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. 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?