Ready to be a dad, handouts or not
At a recent family gathering, soon after my nephew’s birth in October, my mother made a remark to our relatives.
“The uncle is more anxious than the father,” she quipped.
It was not a subtle complaint about my brother-in-law.
You see, this first-time uncle had made numerous trips, even to Johor Baru, to find the perfect stroller for the baby. My sister’s birthday present from me last August was a diaper bag. And I would spend my days off from work just having little Harvey nap on my belly for hours.
Truth is, I can’t wait to have my own kids, even though I have yet to tie the knot. But when my fiancee and I get married, the plan is to have our first little one within two years. (I’m still working on convincing her to increase the quota from two to four.)
So, the goodies in the Enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package announced last week must have been great news, right?
Not really, because I felt the Government could have done more for would-be parents like me — those who have wanted kids all along even without “bonuses” from the Government. And it’s not because I’m well-to-do — journalists earn a very modest living, trust me.
Whether I have handouts to make infantcare or enrolling my children in top pre-schools more affordable is not at the top of my wishlist. Whether I’ll be there to witness my baby take his first step or hear him blurt “Pa” for the first time is.
A legislated right for parents, especially of young children, to request for flexible working arrangements, therefore, would have made it easier for others like me.
Those who have never thought not to start a family but, at the same time, do not want to be stuck in the office and missing the milestones in our children’s growing-up years.
Indeed, no less than the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which represents over 300,000 workers, had recommended the Government include such a measure, telling TODAY it was in the hope that there
would be a “more pervasive work environment where working persons can harmonise their family responsibilities with their obligations to their employers”, as well as their desire to have more mothers return to or continue work.
But it was to be disappointed.
That the NTUC had also recommended two weeks’ paternity leave — the Government gave one week — to “enable fathers to play an active role in parenting especially during the initial period after the baby is born” is also worth noting.
The Government, in my opinion, missed a great opportunity to alleviate the concerns of a group who definitely will contribute to the Total Fertility Rate. Unfortunately, more attention was given to coaxing the undecided.
One week of paternity leave and a further week’s leave mothers can share with their husbands from their 16-week maternity leave is hardly enough for those who see parenting as a fulfilling journey, instead of a part-time commitment at the end of a 12-hour work day.
I want me and my wife-to-be, not an iPad or a domestic helper, to bring up our children, and more importantly, pass on our values and beliefs.
Even as it’s an open secret among my closer pals that I’m willing to be a stay-at-home dad, my fiancee and I, like many other young couples, have too many financial commitments —home loan, ageing parents, and soon, kids. It means we both have to continue working.
Yes, mine is not a desk-bound job, and I am sure my bosses would be okay with working out some arrangement for me to work out of my home sometimes.
But somehow, some fears still lurk within me, as I’m sure for a number of other parents-to-be and new parents: Will I be passed over for promotion or raises? Will my colleagues think I’m not pulling my weight?
In short, does my career have to be collateral for my family?
If requesting for flexible working arrangements had been made a legislated right for parents — especially of young children — it would have greatly assured aspiring parents that you can be a fantastic father/mother without worrying about your career.
And who knows, it might be what sways my wife-to-be to my “Four is Fab” pitch because I can be a good father, not just want to.
Teo Xuanwei is a senior reporter with TODAY.