What is contentment? It is not to be confused with being “lazy” or “unmotivated”. It is about being at peace and being joyful about the state that one is in.
What I am writing here is not about a war between full-time working mums (FTWM) and stay-at-home mums (SAHM)… or even part-time working mums (PTWM) — who is better. In some families, it is necessary for mummy to work full-time, whereas in other families mummy has a choice. Instead, the question to ask is this: In Singapore, everyone is urged to strive to be the best and maximize their potential, from the littlest babes to the elderly workers. Can contentment be found in a rat race and a society where “kiasuism*” is part of the national identity?
When asked how I feel about being a stay-home mum with a post-graduate degree, I would always reply along the lines of “It’s tough being a SAHM of 2 young kids. But I wouldn’t dream of giving up this job to go back to work full-time at this point in time, because there is much joy and motivation for me to be where my family needs me most — at home. I am content.”
What is the basis for my contentment?
Some people may find my reply above strange because being in an environment where girls are brought up to be educated and independent, it’s like taking a step back towards the cave where women should stay at home and not be seen in the world. As a friend once said “Why did you study so much just to become a housewife?” I would have agreed with her had I not have my life changed by knowing Jesus. It was very possible that I could have continued pursuing a PhD and made my mark in the scientific circles. But as the apostle Paul said:
“7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” Philippians 3:7-8
Achieving something for myself (while at the same time contributing to the society in the economic and scientific sense), did not seem as important as investing my time and energy in bringing up my kids to know our Lord Jesus Christ and building a good marriage with my hubby. Because what is here on earth is temporal and I am striving for something that lasts forever. And having received the Holy Spirit through Christ, I can say from the bottom of my heart:
“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11b-13
(P.S. This is not to say that it is wrong for mums to pursue higher education and have a career. It’s just that with the new life in Christ that I have, I found it hard to have the same drive for worldly success that I used to have, what with the riches of eternity in plain view.)
Am I born to be a housewife?
I grew up with a maid in the family, and a mother who never took full care of her babies and rarely did any housework or cooking. I had no role model to follow so most of the cooking, ironing, cleaning, washing and baby care that I know now were picked up by learning on the job. So if anyone were to observe me iron, cook or clean, they would probably laugh :P. If any new mum wants to consider full-time homemaking but is reluctant to do so due to the following reasons, my responses would be:
“But I have never done much housework or cooking, nor do I have any experience in baby care… I am just not that comfortable at home and not made for being a housewife.” I didn’t have much prior experience either. Just take it one step at a time. Learn as you go along and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t aim to be perfect in what you do. Take time to enjoy your baby. It doesn’t hurt the baby if he isn’t cleaned perfectly today. By God’s grace, He has seen me through each day, especially on some days when I had to struggle through the day.
“But I am afraid I will be bored as a housewife.” Trust me. There will be more things to do than there is time to do them. There are times when I felt like I needed a clone or two. There is always the endless cleaning to do, new recipes to check out, stuff on kids’ development and activities to do with them to read up on, reading, teaching and playing with kids… etc.. etc…I have never been bored as a housewife :). In fact, I wish I had more time. If there is time after completing the “chores”, one can always engage in a hobby, a home-based business or community service 🙂
“But I’ll go mad facing the baby and the house all day long!” For once this is a valid concern as the emotional and mental state of mummy is important as well. If mummy isn’t mentally or emotionally able to care for baby, then it would not be good for the whole family if mummy were to stay at home. But having said that, is it really true that some of us are destined to go mad if we were to be full-time housewives? I had a conversation with a girlfriend recently about how women nowadays struggle with the concept of staying at home to look after kids and the family. It’s as though years of education and work have made us women incapable of becoming full-time caregivers. I think in the end it all boils down to what really matters to us. If caring for the needs of everyone in the family is really that important, then no matter how daunting the tasks are, there will still be motivation to carry on with the work at home. Perhaps education has made us see things such as “maximizing my potential” as something that is more important… If I can’t develop my potential, then I will feel unfulfilled. However, more often than not, it’s the lack of adult interaction that some women fear. The solution would be to continue to keep in touch with other girlfriends and/or join a mummy support group.
Is it possible for an average family in Singapore to survive on a single income?
For mums who would like to be SAHM but are concerned about the financial aspect of this choice, I would like to say, it is possible to survive on hubby’s single income and be content :). My family learned to make do with hubby’s income that is less than the average household income in Singapore (and will probably remain less than average for many years to come). In order to achieve that, we bought a flat with a mortgage that can be serviced by my hubby’s CPF** contribution without cash top-ups (out of the way location, low floor, not in popular mature housing estates). We also do away with things that many families in Singapore find necessary:
No car. This means reduced mobility for us. We take a longer time to travel and often find ourselves turning down offers for social events because of the inconvenience. We also seldom go to places that are inaccessible by public transport. But having said that, there are advantages to living without a car. We are released from the financial burden of servicing a car and the time and effort of taking care of it.
No maid. In some families, especially with young children and elderly folk who need full time care, it may be necessary to have a maid to help to take care of the family. Surviving without a maid in my early days of taking care of a baby and a toddler was tough, but we learn to get by and live with the mess and lots of crying. My boys learn to take on household responsibilities as soon as they are capable too. E.g. cleaning up their toys as soon as they could walk, taking the dishes to the kitchen as soon as they were tall enough to place utensils on the kitchen table/ sink. “Chores” such as helping to sort the laundry becomes part of daily routine and my 2.5 year old does it as though it is second nature to him now. By watching hubby and I do housework during the day, the kids do see housework as something that has to be done, and done by the all the members who live in the house because everyone has a responsibility to help with housekeeping. This might be difficult to teach and model by example if there’s a maid doing all the housework.
No overseas holidays. It’s a cultural thing to deem “seeing the world” as something that’s a necessary part of a child’s education. With this mindset, many families in Singapore plan for annual or bi-annual (or more frequent) overseas family vacations. Hubby and I agree that while it is nice for families to get away from Singapore now and then, it’s not a necessity. Kids can always travel when they are old enough to take care of themselves and/or pay for their own travel expenses. People are the same in human nature (although culturally different) everywhere so there is no need to look outside of Singapore to meet different kinds of people, especially when the kids are very young. We prefer to teach our kids to learn to open their eyes and look at the world around them. There are pretty amazing things/ people/ places that we can find when we do make an effort to look :). For now, we are content with traveling out of Singapore just to visit relatives in Malaysia, or staying put most of the time. Besides, it is a real hassle to travel with young kids in tow.
No enrichment classes for kids. In the same vein as the thing about needing to travel to see the world, it’s a cultural thing in Singapore (and some other developed countries) to discover and develop a kid’s talent as early as possible. It’s a common sight to see babies and toddlers attending music classes and kids barely out of their toddler years attending art, reading, drama or dance classes. Although some parents genuinely seek to let their kids enjoy learning a skill, many in Singapore do so for the fear of their kids losing out to their peers. While enrichment classes may be beneficial, hubby and I do not see them as necessities and it doesn’t matter if our kids seem to “lose out” in this aspect. Because to us, what’s important is teaching our kids to know and love God, and how to live in this world that is at odds with what they (hopefully) believe in. We would like our kids to have a childhood in this results-oriented society too 🙂 so lots of time is given to free-play. As they grow older and find something they are passionate about and have a talent for, we would definitely support them in their pursuit if we are able to and all for God’s glory.
Related to enrichment classes, is the issue of tuition. My kids are not in primary school yet so perhaps I am not really in the position to comment too much. But hubby and I also see tuition as something that is optional because being a SAHM means that I am the default tuition teacher. The tuition situation in Singapore has gotten to a point that is insane…. parents hiring tutors to help their kids with their tuition homework, spending thousands of dollars per month on tuition, and enduring the whole process of proficiency tests and long waiting time just to get into an elite tuition center! The pressure may be great in Singapore but prayerfully, we will not succumb to following what the masses are doing for “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25). We hope to teach our kids that while it is good and right to work hard and do our best in everything we undertake, it is ungodly to be caught up in the blind pursuit of success in this world. We have the riches of knowing Christ and eternity to look forward to, whereas things of this world will pass away soon enough.
Housewifery for the rest of my life?
Just as I am contented to stay at home now, I will be content to find work outside of home when the kids have grown up and don’t need me to be at home all the time. Some mums worry that after all the many years of staying at home, they will be so out of touch with things that it will be hard to find a job. A mum who stayed home for 10 years to look after her family told me this, “Those 10 years were the best years in my life! For us younger educated women who are tech savvy, it’s not too difficult to pick things up to get back into the workforce.” I am open to any job that comes my way in the future and any re-training if it’s required. There’s no concrete plan as to when I am returning to the workforce full-time or even part-time. It all depends on the needs of my family and the circumstances. I take comfort in God’s sovereignty knowing that “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) and “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21).
*kiasuism: act of kiasu where one is afraid of losing out to others.
**CPF: Central Provident Fund. A mandatory benefit account set up to provide Singaporeans with a healthy retirement plan.