Embracing our Roles in Life

By Parliamentary Secretary Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim

Throughout our lives, we take on many different roles. And the importance we place on each of these roles changes at different stages of our lives.

Sometimes, the beauty of life lies in its cyclical nature. Just last week, I saw 12 couples renew their marriage vows at the Family Life First Carnival and also sat in for a session of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Programme (PREP).

At PREP, I met a lovely young couple – Darren and Clare – who will soon embark on their own journey together as husband and wife. They attended PREP to learn tips on building a marriage based on a strong foundation of love and understanding.

family life first_parl secAnd they said “I Do”…again.

This reminds me of how my wife and I learnt over the years that maintaining a strong marriage and being good parents does not come easy. We need to make a conscious effort to communicate, understand and to encourage each other. To keep our strong commitment to each other and to our children.

When my children were born, I felt like the happiest father alive! At the same time, I felt the pressure – I knew that as a father, I had to be a good role model and inculcate good values in my children. My father must have felt the same too.

Strong marriages lead to strong families. When we have a strong marriage, we will then be better able to create a happier environment for our children to grow in. If we lead by example, our children will learn to develop strong and lasting relationships of their own.

A father’s presence and influence in their children’s lives often mean more to them than they realise.

It is on occasions like Father’s Day that we are reminded of the responsibilities we have in shaping our children into individuals who are responsible, capable, giving and nurturing – who can also teach their children to embrace the various roles in life well.

This Father’s Day, let’s make the personal choice to spend time with our families meaningfully.

To all fathers and grandfathers, Happy Father’s Day!

Be a Dad for Life

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

Quick question for all dads: Has your Father’s Day celebrations been rather low key as compared to Mother’s Day celebrations?

Maybe it’s our traditional cultural roles that make it that way. How we think it’s Dad’s job to go out and make money, and Mum’s role to take care of the family.

But today, these traditional roles are evolving. Now, more couples take on shared responsibilities in supporting the family. Fathers are becoming more actively involved in their families.

There is no doubt that we, as fathers, play an important role in our children’s lives.

Sure, it’s easy to get caught up with work. But is the tradeoff really worth it? I’m sure we don’t want to miss hearing our child say their first word, or take their first step.

Children grow up so fast. I think it’s immensely important to create special memories and moments with our children from young. But we can start from everyday activities.

For example, I was glad to catch ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (on a movie date!) with my daughter after her exams were over. We had a great time discussing the movie afterwards…

xmenapoc

(…Such as how Professor X may need some Beijing 101 after the events of the movie)
Image: 20th Century Fox

So, time spent in both quality and quantity does matter. At the same time, do remember to appreciate our own fathers and include them in our celebrations too!

On the whole, it is good to see that more families and organisations are starting to celebrate Father’s Day in a big way. I’m glad to be a part of a few of these celebrations – such as the “Dad’s Day Out” event on Father’s Day today, and the Families for Life Father’s Day picnic later this month.

Fathering is a beautiful and meaningful journey, and I am proud to be a father. To answer my own question? It’s not about the size of the celebration, but the strength of the bond with my children that matters more to me. 🙂

To all Dads and Grandfathers out there, Happy Father’s Day!

The Toughest Job in the World

By Parliamentary Secretary Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim

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My late mother with her grandchildren

A mother’s job is to be on call – 24/7.

A mother has to multi-task between running the household, caring for the family, deal with ‘skirmishes’ between siblings…and so much more!

I think being a mother is the toughest job in the world. No previous experience required, but plenty of on-the-job training available. Although tough, the job comes with love, care and concern.

I remember my own late mother became the beacon of light for my family.  She worked very hard in the day, cooking in the early hours of the morning before going to work.   Sometimes, I wondered what kept her going.  It was clearly the love, care and concern that she had for the family.  It was also her sense of responsibility for the family.  My siblings and I are privileged to be part of this journey with her, which in turn shaped our character and lives.

Today, a woman’s role in society has evolved. Many mothers are active in the workforce. The proportion of dual-income married couples has also increased.

Juggling between work and family life is a struggle many mothers face. Previously, women were more likely to cite family-related responsibilities as the main reason for not working. Such choices are often personal, as all families have their unique situations.

We have put in place a number of initiatives to better support parenthood and families. This includes more family-friendly infrastructure and policies such as paternity leave and CDA First Step to help defray childcare costs.

Now, we have the choice to build and maintain strong family ties. I urge all dads out there to get more involved with (not only!) housework but in child care. I’m sure many of you can become as pro as Mom in no time!

This Mother’s Day, let’s take the time to acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifices that the mothers in our life have made. Let’s give our moms and wives all the love they have given us, back to them.

Dads out there, let’s share the load. Let’s start small. I’m sure it will go a long way in truly supporting our wives.

Every Day is Mother’s Day

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

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My Mum and I

When our children were younger, they would hold your hand, come running to you to hug you and they will just absolutely adore you.

As they grow older, our love will also grow and our relationship with them will evolve. They will begin to have lives of their own and in turn, will one day become parents themselves too.

In our eyes, they will always be our little children. But do we not realise that our parents probably look at us the same way too? Do we take our parents for granted? Do we get more impatient as they begin to slow down with age? Do we show enough appreciation to them?

Occasions like Mother’s Day provide us an opportunity to reflect, remember and to celebrate. I am sure we all have our family traditions. It can range from flowers, chocolates, big dinners, or simple homemade cards or just preparing breakfast.

In truth, as a son, father and husband, I have come to realise that our wives and mothers deserve more than these once a year grand gestures of appreciation. We really should show our appreciation every day through our actions.

Making it a point to visit parents regularly or even just to call them are some things that we children can do for our parents. Simple gestures like helping to supervise the children’s homework, changing the baby’s diaper, or washing the dishes are just some things that we fathers can do for our families.

Although many women are the main caregivers for their children, more fathers do want to be involved. We want to encourage this and to provide more support such as paternity leave and flexi-work arrangements.

So what will you be doing this Mothers’ Day?  And what should we do to treat every day as Mother’s Day?

Meanwhile, to all the mothers and grandmothers out there, I wish you Happy Mothers’ Day!

What does it take to be an ‘Operationally Ready’ Dad?

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

For many of us who have served our time in National Service, we all know that to be operationally ready, we need to put in time and to train hard. There are no shortcuts to an effective defence. In many ways, to be a good dad, we need to also spend time, we need to put in effort to practice fathering and to always be ready.

Training to be operationally ready in NS…no dad bod here.

Time spent with children is never quite enough. But we need to work hard at it and focus on not just the big things, like providing for the family, but also on the small things, like just being there with your children. I am a firm believer in not just quality time but also quantity time. Whatever we can manage, we should try.

Side-note: Also important to help your wife out too.
#IronTherapy #IronMan?

I am sure many of us have our own ways of trying to be a good dad. After a long day of work, I make it a point to pop into their rooms to chat before they sleep. Sometimes I am just there to listen to their daily concerns. Sometimes it is an opportunity to reflect on lessons learnt from things we experience. We try and play board games where we can. Sometimes we go out for a jog or swim or cycling. These days, we also spend time sharing our favourite Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live (SNL) episodes as we trawl through Youtube.

Time flies. Years ago he was just a little boy.  

Every moment that we miss never comes back; especially as they are growing up, ever so quickly. Just being there, as much as possible, helps me stay in touch with them as they mature.

These may be just moments in time, but they become memories for life. 🙂

Support for Active Fatherhood

During my Ministry’s recent Committee of Supply debate, I spoke on how our families make life meaningful for us.  Families really are the foundations for our society.

Active fathering is a vital part of strong families.

There is now more support for active fatherhood.  We introduced paternity and shared parental leave to give fathers more time with their children right from birth. Fathers are also eligible for childcare leave.

More fathers today want flexible work arrangements. The Work-Life Grant incentivises employers to provide flexible work arrangements.

Our Dads for Life movement actively engages and reaches out to the fathers in the community, schools and workplaces.

But ultimately, active fatherhood is a personal choice and commitment.

Being An Active Father…Even After Divorce

It’s true – after a divorce, it can challenging for dads to remain actively involved in the lives of their children.

This is especially so when dads do not live with their children, and perhaps see them only on weekends.

So how can divorced fathers play their part?

To help parents learn to co-parent effectively, the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs) have programmes such as the Mandatory Parenting Programme and Parenting PACT for divorcing and divorced parties (as well as Children-in-Between, for the children).

From 1 April, the DSSAs have also started providing the Supervised Exchange and Supervised Visitation programme to facilitate child access arrangements. My Ministry will be sharing more details on this in the coming months.

On a more personal level, it is crucial that divorced dads make the best use of the time they have when they are with their children. Be present – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

As author Catherine M Wallace aptly put it:

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big. Because to them, all of it has always been big stuff.”  

Divorced dads can show a presence in their children’s everyday lives by leveraging on technology. I know it is not quite the same, but it can be meaningful too.

Dropping a simple “Thinking of you” message to them in the middle of the day may seem trivial, but it tells them that you care, and are still there for them. Skype-ing them to have a chat when you aren’t able to meet is also one way of just connecting with them.

We often don’t realise how important our roles as fathers are. A recurrent pattern we pick up with youths at risks or even adults with various issues is that of an absent father. However imperfect we may all be, let’s all strive to be good dads and role models to our children, instilling good values that will anchor our families through challenges in life.

If we aren’t there to guide our children and be there for them as fathers, who will care enough to do so?

Once a Parent, Always a Parent

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My dad and I.

When I was younger, my dad regularly brought me jogging around the estate. I still remember the one-mile route we took. I also remember cycling with him to the edge of Ghim Moh when it was still a construction site. I can still recall catching guppies in Orchard Road, when the large drains behind Orchard Shopping Center was still exposed.

I remember my mom bringing me along her school outings to the zoo and especially to the drama competitions at the Singapore National Theatre. I also remember attending home economics classes much to the amusement of the older sisters in the school.

Now, I’m a parent too – to two lovely kids. Well, not quite kids anymore…teenagers. As I look back at my childhood and compare it to my own experiences, I realise that our children don’t need us to be super heroes.

They just need us to be present. To be there with them in the everyday ordinary things that we all do. And through our actions, assure them that we love and cherish them.

What is Co-Parenting About?

Recently I spoke in parliament about the changes we made to the Women’s Charter. The main intent of our changes was to highlight to parents the importance of putting our children’s interest at heart.

And in cases of divorce, this would mean learning to co-parent our children. We must remember that even though divorced, we very much remain parents to our children.

My officers told me this story they encountered in the course of their work. A divorced couple thought co-parenting just meant that both parents could see their son and have access to him. That’s all. They did not see the need to talk to each other, nor agree on how to bring up their son. The mother was a busy career woman, and a firm disciplinarian. The father (because he only saw the son on weekends) was not strict at all, allowing him to do whatever he liked.

However, the father seldom gave his son a weekly allowance – even though he was supposed to. Why? Because he felt that his ex-wife was more successful than him. So she should chip in more, right?

But you guessed it – his ex-wife refused to give in.

So their teenage son felt that no one really cared for him, and was confused by their inconsistencies in setting boundaries. He started hanging out in malls. When asked about this by his mother, he argued that his father allowed him to do so. As he did not get a regular allowance from his father, he would steal from his mother’s wallet.

The son got into trouble one weekend – he and his friends were caught shoplifting at the mall.

The father realised that things could not go on this way. He tried talking to his ex-wife, something which he had not done since the divorce. It was not easy, but since then the couple have put their differences aside to co-parent their son.

The father now sets boundaries like his ex-wife, and gives his son his allowance regularly. And they each try to spend more time bonding with their son, who is now happier and more grounded.

Make Our Children Our Priority

The above story is not an unusual example. True, it is not easy for divorced couples. But I encourage fathers, and mothers, to work with their ex-spouses to co-parent. Children need both their parents. Perhaps even more so as they struggle with the stresses of a divorce.

We all remember the impact of our parents on us. We cannot underestimate how parents are key influencers in a child’s life. Their presence (or absence) has a profound impact on a child’s development.

The changes I announced to the Women’s Charter are also part of our efforts to strengthen social support systems, infrastructure and services to protect women and support families, especially when marriages break down.

But the legislative changes are but one part of the equation.

The other part? Our roles as parents. Make our children a priority.

And be there for them. Sometimes, it may be the children who are resistant to spending time with us. Be patient.

Providing them with a listening ear will help them feel accepted, help them heal, and learn to trust again.

Ultimately, it is every parent’s duty to protect the interest of our own children. Making time to be with our children, giving them the space to grieve and come to terms with the way things will be after a divorce, will certainly provide them with a sense of security.

Because after all, we will always be mums and dads to our children.

MSF Addendum to The President’s Address

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

At the opening of the 13th Parliament on 15 January 2016, President Tony Tan Keng Yam outlined the key priorities of the Government over the next few years. Even as we address the many challenges ahead, we need to also remind ourselves of the kind of society we are and the kind of people we aspire to be.

We are a dynamic and diverse nation. This can be a big strength so long as we remain united and anchored on shared values. Building a caring society and a more engaged community will help us achieve that.

When we begin to care for others, we begin to look beyond ourselves as individuals. Collectively, we all play a part in strengthening our social safety nets and ensure continued social mobility, so that no Singaporean is left behind.

My hope and vision for Singapore, is that it will become an even more inclusive society, and a great place for our people, whether young or old, whether able or differently abled.

Strong families and resilient individuals are the basic building blocks of our nation. This is why over the next few years, my MSF colleagues and I will do more in anticipating and responding to changes in societal trends, demographics and family structures.

You can read the full version of the MSF Addendum below, and we will share more details of our plans with you very soon.

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Ministry of Social and Family Development

Addendum to The President’s Address

Introduction

1.             The social needs of our citizens and families are becoming more complex as the demographics, economics and family structures in Singapore change. Our social policies and services must evolve so that we can continue to nurture resilient individuals and strong families. Our societal culture must also evolve so that we can become a more inclusive and caring society where no Singaporean is left behind.

2.             The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will focus on:

i.      strengthening marriages and families;

ii.     providing a good start for our young;

iii.    extending a helping hand for the vulnerable;

iv.    fostering a caring community.

Strong Marriages and Families

3.             The family must remain the basic building block of our society. The Ministry is committed to making Singapore a great place for families. We will work with Government agencies, businesses and employers, as well as community organisations to create a conducive environment for Singaporeans to start families and raise children, enjoy family life and experience meaningful family ties.

4.             We will provide greater support for couples to prepare for and strengthen their marriages, and offer evidence-based parenting programmes in our schools and community. These will include marriage preparation and support programmes for young couples and Singaporeans marrying foreigners.

5.              MSF will also strengthen support for vulnerable families so that they can overcome their challenges and become more stable and resilient. We will look into new ways of engaging such families early, and work with social service agencies to assess their needs holistically to provide more coordinated and effective assistance.

A Good Start for Our Young

6.             Children are our hope and future. The Ministry will strive towards giving all our young children a good start in life. We will extend greater attention and support to those from disadvantaged or vulnerable backgrounds so that they too can realise their potential.

7.             The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will continue to expand childcare capacity, particularly in housing estates with more young children. There will be one childcare place for every two children by 2017. ECDA will provide parents with more good quality and affordable childcare options through its Anchor Operator and Partner Operator schemes. It will also continue to enhance the quality of preschool education and the professional development of early childhood educators.

8.             To help vulnerable children from low income or disadvantaged families, we will work with other Government agencies and community organisations to identify them and support their developmental needs during their early years. We will also introduce initiatives to help these families improve their home environments for the children’s learning and development, as well as support the children at pre-schools.

9.             For children who need protection or care outside of their own homes, we will broaden the care options available to them. This will include working with Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and volunteers to increase the number of foster families who can offer a nurturing environment for these children to grow up in.  To better help youths-at-risk, we will strengthen both government and community systems, programmes and capabilities in prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation.

A Helping Hand for the Vulnerable

10.             Those with less and those in need will receive an extra helping hand to overcome their difficulties and improve their lives. We will continue to strengthen our social safety net, review legislations and policies, and improve services to keep in step with emerging needs.

11.             We have completed the network of 24 Social Service Offices (SSOs) across Singapore as well as the first phase of the Social Service Net (SSNet) – an integrated information sharing and case management system that will link MSF with other Government and VWO help agencies. Building on their reach on the ground, SSOs will further improve the coordination in planning and delivery of social services for residents within each HDB town. We will also expand SSNet to cover more help agencies. Together, these efforts will ensure that Singaporeans with complex social support needs receive more holistic and integrated help.

12.            For persons with disabilities, we will develop the next Enabling Masterplan to build a more inclusive society where they can lead more meaningful lives and become integral members of society. Through assistance in early intervention, education, training and employment, we will help them maximise their potential at different stages of their lives. We will also render greater support for caregivers. We will work with employers, businesses, community organisations and volunteers to raise public understanding and acceptance of persons with disabilities within our communities.

13.            To safeguard the interests of the growing number of elderly in Singapore, the Government will review legislations, policies and services to better protect those who are subject to abuse, neglect or self-neglect. We will also look into strengthening support for vulnerable adults in residential care through streamlining regulatory and care standards for residential homes.

A Caring Community

14.             The future of caring in Singapore is one where Singaporeans come together to look out for and support one another, especially those amongst us who need a helping hand. Government agencies, VWOs, corporates, community organisations, social service professionals and the wider public all play a part. Through what we do and how we do it, the Ministry hopes to nurture a culture and spirit of giving in Singapore.

15.             Professionals including early childhood educators, learning support specialists, social workers, counsellors, therapists, psychologists and care workers lie at the forefront of the social service sector. Through ECDA and the Social Service Institute (SSI), we will groom a larger pool of committed and skilled social service professionals and leaders.  We will also expand opportunities for them to develop their capabilities and build fulfilling careers.

16.             VWOs play a critical role in mobilising volunteers and donors to complement the work of social service professionals and effort by the Government. The National Council of Social Service (NCSS) will work with VWOs to improve their organisational capability and management of volunteers so as to involve more Singaporean individuals and groups in enriching volunteering experiences. The Community Chest will extend its reach by tapping on new platforms and partnerships to raise funds and rally public support to meet social needs.


 

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