death by paper cut

{June 2, 2008}   Farming out family

during the first three years of my life, my mother stopped working completely to take care of me. she couldn’t afford to do that for my sister who was born 6 years before me. it wasn’t a happy experience to have to entrust her first born to the care of her cranky mother-in-law and to also have to put up under her roof. i suspect that was why she made it a point to change that when my mother had me.

my older childhood experience involves a lot of school activities and coming home in the later part of the afternoon to a maid and grandmother who came to live with us when i was in upper primary – my grandmother didn’t really take care of me, she moved in to be taken care of by my mother. i didn’t remember seeing much of my parents as both will be at work until they returned home at about 6.30pm. my mom would promptly proceed to cook dinner that the maid prepared a few hours prior.

even then we didn’t do much in the evenings or during the weekends as my extra curricular activities continued to occupy my time.

i turned out fine, not maladjusted or lacking in anything. the routine is similar to the experience many of my peers. but that may not be the case in my generation.

the thing is, returning home at 6.30pm is no longer feasible even in the public service. when the civil service implemented the 5 day work week instead of 5.5 days, they didn’t actually work less, instead, they work longer hours on weekdays to compensate for saturdays.

some schools in the teaching service with crazy principals started introducing the punch card system to make sure that staff made up for the hours that saturdays used to occupy.

just 30 mins to 1 hour from 5/6pm to 6/7ishpm makes a lot of difference to family time because that’s when the family starts to gather round to prepare dinner and eat together.

take that away, and the fleeting opportunity to commune together is lost.

my mom now has the good fortune to afford to retire to become a stay-home-grandma to my niece. my sister and brother-in-law (both civil servants) return home about 8pm to have dinner warmed up for them, play with their daughter for an hour before my niece heads to bed at 9pm. not a lot of family time is there?

i am too a civil servant who has no time as a grown up to eat at home because i leave work at 7 or 8pm. dinner is therefore usually eaten on the way home so that like my niece i can head to bed near 9pm for a 5am start.

if you have no time for self, time for family is wishful thinking.

in this day and age in singapore, you either be a dedicated worker, or a dedicate care-giver because they are both more than full time jobs. you can of course try to straddle between both like most singaporeans do, and find that its not fulfilling because one role saps all the energy required for the other – but that is the reality, so suck it up.

the tragi-comic comment going around in school is that teachers can never meet with the teachers of their own children because they always have to meet with the parents of their students.

commenting on the situation of the state of parenthood in singapore as far as government policies are concerned, tribolum very succiently puts it:

…it also became clear that the Singapore government was bent on having us outsource the parenting function.

The above incentives – tax rebates, cash incentives, the reduction in the levy for domestic helpers – only apply if the mother is working (exception of the one time baby bonus). If the mother decides to stay home to look after her children, the family is ineligible for these incentives. These incentives cannot be claimed by the working father.

Not only do you suffer the loss of a significant part of your household income, you lose the government’s support. I know that the government wants all the marbles – productivity in the workplace, high GDP, a healthy birthrate – but Singapore needs to make some hard choices here.

when i have my own family, i don’t want to have parenting outsourced: never to a domestic helper, hopefully not my parents or in-laws, at least not on a daily basis. so how to benefit from the tax breaks and cash incentives after maybe 6 to 12 months of leave? (only 3 months of which is paid maternity leave mind you).

how about the option of having a stay-home-father for a while?


Ee says:

Hopefully, by the time i get to Canada and work full time to qualify for mat-leave i can afford to stay home for the first year of my child’s life (3 months full pay and the rest of the year 1/2 -mth pay). I definitely won’t mind having my mom help me out but definitely not my in-laws.

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