Why The Community Is My Lifeline When It Comes To Raising A Family
Discovering the community support available around her has enabled this Singaporean mum to strike a balance between working and raising her family.
When I found out I was expecting my first child, I was overwhelmed with joy. I was also riddled with anxiety. Having just started building a home and with a career that had yet to take off, the idea of having a baby seemed daunting. Little did I know that all the answers to my fears and concerns were around me: in the people who loved me and the community I was a part of. After having spent maternity leave with my little one, the anxiety hit me harder: How could I leave my child? And how do I go back to work?
I’m sure every new parent would relate to my experience. The idea of young parents raising a child and all the logistics that come with it — building careers and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life — is indeed a tall order. Here are some important lessons that I learned:
1. Working When You Have Children: The Struggle Is Real...
Eventually I returned to work only to find myself rushing everywhere, not having enough time for everything. When at work I worried about my baby’s well being. I felt guilty for not spending enough time with him. My heart ached every time I dropped him off at my parents’ house and he would cry endlessly.
I also realised that it was taking a toll on my parents to be home all day with my child. I had barely gotten around all of it when I found out that I was expecting my second child.
2...But The Support You Need Is Out There
A year later, and now a mother of two, I sought alternative arrangements. I spoke to friends and colleagues and discovered that many of them had put off expanding their families or for some, even having their first child, in worry over managing it all. Rather than being disheartened, I learned that there were success stories too. And I learned from those who had done it right, that there actually is a lot of support for mums like me.
3. You Do Not Have To Go Through The Struggles Alone
Another year brought me another child, and I am now a full-time working mum of three little ones. I've learnt that there is no award for being supermum. I take heart in knowing that a happy, healthy and sane mum raises a happy and healthy child. To achieve this, we mums need to seek help and learn from each other.
You know what they say, it takes a village to raise a child, I cannot emphasise this enough! Living in Singapore, we are incredibly lucky to have a community — to help us in the huge task of raising our children. There are many organisations that have pledged their support for raising families and participating in these activities have helped me in innumerable ways.
Getting In Touch with Community
1. Finding Support Within the Neighbourhood
One of my first experiences with being part of a community of parents came about through the Embracing Parenthood Movement (EPM), a community-led initiative organised by the People’s Association (PA), Family Life Champions (FLC) and Grassroots Organisations. I received an invitation card to attend a celebration within my constituency where I got to participate in a series of family-centric activities organised to strengthen familial bonds and offer support to parents.
I enjoyed activities like a mass parent-baby music and movement session and parent-child craftwork. More importantly, I got to know families within my neighbourhood better, and we shared our wins and our woes together.
Over time, I made friends with fellow parents and we have grown closer. We even have a chat group to organise activities, barbeque sessions and to help each other out in picking up our children from school in case of work demands.
Knowing that I have help just a call away and friends to share this journey with me has definitely quelled some of my fears and given me lots to look forward to!
2. When Home and Work Meet
Oftentimes, I get so caught up at work that I don’t always make it back in time to have dinner with my family. The Eat With Your Family Day initiative, started by the Centre for Fathering (CFF), is held each quarter of the year, typically on the last Friday of the school term, so it gives us all even more reason to celebrate.
While four such Fridays in a year may not seem like much, it’s of course not the only time that we are home for dinner early. Rather, it is a day we look forward to knowing that it is a day both my husband and myself leave the office early, for sure. In fact, there are times my company decides to hold a barbeque dinner where all of us bring our families to join.
I find great joy in such experiences as my family, particularly my children, get to feel like they are a part of my workplace. And likewise, it introduces my colleagues to my family.
Such things help me achieve a balance between my professional and personal life.
3. Through Difficult Times
In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 situation we are in the midst of, community support is even more important. With everyone confined to their own homes, parenting can get more challenging. Loneliness, frustration and a dire lack of ideas on how to keep the children entertained are some of the many problems parents have to deal with.
Again, community support has proven to be the saving grace. As part of the #SGUnited efforts, The Families for Life (FFL) Council launched the #FFLShareTheCareSeries to help parents like you and me stay home safely while finding ways to be meaningfully engaged during this period. From April and throughout the circuit breaker period, there was a series of online interactive programming. Especially beneficial was the #ASKFFL Series, conducted live on Facebook, whereby parents had the opportunity to pose questions to doctors and experts. We all know how the circuit breaker period was a trying time for many couples, being cooped up at home juggling the stress of keeping the children occupied while working from home. The session on Strengthening Couple’s Emotional Connectedness In the Time of Covid-19, and Keeping Your Sanity As A Couple helped us with useful marriage advice and coping strategies. In addition, my children enjoyed interactive storytelling and art jamming activities held by the #FriendsofFFLShare Series. The Stories At Pebble Place storytelling session and Get Creative With Draw A Story – Cat Illustrations were a great hit with my kids and an absolute saviour while I worked from home!
Likewise, support groups such as Mindful Mums and New Mums #SgUnited had been sharing practical advice online, and most importantly, offering mutual support for mums facing anxieties during this period.
For parents with young children, My First Skool has uploaded a host of free learning resources on their website. These are available to everyone, not just students of the school. It definitely helped me to keep my children engaged in meaningful ways. My children loved the flower stamping and art and craft activities, and the phonics singing session greatly benefited my youngest child. The icing on the cake was the delicious and nutritious recipes posted on their website. My children and I had a whale of a time making the raisin steam cakes together!
Not forgetting the thoughtfulness and generosity of the mums in my circle. In spite of not being able to meet each other, there was an outpouring of support and kindness. We took turns to send each other care packages, baked cakes and cookies and even delivered food to each other so that we could take a break from cooking!
4. Other Forms of Community Support
For families who do not have help from grandparents or a helper in the home, there are many childcare centres, daycare centres as well as preschools that are available in every neighbourhood and even near workplaces. These childcare centres offer a safe environment for children to socialise, learn and play all at the same time.
Having these options definitely gave me the assurance to focus on my job when I was away from my children and I was glad that I did not have to impose on my parents so much.
What also worked wonders for me is the option of flexible hours. This helped me better manage my time at work and avoid the peak hour commute when picking my child up from preschool.
It helps tremendously if you take the time to explain some of your constraints or challenges to your colleagues so they are aware of your needs. Communication is key, and, more often than not, people do understand.
I was fully breastfeeding and having difficulty expressing milk without a proper place to do so, so my employer arranged for a cosy nursing room for me and other mums who were expecting at that time. In fact, a number of companies are moving to include such facilities in their work spaces, and soon, in all new bus interchanges, integrated transport hubs as well as new MRT interchange stations.
Working mums like me are moreover, entitled to substantial subsidies and rebates for school fees, tax and so on. It not only eased some of the financial burden we have as a family, but encouraged me to continue pursuing my career aspirations even with three little ones.
The additional benefits for growing families looking to have more children, and schemes allowing multi-generational families to live together also provided extra support.
All of these have made my parenting journey so much more possible to begin with, and definitely a whole lot more enjoyable. I know that I am not alone and help, in many ways, is often there if I ask and look for it.
This article is written in support of Made For Families.