Stay-at-home dad finds rewards in relationship with son

Mr Lawrence Ng, his wife Jen, and their son Kai Herng. Mr Ng's life revolves around being Kai Herng's father, coach, cheerleader and "only friend".
Mr Lawrence Ng, his wife Jen, and their son Kai Herng. Mr Ng's life revolves around being Kai Herng's father, coach, cheerleader and "only friend".ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Lawrence Ng, 43, quit a well-paying job in China and moved with his wife to Australia to find a suitable school for their autistic son.

When the boy had trouble fitting in there, Mr Ng became a stay-at-home dad to care for and home-school him. He gave up a five-figure monthly pay as a human resources manager in Beijing, where he lived with his wife, Jen, and son Kai Herng, who is now 10.

Kai Herng, an only child, had been diagnosed with autism and, when he started pre-school, his teachers in Beijing did not know how to handle him.

Finding self-worth

"I've felt sorry for myself seeing my friends moving up in the world, while I was regressing, shopping for the cheapest toilet paper... Our careers are so much a part of our identity, and I had to discover and find value in who I am as a person, instead of what I do for a living."

MR LAWRENCE NG

So the couple took their son to Adelaide, thinking the Australian education system would be a better fit for him.

But Kai Herng continued to have meltdowns at his pre-school, and would hit other children or throw things when he was anxious or angry and could not express himself.

He was repeatedly suspended before the Ngs were asked to transfer him to another school or home-school him. By then, Mrs Ng, Kai Herng's main care-giver, was sinking into depression.

Mrs Ng, 43, said: "I felt like I was such a bad mum that I couldn't even manage my son. I felt a huge sense of relief when Lawrence decided to be Kai Herng's main care-giver as he can handle him better."

So about five years ago, Mr Ng became a full-time dad and began teaching his son subjects such as English, mathematics and science.

The couple had no jobs when they moved to Adelaide. Mrs Ng later found work as a teacher, while Mr Ng went back to school to get a graduate diploma in psychology and counselling.

About two years ago, the family returned to Singapore and Kai Herng is now studying at Pathlight School, a special education school for children with autism.

Mr Ng is still a stay-at-home dad and his wife works as a teacher. His life revolves around being Kai Herng's father, coach, cheerleader and "only friend". He also does most of the housework.

He said full-time parenting can be lonely and depressing at times, especially having to deal with the loss of income and status as well as coping with a child with special needs.

"I've felt sorry for myself seeing my friends moving up in the world, while I was regressing, shopping for the cheapest toilet paper," he said. "Our careers are so much a part of our identity, and I had to discover and find value in who I am as a person, instead of what I do for a living."

So he started a blog, stayhomedadandson.blogspot.sg, to air his thoughts and feelings. He also started freelancing as a weight management coach and HR consultant for "intellectual stimulation and to feel useful".

But he spends only a few hours a week on his freelance work and his income is "very little" and irregular.

But the Ngs say Kai Herng's behaviour has improved tremendously and he is now a lot more sociable too.

"Kai Herng has grown a lot and my relationship with him is superbly rewarding," said Mr Ng. "I wouldn't exchange this for a career. When I tell people I'm a stay-at-home dad, they go wow, like I'm so noble. But women do this all the time, they don't get (any) glory."

Theresa Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Stay-at-home dad finds rewards in relationship with son'. Print Edition | Subscribe