So if you’ve been following the local news or at least have a Facebook account, you’d have read about Josephine Teo’s biggest gaffe—her comment that couples “don’t need a lot of space to have sex” has drawn outrage from Singaporeans who are sick and tired of being blamed for the low birth rate.
Soon after, the local papers published the results of a recent survey showing that almost 93% of Singaporean couples prefer to wait till they get their flat before having kids.
Now, contrary to what policymakers might think, not having enough space to, uh, actually make the baby isn’t the only, or even the main reason couples prefer not to have a kid until they have their flat. Here are the three biggest reasons for Singaporeans’ flat-before-baby mentality, and surprise surprise, none of them have anything to do with having sex in tight places.
Many couples do not want their parents / in-laws to be around 24/7 when they raise a family
Policy-makers have long been in support of the approach that Singaporeans should stay with the family unit for as long as possible. If they don’t procreate, they’re basically stuck with their parents. In a sense, this is the most practical use of space, since having lots of singles or childless, cohabiting couples living on their own is an inefficient use of space.
And in line with government’s “family values” agenda, it’s no surprise that they’ve been trying to emphasise the benefits of living close to parents—they can double up as free childcare and make us feel all warm and fuzzy, because the family unit is the basic building block of society blah blah blah.
But the recent news reports and social media comments have shown that many young couples do not, in fact, want to have to live with their parents while raising a kid.
Many Singaporeans have raised their concerns about not wanting their parents to be around the kid 24/7, while several have mentioned that it is their parents who do not want to take on the role of free childcare centre.
Let’s face it, we do not live in a perfect world where every nuclear family unit holds hands around the dining table every evening to sing “Heal the World”. The reality is that just like any interpersonal relationships, people’s relationships with their parents and in-laws vary. I know more than a few people who’ve had problems with their in-laws, and couldn’t wait to get their own flats and move out.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the older generation grew up in a very different environment and are often much more conservative than their offspring and do not share the same values. I have friends whose parents or in-laws still hold the old-fashioned Chinese belief that male offspring are worthier than female, for example.
These parents might also have rather inflexible ideas of how a child should be brought up. For some parents, trying to juggle work and childrearing is already stressful enough without having to deal with someone else telling you what to do. If you’re lucky enough to have a great relationship with your parents or in-laws, fine, but there are a great many who do not.
Lack of physical space is stressful for parents and kids
The fact that Singaporeans are crammed into relatively small flats makes it all the more awkward and stressful living with parents or in-laws.
Sure, couples can still close their doors and procreate no matter how small the space, but after a long tiring day at work when desperately you’re trying to get the baby to go to sleep, the last thing you want is to have to entertain your mother-in-law who always seems to be no more than 1.5 metres away.
A lack of physical space can be psychologically taxing, especially when this results in a lack of privacy. The typical HDB or condo common room is pretty damn small, and believe it or not some grown-up Singaporeans still share rooms with siblings.
Contrary to what policymakers might think, the space issue has nothing to do with doing the nasty. You can quite easily make a baby in one evening. What’s tough is the stress of not having your own space, and having to deal with other occupants even as you’re trying to grapple with raising a small child.
When you live with your in-laws, you’ve got to clean up after yourself no matter how tired you are, even if you’re exhausted from nightly feeds and have to show up at work at 9am the next day. You’ve got to be quiet in the night even if the baby’s wailing is driving you nuts. And when your in-laws are watching some Channel 8 drama serial, forget about watching any of your own shows to de-stress, or playing Dora the Explorer to distract the kid. All of this adds an extra layer of stress.
Parents do not feel independent without their own place
Having your mum cook all your meals, do your laundry and forbid you from coming home late at night, all at the ripe old age of 35, has many Singaporeans feeling like overgrown babies. Believe it or not, I have female friends in their thirties who aren’t allowed to sleep over at their fiancée’s homes.
For many couples, escaping their families’ homes and moving into a place of their own gives them a psychological boost and the feeling of being independent. Only when they feel they’ve gotten their act together do they feel psychologically prepared to have a child.
This is not a feeling you can dismiss with platitudes like “you will never be ready” and “there’s no need to plan so much”. Ultimately, no matter what the government says or does, you can’t force someone to have a child before they feel they want to.
Of course there’s no such thing as feeling 100% ready when it comes to first-time parenthood. But when you’re still sleeping in your childhood bedroom with Dragonball / Backstreet Boy posters on the wall, the scale just tips too far in the other direction.
Do you think Singaporeans are justified in wanting to get a flat before having a kid? Share your views in the comments!