This posting was published in Today newspaper 14 Aug 2012 under the headline “For babies, redefine happiness”.
Back in the 2000s, each time my wife gave birth, my friends would joke “Hey the Baby Bonus worked!” We had a good laugh, because it was very clear to my social circle that the Government’s fertility policies had nothing to do with our decision to have children.
As the years went by, we rolled our eyes at the hundreds of millions of tax dollars being poured into the Baby Bonus scheme without any significant result.
Now, of my close friends who are married today, the majority of them have at least two children. What’s even more interesting is that like me, quite a few of my friends are sole breadwinners, with their wives choosing to give up their careers to ensure the kids are well-looked after. We made the decision with our wives even when it didn’t seem like our paychecks could support it.
But recently, whenever we young dads have lunch together, we no longer bring up the joy of parenthood that lit up our lives when our children were cute babies and toddlers.
These days, we talk about the woes we are going through with the primary school education system, corrupted by unrealistic standards and “kiasu” parents. We debate about whether we should stop stressing ourselves out trying to figure out today’s education requirements, and just hand our kids over to the mercy of the tuition centers.
We sigh about the rising cost of living, about how it will be difficult to ferry our kids around once we can no longer afford the Certificate of Entitlement for cars. Public transport may be an option but we feel sorry for parents who have to bring young babies into a crowded train.
We wonder how our children will ever be able to afford their first public housing with the current trajectory of inflation and property prices.
We worry about our children’s future, where their desire to live out their passions may be inevitably snuffed out by the local economy’s bias towards the lucrative finance sector.
We discuss our own work-life balances, and ask ourselves what happens to the family if the sole breadwinners among us lose our jobs or our health.
The most depressing topic is how our children lack the time to enjoy their childhood. Not because we force them to go enrichment classes or do a lot of assessment books (we don’t), but because it is the state of things today in this pressure cooker society.
I am heartened by the recent news of the Government bringing together different ministries to tackle the issue of the low birthrate in Singapore. The undeniable failure of the Baby Bonus scheme has demonstrated that throwing money at one aspect of the problem (subsidizing the cost of upbringing) is not going to work.
What will work, is for the government and citizenry to first recognize that Singapore is increasingly becoming an unhappy place to stay in, with the relentless pursuit of wealth, materialism and a myopic definition of success.
For too long, young people in this country have been led to believe that happiness would come with a lot of money, a condo (nevermind the location), an expensive car and many vacations to exotic locations.
Many who cannot truly afford it, decide to take huge loans to finance that dream.
If that is how happiness is defined, why would people want to give it all up to go for a lifelong commitment called parenthood?