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Seriously Kidding

A back-up plan for my kids

Published on May 19, 2014 10:04 PM
 

Like many fathers, I'm very hands-on in parenting my two young daughters.

I play with them, read to them, go through their school work with them, take them out, discipline them, comfort them, feed them, brush their teeth and tuck them in at bedtime.

I also shower them, although I try to do it only when absolutely necessary for my elder girl Faith, since it's becoming age-inappropriate now that she's turning seven.

Bottom line: There's no division of duties between my wife and me according to mummy and daddy roles. At a pinch, we could both be mummy and daddy, should the other be indisposed.

So even though my younger daughter Sarah is extremely attached to my wife at night, there was no drama at all when my wife had to go to Hong Kong for work for five days. The changeover was so smooth, my wife felt she could be missed a little more.

We never gave much thought to this all-purpose, "modular" approach to parenting, but it is a good back-up plan for our kids should either parent be in any way indisposed or incapacitated.

Still, back-up plans need back-up plans. Recently, my wife and I fell quite ill with gastroenteritis at the same time. Not only were we unable to remain vertical for extended periods, we also didn't want to go anywhere close to our daughters for fear of infecting them.

So, for the first time in our children's lives, neither their mother nor father could perform a mother or father role for them, for two to three days.

When we quarantined ourselves in an unoccupied apartment belonging to my in-laws and told Faith and Sarah over the phone that we could not be with them for a couple of days, I sensed some bewilderment in them. It was just a little sad.

It must be an infinitesimal fraction of what it must feel like to be suddenly orphaned. I can't begin to imagine the trauma actual young orphans experience - the shock, the emotional isolation, the ground beneath their feet just completely disappearing.

Not long after I became a father for the first time, a friend of mine told me she knew of a couple with young kids who never take the same flight when going on a family holiday. The reason: Should an accident happen to one flight, the other parent would still be around.

Back then, I thought this pretty extreme; I might even have sniggered. Now, with two daughters who are wholeheartedly attached to my wife and me, I think it reasonable.

With the gastroenteritis episode fresh in my mind, I might even attempt it when booking our next family holiday: Separate flights, separate bus transfers, separate... hotels?

At what point do we stop making back-up plans for back-up plans? In fact, there's no stopping, if the worrying mindset overwhelms you.

Living life as a single person is hard and unpredictable enough, without having a young family in tow to exponentially increase the number of variables to infinity.

There's nothing like becoming a parent to make you swallow the truth that man proposes, but God disposes.

That said, no normal family would live like a clan of Evel Knievel daredevils. Some precautions are in order, some vaccinations are necessary.

For instance, should your family go to Bangkok for a vacation and yummy street food stalls with questionable hygiene practices catch your fancy, please eat from different iffy-looking vendors selling barbecued heaven-knows-what.

The other truth new parents, especially those in Asian communities, soon learn is that it takes a village to raise a child, a proverb often attributed to the Africans.

It is great for a nuclear family to be close-knit and united. It is also essential to embed that nuclear unit in a larger family.

While my wife and I were quarantined because of the stomach bug, Faith and Sarah were well cared for by their grandparents along with our domestic helper. After their initial confusion at being forcibly separated from us, they recovered quickly and played - quarrelled - with each other as per normal.

Any twinge of angst at the separation was felt on my part, more than on my children's end.

Another friend of mine keeps his family nucleus pretty much apart from his extended clan because he's not on the best of terms with his family and possesses a fierce, stubborn independent streak. He works from home, and he and his wife look after their two sons together.

As much as I've always admired his fearless self- sufficiency, I find it a pity his kids do not see their paternal grandparents more often, if at all. For the best back-up plan that young parents can provide for their children is their grandparents, if they are still around. Beyond that, you would want your kids to know and love their immediate aunties, uncles and cousins.

Truly, there's safety, not to mention comfort and joy, in numbers. Perhaps more so than in taking separate flights.

andychen@sph.com.sg