Work-life harmony a key issue for young couples: Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (centre) and his wife (right) speak to families at the opening ceremony of Dad’s Day Out 2019 at the OCBC Square of the Singapore Sports Hub.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - As a young couple, one of the biggest struggles Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and his wife faced was learning to strike a work-life harmony.

To help find solutions for young parents who face similar problems today, he said, the Government will soon be launching a series of dialogues that will be helmed by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

This is on top of measures such as doubling paid paternity leave to two weeks that took effect in 2013 and which gives fathers more time with their children, Mr Heng said.

The deputy prime minister was speaking on Sunday (June 16) at a Father's Day celebration jointly organised by the Centre for Fathering, Dads for Life and Mediacorp. It was held at OCBC Square of the Singapore Sports Hub.

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"One of the greatest struggles of a family is learning how to balance work, and spending time with your children. My wife and I struggled with that a lot when we were working," said Mr Heng.

"It is great that we had neighbours, family and friends who helped us look after our kids when we were young.

"Employers should also be thinking about how the workplace can create better work-life harmony for all our dads and mums."

Mr Heng, 57, and his wife have a daughter and son in their 20s.

Mrs Teo, in a Facebook post on Sunday, said: "Everywhere, workplace and cultural norms matter a great deal on whether dads feel empowered to take paternity leave. On so many issues related to work-life harmony, our expectations of each other shape behaviour much more powerfully than policies.

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"This is why I think this topic deserves and demands our collective thinking and actions," said Mrs Teo, who has three children.

"What choices must we as individuals make for better work-life harmony? How can we, as the whole of society, better support each other to balance work, personal and family commitments?"

She added that she hopes the citizen's panel that aims to improve work-life harmony, which was announced on Saturday, will "bring Singaporeans from all walks of life together, to contribute different perspectives and develop solutions that will create sustainable work-life harmony in Singapore".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Father's Day Instagram post: "Fatherhood has changed in many ways since the days when I first became a father. From cooking meals, (helping with) homework and even changing diapers, modern dads are taking up and enjoying all the different roles of parenting.

"However some things will never change - a father's responsibility to provide and care for his children, and ensure that they grow up to be good people," said PM Lee, who has four children.

Mr Heng, speaking on Sunday on the importance of partnership in marriage and parenthood, said: "It takes a village to raise a child, and at the centre of the village is a family.

"If the family is close and cohesive and everyone does his or her part, our children will be brought up in a very safe environment."

His wife also spoke at the event to thank him for a "close partnership".

Mrs Heng, 56, who is chief executive of the National Heritage Board, said: "From taking a stroll together when I was carrying the children, to being right there by my side when I delivered, to bathing the children when they were a few days old - just out of hospital after delivery - to teaching them how to read and ride a bicycle, how to become a better person... It's always been a very close partnership, right from the beginning, and I am very thankful for that."

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One of the fathers at Sunday's event was Mr Mark Tan, 37, who works in sales and marketing. He came with his two-year-old son and wife Bel Oon, 35, who also works in sales.

He said he had made sacrifices for the family, such as not having a car in order to save money and leaving his previous job in public relations so that he could have more family time.

He had been a stay-home dad for 18 months when his son was younger.

"I would use the term family-life balance rather than work-life balance. Family is first for me," he said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.