How I want my kids to grow up

A Singaporean view on marriage and kids. Now you should understand what kind of environment i’m in now.

How I want my kids to grow up

by Teo Xuanwei

When my parents married in 1979, my father, a lorry driver then, worked overtime almost daily to bring home S$460 a month. A quarter of this went to paying for the three-bedroom flat I grew up in, in Boon Lay Place.

As a result, Mum and Dad didn’t have date nights for a long time and my older sister and I seldom saw him. My sister never had any Barbie dolls and my only toys were an old, dirty tennis ball and a small bag of hand-me-down soldier figurines.

By the time my father turned 30, my sister was already six and I was four. I remember telling him (when I was younger and a lot more naive) that I wanted to be a father by age 27 (two years after graduating).

I’m already 30, but marriage won’t come sooner than late next year, depending on when our Executive Condominium is completed – we decided to buy it only because we couldn’t afford the hefty cash-over-valuation nor the risk of a lengthy wait for a Build-To-Order flat.

And as much as I want children soon (I want four; the lady will only go up to two), it’s unlikely I will be a father before my 35th birthday – my fiancee and I want some couple time together and we also need to save up enough.

The aspirations of our generation are so very different.

Like many of my peers, I don’t want to have to "settle" and make sacrifices like my parents did – no social life to speak of and no luxuries, for ourselves and the kids.

I am also what I think of as the post-maids generation: A growing group of those who refuse to let a maid bring up our children, because I want to be there for their growing-up years. But would my boss let me?

I would rather my wife-to-be or I raise our children full-time. But can we afford not to be a dual-income family, and is it fair for either of us to give up our careers?

In this context, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s signals that paternity leave may be in the offing, and that employers’ attitudes on work-life balance must be dealt with, are steps in the right direction. Likewise the plans to raise the quality of pre-school education across the board. This lifts a burden because I don’t want to feel compelled to send my kids to some expensive private kindergarten, just so they don’t lag behind in the rat race.

I want my kids to enjoy growing up like I did – without tuition or enrichment classes, and with plenty of playtime. My sister didn’t know a word of English when she went to Primary 1; she ended up a graduate. We turned out all right. I want that to be the way for my children too.

Knowing where Mr Lee wants to head now, I’ve been asked if, in retrospect, it would have made a difference to my choice not to get married and start a family earlier. Perhaps.

For now, I wonder how far the changes will go. For example, would my employer allow me to spend up to six months a year working from home until my kid is three years old?

Teo Xuanwei, 30, is a senior reporter with TODAY.


How I want my kids to grow up

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