I had both my daughters in Singapore, a country that has been called “Disneyland with the death penalty,” among other things. It’s the “Disneyland” bit I want to focus on. Originally meant as a pejorative reference to a country that can seem like a bubble, to me the term implies a place that is self contained, unique and most importantly, safe and fun for kids. Singapore is also a pretty amazing country to have your kids in regards to the support in place to make it a relatively easy journey. This is something I took for granted when living there. Although secretly I did know reality would eventually reach out and embrace me tightly, it was always there in the distant future. This future is no longer distant.
Looking back at those early days of being a mum, I was blissfully unaware how hard it can be when you have a new baby and small kids, big kids or indeed any kind of kid at all if you don’t have help. In Singapore this ‘help’ comes in many forms; affordable live-in domestic help, flexible cheap childcare options, a welcome for kids pretty much wherever you go and whatever you do and safe streets to do it on.
And kids are held in high esteem – sometimes a little too high as far as I’m concerned. I never got used to seeing adults giving up their seats on the bus or train for a child. And this is a child of any age – my nearly ten year old was offered a seat by a pensioner the other month when we were back in Singapore. Needless to say, she did not accept.
That’s the opposite to what I learned in Ireland as a child. It was pretty much beaten in to us by the nuns that we stand for someone who needs it more. And this concept of someone who needed it more than us was understood to mean pretty much anyone except ourselves. We were always jumping up to give our seat to someone on the bus back home in Dublin. It was way easier than having an internal conversation as to whether the person standing in front of you was more deserving than you of the seat or not. In Singapore, the thought goes that you look after your kids so they will look after you when you are old; offering them a seat now gets you a seat in your granny flat when you get to the right age.
So having kids in Singapore is made as easy as it can be, given you are now responsible for another human being and you have experienced possibly the last worry free 24 hours for the rest of your life.
First off, childcare is more affordable and available in Singapore as compared to the UK, Ireland and the US (San Francisco, in particular, the places I am most familiar with). The government in Singapore encourages parents to work, so they keep childcare very reasonably priced. And the more kids you have the less tax you pay. And tax is pretty low to start off with. You get a baby bonus for having kids – a cash for kids kind of deal (as long as you are Singaporean – always read the fine print).
You have a couple of options once you go back to work in Singapore: you can drop your child off at pre-school (from about 2 months to up to 6 years old). You can even put them on a bus to get there. As soon as your child can sit unaided, they can strap on a seat belt on a bus that collects them from your door and drops them back again afterwards. Singaporean law stipulates that child care centres can’t open later than 7am and can’t close before 7pm during the week. Saturdays the centres can’t open later than 7am or close before 2pm. Cost wise it is all inclusive – a concept that seems unfamiliar to many schools in San Francisco. “You mean I need to pay for after care here, and it costs how much? But that is nearly as much as regular hours fees!” This took some getting used to. Let me rephrase that it is still taking some getting used to.
Many people in Singapore also have affordable live-in help so people can also leave their kids at home with the helper. That’s right, you can run out to the shop without packing the entire family up with you, so no need to leave the kids alone at home and face being arrested. You can spontaneously take your spouse out for a romantic dinner. You can spontaneously do whatever you want to do without calling five babysitters to find one that is available. If you are reading this and live in Singapore and have kids in preschool and affordable home live-in help remind yourself daily that life is great! Repeat after me “Life is great!” And yes, I know that nannies exist as do au pairs and other forms of professional childcare elsewhere but not as affordable, nor available as Singapore and also other countries in Asia. As of December 2015, there were more than 230,000 domestic workers in Singapore.
And if you prefer to take your kids with you when you go out there are very few places in Singapore that kids aren’t welcome. There is really no such thing as no kids allowed from the coolest hotels to the best restaurants. So depending how you feel about dinner with kids (your own or other people’s) this is either heaven or hell.
One reason my husband and I decided to leave Singapore was because we felt at times we were raising kids in a country that seemed to be a bit like living in that bubble I mentioned; too clean (not that we like dirt), too safe (not that we want danger), too easy (hang on a second…). Fast forward to a party in San Francisco, at which I was having a conversation with an American woman here and she said she worried about bringing her kids up in San Francisco because she felt at times she was raising her kids in a city that seemed to be a bit like living in a bubble. I nodded, smiled, reached for my phone to call the babysitter and thought, “You have no idea.”