I grew up in a dual-income family with both parents working full-time in office jobs.
Since I was young, my cousins and I stayed with my grandparents and aunt in a 3-room HDB flat in Tiong Bahru. This was from Monday to Friday. We spoke Hokkien at home.
My parents visited me at night from around 7-930pm to play with me, to teach me English and help me with my schoolwork. After which, they went home. On the weekends, I lived with my parents.
This arrangement continued until I was around Primary five where I started to live at my own house alone. Sometimes, I would still go to my grandparent’s place to visit or have dinner since they were around 1km away.
I always thought this was the way most families operated until I was surprised to learn about the concept of a housewife when I was in upper primary. I also learnt that my classmates could not speak in other Chinese languages besides Mandarin.
Back then, I still thought that single-income families were a minority. However, as I grew older, I realized I was the minority instead. Till today, there still seems to be a lot of single-income families. A total of 54 percent of married couples are dual-income couples, this figure is around 70 percent for those where the husband is 25- 49 years old.
I think both types of family models have their own benefits. None is better than the other.
However, due to various challenges such as our rising cost of living, I feel that a greater proportion of our generation would begin to adopt the dual-income family model.
It is unfortunate that people still see this as an inferior model of bringing up children. According to Professor Katherine McGinn, “People still have this belief that when moms are employed, it’s somehow detrimental to their children.”
Thus, I decided to write this post to share some benefits of growing up in a dual-income family and under the care of my extended family.
1. I learnt to be independent from a young age
As I did not rely on my parents too much, I started to be independent from a young age.
I did not cry on my first day in kindergarten. In fact, was wondering why my classmates were overreacting and being so emotional when it was just a few hours and they would take the school bus home at 12 pm.
As early as in lower primary, I could go downstairs all by myself to buy ice-cream or feed cats. I was never afraid of speaking to strangers or feared authority.
I also started taking public transport by myself from an early age. In primary one, I took the public bus back by myself after CCA and from school when I was 10 years old.
By secondary school, I was taking public bus to school on my own.
Starting from when I was 5 years old, my mother created a timetable for me. She also assigned me tasks to complete before they came back at night i.e. memorize timetable, learn these words for spelling, complete certain homework they gave me in an assessment book and finish reading a Chinese book. They will check if I completed these tasks when I was back.
Having this system since young benefited me in several ways. It instilled positive habits such as:
1. Using my own calendar and to-do list to manage my time which I still use today. Instead of pen and paper, I use Google Calendar. It includes all my appointments, duties I need to complete at home and even my gym and skincare routine.
2. Discipline: All three children always remembered to do their homework. I rarely forgot to do my homework.
3. Self-motivation: All three children made it to NTU or NUS. I went to Victoria Junior College. My sister and I took higher Chinese without speaking the language at home at all. My brother got all As and one B for A levels.
These results were achieved because we were self-motivated. My parents never ever pushed me to study or scolded any of us for our grades. I received zero pressure for streaming and PSLE. It felt like any other year in school.
People often say that grades are important in Singapore. However, my dad views it differently. He always told me from young: “Getting good grades are not important. As long as you have a degree – private or local, that is fine.”
Based on what I hear from my friends who are parents, these days, teachers would remind parents to remind their children to complete tasks via Whatsapp.
I wonder if this system is the most beneficial for children? Wouldn’t it be better to teach children good habits from young, to cultivate personal responsibility and to remember to bring their own things, pack their own bags and complete their homework?
If parents micro-manage this process, would children be able to learn to develop healthy habits on their own?
3. I got a lot of space to explore and grow
As I received minimal supervision on the weekdays, I had a lot of personal space from a young age. In my free time, I got to explore my own interests – caught insects, computers, grew my own crops and bred Hamsters.
I also took part in school activities after curriculum hours – gymnastics, robotics, art and uniform groups.
I personally believe that free time and space are so beneficial to kids. When kids have time to make their own discoveries, engage in self-directed play, and cure their own bouts of boredom, they find their inner sparks. They figure out what they’re interested in and what they need to do to develop those interests.
They learn curiosity, develop a range of interests and the ability to learn new things quickl. All these traits have benefited me in my life and work today.
4. I learnt the concept of gender equality from a young age
I grew up in an egalitarian household. Both parents spent equal time at work and equal time taking care of children. My dad was very responsible about housework and did his share at home. I never saw him as the main breadwinner.
As I grew older, I started to become very confused when people talk about women having to give up their careers for children. I never ever doubted that people could balance family and work or and wondered why they even have to choose. With the right family support in place and with companies adopting family-friendly practices, women can still go to work and have their own families.
In fact, studies have shown that compared to women whose mothers stayed home full time, women raised by an employed mother are 1.21 times more likely to be employed and 1.29 times more likely to supervise others at work.
They also earn more money. Employed daughters of employed moms earned an average of $1,880 more per year than employed daughters of moms who stayed home full time.
I also understood from a young age that men were equal. I never had the idea that I needed to marry a guy who earned more than me or who was ambitious. I even refused the idea of “bride price” as I felt it conflicted with my personal values.
I just wanted someone who would do his part at home and for the family, like how my Dad was.
5. My parents have financial stability in old age
Finally, one of the benefits I got from coming from a dual-income family was that both my parents do not rely on any of their children as a ‘retirement plan’.
Both of them were financially independent and prudent enough not to overspend on our childhood.
I definitely agree with NTUC Income that this is the “best gift” that any parent can give to their child. If parents are able to balance their own retirement plans with caring for children, the kids would be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour and discipline in their adulthood.
The point of writing this post is simply to debunk traditional mindsets that dual-income families are not good for children.
I would like to reiterate that no family model is superior to the other.
I am certainly am not saying children from single-income families would not have these benefits. I know of many people who grew up in single-income families and they turned out amazing!