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COMMENTARY

Really, must parents act so entitled?

Published on Jan 31, 2013 11:13 AM
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Rachel Chang feels that the most entitled people in this entitled population are Singaporean parents. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

One quality I've always considered integral in the Singaporean identity is an ironclad sense of entitlement.

Whatever we are given, we always want to know why we didn't get more. Maybe our schools have taught us too well that critical analysis is the only appropriate response to any statement.

And the most entitled people in this entitled population are Singaporean parents. They're fuelled by a potent mix of martyrdom and self-pity, salted over by a lack of sleep and intense body anxiety.

Because the national discourse is so relentlessly self-flagellating about the low birth rate, they are simultaneously self-congratulatory about having given their lives to something "noble", while intensely aware of how they are "losing out" by choosing to have kids in a childless nation.

This is like a multiple personality disorder, which they cope with by being convinced that they should be compensated twice over for starting a family.

Canvassing reactions to the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package for the news stories published last week was like taking a museum tour of Middle Class Entitled Parents. Those in this group seem to live by the creed that "to those whom much has been given, much more should be given".

In Singapore, primary and secondary school education is already almost free, and there are subsidies for pre-school for low-income families.

But the Entitled Parent seems to think that I, a childless taxpayer, should also pay for their childcare and kindergarten costs.

That's fine with me actually - as long as we also split your kid's pay cheque when he starts work.

And when told that they can rent subsidised flats from the Government while waiting for their own, some wondered why the flats couldn't be free, or why they couldn't be given priority for private housing.

I can hear it now, the favourite riposte of the childbearing: You don't understand because you don't have a kid.

It's true that I don't have personal knowledge of starting a family while running the Singapore rat race.

And I don't mean to denigrate the miracle of childbirth. In fact, I actually do want to be a mother one day.

But I don't see why the passage of another human being through my birth canal would magically entitle me to special treatment.

I respect parents and all the sacrifices they make for their kids, but come on, they're not amputees running a marathon, or quadriplegics painting watercolours with a brush in the mouth. I don't feel sufficiently moved by the plight of Singaporean parents to donate to their cause, which they seem to expect me to do. A tuition arms race and "overly hard exam papers" somehow do not arouse in me the sadness and desire to help that abused animals or victims of natural disasters do.

I must have a heart made of stone. (By the way, examinations are supposed to be difficult.)

When Singaporean parents ask for more, what I hear are people expecting to be paid for their adult choices.

But if that were the way the world works, then I am waiting on reimbursement for the holidays I've taken and the books and DVDs I've bought to fill up all my child-free time.

These won't even pay off in the future, as kids will. They're supposed to grow up and take care of you in your old age, right? My shoe collection won't do that.

But when I choose to buy a pair of shoes, I don't whine about a heels-unfriendly environment, or the lack of adequate shoe storage space in my flat, or shifting social mores that discourage shoe ownership.

The choice is mine, as are the consequences.

Don't get me wrong. I do think that improving the country's birth rate is an important societal goal.

But it isn't a pure public good that the state has the responsibility to pay for, like national defence.

It's more like tertiary education - there is some public benefit to society, but a lot of it is private benefit. Just like the way a university degree will pay for itself (unless you're an Arts student) in future income, kids will also pay you back.

Literally, like when they send the monthly cheque to the old folk's home. Or figuratively, in joy and hope, so on and so forth. Laughs and life lessons, et cetera.

Parents can certainly look forward to a meaningful, fulfilling life when they embark on the child-rearing journey, and I look forward to it one day too.

But that's about all they should feel entitled to.

Everything else is a bonus, and the least us childless taxpayers should get is a thank you.

rchang@sph.com.sg

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