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Making your children your job: Gurmit Singh and other stay-at-home dads share lessons learnt and memories made

When television funny man Gurmit Singh announced in 2014 he would be leaving MediaCorp in order to spend more time with his family, the news made big headlines. Leaving his well-paying job meant the family of five had to give up some luxuries and make some sacrifices.

But, according to Singh, the financial compromises were more than worth it. It has been two years since he gave up his full-time entertainment job for contract work, and he does not regret his decision to make more time for his wife Melissa, 46, and three kids Gabrielle, 19, Elliot, 15, and Mikaela, 3.

“Since leaving the station, I’ve been on six holidays with them, either as a family or on a one-to-one basis,” he says. “These gave me the chance to make up for lost time. Now, we cook meals together. I’ve learnt to cook a few dishes from YouTube and I am proud to say no one has gotten sick from eating my cooking.”

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Credit: Tetra Images – Paul Burns / Getty Images

There is a small but increasing number of men, like Singh, who are leaving work to become stay-at-home dads while their wives take on the responsibility of full-time work. According to the Ministry of Manpower’s Persons outside the Labour Force 2016 report, around 9,200 male Singaporean and permanent residents cited “family reasons” such as childcare, caregiving to family members and housework as their main reason for not working in 2016, as compared to 3,000 men who said they stayed home for the same reasons in 2006.

According to educational and developmental psychologist Pamela See of Th!nk Psychological Services, it is very important for fathers to be involved in the parenting process, especially in today’s society of evolving and increasingly flexible gender roles.

“The presence of an active father brings a different perspective to the child,” she says. “Men and women have different parenting styles and interact differently with their children. As such, having an involved father will provide more learning opportunities both emotionally and socially.

“It is important for both parents to play an equal role because the way each parent responds to the child shapes some of their child’s traits and personality.”

Now that more women have the capability to earn as much as – and sometimes more than – men, more families have the flexibility to decide which spouse stays at home with the kids if they decide there is a need to.

Spending quantity and quality time with the children

Take stay-at-home dad Kenneth Goh, 45, for example. The former financial advisor suffered a health scare in 2010 when he was hospitalised with two blood clots in his brain. The incident made him re-examine what was important in his life. By the time his wife, a teacher, was pregnant with their first child in 2013, they decided he would be the primary caregiver for the child.

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Kenneth Goh with his children. Credit: Kenneth Goh

“On the practical side, my wife was earning more than I was at that point,” he says. “Secondly, her job would be more stable than mine down the road.” With two daughters now, Goh relishes being present for all their developmental milestones such as their “first words, first crawl and first steps”.

Goh’s wife, Sheau Wei, 43, appreciates his constant presence at home, as it brings her peace of mind while she is working. "As a mother, of course I feel more secure that my husband is watching the children,” she says. It’s not just the full-time stay-at-home dads.

Another actively-involved dad, David Wong, 47, decided to become his children's primary caregiver when he was making a career change in 2016 and realised he wanted to prioritise his family. He switched to part-time work so that he could spend more “quality time” with his four children, aged 12, 10, 8 and 2.

He noticed the difference right away. “I now have time to bring my children for bonding activities such as having sleepovers at Sentosa’s S.E.A. Aquarium. We enjoy games and activities as a family, including biking and skating around the park near our home, and I have time to lead my children in community service, such as the Meals on Wheels programme for the elderly.”

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David Wong and his family celebrating Chinese New Year 2017. Credit: David Wong

The children have also blossomed under his care. “I feel closer to my kids and they are much more comfortable sharing their thoughts and chatting with me.”

Serene, Wong’s his oldest daughter appreciates all the quality time that she is getting with dad. “My father used to come home from work very late. When we wanted to play with him, he would always say he was tired. Now that he is working part time, there is more time for almost everything, from going to lunch to playing games and bringing us on fun adventures,” she says.

Singh also notes how his relationship with his children has evolved for the better. “Not that it was bad to begin with, but now that I am able to spend more time with them, I feel I am more involved in the lives of all my kids and that I am getting to know them all over again. My wife recently commented that the kids have a happier vibe about them.”

Fathers who have full-time jobs are also finding ways to juggle work and family responsibilities with their wives. Swaminathan Venkataraman, 42, says that he and his wife play "interchangeable" parenting roles. As he runs his own business, he has the flexibility to be home by about 6.30pm daily to help his 9-year-old son out with his homework and have dinner together. When his wife gets home around 8pm, she puts their son to bed while he finishes up work he has brought home from the office.

“Both of us fill in for each other over the weekend, so we have time for our personal activities and appointments,” he says. Venkataraman also sets aside time on weekends to bond with his son over sporting activities such as soccer, cricket, badminton and table tennis. “When my wife has to travel for work once every few months, I'll take over everything for that week.”

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Swaminathan Venkataraman has dinner with his son every night. Credit: Swaminathan Venkataraman

Overcoming the challenges of being a stay-at-home dad

Of course, parenting is not always a bed of roses. Goh says, “On one hand, there is the monotony of feeds, sleep times and diaper changes. On the flip side, there is the unpredictability of the children not always being able to stick to a schedule. The greatest unpredictability is also their moods and when they will fall ill!”

Stay-at-home dads may also have to deal with sceptics who think that the dad should be the main breadwinner for the family. As Wong observes: “Many other parents voice their concerns about the financial aspects of this part-time work arrangement.”

Goh says that some parents are surprised to find out he is a stay-at-home-dad. “When I tell them that I look after the kids, they politely infer that I work from home. At times, it gets tiring to answer questions without feeling inferior. After all, typically a man’s worth is strongly tied to his career and sense of accomplishment.”

For dads who find themselves in similar situations, Pamela See offers the following advice: “Take comfort that you are contributing as much as your partner by staying at home to take care of family. It is probably the best arrangement for your situation and this is what works best for the family.”

See also mentions there are many support groups that stay-at-home dads can get involved with. “This would help them feel less isolated and also create a support network with like-minded individuals”.

Over time, Goh has learnt to deal with these curious questions. “I don’t feel guilty or inadequate, and I tell the curious – with a smile on my face – that my children are my work.”

Working part-time, the salary Wong earns is lower than when he worked full-time, but still helps to offset the expenses of the family, who live in a HDB flat. Additionally, his current arrangement keeps him connected to the job market, should he decide to return to full-time work when the kids are older. For now, he uses the extra ‘free’ time to bond with his children, help them with school work, participate in their sporting activities and organise family outings.

Despite the different challenges, these involved dads unanimously say that anything they might have lost by not pursuing a high-flying career is well worth it for their families.


Gurmit Singh and his child on holiday. Credit: Gurmit Singh

“The major difference is that I am here now – in all senses of the word,” Singh says. “I am able to make time for my children and be there for them, during the good times and the challenging times. They appreciate that and are happy about that. Gone are the days when they would wonder if dad would be around.”

The number of stay-at-home dads today is still a very small, though growing, percentage of the population. The important thing to remember though, is that parenting is a joint responsibility and the father plays as important a role as the mother does. As such, all dads – working or not, stay-at-home or not, should actively share parenting responsibilities with their spouses.

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