June 19th, 2013

The joys of shared parenting

by Callan Tham

Following AWARE’s article with three fathers who shared their views on paternity leave in Singapore – “What fathers say on Father’s Day”, published in The Online Citizen on 16 June 2013 – Callan Tham, another father, wrote to AWARE to add his opinion about the current paternity leave policy. He looks forward to a policy change that would support shared parenting between fathers and mothers.

Nothing really prepares one for parenthood. It is one of those contradictions in life – something that is not completely what one expects it to be, and yet entirely how one expects to experience it.

father.and.sonWhen my son Ayrton was born almost 3 years ago, I was lucky enough to be working on rotational shifts. This meant I could accumulate my off-days and paid leave, and take about 6 weeks off from my job to care for both my wife and son, right after we welcomed him into the world. Every night, I fed him and changed his soiled diapers while my wife rested. I took naps in the day as my wife took care of him. He is a shared responsibility through and through. This shared parenting enabled me to bond with him. It also strengthened my bond with my wife.

Even before I stepped into fatherhood, I’ve always wondered what it would be like. I know many colleagues who become fathers and have to struggle to cope without the luxuries that many of us take for granted. We managed to hire a good domestic helper and my parents helped to look after Ayrton in the weekdays, as both Karen and I work. These are luxuries for which we are grateful, but one plays the hand one is dealt.

My experience as a father would have differed greatly, had I held a typical 9 – 5 job with limited leave flexibility. This is why the current policy situation is curiously and woefully lacking, especially in the light of our fertility rate, which resembles a chart depicting a catastrophic stock market crash.

Fathers want to be a part of their children’s life growing up, but are only given a mere fraction of paid leave to do that. While it is an improvement over zero, it is hardly enough. In its current state, it is akin to a band-aid, or a panadol tablet — a temporary measure that does nothing in the long term.

I think the Swedish model for paternity leave could be adapted for Singapore. That would require the Government to take a huge leap of faith in an act of legislative courage. I am nevertheless hopeful that I can see such an act in my lifetime. As a father, I do not want to see mothers bear the burden of childbearing and child-raising alone, while fathers are deprived of the joys of shared parenting.

Comments are closed.