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Long working hours keeping S’porean families apart: Survey

SINGAPORE — Office administrator Mrs L J Yong may sound like your mother. The 53-year-old lamented that she barely gets to see her children because they are away from home most of the time. They have quick morning exchanges that last no more than five minutes, and weekday dinners are “almost once in a blue moon”.

SINGAPORE — Office administrator Mrs L J Yong may sound like your mother. The 53-year-old lamented that she barely gets to see her children because they are away from home most of the time. They have quick morning exchanges that last no more than five minutes, and weekday dinners are “almost once in a blue moon”.

Does this sound like your family? The Families for Life Council, which seeks to build strong families, revealed yesterday that in a recent survey, one in 10 of the 700 respondents spend six hours or fewer with their immediate families a week, and about half of the respondents spend over 36 hours a week (or about five hours daily) with immediate family members.

For extended families, time together is even more rare: Half of the respondents spend two hours or fewer a week with this group.

The survey was conducted between January and March this year and those interviewed were Singaporeans aged 20 to 69.

It found that the main barriers keeping families from spending time together are long working hours (for half the respondents who indicated that they do not spend sufficient quality time with their family) and fellow family members working long hours (slightly more than a third).

Other reasons cited for lack of family time included children being busy with school or their own activities, family members preferring to play computer games or watch television on their own or family members being overseas.

For Mrs Yong, her son is serving National Service while her daughter works long hours as a production coordinator. The family tries to get together on weekends — Mr Yong whips up breakfast, and they stroll around parks, but even then, they have to remind their daughter to stop checking her email messages from work. Mrs Yong said she would like employers to create a company culture that encourages employees to leave work on time.

About 92 per cent of those polled ranked family as their most important priority, ahead of health and financial stability. Family activities that are most popular with Singaporeans include having meals together, celebrating family occasions such as birthdays, or going on vacations together. Other activities were also mentioned, such as shopping, having group chats on the phone, or exercising together.

Council chairman Ching Wei Hong highlighted how a work-centric culture, the “ubiquitous availability of social media”, and rising “distractions” from gadget use can derail family time.

“If you want to go home and hide in the study room, and have a meal by yourself and not engage (with) the family, that’s a problem.

“When raising my children, I would try to rush home to at least put them to bed or read them a story. Even if you’re tired, how about going for a short walk with your wife? (It’s about) making a conscious effort, and you have to plan and coordinate it.”

Taxi driver C K Lek, 56, a former flight attendant, certainly plans for family time with his wife and 15-year-old son now.

“I work from 6am to 4pm on weekdays ... fetch my son from school, and we have dinner together every day.” He said they have been building on this ritual and value of spending time together and they “like returning to a happy home”.

Public relations executive Chitra Padmaja, 29, said that while she spends about one to two hours a day with her family, she tries to have dinner with her parents.

“This is something the (younger generation) needs to work on ... Our parents are getting old and ... there’s an expiry date.”

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