Monday, February 26, 2007

Priorities in life

In a bid to sustain the standard and way of life that Singaporeans have become used to, very often, both husband and wife, mother and father, MUST hold down a job in ultra-competitive Singapore. I remember a time (my time) when the wife stays at home to raise the kids while the man brings home the bacon. But of course, that is a bygone era. With both male and female getting equal educational opportunities and career options in Singapore, it just doesn't make any sense for the wife to stay at home when she can be more productive, for home, country and vacations, holding down a job that provides more of the good material things in life, not to mention the spa holidays for relaxation and re-charging of the spirit and soul from time to time.

But the cost has been found to be in the declining birth rate among Singaporeans. We are already in crisis because apparently, we are not reproducing enough to replace ourselves. In time to come, we might just become extinct, to be replaced by migrants from other lands, just as our parents and grandparents themselves were migrants in Singapore in their time. So who are we building our homes for anyway? Does all this even make sense when we cannot reproduce enough of ourselves? I think we must come around to changing our expectations of what should be before this reversal will take place. Importing people will only go so far because in time to come, they will be just as unproductive as they assimilate and, inevitably, adopt the Singapore way of family and working life.

I argue that in Singapore, every couple should strive to work towards a single breadwinner family, the sooner the better. This means that Singaporeans must radically change their priorities. So instead of acquiring a car and a condo first, they must ensure that one of them earns enough to support the rest of the family - children and, preferably, grandparents included. Many would protest that this is impossible to do in Singapore, but really, with the re-arrangement of priorities, it can be done. I often marvelled that my father, with a salary not exceeding $500 a month, managed to raise 5 kids with the help of a very shrewed and thrifty wife. They knew where their priorities lay.

Some of you will not be convinced because you'd say, that was thirty years ago. Society has changed, and the standard of living has changed and all that. I can only say that I have done it. My wife doesn't work. She stopped working 4 years ago. I am the sole breadwinner, and by God's grace, we live in a condo. And I am just a salaryman, not even near one of the many millionaires that are sprouting up on the island these days. I just do not drive a car. That saves a lot of money, so I am told by people who do own a car. Well, I do have to live with the vagaries of public transport, including figuring out the pysche of Singapore taxi drivers. But its a trade-off that I have gotten used to. I can take my family on overseas vacations not once, but twice a year. And no, I do not try to supplement my income on 4-D and Toto. I don't make a cent from the stock market either because I am not good at it at all. If nothing, all my small and infrequent investments in equity have lost money.

So I am not convinced that, Singaporeans, when presented with a choice between family and work, work (the rice-bowl) must necessarily always come first. It is a matter of priorities. You can live relatively comfortably in Singapore without both husband and wife working. This is a myth that must be slain here and now.

What are your priorities?

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