JAN 21 — My wife and I are both the eldest child in our families, so both sets of parents were overjoyed when our baby was born. They were less thrilled when we told them that after my wife was done with her maternity leave, she might go on an extended stretch of no-pay leave — or even put her career on hold indefinitely — to take care of Emma.
As one of the Grandmas put it: “You mean you don’t want me to take care of your baby?”
I grew up in my grandmother’s care, and had my domestic helper for company at home when I was older. My wife, too, grew up in the care of her relatives. The concept of the stay-at-home parent is definitely not something we were brought up with — so why are we even considering such an arrangement?
It’s something I can’t quite explain. Did my own childhood experience convince me that I wanted something different for my child? I did not have a terrible childhood growing up in the care of someone other than my parent, and I’m sure many of you didn’t either.
Maybe it’s idealism, the thought of raising our own children right from the start, so that we can better bond with them, and bring them up the way we want to. But then again, I wouldn’t say that children not raised in such a manner come out wrong.
Nothing conclusive there. Yet here we are — me at work, the wife likely to stay at home with Emma for a couple more years. And looking around, we’re far from the only ones to make this decision. Why are more and more parents of our generation forgoing our careers, bucking the trend our parents started?
SPENDING ON HER MEANS LESS SPENDING ON US
It seems to me that modern society’s culture of consumption is in conflict with the financial demands of raising a child. We are bombarded with advertisements urging us to spend more on the latest gadgets, holidays, beautiful houses, fast cars. The world talks about the economy in terms of how it grows — letting it remain at its current size is bad, we must always have more, produce more, acquire more.
Used to be you had kids to continue the family line, safe in the knowledge that your children will take care of you in twilight years. Now we have mandatory retirement funds to make sure we don’t starve when we’re old. Children now need to be supported for a good many years before they become economically productive. Throw in a year or two of touring the world after graduation and this extends to more than two-and-a-half decades of parental funding.
In 2011, the median monthly income in Singapore was S$3,249 (RM8,122), according to Manpower Ministry data. So the average stay-at-home parent is giving up S$3,249 a month for the privilege of 24/7 supervision of his or her children. Over 20 years, that’s almost S$800,000 — which could buy you a brand new two-room condo unit in the suburbs.
It’s money you could have spent on yourself. Children will lower your standard of living, reduce the number of gadgets and fast cars you can accumulate. So why on earth would anyone deprive themselves of the chance to consume more stuff by quitting theirs job to look after their kids?
DOLLARS AND SENSE
If you take the emotion out of the consideration, the decision on whether to have a parent stay at home to look after the children should be a clear-cut one. As long as the cost of “substitutionary” parenting — be it childcare, tuition, domestic help, nannies, grandparents — is lower than the income earned by the parent, then the parent should return to work.
Where the maths gets hazy is calculating the intangible cost of someone else taking care of your kid. Or, as I heard someone put it, she quit her job to raise her children “because it’ll be cheaper than bailing them out of jail in the future”.
Then there is the cost of living: Can a single working parent earn enough to cover all the expenses a family of three, four, five will incur?
But again, that’s not as straightforward an equation as it would appear. What standard of living are we talking about here? Are you willing to sacrifice having a car, designer goods, yearly holidays? Is a home near an MRT station a need or a want?
Some might argue that they need to return to work to earn more money in order to have the “best” for their children, including plenty of enrichment activities and even homes near marquee schools.
I need to spend more now so my kid will earn more in the future, the argument goes. But the flipside to the argument is that not having both parents’ steadying hand in their lives could prove more detrimental than any benefits a good school might offer. Besides, is that the full measure of a child? How much they will earn in time to come?
WHAT PRICE ALWAYS BEING THERE?
We’ve been talking dollars and cents, but the reality — for me at least — is that what’s at stake is not money, but time.
This will sound simplistic, but for me, having the time and opportunity to watch your child grow, being there for every milestone, is a privilege that is worth the loss of income.
When I look at photographs of Emma when she was a day, or a week old, and I look at her now — she is about two months old — I am astonished at how quickly she grows and changes. My daughter will never again look like how she does today. For all the money you make, you can’t buy back time.
Unfortunately, my wife and I are not landowners with income streams from investments or fixed assets, so only one of us will have the privilege of watching Emma grow. Still, better one than none.
So we have decided that my wife will take on the burden and privilege of being a stay-at-home parent. Having saved up some money in the preceding years, we are prepared to tighten our belts for a few years so that my wife can take up parenting full-time (at least until our car’s COE is up for renewal ... what was I saying about standards of living again?). That gives my wife a few more years to figure out if she really wants to be a stay-home mum for the really long term.
The financial insecurity and the loss of income will be significant. But it buys us time with child — something which we believe is well worth the (loss of) money. — Today
* Jerry Foo is a digital media correspondent at Today.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.