There’s a lot of talk about having babies recently because it seems like there aren’t enough of them around in our country. Educated, working couples are putting off having babies and the question everyone’s asking is how we can get more couples to have more babies and have them earlier?
I obviously don’t have the answer to that but seeing that I’m sort of like the exception to the norm with 2 kids and 1 on the way, here’s my perspective.
First, target market.
The fact is not everyone wants kids. Some folks like to be single. Some like to be married without kids. Some don’t mind being near other people’s kids but never want to have any of their own. And some are just allergic to annoying, whiny children. Whatever the case, nobody should ever be compelled to have kids for the good of the nation. That’s insane. It’s too difficult, too painful, too time consuming and expensive to be forced upon anyone. If a couple doesn’t like kids or want to have them, there’s no amount of slick marketing campaigns or government initiatives that will change that.
Stop asking them to have babies and move on.
Because there are lots of couples who want to have kids young but can’t afford it and that’s where a little help can make a lot of difference. People like to say that throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it. Well, actually, it sometimes does. And I think that our baby bonus and maternity leave schemes are a step in the right direction.
For a couple in their mid twenties who want to have kids but are struggling to make ends meet, having a child early seems like a financial impossibility. Offering $10,000 – $18,000 in cash and CDA matching contributions will be able to pay for the hospital bills, some basic necessities and cover a portion of the childcare fees, essentially making it possible for them to have kids 2-3 years earlier.
It’s not much compared to the $200,000 they will eventually spend over the next 21 years, but it helps them at a time when they need the help most. Sure, the baby bonus will run out in a couple of years but with upward social mobility, bonuses, promotions and pay increments, they will be more comfortable by then and better-equipped to cope with the added monthly cost of raising a child.
Of course there are the bigger social, economic and cultural issues at play. We have a long way to go before Singapore becomes family-friendly and achieves that elusive work-life balance we like to talk about, assuming that notion is even possible.
In a competitive, meritocratic society driven by market forces, something has got to give. Mothers can’t possibly take 4 months of maternity leave, knock off at 6pm sharp daily, require emergency childcare leave when their kids are ill and still expect to be at the top of their game in a corporate environment. Chances are, the promotions and performance bonuses will be given to someone who is able to put in the hours and do more for the company. Those are the rules and rightly so.
What the government can do is encourage work from home schemes and allow mothers some level of flexibility in their jobs so we can find an optimum middle ground we’re happy with, where we’re able to spend time with the kids while pursuing a decent career.
While we’re talking about changing mindsets, I think the biggest paradigm shift has to come from the individuals. If couples view having babies as a national duty, they will want to wait till the government makes it easy and convenient for them to do so. That will never happen. They may make it slightly easier by increasing the incentives, but it will never be enough.
So have kids because it’s something you want.
I had Truett at 26 and I’m not going to sugar coat it – it’s been incredibly tough. Sometimes, I look back and I don’t even know how we made it through. We were young, broke, inexperienced and barely able to take care of ourselves, much less another (very screamy and demanding) human being. We’ve had to give up stuff our peers could easily afford and make massive, inconvenient changes to our lives.
But (yes, there’s a but) it’s also been the best decision we made, which is why we have so many. It’s hard to explain to someone why having kids is as awesome as it is without sounding cheesy. They give us a reason to smile on the crabbiest of mornings, make all the sacrifice seem worth it and every single day, we feel like our lives are complete.
I think they call it love.