Baby Woes Not Just Bosses' FaultThis year, Mrs Wang went part-time. She now works three days a week. Furthermore, for each of those three days, she can work half a day at home, and it's up to her whether she works from home in the morning, or in the afternoon.
By Neo Chai Chin
CHANGE the workplace culture to allow for more family time, some have been saying — but would this truly boost the sagging birthrate?
Out of 1,000 mums surveyed in April by the Working Mothers Forum (WMF), 3 in 5 would say “no, thanks” to having a new bundle of joy in their households, even if they could resolve domestic and work issues. Yet, 86 per cent of these mums agreed that having children was “a bliss”.
What could explain this conundrum?
To mothers like Madam Noroonnessa Begam, 38, factors such as the high cost of raising a child and Singapore’s competitive environment count. “Finances are very important. As you know, there are rising costs and the challenging education system. And if you have one problem child, that will take up a lot of your time,” said Mdm Noroonessa, a childcare teacher with three sons aged 9 to 12.
But the experts say, all is not lost in the push for more babies – after all, the survey (done by research firm Connecting Insights Consultants) found that a quarter of the mums would agree to more kids if work-life balance is achieved.
“I think that’s a good start,” said Associate Professor Daniel Goh, a pediatrician and chair of WMF’s panel of experts. The survey aims to understand the concerns of working and job-seeking mothers, and if it leads to increased flexibility at the workplace, perhaps “some of these people will change their minds”.
The survey also found that one-third of the mothers felt it was impossible to give 100 per cent to both motherhood and career, while 37 per cent felt they could.
About half the mums surveyed said employers play the biggest role – more so than the Government – in helping them manage work-family challenges. Flexible policies would do much to ease their load.
This is great for our kids, but logically speaking, a setback for her career. Over the next few years, most likely Mrs Wang is not going to make as much career progress as she would have, if she were working full-time.
I do have two important points to make. Firstly, kids grow up. Secondly, the average lifespan of a modern career is much longer than the time it takes for kids to grow up.
Currently, the official retirement age in Singapore is 62 years. If you are a female graduate, you probably started working around age 21 or 22. That means your career lifespan is about 40 years.
Even if you took, say, five years off to raise your little kids, you still have 35 years left to work. That's a very long time. I think that there must be very few people in the world who can honestly say that 35 years is too short a period for them to pursue their career aspirations.
On the other hand, devoting five years to your kids when they are still very young and need a lot of care will make a very big and valuable difference. When they're older and more independent, they won't need that much attention anyway.
By going part-time (as opposed to quitting work completely), Mrs Wang has more time for the kids, yet at the same time retains enough connection to the working world to know what's happening. When the time comes, and if she wants to, she can make a smooth transition back into a full-time career.
Think about it this way - if she is 40 years old by then, she will still have 22 years left to work, before hitting retirement age. If you can't mentally grasp what a very long time that is, just ask yourself where you were and what you were doing, back in 1986. That was 22 years ago. What a very different world that was, and how very faaaaar you've come since then.
Life isn't a 100-metre race. It's actually a marathon, a slow jog on a long winding road. And its final destination is death. If people actually realised that, then they would be more careful about what they decide to chase. Along the way, they would stop to smell the roses, admire the scenery and try out various interesting experiences that life does offer. Like, raising kids.