Role of dads has to be supported

One of the best times of my life came when I held my firstborn almost eight years ago. She was a wrinkly, grey and crying mess. Her face was contorted and she bellowed when I held her lightly, and yet I thought she was the most beautiful thing in the world.

The early, wonderful days of having a baby are also the toughest, especially for first-time parents. Parents have to learn quickly. Suddenly, you are in charge of a human life, a helpless baby who depends on you for everything. No school exam prepares you for this.

So while it is undeniable that giving fathers an extra week of mandatory paternity leave will raise costs for employers, it is absolutely crucial that this is done. For one thing, if Singapore is to continue adding to the progress it has made in making more babies - 33,793 babies arrived last year, the most in 13 years - the role of the father has to be supported. Allowing fathers to be around their babies in the early days is a real benefit to the development of the infants, as well as to encouraging couples to have more children.

Sure, it will hurt companies, especially small firms with a tiny pool of staff. Some individuals are not easy to replace, especially on a short-term basis.

For employers, there may be ways to soften the impact of the blow of losing an important member of the staff to his family for a fortnight. One could be to allow for a more flexible arrangement in utilising the extra week of paternity leave. Instead of taking two weeks at one go, maybe the employee could spread the leave out over months.

But more than just seeing families as a burden to the firm, how about employers view these families as extensions of the employees themselves?

Fathers and mothers, I suspect, are likely to be happier and more loyal to employers who are supportive of their desire to build strong families.

After all, behind many employees, there are small children and babies whom the working parents look forward to going home to.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Role of dads has to be supported'. Print Edition | Subscribe