I was asked to be interviewed for last Sunday’s edition of The New Paper on the latest revisions on the Marriage & Parenthood package. I later found out my answers weren’t going to be included in the feature, partly because my “profile doesn’t really fit the sort (the reporter was) looking for”, and also because the reporter in question didn’t get to finish talking to me over the phone (Okay, that one maybe my fault).
Nevertheless, I do have the interview Q & A mostly documented in my e-mail and Whatsapp. So I figured, why waste a huge chunk of opinion over a very hot topic of national conversation? You’ll find the interview below (edited slightly for readability):
Q: Can u share with me your age and occupation?
A: 35, blogger (seriously).
Q: How old is your son, and personally? What is stopping you from having number 2 right now (especially since you are evidently enjoying fatherhood quite a fair bit!)?
A: My son is 4, and who says anything’s?stopping me? LOL. But make babies not easy leh.
Q: How many kids in total do u see yourself having?
A: 2-3 max. There’s only so much joy we can bundle.
Q: ho takes care of your child currently? Is it a struggle to find childcare?
A: My son goes to a full-day childcare/preschool (in the CBD area and near my parents’ home) during the day, after which his grandparents will pick him up from school in the evenings (we get fined $1 per minute if we fail to fetch him from school before 7pm) before my wife and I fetch him home from 8pm onwards. On weekends he’s with us almost exclusively.
“Struggle” is quite an understatement. Just in our vicinity (we stay in the Northeast), it’s nearly impossible to find open slots just for 2-3 hour childcare centres, much less full-day childcare providers, without being put on a waiting list that will stretch for months. Then there’s cost; even after the current $300 per month full-day childcare subsidy, we still find ourselves paying $700 monthly for a mid-range operator.
Then we still have to factor in preschool curriculum adequacy (is it primary school-ready?), staff qualifications and hospitability, facilities, food, hygiene, transport arrangements, and most importantly, whether your child is willing to accept the foreign environment you’re about to put him in on a daily basis.
Q: Is it difficult to juggle work and being a dad? What is the greatest struggle/challenge?
A:? Despite any company’s best efforts at providing work-life balance, there is a clear divide between work and family that is hardly ever crossed, and the working parent constantly has a hard time convincing one side that the other requires special attention, even if the respective employer or supervisor is a parent himself or herself. New mothers will make full use of their 4-month maternity leave at the risk of losing touch with their work, while dads face the abject scrutiny of their employers for not pulling their weight should they choose to prioritise their family over their jobs. It seems that while employers’ mindsets are said to be changing, companies ultimately must take care of their bottom line despite their employee’s disposition.
Q: What do you think of the recent baby bonus roll out? Enough? Can do more?
(Note: This answer was given before the new childcare subsidy plan was announced the next day, so it doesn’t take into consideration the additional subsidies that are being offered come April 2013.)
A: Based on the previous $4,000 baby bonus allotment matched dollar-for-dollar with our own contribution, and in consideration of just our child’s preschool fees (after subsidy) and paediatric healthcare, the total sum ($8000) in our child’s Child Development Account was only sustainable up to his first 42 months. The current $2,000 increase (again, if matched with our contribution) would have only covered another 6 months’ worth of preschool fees with little left over; we’d have still run dry before he started kindergarten.
But I don’t believe throwing more money at the problem will solve anything though. If any improvement is to be made, it’s in pushing down the fees charged by childcare and preschool providers — private and anchor operators alike — to much more easily digestible levels for middle income earners, otherwise the government would have to consider doubling the total amount to provide meaningful assistance to parents at least through their child’s kindergarten years.
Q: For you, which factors affect the decision to have more children? Is it a very personal decision? How much of what the government does affects that decision?
A: I learnt that the meaning of “family” cannot be properly felt and understood until you have children of your own. I chose to embark on parenthood because I wanted to be survived by my children, but now I’m a father, I have come to survive for my child, and it’s an experience I simply cannot get enough of. That’s as personal a decision for?me to have more kids as it can get.
A friend and father of two told me, “No amount of money or benefits will make me want to have another child, period.” On the other hand, I take the view that I plan to have more kids regardless of whether there’s money or incentives to be had or not. Once that decision is made, even if I’m flat broke, I will find any and every means necessary to ensure my children are provided for, baby bonus or not.
Given these viewpoints, no one entity, public or otherwise, can influence anyone to bring life into this world and bear responsibility for that life. But as Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said on his Facebook page, “what (the government) can do is to try and provide an environment that is supportive as possible”. To that end, I see the package, from its introduction in 2001 to its current iteration, merely as a cushion, and not a critical factor, in family planning.
Q: Do measures and culture at the workplace come into play when thinking about family planning?
A: In fact, I would think one would remove any workplace considerations from the equation when planning for a family. Jobs can change, and careers are never set in stone, but family sticks with you for the rest of your life whether you like it or not — or whether your workplace likes it or not.
Q: For your family, what is on the wish list? In terms of what the government can do, what would make or break whether or not to have one more or two more kids?
A: Education reform. We have an outdated education system that doesn’t serve even the government’s expectations of its economy and workforce development. The very moment it sinks in that there’s a child to bring up, parents immediately worry about how their children will fare in Singapore’s academic system. It’s the biggest barrier in raising local talent, and parents would rather quit their jobs to homeschool their children, or skirt off to another country to settle down, or even abolish the thought of having any more children before putting their children through an academic system that they’re not even sure will provide the skills necessary for their children to thrive in adulthood.
Did that hit the spot for some of you?