26 March 2010, by Tan Yi Lin
Taking comfort in the fact that the ordeal only comes around once every year, we try hard not to let our eyeballs roll back into our heads in annoyance and to painfully disguise our grimaces as polite smiles. It was only during the recent Lunar New Year celebrations that my family gave us reason to really smile: my aunties took the liberty to change the age-old custom of giving only the unmarried youngsters red packets filled with money, and cheerfully declared that married couples without children were entitled to the privilege too.
Still, until this year, these wishes to have children soon irked me to the core. While I try to view them as well-intended blessings instead of incessant nagging, hearing “Hope to hear good news soon ah!” 20 times in 48 hours can give one a bad case of indigestion — and it’s not because I’d eaten too much bak kwa. What’s harder to stomach is having older relatives, whom I see but once a year, liberally rub their cookie-laced fingers across my belly and announce, “Aiyoh, why still so flat? When getting bigger?”
But why do I react so antagonistically to the topic of having children? Because I can’t help but have these conversations with the well-wishers, albeit only in my imagination, for I’m not ballsy enough to voice them out:
We only meet once a year. How does me having a baby affect your life in any way? Are you going to come over everyday to help me change soiled diapers? Except for during the Lunar New Year, you don’t even talk to me. How can you assume that having children is what I want?
Whatever happened to the virtue of marriage? Just marriage. Without kids. Does that still count as something important in life?
What am I? A baby factory? Just so that you can coo and play with a little doll for 2 hours once every year, and give it back to me once it starts crying?
Yes, it’s an angst-filled period indeed.
A Change of Heart
This year, we took our parents by surprise by wishing them “Zi Sun Man Tang”, meaning to have a happy house filled with many children and grandchildren. We withheld red packets from young children — unless they uttered the magic phrase “Zao Sheng Gui Zi”. We welcomed kind invitations from pregnant women to rub their rounded bellies for good luck. We didn’t squirm in discomfort when proud parents enthusiastically offered us their sticky (it’s humid Singapore — everybody, including babies, get sweaty) bubs to carry — even though a handful left shiny strings of drool down the front of my new dress. We spent a good part of the Lunar New Year holidays lavishing praise on toddlers when they correctly pieced a jigsaw or toy railway lines together (hooray!)
What has changed?
While I’ve always known that I would want a family to call my own someday, I never really asked myself why I wanted this. I treated it like a piece of homework that had to be done — yeah, yeah, I’ll do it, I’ll get down to it soon, don’t bug me. Please. What triggered a long-overdue bout of soul-searching was an attempt to submit an entry for a contest run by I Love Children, where I had to answer this simple question, “Why do you want to have children?”
I was stumped.
Some possible answers floated through my mind. I found myself rebutting each and every one of them:
Answer: Because children bring joy into my life.Rebuttal: If you can’t find joy in your own life, then what makes you think that you can by having children? You’ve never been the type to carry and play with other people’s children anyway.
Answer: You can rediscover the world through the eyes of a child.
Rebuttal: So now you’re using a child as a tool? Why does it have to be your child anyway, it can be any child.
Answer: Having children is an act of giving back to society.
Rebuttal: Since when did you become so altruistic? And in the time of burgeoning world population and increasing pressure on the environment, maybe you’ll be helping society by not adding to the number of people on this dying planet?
Answer: Having your own child is different from teaching at a school, helping at a charity or adopting abandoned/orphaned kids.
Rebuttal: How would you know? And does it really matter that it’s different?
Everything I wrote sounded wrong and selfish, as if the only reason to have children was for my sole benefit. So I dug a little deeper and came up with this:
Children are an extension of our current life. Being with children enables us to experience life on a higher level through learning life’s lessons that can only be taught by having children. For example, learning how to care for a human being who is your sole responsibility and totally dependent on you, and not a charge that you can return to its parents or to a charitable organization at the end of the day. Lessons that can only be taught the hard way, like learning to understand our parents better by being parents ourselves and discovering the meaning of unconditional love. I want to share all the good things that happened in my life with my children – family customs and traditions, family recipes, stories that have been passed from generation to generation. Through having children, all the good things in life will continue to live on. For Life begets Life.
Let’s hope that I’m right.
So why do you want to have children?