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Mon, Jun 21, 2010
The Straits Times
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Mum still knows best
by Ang Yiying

DESPITE efforts to get Singaporean fathers more involved in caring for their children, the majority of dads do not see themselves in the caregiver role.

Only about a quarter regard themselves as a main caregiver, while less than 5per cent view dads as the preferred caregiver, based on a study by the Singapore Children's Society presented yesterday. The results came from a survey of 530 father-child or mother-child pairs. The children, all aged 10 to 12, and either one of their parents were interviewed separately. The parents had an average age of 42.

The finding is all the more surprising as the fathers could select more than one option as the preferred caregiver, including either parent and grandparents, among others. Yet most decided not to choose themselves.

Parents - whether they were mothers or fathers - overwhelmingly cited the mother as the preferred caregiver at different stages of the child's life. About seven in 10 mums chose themselves and a slightly higher proportion of dads chose their wives. If grandparents were picked, more often than not it was the grandmother who was selected.

Mrs Shum-Cheung Hoi Shan, who worked on the team which began collecting the data in 2005, said the results showed that Singapore households are still influenced by the traditional ideology of gender roles and women being the nurturers.

'People who all the time choose mothers would say mothers are the best persons to care for children, they understood their children and it's also the mothers' responsibility to care for children.'

This has policy implications, as it means that people's mindsets have to change before policies can be put in place to support fathering, she added.

Even when it came to meting out physical punishment to the kids - though not used often by parents here - it was mothers who knew best.

On a frequency scale of one to five, from 'never' to 'very often', they averaged 2.24 against dads' 1.95. One inference could be that mothers are more involved in their children's lives and see their children misbehaving more often, said Mrs Shum-Cheung.

The findings that mothers have greater involvement in children's lives square with the preliminary results of another study, commissioned by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and conducted by academics.

The survey, conducted last year by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University, involved 400 father-child or mother-child pairs. The children were teens aged 15 to 19.

When they were asked whom they would confide in when they had problems - they could select more than one option - 84 per cent picked their mother and 74 per cent picked their father.

When work comes into the picture, children preferred to confide in their unemployed fathers (93 per cent) over their working fathers (71 per cent). But they preferred to confide in working mothers (91 per cent) over unemployed mothers (82 per cent).

Said one of the researchers, NUS sociologist Ho Kong Chong: 'What it means to us is that working mothers actually fight to preserve time for their kids and therefore it shows up in the relationship.'

Another finding which surprised him is that a teen has a lower life satisfaction when the teen's father has a higher life satisfaction, and vice-versa.

His inference: 'At this point in their lives, the kind of things that young people do may not necessarily be in line for their fathers' plans for them... conversely, when the father is in total control and manages the house in an overly strict way, the children are less happy.'

Social control is not wrong, he said, but it may mean that fathers need to scale back a bit and temper their expectations as their children grow older.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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