I read our President’s post on Father’s Day. And I can’t help but agree with many parts of it. Fathers today are expected to pay the bills and increasingly partake in household and child-rearing activities. But society has yet to catch up fully. Not just in terms of policies, but attitude and culture.
Take my experience for example, as a father, I am not allowed to accompany my young child and my wife to a medical facility. And I cannot be the one with my child, as I am unable to breastfeed. Thankfully, we were able to resolve this eventually. We need to recognise that both parents need to be included in bringing up a child. Not just one. Also, as fathers, we are not just there to take care of the child, but also to provide emotional support for our spouse, especially post-childbirth, when mothers can be emotionally and mentally vulnerable, more so when the child is sick.
Women today are expected to be in the workforce. How many families today can survive with a single stream of income? On the other hand, workers are expected to not retire at our usual retirement age, because of the longer lifespan, so grandparents are expected to be working. Men, as per traditional views, are already expected to be in the workforce. Meanwhile, child care faculties remain scarce, and for children with special needs such as autism, tube feeding or dialysis, it is even more challenging. That gap is sometimes filled in with domestic helpers. But as our neighbouring countries progress, the expectation and behaviour of domestic helpers also shift. Eventually, we may find ourselves being unable to hire such workers to fill in the gap as time goes by. So who is there exactly to be taking care of the child? Lastly, our biological clock remains unchanged. Families are encouraged to have their child early to prevent Down syndrome, something which the odds increases with age. And no, as of today, we are not allowed to freeze our eggs for “social reasons”.
All these reasons seem to be why our birth rates are dropping every decade. The more educated ones probably recognise these problems better and they think twice before having a kid. This is why perhaps, as a country progresses, the birth rate drops. Meanwhile, for some ignorant ones, they are in bliss, having as many children as they please. And we run into a problem because society is then expected to fill in the gap to bring up these children properly. I sometimes wonder who is the smarter one. I must say however, we also have rich parents who spoil their child. So it doesn’t mean that being rich and educated ensures a good child upbringing. But what is important is to ensure that there are sufficient resources, be it human resource, capital, or even personal will to bring up a child properly.
How apt it is to revisit this phrase – it takes a village to raise a child. As compared to the past, this village now must quickly recognise that men, while traditionally are out there working and providing bread and butter, are increasingly being expected to be part of bringing up a child. We cannot put more expectation and provide the same amount of support. Tackling our low birth rates requires the support of the entire village, not just the village head, but across the board, from companies to society to even shopping centres building adequate family rooms for families and drivers not abusing family parking lots. Roles that were clearly distinguished in the past are no longer so. We must do away with our traditional view that only certain individuals should be the primary caregiver, and instead, recognise that it takes a village to raise a child.
Perhaps it is not all doom and gloom. Society today increasingly recognise that males are not just expected to be the breadwinner but a part of the family. For example, some companies increased the paternity leave for fathers without being mandated by law. Recognising the increased financial burden during Covid, more financial support has also been announced. Childcare and childcare professionals are also being increasingly focused on and emphasised, both in terms of quality and quantity. But the fight is not finished. We must continue to strive towards making Singapore not just a place for good corporate endeavours but also a place to live and bring up our children.
To every father and families, happy Father’s Day.