This article first appeared here on Feb 2010.
As Singapore prospers economically with one of the highest GDPs in Asia, our country also faces the same problem like most developed countries when it comes to an escalating divorce problem. Out of an average of 23,000 marriages registered per year, 7,000 will end in a divorce (source: MCYS). Divorces also usually happen in their tenth year of a couple’s marriage and 60% of divorces are instigated by women.
Transitioning.org has received many emails from the jobless community out there and their problems are often sadly compounded by a meltdown in their marriages. Increasingly, we find that spouses will not hesistate to walk out on their jobless husbands if the unemployment period is prolonged and lasted more than a year.
Already facing massive stresses at the job front, the lack of support from their spouses has exaceberate their problem further. We have to regularly provide a counsellor to speak with the unemployed as the career coach could only provide them with career advice and their problem is often multi-faceted.
We also feel that our modern women may not be too ready to walk through the challenges of unemployment with their jobless husbands as their standard of living is threatened. More people nowadays filed for divorces citing finances as their main trigger especially if they could not hold on to their homes due to a mortgage repayment breach or someone going bankrupt due to joblessness.
The lack of a proper welfare system for the unemployed means that our family units will be stressed when the main breadwinner goes out of work. Even if they managed to find a job, their salary will also not be sufficient to provide for the expenses of a family of four as we are not protected by any minimum wage legislation.
Out of desperation, older retrenched PMETs with degrees and solid work experience, have taken on work that only provides an income of less than $2500 per month. They also have to compete with younger fitter foreigners who are allowed in with all kinds of work visas.
Most of our modern families, belonging to the lower middle income category, continue to struggle as they have to take care of their young children and aged parents – without much support from the state.
Modern Dual-Income Familial Model
In today’s modern families, we also have to cope with the challenges of a dual-income familial model. It has become a norm increasingly for children to be raised by third parties such as a maid, childcare centers or babysitters. As a result, children will only see their parents late at night with some only seeing their parents during weekend if they are placed in faraway babysitting homes.
There is hardly any bonding with any of their parents while they are growing up. In fact, some have frightening bonded more with their live-in foreign maids than their own parents.
Could this be the reason why so many of our aged parents nowadays have to sue their children for maintenance? Our children are no longer emotionally connected with their parents who, in the first place, have not raise them up properly on their own. Many children will not really bother if their aged parents do not receive any maintenance if they themselves are struggling financially.
Thousands of our families place the welfare of our children in the hands of third parties’ care givers in the pursuit of a career that will help finance our expensive private homes and fanciful cars which we have little time to enjoy. Frankly, our children do not really care if they stay in a condo or HDB flat as their first priority is to spend more time with their parents.
Our intense desire to provide materially for our children may have fail miserably if we neglect our families by having to work very hard and long hours to finance such pursuits.
Suffice to say, families living on single income is a luxury few can afford in expensive Singapore these days. Either the main breadwinner is doing really well or both the spouses have come to a rare conclusion to live a simple lifestyle. Its not easy not to follow the Tan’s in materialism-fuelled Singapore. We even compare the type of maids we have: Filipino or Indonesian!
Women also feel that they have wasted their years spent in the universities if they abandon the work force and spend their time at home tending to their kids. More women prefer to work than spending time at home as it is easier and more rewarding in terms of tangible returns.
Few see value in bringing up their children on their own and this may also translate into women unwilling to give birth to any or more children. According to news reported in the press, single-child families are an increasing trend in Singapore as women marry later and do not want more children for fear that they have no time to spend with them due to their heavy stressful workload. All the talk about work life balance seems a myth few has enjoy…
Peril of Third-party Child Tending
When we placed our daughter in a childcare center at aged two, I was uncomfortable as I found that she was not ready then to be placed in a strange foreign environment where she has to learn to grow up very fast. However, I have very little choice – it was either placed with our babysitter who lives nearby or at the childcare centre.
Like most Singaporeans, we were concerned about giving our daughter an academic head start even at the tender age of two years old. Thus, we decided to place her in the center as “they provided an enriching educational curriculum”. What could the Mandarin speaking babysitter teach her except to provide for her basis needs such as playing and feeding her?
And at the ripe and legitimate age of 24 months, she went tearfully accompanied by an equally teary father as he saw her wandering, lost and confused on her first day at the centre, crying out for a familiar face.
I felt as if I was abandoning my child and giving my parental responsibilities to a total stranger whom you hardly know. I wondered how many parents felt similar pangs of guilt when they placed their children at a childcare during the initial period.
Fortunately, our daughter adjusted well after a month there and things subsided somewhat to a routine after that. I have heard of many children who were unhappy at childcare centers, which will have an adverse repercussion on their well being while growing up. Many may also grow up feeling detached from their parents unless things improve at home while they are older.
Many of our children will grow up spending little waking time with their parents as families struggle to get by in our stressful environment.
They will also see how their parents fight over finances and differences and some of these problems may even spill over in their own marriages later on. Our children will also struggle in a very challenging schooling environment whereby they will learn that meritocracy will mean everything.
Studying hard and doing well in school will bring them their parents’ approval, peers’ acceptance and even societal appraisal. Many simply disregard everything and focus on their studying leading to a very competitive self centered nature.
That is the reason why we see many of our young adults not giving up seats to pregnant women in MRT trains or not giving way to other vehicles while on the road. Their whole being is wired to thrive and survive at all costs – often to the detriment of their own social well being.
Our vibrant economy has not translated into an equally socially healthy citizenship. Our materialistic pursuit may have provided the impetus for our people to solely focus their energy on acquiring wealth. That is probably why I have received quite alot of emails citing office politics and bullying as one of the main reasons why they quitted from their jobs. People simply try their best to climb to the top – using all means possible and the meek has no choice but to give way.
Marriages are also increasingly seen by many as a secondary priority when it comes to the crunch. Man simply leave their families when it takes too much of their time and personal sacrifice. They rather pay alimony to their loved ones than staying on their unhappy marriages and working things out.
Of course, I have also met friends who have fantastic marriages and they are examples to be emulated. They managed to have happy relationships and their children are confident and easy going. They try to meet each other’s needs and never cease to love one another dearly.
Suffice to say, most of these families have capable husbands who could provide adequately for the families and finance is never an issue. I always wonder what will happen to these families if the main breadwinner is put out of work.
Will their spouses and children love and respect them as before? Your guess is as good as mine…