A mama newly-arrived in Singapore grapples with giving her the kids the best of life here without absorbing the worst bits. Can it be done?
A few weeks ago we ran an article about one mama’s concerns about raising entitled kids in Singapore. A contentious Facebook discussion ensued (is there any other kind?), so we asked one mama who took issue with the article to share her thoughts. Let’s keep the discussion going, mamas!
We knew relocating to Singapore from the UK was going to be a big change and we knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we didn’t know exactly what wouldn’t be easy. Before the move I would have very confidently said that it would be the climate, living in an apartment, and not having a car that we’d struggle with. I was right in a way, we did struggle with all those things — the novelty of being here quickly wore off, we stopped feeling like we were on holiday, and life really had to begin. So what is the problem I’m left with? Well, we have a very fortunate existence here and that is the problem, or at least threatens to create problems.
I am not the first mother to move here and realise that my young, impressionable, children are suddenly exposed to the best and worst of expat life. The best being obvious: with an education system consistently rated top in the world, highly acclaimed international schools seemingly everywhere, hospitals and healthcare that make my beloved NHS look a little down at heel, virtually no crime and a perpetual summer climate, it’s no wonder why Singapore attracts us in droves.
It is, in its own delightful way, akin to living in a bubble. Our children are raised in an environment so safe that they can leave their school bags strewn across coffee shops mid-homework without any hint of concern. Not only are their belongings safe unattended, but so are they. On top of this nonchalant approach to safety, they are growing up surrounded by wealth, both in financial terms and in terms of lifelong opportunities. Wherever our children go to school they are being given a world-class education surrounded by different cultural traditions and the chance to learn several languages. They’re set up for life in many ways.
But what of the obvious material wealth here? Is it wrong to see young kids wielding their own iPads and iPhones as they hop in and out of taxis on their way to and from various lessons at private clubs, the helper picking up after them? This could be an exaggerated example, but the longer we are here the easier it is to see that childhood as the norm and not exceptional.
I was quite horrified when we first arrived at the suggestion of us “needing” a helper; if I have coped with working full-time and being a wife and mother for a good few years without a helper, why on earth would I need one now? And yet here I am, almost three months in, and I can clearly see the benefits of having a helper. That being said, as I’m currently enduring the dubious privilege of being a stay-at-home mom I cannot justify the expenditure of employing a helper, so like it or not I’m stuck without for the time being.
But I will admit to also overthinking the potential drawbacks of having a helper; if she makes my life easier by helping with daily chores, will she also become the perfect excuse for my children to flake out on their chores? Will they become accustomed to having someone picking up after them all the time? (Someone other than me, of course, I do realise the irony in what I – a stay at home mother at their beck and call 24/7 – am saying right now.) Maybe it’s because of this that I’m probably a little extreme in my aversion to potentially spoiling my children in any form.
I’m probably also a little old-school and terribly British but the way I see it is my kids only have one childhood, and what they learn now will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The greatest thing I can spoil them with is mundane normality — to have no airs and graces, to be equipped with good old-fashioned manners, to be able to look after themselves with practical life-long skills such as cooking and cleaning, and to grow into socially aware people with an understanding of the needs of others.
The only thing I want my children to think they are entitled to is my time. They can have as much of my time as they want, we can even do with that time what they want (for the most part). But “stuff”? Or a “lifestyle”? No, my children will learn they are not simply entitled to any of those things. They can earn them in a mutually agreeable way, and it doesn’t have to be tough love at all, but they have to develop a vested interest in the earning-of to truly value the reward. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not easy being an awful human being in the eyes of your children at times, but ultimately I’d rather my kids resented me for not allowing them the little things now than for them to be overwhelmed by the realities of life outside of this bubble if/when it pops.
So there’s my problem: finding the balance between exposing my children to the best of our life in Singapore whilst also raising them as if we didn’t live here. Living here allows us to explore a continent in the way that living in the UK allowed to us to explore Europe, except that here we can island hop, stay in luxury resorts and rack up airmiles as opposed to hitting the continent with a 4×4 packed full of tents, a roadmap and no fixed plans.
I asked my 3-year-old yesterday what’s the best thing about living in Singapore, and her answer went on to answer all the other questions going round and round in my head. She said simply “The pool and our new place“. To her, living here means being together as a family in one home, and having endless time together splashing about in the condo pool. Never mind everything that draws us adults here, and never mind the lifestyle luxuries that keep us here, kids just want their own simple version of life. Will my kids appreciate everything else that living in Singapore offers us? Honestly? Probably not, because for all the luxuries and opportunities we can afford for them here, I think they’ll remember their own highlights anyway, and I don’t think helpers, exotic holidays, or airport lounges will feature highly at all. Don’t believe me? Ask your children what living here means to them, you might be pleasantly surprised about what they’re appreciating from life as an expat kid…