Saturday, May 22, 2010

Where are the young ones?

I know of many fathers who dote on their children. I for one, dote on mine, though unfortunately, to the extent of spoiling him. If you ask me, I have given my full support to bringing up my child even while my wife and I develop our careers in the formative years of our child's life.I cleaned the house, washed the dishes, fed the baby whenever my wife is indisposed, play with him, read to him and put him to sleep. All of which I enjoyed and look back with pleasant memories. Yet I have only one child.

I am sure many fathers in Singapore share in raising their children, and that includes helping out in the kitchen or the playground. All the fathers I know dote on their children. Some are even good cooks. Some have 3, 4 kids, and some have only one. So I find it mystifying that the Executive Director of AWARE, Ms Corinna Lim, asserts that Singaporeans do not have more kids because dads don't play enough of a role at home while women have routinely joined the workforce over the last 30 years. She writes that women are not inclined to have many, or any children because of the perception, and probably a fact, that holding down a job and raising children at the same time without equal commitment from the father is the main problem in Singapore with its declining national birth rate. I agree with her to a certain extent, but this proposition is neither new nor earth shattering in any way. In fact, it is rather obvious.Who would want to face a bevy of noisy and demanding children when one returns from a tiring day at the office? Certainly not the mother, not to mention the father.  But I do know of many families who have live-in maids who not only cook and clean, but also take care of the children. In fact this appears to be the norm rather that the exception, unlike more than 30 years ago. This helps to lift a big load off the parents' minds and their tired muscles, does it not?

So why not have more? They can have more, right? Sometimes, I wonder at the 4-party family I often see around Singapore. No, not the mother-father-2 kids type, but the mother-father-1 kid-1-maid type. I often think it is extravagant - 3 adults looking after 1 child. Think of that. That's why some people find the thesis advanced by Ms Lim so ludicrous. My mother had 5 children, 4 of whose ages do not differ by more that 4 years. She almost single-handedly raised us all without a maid nor a car. Yet today, women complain that the father is not playing an equal role in the family, never mind that they have a car and a maid in tow, wherever they go.

So I think the reason for the low fertility rate goes much deeper and wider. The problem with Ms Lim's thesis is not that she is wrong, but that she has not said enough. She appears to have given too much weight to the problem of absent-fathers, which is itself controversial. Does she have the statistics to back up her assertion about men not playing an equal role in the family in Singapore? I don't. What I know is anecdotal, so I dare not put a finger at this particular issue only. But then again, Professor Hans Rosling, which Ms Lim appears to rely on solely, may have done his study, so he may have his statistics, though I wonder if the study was done in the context of Singapore society today. Like I said, I don't disagree with Ms Lim, nor the good Professor, just that it is likely not the whole story, and in fact, it is not remarkable, come to think of it. It is only remarkable because a category of human beings are being 'hammered'. When you make it sound like it is the father's fault, you will be lambasted, for obvious reasons.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Who in his right mind would want to have more children? Hdb flats are so small and expensive, cars are so expensive, child care is so expensive, education is so expensive, time is so precious and so limited, etc. Parents want the best for their children, the days when 5 children slept in one room are over, no one wants that for their children any more.