Last week, the latest Marriage and Parenthood Package 2013 was released. An increased annual budget from $1.6 billion to $2 billion was implemented in a bid to make Singapore more family-friendly.
I caught up with Jacqueline and Darren (not their real names), a young couple who got married in 2009 and has just recently expanded their family with the birth of Natalie, their 10-month-old daughter.
They share their thoughts on the latest enhancements and grants, and how it will affect their family planning.
So Jacqueline, tell us more about your family.
J: Well, Darren and I have been married for a little over three years now. We just welcomed into the family our little bundle of joy in March last year!
Wow, congratulations! Must have been a joyous occasion for the family. I understand that both Darren and yourself are employed full-time, so how does the childcare arrangement works?
D: We’re lucky to have my mother-in-law step in as the full time caregiver for Natalie, and it certainly helps that Jacqueline’s family loves kids so everyone chips in to help. I usually drop Jacqueline off at work, before sending Natalie and our helper to my mother-in-law’s place and then heading to work. We all meet back after work for dinner, and then go back to our own house at night.
J: Yes, we’re really fortunate my mom’s willing to help. And Natalie is super close to her because they spend so much time together!
Seems like the arrangement is working well then! Any plans to expand the family?
J: Our plan is for Natalie to have at least one sibling because we want her to have a playmate and someone to talk to.
D: Both of us have siblings ourselves so we can’t imagine being an only child. I also hope she will learn values like caring for her younger sister or brother and be less self-centered. Not so bratty and spoilt! (laughs)
J: Ideally speaking, I would love to have at least three kids but I don’t know if my mom will be able to cope if she has to look after so many of them. I also think that the lack of a work-life balance is a huge disincentive for me. I work in the education sector and sometimes it seems like I spend more time with other people’s children than my own. Working 12 hours a day leaves me no time with Natalie and she’s my biggest priority.
D: To us, it’s not the quantity but quality of the upbringing of our child. Other factors will be the rising costs of living. They seem to rise faster than our pay increments. We have to cope with the maid levy and her salary, upkeep of our car and housing loans, and then set aside a sum for savings, insurance. What makes matters worse now is the rising cost of COE. Feels like the government is punishing us folks who need a car…
J: I also feel that our current maternity leave is too short. Society encourages us to breastfeed for 6 months. With only 16 weeks of maternity leave, how can we achieve that? Especially in my line of work, expressing milk at my workplace is not feasible.
Certainly seems like the common issues that a lot of mothers out there are facing. On the flipside, which of the incentives rolled out by the government when you had your first child really helped?
J: The usage of Medisave to offset our hospital fees! Particularly because I had to undergo a C-section instead of natural birth so my medical bills were higher than what we had initially budgeted for. And of course the baby bonus, although I think the cash amount disbursed could be increased.
D: I think we received $4000 for the baby bonus right?
J: Yes, $4000. The money was used up quite quickly though. All the doctor scares, diapers, milk powder…
Any doctor scares?
J: (laughs) With us being first time parents we were naturally very anxious when Natalie showed the slightest symptoms of falling ill. I remember during the first couple of months when she regularly vomited after her feed and we totally freaked out! Turns out she had a short gullet so we’ve got to be a little more patient when we feed her.
The first few months must have been tough!
D: It was! Each feed was on a three hours interval basis, so imagine having to wake up in the middle of the night…
Did your employers do more to help ease the transition when you first went back to work?
J: Not really, work just resumed full force.
D: Same for me.
J: That’s why I think a longer maternity and paternity leave will definitely help. It will also be great if they set aside some time for mothers to express milk, and maybe even provide some sort of grants for employers to provide a room for us to do so?
D: Maybe instead of paternity leave, employers can provide a work from home scheme. That helps too!
J: But that’s definitely not possible for teachers… I guess it’s difficult to please everyone (laughs).
So what were your reactions on the announcements of the Marriage and Parenthood package 2013? Seems like there were a lot of enhancements to defray child bearing/raising costs and encouraging better work-life balance.
J: It definitely helps to some degree. But raising a child is a time-consuming and full-time job! I feel like most of the enhancements or measures are very focused on the cost factor. Sure, that’s very important, but it’s really about being able to spend time with your child. At least to me that’s the most important.
D: I agree. Maybe for the public sector, enforcing a longer child care leave is feasible. But I’m not so sure about the private sector. Wouldn’t this longer leave scheme be frowned upon?
I suppose we will only know the effects of these enhancements after some time. So do you think more can be done?
J: I am all for a longer maternity leave to allow for breastfeeding. I was a little disappointed to hear that there were no changes to our existing 16 weeks paid maternity leave, especially since there was so much talk about extending it to 6 months.
D: Maybe also more help and fewer limitations on the Assisted Conception Procedures (ACP). I’m speaking on behalf of a friend who failed to conceive after three tries. She is no longer qualified to use Medisave to defray her IVF costs. But from her point of view, do you think those people who desire to have babies will really stop trying after three times? Besides it’s our Medisave money, and I don’t see why there are so many restrictions around using what’s ours.
Let’s backtrack to the time when you decided to get married and/or start a family, were these grants/rebates a consideration in helping you reach a decision?
J: No. We wanted to get married and we love kids, so it was more or less a natural progression for us.
D: Honestly, I don’t think any couples out there actually bother to look through the incentives and grants before they decide to get married and have kids. It’s only when you reach the stage when you need to get a flat or your baby is almost due that you start doing your research.
J: If you see having children as an investment, then you will be disappointed because it definitely has negative returns. Having said that though, I can’t imagine our life without Natalie! She’s brought so much joy to our family and it’s something that cannot be measured in monetary terms.
D: Even without these grants, we would still have kids. Sure it will be difficult, but to me at least, our family isn’t complete without Natalie. And the many more to come? (laughs)
I’m guessing you probably have friends in similar situations. Either couples with kids or those who have just gotten married and are thinking of starting a family. What are their thoughts on the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package?
J: They welcome the help, but like us they feel it’s not enough of a push factor.
D: They also want more help to defray child-raising costs, more work life balance and longer parental leave.
Some people have liken the Marriage and Parenthood package to the government using money to incentivise young people in Singapore to get married and procreate. What are your thoughts on this?
D: I think it’s pointless. No amount of monetary incentives will push Singaporeans to tie the knot or procreate. After all, it is a very personal decision.
J: True. A lot of my girlfriends choose to stay single or not have children because they want to build their career or enjoy their freedom. I don’t think these enhancements will have that much of an impact on their thinking.
D: Not to say the government isn’t doing the right thing, but sometimes I feel there’s really only so much they can do to push people down the marriage and parenthood path.