Want more babies in Singapore? Let’s build stronger families first.

One of the topics covered in the recent national conversation was the low fertility rate in Singapore. A few ideas were bandied about, such as having better work life balance, creating a stronger social support network, and bringing down the overall cost of living.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing, something more fundamental than dollars and cents.

I chanced upon a reader’s letter in Today last week on building a generation with a stronger family life. Reading it lifted my heart and gave me renewed hope. She spoke about the need to redefine the Singapore equation of success as one that is based on economic and professional success.Β In particular, this quote jumped out at me: “Successful marriages bring the desire for and joy of having many children.”

I remember turning to my husband near the end of the programme and asking him, “Dearie, why is it that we don’t want more kids?” (We have two little ones by the way, aged one and three-point-five.)

To which he answered, “You, what. It’s all to do with you. If you’re okay and happy, then I don’t mind having more kids.”

What he basically was getting at is the fact that if having more children would stress me out and contribute to a higher likelihood of him coming home to an angry wife and a topsy-turvy house, then no, we will not be having more children, thank you.

I think I feel the same way too.

Back to what I was saying earlier, it’s less about dollars and cents and more to do with the state of our marriage and family. Money is important, no doubt, but we all know that money alone cannot make a family happy.

In an age where divorce is rampant and the chances of families breaking up higher than ever before, I have heard these questions asked by my single friends:

Why bother getting married when people can’t stay married?

Why bother having kids when you might break up and mess up your child’s life?

Granted, no sane, healthy person ventures into marriage thinking about divorce. Most of us enter in with a love-will-see-us-through attitude. Along the way, we will experience tough periods of testing and some unfortunately will choose to opt out.

Regardless of the season of marriage we’re in, I think it’s good to have a reality check from time to time, and to ask ourselves, what are we doing to keep our marriage healthy? If we aren’t proactively working to keep the love alive, then we may actually be leaving it to chance.

Love is complex, more so today than before. Families are finding it hard to keep it together. Throw in financial stress and increasing competition, resulting in both parents having to work extra hard outside of the home, with less time for communication, relaxation, and date-nights, things can potentially get messy.

Even kids, which are usually seen as a source of joy, can turn into a source of stress and unhappiness, when the conditions are adverse enough.

I’m an ’80s baby and I must say my generation lacks good role models to look up to. I’m not talking about Prince William and Princess Kate, I mean real day-to-day role models, like parents or aunties and uncles. Whenever I see an elderly couple holding hands and caring for each other, I always try to capture a photograph…simply because it’s a rare sight.

Youths today have even less to hold onto, and more to be cynical about.

If we want to build a happier, more successful Singapore, where success is not measured by mere economic indicators but also by social indicators such marital satisfaction and divorce rates, then I am afraid there is no easy, pain-free answer.

It will take a shift in priorities to create more conducive environments for families to thrive. It will take an intentional opening up of more possibilities for mothers (and fathers) to work flexible hours.

It also means that couples need to redefine the things that matter to them, and re-commit themselves to love and grow as a family. Whatever it takes…even if it means seeking external help to get through a rough patch, we have to believe that our marriage and families are worth fighting for.

For the past two decades, Singapore has focused on economic progress, and things on the family front have stalled or even regressed. But if home is indeed where the heart is, then strong families will inevitably lead to happier, healthier, more motivated workers.

I think it’s time to put the horse back in front of the cart. What do you think?

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  1. says

    Love can get even more challenging with the onset of kids in a couple’s life; on top of that throw in the lack of privacy and non-existent ‘action’ with kids sharing the bedroom. The micro environment is not helping either, so couples should not be looking to external factors in the hope that it will help our families or our marriages. It needs to start with the marriage, setting aside time for one another, making that effort to revived that ‘loving feeling’. Having more kids is not a panacea to a happy family, but a contented and a dad and mom who loves one another deeply (come what may) will be what that will truly count for the family.
    Rachel Teo recently posted..Of Cheesy One Liners and Mr RightMy Profile

  2. William Liew says

    Well said June! I am a 1979 kid and I don’t remember having role models to look up to. I am always faced with difficult family situations. I am not as happy and confident as an adult today. To put it mildly. In fact I become more cynical and more negative about forming relationships. People give me good advises and stuff – but they don’t see the things that happen to me, the trauma I went through as a child, teenager and young adult. People sympathise but these were far from empathy.

    I teach in a school where out of 40 kids, there would be around 5 with dysfunctional families. I don’t see why it is so complicated for parents to learn about loving as a family and to look out their own kids. I don’t see why parents want to cause their kids so much hurt that these kids turn out awry. I don’t see how couple getting married can guarantee a couple’s commitment “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”. There might be many reasons why marriages break down, and I do not want to trivialise it. However, it leaves scars on lives of children. I know. I was there. I am still there.

    In a society in which material wealth takes precedence, where progress can ONLY be measured in terms of possessions, it is no wonder that family takes a back seat. And it is no wonder that families and marriages are disintegrating in our society today . Adults measure in terms of the amount of wealth they can accumulate. Children are now measured in terms of their academic achievements and special talents. If there is no urgent review on the blind need to seek these and “progress” then it will just worsen with time.

    • mamawearpapashirt says

      Hi William, thanks for taking the time to share your personal experience. It’s indeed important for us to realise that in a hurting family, it’s the children who are the most vulnerable. I guess no parent really wants to intentionally cause pain to their child, but in the midst of life’s pressures or temptations, unintentionally do so. That said, I’m not trying to make excuses for anyone. Parenting is a big responsibility and as a community, we should be trying to help those who need a hand. You’re right, if we keep focusing on ourselves, our wealth and possessions, and our child’s academic achievements, we can lose sight of the really important things in life. Thanks again for sharing here.

  3. says

    This resonates with what I would like my kid to grow up experiencing. It’s not the material comfort that we should be overly focused on providing (to be able to is nice). It is the quality time and bond that the kid needs.

    As parents, we should reevaluate our priorities and decide if buying bigger houses, more cars, more Cs (whatever they might be) are more important than the most important Cs (care and concern etc) a child needs. If by having to achieve material needs and that takes precious time away from the family then what’s the point?

    And yes, I am not ready to have more kids until I gain superpowers and become supermom or the family learns to be stronger first! :p
    NerdyMum recently posted..What can making a U-turn teach us?My Profile

  4. says

    Even before I got married, I hear “horror” stories about family-life and monster-kids.
    Education, Medication, everything is expensive.
    Among my peers, I sense people are talking about kids as “liability” , it is quite sad.

    How can we expect singles to take that leap of faith to marry and raise family?
    (nobody wants to sacrifice their freedom )

    Coming back to your point, June, only we parents ourselves can help to push for child-friendly climate. Only when a couple is happy, will they start contemplating about having kids πŸ™‚

    Would anyone consider joining the National Conversation? (10Oct 7 to 9pm)
    We can definitely speak up and voice our concerns.

    ps.. your boy looks so much like you πŸ™‚
    SengkangBabies recently posted..Hong Kong family itineraryMy Profile

    • mamawearpapashirt says

      Yes, marriage and family is a leap of faith, and requires much faith too to keep things going in spite of whatever pressures we may face. Thanks for your suggestion…to me, I’m already participating in the national conversation just by sharing here. But yes, will think about that. πŸ˜‰

  5. says

    So true so true! I found my hubby and I argued a lot more cos of my girl. Sometimes about her and sometimes because of her! I can imagine our arguments escalating with each child we have! So more than just considering the financial aspect, it’s also considering our capability & parenting skills as well.
    Madeline recently posted..At the Beginning, 8 Years AgoMy Profile

  6. says

    Agreed! And personally, the number of children a couple has shouldn’t be highlighted or be define as how happy or successful this family is. On the other hand, having a high record of children doesn’t equivalent to a happy family or married couple either.

    My hubs gave me the same answer as yours, he wants a happy family to come home to and he won’t want to forgo anything we had worked for, whether on our marriage or financially. With my hubs the only person bringing back the bacon and me building on my online biz while looking after the boys, there isn’t much luxury to talk about, but we’re happy and contented. Furthermore, the habit of comparing doesn’t do any good to anyone – this who and who drives this great car, this who and who just moved to a luxury condo, this who and who… how unhealthy…

    What truly matters is the heart, not the dollars and cents, not the larger the population the better but a healthy nation that is built on happy families.
    Rachel recently posted..What Love Language a Boy Loves BestMy Profile

  7. mamawearpapashirt says

    Hi Jasmine, thanks for sharing. I think community is indeed a factor too. As a young child, I remember playing at my neighbour’s house quite often! I guess the sense of trust amongst neighbours have shrunk over time, and due to busy-ness and increased isolation of families, this kampong spirit is not quite there anymore. (That said, we should keep trying to build it…Thanks for this reminder too.) So glad to hear about your experience of neighbours helping out with child-minding! What a blessing to the families involved!

  8. says

    Lovely piece! I think that it’s so true that if we have to hold down demanding FT jobs, many mummies are going to think twice and three times before having more kids. If I was say still in my previous job where I was dreading and dragging my feet to work everyday, I wouldn’t have had 3 like I do now! I really hope employers will start realising that a good work-life balance is win-win for all. Employers, employees, and the country.
    Edlyn recently posted..Hospital Interiors for KidsMy Profile

    • mamawearpapashirt says

      Hey Edlyn, thanks for sharing and yes, everyone definitely has a part to play if we are going to make some lasting changes around here!

  9. says

    Well write it there. honestly, marriage is….let’s say, we sorely lack enough positive luminary models. With the media majoring on crises and bad news (why is that so?), cynicism is on the rise. It has not helped that as you put it, we as a nation have simply placed everything way down the rungs from economic progress. We reap what we sow. But wait, there is hope! after all, there is always that longing for love. what we need is to restore faith in it! ideas everyone!

    • mamawearpapashirt says

      Thanks Jenni! Yes, if the day comes where we all stop believing, then there will be truly no hope left to speak of. Thanks for sharing your hope here too…

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