AS FAMILIES gather for their reunion dinners tonight, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans not to overlook the importance of strong families and their role as the bedrock of Singapore society.
The Government is doing all it can to strengthen bonds in the immediate family unit as well as among the larger "national family", he said yesterday.
But the increasing social support from the state should not "supplant the role that families play", Mr Lee said in his Chinese New Year message.
"Our family ties must not weaken, unlike what we have seen in other societies, where the state has taken on more responsibility."
While the value of a strong family unit is not an unusual theme in his annual message, his words are particularly poignant this year because Mr Lee is sending them as he recuperates in hospital from prostate cancer surgery that he underwent on Monday.
He called on Singaporeans to "pause and remind ourselves of what truly matters in life, of what it means to belong to a family".
"Family members not only take care of each other. They laugh and cry together. Every member is shaped by every other," he said. "Our families are always there for us, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse."
To strengthen the ties that bind us, the Government has taken several steps recently, he said.
These include targeted housing grants that encourage three-generation families to stay close-knit and make it easier for young couples to live near their parents.
Couples have also been given incentives to have more children, with support from the Marriage and Parenthood Package and through cheaper childcare and pre-school.
Mr Lee also noted that the Pioneer Generation Package for seniors, the upcoming Silver Support Scheme for low-income elderly folk and the MediShield Life medical insurance for all and for life will lighten the burden on families taking care of elderly parents.
Some of the policies have had their intended effects.
Marriages involving at least one citizen rose last year to a 17-year high of 24,000, while more births lifted the total fertility rate to 1.25 last year, from 1.19 in 2013. This, however, is still below the replacement rate of 2.1.
But "generous social policies and grants by themselves do not grow strong or happy families", Mr Lee noted.
"A family is not just about whom we are related to, but how we relate to each other," he said. "If each of us plays our part, Singapore will continue to prosper and do well, not just economically, but as a harmonious and cohesive national family, diverse yet one."
Mr Lee wished Singaporeans a happy Chinese New Year.
Get more stories from The Straits Times.