Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) made an impassioned plea for a whole-of-society approach to supporting parents. This is an extract from her speech.
"I still remember when I mentioned to my colleagues my desire to start a family, a senior woman executive's first response had been: "But why?"
To which I answered: "Why not?", and she said: "The correct question is, 'But why?'"
This conversation stuck in my mind, and as I pondered what we can do to promote parenthood, I realised the drivers behind her question.
With growing gender equality and the ability for women in Singapore to self-actualise through their careers, the perceived downsides to parenthood are immediate and quantifiable: time and effort to take care of one's children, potential impact to career progression, and that's not counting stretch marks and weight gain from pregnancy, while the benefits, the joys of parenthood, seem vague in comparison.
How then do we make the positives more apparent and parenthood less daunting?
While the Government pushes out policies to help with the costs of raising children, if we look around us, even those who can afford to have children are not having children. So targeting costs, though key, is but one way of lowering the threshold for those considering to have children.
We talk of a whole-of-government approach to promoting innovation and a business-friendly environment. Can we consider a whole-of-society approach to promoting parenthood?
For instance, at the corporate level. While we acknowledge short-term changes in work arrangements due to maternity leave, can we ensure that our human resource processes are such that there is proper communication with new mothers so that they do not feel that they are penalised for having a baby?
At the community level, can we develop more child-friendly community spaces - indoor playgrounds where parents can have a cup of coffee as they watch their children play, nursing rooms, baby changing rooms decorated to be a little haven for parents and children with soft music and alluring hues?
Young parents can be made to feel special and not so alone in their endeavours.
We have set aside resources to develop trade associations and chambers to encourage industry self-help and transformation.
Can we put in resources to promote self-help groups for young parents, from promoting breast-feeding to the use of online resources to organise playgroups and make possible voluntary child-minding arrangements for young children?
Parenthood should be celebrated. We have joined the "Parents' Club". If we can change mindsets towards parenthood, the question hopefully will be: "Why not?"