continue with life. But I do already have three monkeys, and I am no spring chicken anymore. I am really enjoying this moment in time when all my children are older and more independent. I am also no superwoman, and I am not one who would be able to run a household all by myself with 4 kids under my helm. Although the grandparents are available at times to assist, I don’t like to bother them too much, and I also don’t like to be held hostage, I mean, being too dependent on hired help, which I’m sure many of you know is another can of worms. We have never been dependent on child care, and I am already working from home, so I don’t think there are any policies that child make things easier for me.
There are however, little things that might make things easier, more baby friendly facilities everywhere, ramps and lifts for strollers, etc. I also do like new initiatives like Trehaus, which I think will be of great help to a lot of parents. I feel these might be small issues but they are what could make or break your routine day.
I leave you with a entertaining and very real read about mothers wanting to do it all. In all that we do, I hope that we as a society, will put the children at the heart of everything we design, whether it is the education system, child care arrangements, or employing working parents.