Ah, parenthood. How times have changed since our parents’ first taste of life with a newborn.
Or have they?
According to my parents, they certainly have. I gave birth to my daughters in 2011 and 2013. Both times, the arrival of baby brought with it a flurry of forms to fill to open co-savings accounts, declaration forms to get coveted cash grants, and Medisave information to read and digest. Come April every year, the husband and I comb through the IRAS website, and strategise how to leverage on our respective parenthood reliefs and rebates, so as to maximise our annual tax benefits.
My parents observe us and nod sagely, “Young parents these days have it good.”
Career & Maternity Leave
My mother counts the 16 weeks of paid maternity leave that working women now enjoy amongst the things that would have been “unthinkable” when she delivered me back in 1979. “In those days, we went back to work a few weeks after giving birth! And now there are even things like government grants to help couples conceive, Baby Bonus and parenthood tax rebates!” she exclaims.
While the 1980s and 1990s saw a vast improvement in leave benefits, things were still different for working mothers back then, like Sarojini Padmanathan, who had her two children in 1988 and 1989, and her third in 1992.
“We had eight weeks of maternity leave for the first two children. For the third child, I had to save up my vacation leave and then get back to work after six weeks as there was no maternity leave given for the third child in those days,” recalls the Chief Operating Officer of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA).
In addition to maternity leave, companies now provide new parents with parental leave and child care leave – recent benefits that parents in the past never had. “I am a working mother, and have always enjoyed the balance of both going to the office and looking after my children,” says Sarojini, “but juggling work and looking after them when they were down with flu was challenging. I had to nurse them and look after their medical needs, and yet complete what was required at work and do the housework.”
In comparison, employers are gradually becoming more aware of the needs of working mums in striving for work-life balance. Some even offer flexible work arrangements, a practice which is slowly gaining acceptance and traction amongst companies.
Apart from more days of leave, Celine Yeo, General Manager of I Love Children and mother to three children born between 1995 and 1999, agrees that couples with children born in recent years benefit from other forms of support introduced by the government in the 2000s. “Back then, there was no Baby Bonus or Child Development Account for my children”, shared Celine. In contrast, even couples trying to conceive can now look to government grants to help relieve the cost of assisted reproduction technology (ART) treatment. In 2013, the Marriage and Parenthood Package was enhanced to extend government co-funding for fresh ART treatments received at public hospitals to frozen cycles as well.
In addition to financial incentives, couples now benefit from various forms of tax reliefs and rebates, with both parents enjoying qualifying child relief and parenthood tax rebate, and the female spouse getting an additional working mother’s child relief if she continues to work after having children.
Lifestyle & Social Support
Celine counts the zoo and bird park as some of her family’s favourite places to visit in the 1990s. Family leisure also comprised window shopping, visiting the library, having breakfast at MacDonald’s and buying groceries at the supermarket. “Families now have more fun options,” she quips, “More parks, playgrounds and interesting places for children to go.” One certainly can’t argue with her observation given the growing variety of family entertainment comprising outdoor play areas, indoor playgrounds, and children’s activities at our museums and arts centres.
Today’s tech-savvy generation also benefits from having parenting resources at their fingertips. The Internet is a great source of parenting knowledge on family health and medical matters, education resources, meal recipes, craft ideas, etc. Blogs and forums bring parents together where they can connect with one another over shared ideas and experiences in a supportive online community. There are online shopping platforms to help busy parents save time – and get good deals for groceries, health supplements and books for their family.
New Parents In Different Times
What are the thoughts of the younger generation of parents on parenting then and now?
Shermaine, a civil servant, gave birth to her son in 2012. She agrees that parents like her have benefited from the government’s pro-family initiatives, and are also generally more knowledge-savvy and well-informed on what to expect when it comes to parenting.
With the advent of the Internet, it has also become easier for couples trying to conceive to seek out information on fertility and conception. But does that translate into more willingness to discuss these matters – previously taboo - openly?
Shermaine thinks it does, “People are getting less shy about discussing these topics, and are more open to receiving advice and help from others.”
Bernard, an undergraduate at a local university who became a father in 2013, mulls over the question. “I think there is still a barrier when discussing such topics with parents,” he says, “However, this barrier seems to be non-existent with friends. In fact, my friends and I discuss openly on fertility issues. Some of my friends shared that they are seeking medical aids to boost their fertility.”
While the availability of family-planning information is a boon for young couples, Celine thinks that couples now plan and sometimes over-plan in wanting to find the right time to have children – “which may sometimes never happen,” she adds.
Child Care & Parenting Roles
Have we seen a change in parenting roles and responsibilities over the years?
While child-rearing responsibilities in the past have traditionally been the role of the mother, couples now view parenting as a team effort. “We share baby duties as equally as possible!” shares Shermaine, “Between the hubby and myself, we try not to draw a distinction between our roles.” That said, couples may still split responsibilities according to what works best for them. For example, Shermaine would usually feed, bathe and put her son to bed, while her husband cleans the house, changes the sheets and washes the bottles. “I guess we ended up falling into this pattern out of convenience and we developed strengths in our respective areas over time.”
Bernard sums up his role as a father: “I do everything that my wife does – except breastfeed. System limitation!” he laughs.
Community organisations such as Centre for Fathering and Dads For Life have done a lot to emphasise the importance of a father’s presence in their child’s life. Through their programmes, talks and events, they equip and support men in playing this vital role. “There are a lot more talks involving the father in the role of child-rearing, which is a good thing”, says Sarojini.
Some Things Never Change
The experience of becoming a parent is undeniably earth-shaking. While the arrival of a newborn can turn your world topsy-turvy, having children brings many positive changes to one’s life. “I’ve definitely grown closer to my parents, parents-in-law and sister, who has two kids of her own,” reflects Shermaine, “I’ve also become more appreciative of my parents and parents-in-law, who have been so generous and selfless in extending their love and help to care for my kid despite their busy schedule.”
In the face of changing times and situations, it is clear that family remains at the core – for both parents then and now.
“The importance of family support remains unchanged,” says Shermaine, “In my parents’ days, my grandma helped to look after us when they were at work. Today, I have my parents and parents-in-law to help care for my child so that I can go to work with peace of mind.”
Different Times, Same Joy
Every journey to parenthood – and through parenthood – is different, stemming from different times, different environments and different personal situations. But no matter when you first became a parent - be it in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or 2000 and beyond – that deep joy that children bring to a marriage is the same through the decades.
Sarojini affirms this, “My role in helping my children shape their lives and guide them to become what they are today is really a joy indeed.”
Celine adds, “I still enjoy fussing over them, and giving them hugs and kisses – even in their teenage years!”, while Bernard cites seeing his son smile every morning as his greatest joy.
Shermaine sums up the joy of parenthood in her reflection. “As parents, we tend to carry out acts of selflessness for our children without expecting anything in return. That’s the beauty of parenthood – it gives you joy in being completely selfless.”