The guilt of working parents

The guilt of working parents

As if we working parents of young children don't have enough to worry about, it has been suggested to us that we are bad people who don't give our domestic helpers a day off if we do not know who our children's best friends are, what our children want to be when they grow up and what their favourite subjects in school are.

Huh? Are you scratching your head, wondering what one of those issues has to do with the other? You are not alone.

There are working parents who are angered by the video commercial for advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) that portrayed domestic helpers knowing the children of their employers better than the employers themselves who work full time.

Since the video is in support of the I Give A Day Off campaign, it is clearly implied that children are closer to the domestic helpers who care for them during the day than to their parents who work full time - all because the helpers work seven days a week.

So, on top of being alienated from their own children, working parents are also inhumane employers.

Excuse me while I go type my resignation letter, but not before I do a little self-flagellation.

Wait a minute, hold off that whip. I'm spared Fifty Shades Of Guilt because not only do my wife and I give our helper every Saturday off, we give her the whole weekend for rest and relaxation when I'm not working on a Sunday.

Moreover, I do the laundry for my wife, myself and our two daughters because I realise it is a lot of work for one domestic helper to tend to a biggish house, where I live with my in-laws. Thus, according to the logic of the TWC2 video, I must be a great parent who knows everything about my two daughters, Faith, eight, and Sarah, five.

I don't. I know a lot about them, but there are minutiae in their daily lives that I find out from my helper Lorena and my mother-in-law, the two people who probably spend the most time with my kids during my workweek.

So what's the point of giving Lorena one or two days off a week, then? After all, she could still know things about Faith and Sarah that I don't, since she has many hours in five days with them, while I have only two days in a week.

Of course, the right answer is that I must continue to give Lorena at least a day off a week. This is a completely separate matter from whether I know my kids well and how close my kids are to me vis-a-vis others.

One day a week is nothing compared with six days. It's simple mathematics and the odds are horribly stacked against working parents.

I could spend one whole day a week with my kids and still feel like an absent parent with only visitation rights if I don't fight tooth and nail every day for every last scrap of time I can spend with them, reading to them (15 to 20 minutes each child), listening to their stories from school (five to 10 minutes), commenting on their drawings (three to five minutes) and refereeing their fights with each other (15 to 20 minutes).

I do all of that every day and on weekends, I have cut out from my life almost everything that doesn't involve my daughters.

I want to take music lessons so I can get better at playing the ukulele, which is my passion. I have been wanting to take driving lessons as a driver's licence would come in handy at some point, given that I have a family.

I would like to catch up with my friends once in a while, if not more often.

Yet I do none of those things as they all eat into my time with Faith and Sarah. In fact, my wife and I have not signed up our girls for any kind of lessons for the same reason. Our weekends are 100 per cent family time.

Still, it's not enough. A weekend can never adequately compensate for a lost week.

It is worse if you are taken ill during the weekend and have to spend hours doing something completely useless like resting and recuperating when you could be bonding with your children instead.

That was how I felt - terrible - when I stayed home two weeks ago to take a nap to fight off a flu bug while my wife and my parents took Faith and Sarah out on a Sunday.

That is how I feel - extremely annoyed - whenever I can't get a cab to go home after work because the wasted 10 or 15 minutes flagging for a cab in vain means less time to read to my daughters before their bedtime.

I don't need an ad campaign advocating a somewhat unrelated issue to make me feel worse than I frequently do.

Come to think of it, neither do the foreign domestic workers need this particular TWC2 commercial.

Many of them are mothers who have left their own families to work here for two years at a time to provide for their children.

How do you think they feel that they probably know their employer's children better than their own children?

andychen@sph.com.sg

How do you, as a working parent, carve out time to be with your children? Write to stlife@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 3, 2015.
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