In the past weeks, Singaporean parents have had a lot to think about. For many of us, the biggest thing on our minds has been the kind of future we want for our families and for our children as they grow into adulthood.
With four lively, young children, I have a bigger family size than what’s typical in Singapore. With the current discussion on population projections within the local context, I have experienced many conflicting emotions and done a good deal of soul- searching.
My personal faith has been central to my family life; having children has simply been an extension of my religious beliefs. Being a mother is a calling, and I am honoured to be mother to each of my kids! I know that all our needs will be met and all things will work out.
Add to this the fact that I love the miracle of pregnancy and birth. I have witnessed firsthand the wonder of my body’s workings, and experienced the intensity and power of bringing forth new life.
Having babies has prompted me to redefine myself as a woman and person; I have had to reflect on the values that are personally meaningful to me and want to foster in my family.
Through the heady, falling-in-love rollercoaster I rode with each of my babies, I found a renewed sense of purpose. Re-experiencing the world and helping my children make sense of it has nudged me out of my comfort zone and given me new eyes at the same time!
All this has not fully shielded me from the ups and downs of real-life, though! Having four kids, I realised early on that the energy, time and resources we could give each child may well be less than what a child born into a family with one or two children would get.
Indeed, when I found I was pregnant with each new baby, I wondered whether I would have enough, not just of material things but enough smiles, hugs and positivity to give to this new one.
My children live a different sort of life from their peers from smaller families. They are growing up sharing their rooms with siblings, not having the latest tech gadgets or not getting picked up from school after co-curricular activities, in the family car.
I have come to see that my family and many other families around me live by a different value system, one where children and family hold great worth, even if this means making lifestyle adjustments.
Conflict arises when my kids bring home messages from school, friends or society about the things they perceive ‘normal’ Singaporean kids grow up with, such as domestic helpers and iphones. Despite my resolve about the values I want for my family, it does hit a raw nerve when my kids compare themselves to their friends.
On another note, family life is somewhat more spirited. Three-way wrestling matches and territorial disputes challenge my conflict resolution skills (and patience!) on a regular basis; after all, there are four sides to every story!
Family outings involve forethought and planning to cater for the various ages, needs and schedules. Taking crowded buses or trains with little ones or attending one of the kids’ friend’s birthday parties becomes a big logistical challenge.
Yet, the limits that I have has made me re-think my priorities and make conscious choices about what exactly I am going to do with what I have; I have had to choose to cut down on work commitments to carve out family time. We have had to choose spending on our family grocery bills and healthcare needs instead of on entertainment and luxury holidays.
I have grown thankful for all the goodness we have, and how rich we really are because we have one another. I have grown as an individual through having one, two, three, then four children!
My beliefs about raising children and my attitudes towards relationships and the community stem in part from my experiences and growth as a mother, growth that may have been hard to come by in any other way.
Have I had to dig deep for courage and hope? Certainly. Have I had to make some hard choices? For sure. Have I gotten really mad at myself for ‘not being enough’? For somehow ‘failing’ my family? God knows, I have.
I have found resolution to my inner conflict by facing that yawning gap between my ideal world and my reality, and choosing to focus on carving out our place as a family. As paediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton says, “Home is the place where we create the future.”
As we look to the future and wonder what’s out there for all of us, I am heartened to know that there are many honest and respectful voices that share my concerns as a parent; there is growing openness coupled with willingness to make changes. Our individual stories, as well as our collective story, is as yet unwritten.