Grandparents can lead the revolution
Ground Zero: A bottom-up perspective on issues
She made a pact with her two sons when they married within a year of each other.
“Give me a grandchild, and I’ll quit my job when the first one comes along and look after the kid,” Madam Alisia Phang, 58, recounts with a hearty laugh.
She kept her word.
Madam Phang quit her $5,000-a-month job as an operations director when her younger son’s wife was seven months pregnant with her first grandchild, a girl. She is now three years old.
Her elder son and his wife also had a pair of twin boys, who are now two years old, soon after.
Today, Madam Phang looks after them on weekdays, tending to all their needs without a domestic helper.
Her grandchildren go home with their parents on Friday nights.
Then, on Sunday nights, the family will congregate at a restaurant or at one of their homes, have dinner together, before the kids leave with their grandparents.
Her husband, a part-time cabby, helps her and also takes care of the couple’s meals. They do not accept any money from their sons, even as they play guardians and caregivers to their grandchildren.
Says Madam Phang: “If you want to be a grandparent, you must be willing to play an active role.”
A part-time cleaner turns up once a week to help clean the home but her husband does the rest of the chores.
“It’s a win-win situation for my sons and their wives. They are able to continue with their work and lifestyle without feeling tied down,” she says.
But not all parents get to be grandparents.
Some say they have to resort to threats, advice, encouragement and cajoling in the hope their children give them grandchildren.
Housewife Sharon Tan, 55, says: “Every time I ask my children when I can be a grandmother, they tell me, ‘Wait, mum. My career comes first.’ or ‘We’re not ready.’”
She has two daughters and a son, all who have been married for between five and eight years.
Mrs Tan adds: “I keep repeating myself until they now feel I am too naggy.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the challenges facing Singapore last Tuesday and one of them is this dearth of babies among Singaporean couples.
This year's population growth will be slowest in 10 years, growing by only 1.3 per cent, he told the audience at the annual Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia lecture organised by the Singapore Management University. The replacement rate is 2.1 per cent.
He explained how a rapidly ageing society would raise questions on taxes to support social services, healthcare as well as how to keep the economy prosperous.
The solution he said was for Singaporeans to marry and have more children.
The Government would help with housing, support for parents with care-giving and in promotion of flexible work arrangements. There would also be help with quality child care and reducing stress in the education system.
A child-friendly environment was not something that Government policies could by themselves achieve, but instead, would take the concerted effort of the entire community.
And this Heartland Auntie reckons that it is actually the grandparents who will have a major part in the revolution ahead. Already, a grandparent's encouragement can make the difference.
Well, encouragement could be a euphemism.
Technician Goh Swee Eng, 67, says he and his wife had to “bargain” with their son to give them a grandchild.
The grandfather of a four-year-old boy, recounts: “At first, my son told us that he and his wife wanted to wait for six years before starting a family.
“But how can? That meant my daughter-in-law would be in her mid-30s.”
He adds: “Finally, we managed to convince them to reduce the wait to three years.”
I hear the same stories repeated many times.
First, parents fret that their children are marrying later. Then, they complain that their children put family planning on hold.
I just attended the one-month celebration of a niece’s daughter yesterday.
The young couple had been married for five years before the new addition to the family came along.
The couple took their time because they felt that they wanted to have quality time together first.
It was not the baby bonus that got them “working” — but that they were finally ready.
And yes, plus the assurance that my niece’s mother is ready and available to give a hand in raising the little one.
This indicates there is a hope yet for parents who want to be grandparents. Keep the support and encouragement going.