Finding the balance between work and life with children

‘You can get more money, but you cannot get more time,’ goes the saying, so spending as much time as possible with our children is our priority.

Recently, we had a conversation with a soon-to-be first-time mum on raising kids. She was understandably nervous at becoming a parent, as she would be, in her words – venturing into unknown territory. One question at the top of her mind, apart from getting through the early post-natal days, was whether the 16 weeks of paid maternity leave would be sufficient.

It was timely that shortly after that conversation, we read about the government’s latest initiative to grant public servants an additional four weeks of unpaid leave, adding up to six months’ parental leave per couple. While we thought that the initiative was a great start, with all the demands of childcare, is it enough?

We were reminded of the time when we were expecting Barnacles four years ago. In addition to the 16 weeks of maternity leave, Mummy applied for an additional eight months of leave without pay to take care of him, before rejoining the workforce after he turned 14 months old. Being employed in the civil service at the time, we were lucky that this was a viable option. Mummy also opted for extended leave without pay after Kwazii, who is now one, was born. At the time, Daddy’s work also allowed him the flexibility to telecommute from home, which meant that he was able to spend a good amount of time watching Barnacles grow and be part of his key milestones.

Why did we make this decision?

It has been said that a child’s first two to three years is one of rapid change; crucial developmental years which require a lot of supervision, care and love. The question we had to answer was whether we wanted to be the ones witnessing all our children’s early milestones, or to outsource the care to someone else. While we were blessed to have grandparents’ help, we did not want to regard them as ready-made caregivers, and our joint view was that our children should spend more time with their own parents. Very simply, they needed someone to take care of them and Mummy chose to do it.

A friend of ours who has three boys aged between seven and 10 once shared that his biggest regret was not making time to be with his children when they were younger as he was too busy chasing his career. He said that while it was great to have a stable career and a decent income, he was unable to buy back the time lost. Another article we recently read on how many parents regret working too much during their children’s formative years also struck a chord with us.

Ultimately, what we found is that while it may be an ideal notion to enjoy the best of both worlds (career and children), in reality, one of these areas would temporarily need to take a backseat. We are both in our 30s with a good 20 more years in the workplace, but only a few precious years with our children at this age. For us, the opportunity cost of not putting a career temporarily on hold was far greater.

How do we cope?

With the cost of living being one of the topmost worries among parents in Singapore, we likewise had the same concern, especially as we would be shifting from a dual income to single income household. This meant reviewing our finances and cutting back on some luxuries, such as long holidays and frequent dining out in restaurants. To other parents contemplating the same decision but hesitating, what we realised was that making alternative care arrangements such as infant care or nanny services would also not come cheap, and definitely would not replace the role of a parent.

We have no live-in or part-time helper, and do the cleaning and chores ourselves. Mummy makes homemade meals for the children where possible, although it is sometimes quite a challenge with a needy toddler getting up to mischief. We found a great toddler catering service with home-made meals without sugar or salt, which we also keep in the freezer on standby.

There is a saying we like that goes: ‘the days are long but the years are short’. This rings very true in our household, and we keep this saying as a constant reminder on an especially tiring day with the two kids.

Was it worth it?

With one parent staying home during our kids’ early years, we can definitely say that the parent-child bond is unmistakable. We wanted our kids to be closest to us and not attached to a caregiver, be it a nanny or domestic helper. We also strongly believe that children should sleep early as it is critical for their development, and having one parent at home means that our one-year-old can sleep before 7pm, and our four-year-old before 8.30pm.

While Daddy has to work, he makes it a point to play with the two kids in the morning before leaving the house, and also leaves the office on time so that he can come home to spend time with the kids. It is not always possible for him to see Kwazii due to his early bedtime, but Barnacles has time with his Daddy every evening.

What if we had to do things differently?

If neither of us had an extended leave from work option, we would likely have explored a part-time or flexible work arrangement as an alternative. We have close friends with kids where both parents thrive in the workplace and enjoy time with their kids after work in the evenings and on weekends. Certainly, there is no best ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and every parent makes the best decisions for their child, within the limits that they can. For us personally, after having experienced this precious time with our two kids, even if we had to cut back on more luxuries, we would make the same decision for one of us to stay home again in a heartbeat.

We once came across this simple quote that read: “Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” This held a poignant message for us and is a constant reminder that our children will only be young once. With two kids, our days and weeks seem to pass even faster and we want to cherish every moment with them. As they say, carpe diem!