Love letter to the 'other parents' who raise our kids

Childcare professionals, domestic helpers and grandparents play an important role in looking after our children

About two months ago, my four-year-old son suddenly started crying uncontrollably when my wife and I dropped him off at his nursery.

Despite our best efforts to soothe and cajole him, he kept wailing in the morning, insisting that he no longer wanted to go to the childcare centre.

It got bad enough that we seriously considered having one of us stop working to become a full-time, stay-at-home parent.

It wasn't because going to childcare was a new experience for him. As my wife and I are both working and have few other options, he has been in infantcare since he was just a few months old and has continued to be in some form of childcare or another.

We eventually realised he was crying because his favourite teacher had left her job at the centre to work somewhere else. This made him so distraught that he started crying and refusing to go to the childcare centre.

Eventually, my wife and I worked out a system - similar to that used in coffee joints - where he got a stamp on a calendar, with his favourite cartoon characters on it, for every day that he didn't cry when going to childcare.

We may or would like to think that we're bravely facing the struggles of parenthood alone. However, in reality, it would be impossible for us to do so without the help of others.

If he made it through an entire week without crying, he would earn a sticker and a treat.

The system has worked.

Our son now shows a lot more enthusiasm when waking up in the morning and getting dressed to go to childcare, even managing to smile most of the time.

Thankfully, he likes his new teachers too.

Sometimes, he is happy enough that, at the end of the day, he recounts his entire day to us - from what he ate to the books he read to his conversations with friends.

Although this particular storm has passed, it got me thinking: As parents, we make huge sacrifices to raise our children, whether in the form of sleep, time or money.

We may or would like to think that we're bravely facing the struggles of parenthood alone.

However, in reality, it would be impossible for us to do so without the help of others.

For working parents such as myself and my wife, the people who help us are often the professionals working in early-childhood education centres here.

While we're at work, they take care of our children and ensure that they are fed, clothed and educated.

At least in our own experience, we've found sending him to childcare has made him friendlier and more sociable.

Our son has been blessed to have had a number of good teachers who have helped take care of him and treated him with kindness.

One of the teachers at my son's infantcare centre - which he hasn't been to in almost three years - continues to send my wife a text message every year to wish him a happy birthday.

A kindly woman, she has gentle manners and a warm character, helping us ease our worries about putting our first-born child in the care of strangers.

He may have forgotten her, but she has not forgotten him.

The role of other relatives - such as the grandparents whose doors are always open, and the aunts and uncles who treat our children like their own - also cannot be forgotten.

I spent so much time in my maternal grandparents' house in Opera Estate as a child that I might as well have lived there - which I did, for a time.

I remember them taking me for walks around the neighbourhood and taking me around as they ran errands. When my parents were busy, my grandparents were always there.

Even though they died many years ago, their warmth, character and mannerisms remain indelible in my memories.

Sometimes, it's as though I can still taste my grandmother's cooking, like the ketupat, gravy and fried chicken she would prepare for her 33-strong brood of children, grandchildren and in-laws every year during Hari Raya.

I see my son having the same relationship with his grandparents.

He spends so much of his time with them and they, in turn, dote on him and shower him with endless care and affection.

I can only hope that, one day, he realises how precious this time is and that he looks back on the time spent with his grandparents as fondly as I do my time with mine.

It takes a village to raise a child, so goes the proverb - of unknown African origins, according to a National Public Radio report last year.

These other people - whether they are childcare professionals, domestic helpers, grandparents or other relatives - are effectively our children's "other parents".

They play no small role in raising our children.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'Love letter to the 'other parents' who raise our kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe