Friday, May 18, 2007

Have a reunion dinner every day.

EVER since my two older children started attending polytechnic last month, it has been difficult for us to have a family dinner together.

On some days, my son comes home at 10pm, after his guitar club activities. On other days, my daughter stays over at her grandmother's, which is near the poly, as her sports training ends at 8.30pm.

We still try to have family meals with four of our six children. But it does not feel quite the same.

As a busy career woman, I too have been guilty of delegating my duty of cooking the family meal to my maid, even though my children and husband seem to think that my maid's cooking can never replace mine.

I remember when I stood at the stove for over two hours stirring a pot of chicken porridge while my two daughters sat nearby shredding the chicken. We had so much fun chatting and laughing. Sadly, these cooking sessions are few and far between.

Often, I gave the excuse of being too busy with work or being too tired to cook dinner after a hard day's work. Recently, however, I have been reminded of this curious event by one of my friends.

Ever since its inception in 2003, a yearly "Eat With Your Family Day" has been designated to encourage families to eat together. Schools, companies and organisations in Singapore will be encouraged to stop work and end activities by 5pm so that the family can gather to have a meal.

This year, is slated for Friday, May 25, which is also the last day of school and so there should not be any remedial lessons, CCA or supplementary lessons for students.

I am determined to make this day a success. This does not mean going out to a fancy restaurant for a meal or cooking up a storm at home.

Instead, I plan to cook a simple beef stew. I'm looking forward to the smell of spices, onions and beef permeating through the kitchen. A plain salad of lettuce, tomatoes and pineapple would make a lovely side dish. As for dessert, I will simply open two cans of longans and add some fresh apples and oranges to it.

Since we do not have a television set, there will be no need to switch one off. A survey of more than 1,300 low-income families with pre-school children in America found that the benefits of sitting down to a family dinner are lost if the television is on during the meal. Registered dietician Lynn S Edmunds of the New York State Department of Health, Albany, has urged parents to turn the television off during family mealtimes.

So, what happens at the table if the television is switched off? As parents, we must not take this opportunity to turn it into a nagging, reprimanding or lecture session. Nor should we make it a comparison session, where we compare the achievements of one child with those of another.

Instead, we should try to make light conversation and generally have fun at the dinner table so our children look forward to this family ritual.

With our hectic schedules, my husband and I have discovered that the family meal is a great way to keep in touch with everyone after a busy day.

It is also a comforting ritual for our young children as it provides them with a sense of security. They learn table manners, how to behave at mealtimes, and to see to others' needs. For example, if the last piece of chicken is left on the plate, a child has to ask if anyone else wants it before he is allowed to eat it.

Our children also learn to co-operate as they set the table before meals and clear the table after meals. The older children do the washing.

A family meal is like a safe harbour to which our children can come home to take shelter. Why should we wait for Christmas or the Chinese New Year reunion dinner for a family meal? Every day should be an "Eat with your family day" as far as possible.

The writer, a mother of six, will try to gather her brood of children to eat on May 25.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My two year old was throwing a tantrum recently. He has learnt that if he cries, his caregiver, the maid, would give in to his demand. But it cuts no ice with his five older siblings and his parents who were not about to give him any face.

As he was throwing his temper, he was made to stand and face the wall. Soon enough, he learnt that no one was paying any attention to him and so he decided to take his bottle of milk and lie down quietly to drink and fall asleep.

Too often, I have observed that parents nowadays are afraid to let their children suffer a little inconvenience or even pain. It has been a standard practice in our household that if any child so choose not to eat his meal at meal time he will remain hungry until the following meal time. There will no snacking or cajoling the child to eat junk food so that he does not remain hungry.

Recently, it was reported that a 17 year old JC student hit a bus-driver despite pleas from the bus driver to stop. The boy called his father crying when he realized that the police had been called. Instead of letting the boy face the music, the boy’s father was seen kneeling down in front of the bus driver to seek forgiveness for his son. Later, the boy claimed, in a written response through his school, that it was a misunderstanding and the violence ensured was accidental.

If one of my children is found to be in a similar situation, I would not bail them out. They have learnt from young that like Newton Law of Physic, for every action there is a reaction and they have been trained to face the consequence of their action. Moreover a violent act is seldom accepted as an accidental act.

Once, one of our children hit the maid. We did not side with our child and blamed the maid nor did we claimed that it was an accident and brushed the incident away. Instead we investigated and discovered that indeed he has committed a transgression for which he was punished appropriately. In addition he was made to apologies to the maid.

I can only guess at the possible reason why the father of this JC boy did what he did. Perhaps he did not want the boy’s bright future to be blemished by a police case. Maybe he was being over-protective. Or he could have pinned all his hopes and dreams on his boy who was studying in a premier junior college along Bukit Timah Road.

Whatever the reason, this incident has forced me to reflect on how far a parent should go to sacrifice in the name of parent’s love.

The father, who went on his knees to beg for forgiveness on his son’s behalf, has deprived his son of an opportunity to learn an important aspect of human relationship. He should have play his role as a parent and insist that the son kneel down and beg for forgiveness for his rash act.

Many parents, in their pursuit of academic excellence for their children, have failed or neglected to develop any moral values in their children. They made the critical wrong assumption that academic excellence would somehow automatically transform someone into a morally upright, ethical citizen of society.

Values like respect for others, care and concern for fellow human beings and honesty and integrity have to be developed from young. These values are best developed in the home with the gentle guiding hands of the parents to lead the child on the right path when he goes astray.

Enrolling a child in an elite school, however, is not a protection or a guarantee against creating a violent monster.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Let's not take our laptops to bed

My seven-year-old daughter fell seriously ill a few days after I came back from attending a three-day adventure camp as part of my work.

I felt guilty. My first reaction was that, if I had not gone for the camp, she would not have fallen sick.

Recently, a friend passed up an opportunity and promotion to work in Beijing as it involved uprooting her family and sacrificing her husband's career. Another friend declined an opportunity to set up a service call centre in India because she was worried that this would have an adverse effect on her children.

I know that all three of us will have work on our mind this weekend, mentally organising the tasks we have to complete before the start of the next week.

Work-life harmony has been the buzzword since the setting up of the Work-Life Works Fund in August 2004, when the Government pumped in $10 million to facilitate the development and implementation of the Work-Life Strategy at the workplace.

But, like the three examples cited above, some job assignments require the women to leave the family and home for a considerable period. More women are required to travel overseas, be posted overseas or expected to work long hours.

How then does the career woman balance her career and her call to be a nurturing mother? Can we have our cake and eat it at the same time? Is it possible to bring up emotionally well-adjusted children while still climbing the career ladder?

Some of us are in the "sandwiched" generation where we have to take care of both our children and elderly parents.

With globalisation and technological advances, many of us bring our work into the home and bedroom. It is not uncommon for us to work at odd hours to connect with workers in other parts of the world. Once, close to midnight, my husband and I settled in bed, both with laptops on our laps. We worked until about 2am.

We realised then that we were working too hard, and asked ourselves if we were sacrificing too much of our family life for our work life?

At that point, I seriously considered quitting my job as I was not willing to continue to sacrifice my family for my work. My colleagues, especially those who have younger children, have shared similar sentiments.

Former labour chief Lim Boon Heng has highlighted the importance of keeping women in the workforce. It is about time that employers put in the extra effort to put work-life strategies in place instead of paying mere lip service to the concept.

For example, parents of children under six should be given the right to request flexible working arrangements or at least to forgo overnight duty. Employers have a duty to consider the request if it has no detrimental impact on the business.

Another option is the compressed work-week, in which one works full-time for four days and then enjoys a longer weekend and more time with the family.

And how about job sharing, in which two people split the demands of a single job, so that enough support is given to each employee and the responsibilities are balanced?

Finally, employers can introduce the concept of protected time for the employee. When I was holidaying in New Zealand, our bus driver was given a day off after three days of driving. So, we stopped at Queenstown for a day of rest and recreation.

In Singapore, employers could give employees the assurance that they will not receive SMSes, email or phone calls after a certain hour in the evening. I once heard of a deputy head who wanted to continue a meeting using MSN chat during dinnertime.

There are several benefits of adopting work-life strategies that help us working mothers cope with the demands of being both mothers and career women so that we are not forced to quit our jobs. Not only will Singapore be able to retain its talent pool, which is already so limited, but companies can also save on recruitment and training costs with the lower staff turnover.

With good work-life strategies in place, there will be less absenteeism and fewer people taking sick leave. A happy and contented employee will also be more productive and offer better services.

Ultimately, an employee is more than an economic digit. He or she has a family, a need to establish lasting relationships and the right to a day of rest.

The writer is a mother of six.
This article frist appeared in Today on 3rd May 2007


Let's wake up to alternative work regime
Flexible arrangements are not hard to implement, if employers are willing

Letter from Foo Chin Peng

I refer to the I Say by Frances Ong ("Let's not take our laptops to bed", May 3).

I count myself lucky for the kind of work arrangement I have. I work in a foreign multinational company in the customer support/sales department. I work from home, go to the office one day a week, and attend meetings with customers or suppliers as and when required.

I have had this arrangement for three years and I am very content with it as it allows me more time with my children, a nine-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy.

When I started my career as an engineer years ago, it never occurred to me that I would consider quitting my job one day so that I could stay at home to be with my children. I was lucky to be offered this post when I resigned from my previous job.

My previous employer did not have such a work arrangement in place when I left, neither did my supervisor propose it.

Management and human resource practitioners have to think out of the box and be willing to take calculated risks in order to keep experienced staff. Employers in Singapore seem slow to adopt new practices. Managers opt for the easier route and hire new staff when current staff members resign.

Don't our managers trust the staff to contribute with a work-from-home arrangement? Why do managers have to ensure that employees are at their desks during office hours?

I think it is important that managers have a comprehensive common understanding with the staff on their job scope, and leave the staff to do their work.

Staff, on the other hand, have to ensure they meet their end of the bargain.

However, I would like to add that such an arrangement may not be for everyone or every job. One must learn to be independent, disciplined and self-motivated in order to be able to work from home.

Also, working from home does not necessarily mean that I have all the time I want with the kids. It just means that I can spend relatively more time with them. I still depend very much on my mother-in-law to help with my kids, cooking etc. I think it would be too ambitious to think that one can work from home and take care of every other chore as well.

When I took this job, I had to take a big pay cut. As I was the first employee in the company to be offered such a working arrangement, the discussion of pay was a rather ambiguous process.

Financially and professionally, I had to make a sacrifice. My job title may suggest a demotion, I have now less authority and no staff reporting to me, and my current post requires me to sign an annual contract since the company does not have a system for alternative work arrangement.

But as I am happier with my work arrangement, I often work outside of my work hours when there is a need to. I work according to need and not just during office hours. I find myself saving lots of time on travelling and on getting ready to go to work.

True to Ms Ong's article, as a happy worker, I have not taken sick leave in the past three years.

I believe mine is just one of the many varieties of alternative work arrangements which can be arrived at in the case of parents who need it. Many of my friends have said they would like to be able to work on such terms.

I certainly hope that there can be a framework for alternative work arrangement available to companies.

Like it or not, in Singapore, everyone seems to be waiting for the Government to do something about it. We really need to start on this drive, for our children's sake.
Flexible arrangements