Focus on marriage first, and then maybe the kids will come

Focus on marriage first, and then maybe the kids will come

Published on ST Opinion.

28 March, 2024

Singapore’s total fertility rate has dropped to a dismal 0.97, the first time it has dropped below 1 in the country’s history.

It’s already been below the replacement rate of 2.1 – the level at which the population replaces itself – for a long time, so this new unwanted low has generated more calls to address the problem, beyond the usual solutions of baby bonuses and other financial incentives.

Some commentators argue that childbearing should be seen as a civic contribution, and that we need more pull factors in parenting, rather than considering it from a cost-reduction point of view.

Others have called for a reframing of the parenthood narrative, from seeing it as a burden to viewing it as a source of joy and meaning.

I am approaching the problem from a slightly different angle – by examining the state of our own marriages today, and by helping young people forge strong relational skills first. 

Understanding the family-of-origin factor

We sometimes need to look back in order to look forward.

In The Marriage Paradox: Why Emerging Adults Love Marriage Yet Push It Aside, authors Brian Willoughby and Spencer James observe that witnessing conflict in their parents’ relationship generally appears to diminish many emerging adults’ view of marriage.

According to research, young adults with parents who reported high stress or frequent conflict often labelled relationships as unstable and constraining, compared with young adults who grew up with parents with high marital quality and who learn that relationships take work and commitment.

As a result, many young adults may interact with their romantic partners using similar relational patterns that they see modelled by their parents.

Mr Luke Ong, a student at the Singapore Management University, shared: “Experiences sometimes shape reality. Many of my peers cite bad experiences in their own life (such as a lack of their father’s involvement, abuse in their parents’ marriage) as the reason they are not keen on marriage.”

His statement reveals something important when it comes to marriage and family aspirations: That young people can sometimes carry deep-seated fears that their future family will turn out as dysfunctional as the one they came from.

It also tells us parents that we should keep an eye on the state of our marriage, if we want our kids to have healthy relationships in the future.

The quality-of-marriage factor

A new study which polled more than 22,000 people in eight countries about their family ideals has found that Singaporeans prefer having one child to not having any.

It also found that couples seem to be desiring fewer children, particularly if other family ideals are not in place. These ideals include good communication between immediate family members, that the family is respected in the community, and that partners mutually support each other as they pursue professional and personal goals.

The fact that communication between immediate family members, and mutual support between partners rank highly on couples’ lists should not come as a surprise. A strong marital relationship, as well as sufficient family support, can give one the confidence and assurance to start a family.

Singapore’s latest marriage and divorce statistics show that the proportion of resident marriages that dissolved was the highest from the fifth to before the 10th anniversary, compared with other five-yearly periods.

This is also the period which tends to coincide with stressful life transitions, such as first-time parenthood or a mid-life career switch.

If young couples are equipped with the essential relationship skills of communication, conflict resolution and aligning of expectations, it could make a significant difference in how they perceive their ability to cope with the shared responsibility of child-rearing.

Marriage skills are highly teachable

However, not all is lost if we come from troubled or high-conflict families, or if we find the current state of our marriage lacking. The state of one’s marriage is not static and marriage skills are highly teachable if one adopts a growth mindset.

My husband grew up in a dysfunctional family, and he remembers much of his childhood life as “chaotic”. Thankfully, through his adolescent years he received mentoring and guidance from other adult figures in his life, and has largely come to terms with his past.

When we were both contemplating marriage, we were greatly helped by our marriage mentors and the premarital counselling that they took us through. Those sessions not only deepened our understanding of each other’s differences but also equipped us with a shared language to articulate our ideals and expectations – from financial matters to career aspirations, and from childcare arrangements to parenting philosophies.

When faced with life’s storms, such as navigating the emotional needs of a child or caring for a parent with dementia, we leaned on the language and skills we practised during our years of courtship. Emerging from life’s challenges together increased our sense of satisfaction towards our marriage and enhanced our marital well-being.

Professional growth, raising a family are complementary goals

In the old work-life paradigm, employers used to think that prioritising their employees’ personal lives came at the expense of their performance at work. We have come a long way since then, and today many employers see that a thriving and productive employee is one whose home and family affairs are well in order.

I wish we could see having children in the same light – where professional growth and raising a family are complementary goals rather than competing ones.

While it is true that in the early years of child-raising, a couple may have to delay certain dreams and aspirations, it is also true that having children forces us to look beyond ourselves and our immediate resources.

Unlike other life experiences, having children has a unique multiplier effect. It brings its own kind of creative power, one that can certainly bring both joys and challenges to a marriage.

While having children is a deeply personal choice, we can empower more young people to believe in marriage and parenthood by walking the talk ourselves, and showing them that marriage is worth aspiring to and investing in.

Today, my husband and I serve as marriage mentors to younger couples in our church. And I often find myself repeating this phrase that was first drilled into my mind by my marriage mentor: “You are first of all husband and wife, before you are father or mother.”

Strong marriages beget strong marriages, and that is the first essential step towards healthy parenthood.

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In an unplanned pregnancy, teenage girls need an ecosystem of care and support

In an unplanned pregnancy, teenage girls need an ecosystem of care and support

Submitted to ST Forum, but unpublished.

15 December, 2023

The Straits Times article Teen Abortion: Guilt, grief and shame can linger for decades presented a sobering reality as I read it, having seen cases of unplanned pregnancy grappling with complex psychological and emotional experiences as a counsellor. 

Put yourself in the girl’s shoes. In the face of unexpected shock, imagine feeling lost and fearful. Imagine the agony and sense of helplessness you would feel.  

As with the lady interviewed in the article, one can often feel pressured to abort the unborn child in the face of uncertainties. 

As a community, as parents and as helping professionals, no matter how upsetting  the news may seem to us, we have to remember we are the caring adults in an eco-system of help who can empower this teenager to make life-giving choices. For some, we may be her only lifeline.  

And we need to be the source of social and emotional support to them, listening to their concerns and encouraging them to voice out their deepest anxieties and fears in a safe psychological space. 

Apart from positioning ourselves as our children’s strong pillar of support, we should also look at preventive and upstream measures. One such strategy is to develop sexual intelligence in our young. 

Studies have shown that involved parental relationships can protect the youth from high-risk sexual behaviour and abusive dating relationships by helping them develop a strong sense of self-worth. 

Apart from such protective attachment bonds, it is also important that parents engage in regular conversations about values, sex and relationships with their children, or what we refer to as parent-led & child-centric sexuality education. 

Many parents may shy away from this, but what we have found at Focus on the Family, is that once the initial barrier is overcome, the talks become increasingly easier and more natural.  

Such conversations allow the parent to be the first source of influence in a child’s life, and encourages help-seeking when the youth find themselves in difficult life situations. 

We also have a Talk About Sex video series targeted at helping to break the ice around such conversations. Parents can get hold of these videos at 

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Focus on the Family Singapore Celebrates 20 Years of Building Strong Families

Focus on the Family Singapore Celebrates 20 Years of Building Strong Families

19 May, 2022 – Focus on the Family Singapore will commemorate its 20th anniversary with a special celebratory dinner themed “Bigger, Deeper and Stronger for Families” on Thursday, 19 May, at Hilton Orchard Singapore. 

Deputy Prime Minister & Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, Mr Heng Swee Keat will grace the event as the Guest of Honour. He will be accompanied by his wife. 

Some 650 partners and supporters of Focus Singapore will be attending the event. The charity hopes to raise $1,000,000 in table sponsorships and pledges to fund its family-centric programmes and campaigns for the year. 

In 2021, Focus Singapore impacted the lives of some 40,000 people with its family-building programmes and campaigns. Looking ahead, the charity organisation aims to go bigger on sexuality education by partnering parents, educators and organisations, deeper in parent-child connections to build mental resilience, and stronger on marriage narratives, preparation programmes and mentoring communities.   

Bigger on sexuality education 

A 2020 survey conducted by Focus Singapore found that a staggering 79% of youths and young adults believe that parents have the primary responsibility to teach them about sex and sexuality. However, only 15% cite parents as their main source of information.  

Sexuality education needs to start at home as values about relationships and marriage have to come from parents themselves. With the growing awareness of the need for parental involvement in guiding youths in the area of sexuality, Focus Singapore plans to augment its current resources on its website with videos and conversation starters to equip parents with the skills to do so.  

Deeper parent-child connections   

Over the past two years, Focus has had to pivot its Family Life Education programmes and events from in-person to online format. To journey with parents in supporting their tweens through the transition to adolescence, Focus has redesigned its signature parent-child event, Date with Dad, into a parent-and-tween experiential programme titled The Select: Mission 1114 

240 parents and tweens attended the inaugural run of The Select in December 2021, and tried their hand at solving puzzles and cracking codes together, while deepening their relationship through letter-writing and intentional conversations. 

Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho, who attended The Select with her son, said, “It was such a timely bonding experience for us as it was just after my son completed his PSLE and received his results. The most memorable part for me was when we wrote letters to each other. I also gave him a leather belt as a gift and told him, ‘This belt represents my support for you, and you’re never alone.’” 

Stronger marriages 

In a bid to strengthen its programme offerings aimed at nurturing stronger marriages, Focus Singapore will be organising a date night event in August 2022. Targeting younger married couples, Best Date Ever will offer couples a unique experience to reconnect and rediscover the joys or marriage, building their collective resilience to withstand the stressors of life. 

Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe, CEO of Focus Singapore, said, “It is significant that we mark our twentieth anniversary in a year that Singapore has designated as the Year of Celebrating Families. We’re excited that with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, 650 friends of the Family can now join us in this celebration!” 

“Today’s increasingly volatile and digitally immersed world unfortunately places new and more complex challenges on everyday families. Taking an upstream approach to build on the foundation of strong family values and healthy relationships will ensure our nation continues to thrive for many generations to come.” 

Partnership Dinner: Raising Family Champions 

Focus on the Family Singapore’s 20th Anniversary Celebration is held in appreciation of corporate and community partners that have supported the organisation’s work in helping families thrive. Through the celebratory dinner, the organisation also hopes to share the impact through stories of families equipped and restored over the past 20 years, and enable more stakeholders and partners to catch the vision of building stronger families and resilient children in the years to come.  

Chairman of Focus on the Family Singapore Mr Tony Soh said, “While championing upstream work with families hasn’t been without its challenges, we are thankful to count so many passionate believers of Family among our supporters today. With their partnership and encouragement, we will continue to build on the good work of the past 20 years, and forge ahead to realise our vision of thriving, vibrant and resilient families in Singapore.” 

At the fundraiser, Focus on the Family Singapore will also present its annual Family Champion Awards to commend corporations, communities and individuals who have been exemplary in promoting the interests of families.  

Six recipients will be recognised this year — Far East Organization, People’s Association, Mr Tan Chin Hwee, Dr Stephen Riady, Noel Gifts International Ltd, and Church of our Saviour. 

Focus on the Family Singapore hopes that this recognition will raise greater awareness of the need for family-friendly policies and a culture that celebrates and champions families in Singapore.   

Read our Stewardship Report for 2021 here.  

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Forum: Teaching young people to strengthen ties may get them to start own families

Forum: Teaching young people to strengthen ties may get them to start own families

The Straits Times
Republished with Permission
20 September 2023

CEO of Focus on the Family Singapore, Ms Delia Ng, in response to writer Amy Lim’s article, “Why financial incentives alone aren’t encouraging more births” (Sept 14),  mentions that it is important to give the youth of today skills to enhance their familial relationships.  

Ms Ng references a survey that was conducted with about 5,000 secondary school students during 2020-2023. She says, “the findings suggest that today’s youth see that the answer lies in building up family ties. They also reveal a keenness in our youth to rise up and take ownership of their own familial well-being.”

She adds: “By giving young people the skills to enhance their familial relationships, we are sowing the seeds for their hopes and dreams for their own families tomorrow.”

For the full article, please visit Forum: Teaching young people to strengthen ties may get them to start own families 

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