updated 5 Feb 2013, 21:38
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Tue, Jan 29, 2013
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'I hope I can carry my grandson before I die'

Maybe this time got hope.

That was the first thought that crossed Mr Tan Yaw Hock's mind when he heard of the S$2 billion Marriage and Parenthood package that was announced last week.

A hope that his son and daughter-in-law, who have been married for five years, may finally give him a grandchild.

"I hope I can get to carry my grandchild before I die," says the retiree-widower, 70, who lives with the couple in a three-room HDB flat in Redhill.

He adds with a sigh of resignation: "That was one of my wife's biggest regrets when she died (of cancer in 2010)."

Mr Tan confesses that he has grown weary of waiting.

"I have dropped hints to my daughter-in-law and I've asked my son directly, and they always tell me that planning for a family is not that easy," he says.

His son, 43, a technician, earns about S$2,100 a month, while his daughter-in-law, 38, makes about $1,300 a month as a cashier.

Mr Tan admits he knows that having his wish fulfilled can be financially taxing on them.

"Things now are different from how it was in the past. Last time, we can have as many children as we want, and somehow, we can all manage to survive.

"Now, other than the standard and quality of living, my son and his wife will also have to consider childcare arrangements," he points out.

"Much as I want to take care of my own grandchild, I'd likely not be of much help because of my age."

Which is why, says Mr Tan, who was one of 30 heartlanders we randomly approached in Tiong Bahru, Chinatown and Pasir Ris, now pins his hopes on the slew of new incentives.

These include an increase of S$2,000 per birth in the Baby Bonus cash gift up to the fourth child and a Medisave account of S$3,000 for every Singaporean baby.

Fathers will get one week of paid paternity leave, in addition to the one week they can co-share with mothers under the working mother's four-month maternity leave.

There will also be a Government-paid maternity benefit for working mothers who do not qualify for maternity leave, and extended maternity protection covering the full term of pregnancy for women who are unfairly retrenched or dismissed.

Sharing Mr Tan's sentiments is Mr Roland Chew, 71, a part-time packer at a wholesale centre. He and his wife have six granddaughters from their four daughters, but that is not enough for the self-confessed "traditional Chinese man".

Mr Chew says: "It's not that we don't love our granddaughters but the truth is, we want a grandchild who bears our Chew surname.

"It's about carrying on the family line."

His wife, Madam Ong Ah Mei, 67, chimes in: "You can tell how old-fashioned he is. We had to keep trying until we finally got a son because my husband felt it was very important."

Mr Chew's only son, 41, has been married for about three years but "it's clear they have no intention of starting a family".

He says: "It's not like they cannot afford to have one, but my son keeps saying that he wants the best for his kid.

"That also means the best infant care and childcare facilities, which he feels there's a lack of right now."

And that appears to be one of the greater bugbears for many of those who spoke to this heartland aunty.

Madam Peh King Si, 60, a helper at a zi char stall, admits that she will be unwilling to quit her job should her son and daughter-in-law start a family.

"I don't think I have the energy or mental health to look after a newborn or run after a toddler," she says.

"I don't mind the occasional babysitting but not on a regular day-to-day basis."

And as she has been honest with her son, she adds: "It's this reason that I'm okay when my son tells me that they are still not ready.

"A baby is not something you can 'poot out' (colloquial for deliver) and then leave it to nature for its survival. There's nurture, that includes lots of love and care." Indeed.

When this heartland aunty got married, money - or rather, the lack of it - was not a factor that determined if we should have children.

It was just something we wanted, naturally. So much that within four years of our marriage, I was pregnant three times - I miscarried twice before our first-born came along in 1999.

By then, I had quit my job and that meant there was no maternity leave. We were essentially on our own.

When my son was six months old, I had a job offer but that also meant we had to scramble to look for baby-sitting options.

The in-laws lived too far from us - it didn't help that we didn't drive - and my parents preferred to be part-time nannies only.

We ended up paying S$750 for a babysitter only on weekdays.

It was expensive, but we rested - and worked - easy because we knew he was in good, capable hands. Even better - the babysitter spoke fluent English.

Then of course, number two came along a year later. Again, I had quit my job to ensure a smoother pregnancy.

Back then, there was no incentive for having a second baby. Yet that didn't stop us. The truth is, like many of us from my generation, we didn't need those monetary incentives.

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