Never too busy for family time on weekends

Mr Ching Wei Hong wth his wife, Irene Oen, daughter Marianne and son Christian.

SINGAPORE - A Lanky boy bounded up to Mr Ching Wei Hong and unreservedly gave him a tight hug. Then a girl pecked him on the cheek.

Unlike most teenagers who cringe at being openly affectionate towards their parents, Mr Ching's children have no such hang-ups.

Since they were toddlers, they have been doing their regular "kiss and hug" routine whenever dad comes home from work.

His close family ties may make him the ideal family man to lead Families for Life - the new name of the National Family Council unveiled earlier this month - but that did not come easy.

Mr Ching, 55, OCBC Bank's chief operating officer who has worked in the frenetic banking industry for 28 years, clocks a punishing 13-hour workday.

Knocking off for dinner with the family is "too much of a challenge", he admitted, but he made it a rule to be back in time to tuck his children in bed when they were younger.

He still makes it a point not to take work home. Weekends are sacred family time.

When his first child - Marianne, now 18 - arrived in 1996, his hobbies, such as sailing and golf, went out of the window.

"Those activities could take a whole day and quality family time is very, very precious to me," he said.

Sunday mornings are spent at Mr Prata in Evans Road, the family's regular hangout. The family also has frequent steamboat or hotplate meals, as these tend to be more interactive when everyone chips in to cook the food.

Like their father, the children take a keen interest in art and photography, so weekend jaunts to art galleries are common. Their perennial favourite activity is visiting the zoo, even now, said Marianne, who studies at St Andrew's Junior College.

Mr Ching also reserves exclusive time for his wife Irene. Friday date nights see the couple catching a midnight movie or browsing through the endless aisles of Mustafa shopping centre at 1am.

Mrs Ching, 54, a manager in a multinational corporation, said: "He is very committed and does not compromise on our weekend family time or annual family holidays."

Mr Ching had learnt the importance of deliberately setting aside time for the family the hard way.

As a child, the youngest of six children craved the attention of his parents.

His father, a Shanghainese dressmaker, often worked through the weekends as "work would always come first".

His parents were big-time mahjong players on the weekends and left him on his own most of the time.

"As much as I understood it (that they needed time off to relax from work), I also resented it," said Mr Ching.

He made good use of whatever little pockets of time he had with them. He tagged along as his father delivered clothes to customers and sat alongside his mum as she caught her favourite Cantonese tear-jerkers.

Things were not smooth-sailing for families in the past, but families today face increasing complexities, observed Mr Ching.

"More are struggling with work-life balance and find themselves having to care for ageing parents while raising children," he said.

Fewer couples are choosing to have children and marriages are breaking down earlier.

"This is the price of modernisation and globalisation but it doesn't mean it is a lost cause, I am still optimistic," said Mr Ching, who served on the Businesses for Families Council for two years.

He was part of the team that pushed for a childcare centre to be sited within OCBC Bank and flexible parental leave for those whose children are taking the Primary School Leaving Examination.

He took over the reins of the then National Family Council late last year. Formed in 2006 to promote resilient families, it comprises 10 volunteers appointed for a two-year term by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Already, changes are under way. To signal a new approach towards engaging families, the council was renamed a more intimate-sounding Families for Life.

The shift goes beyond a mere name change.

"Rather than having large-scale family-centred events, we want to have two-way conversations with families 365 days a year," said Mr Ching.

This means getting people - including those grappling with heavy caregiving responsibilities or those struggling to understand their teenage children - to share their experience and advice with one another on family matters.

Upcoming plans include online chats and radio shows with counsellors and experts in family matters, as well as photo contests on Instagram.

Moving into social media is crucial in engaging young families, said Mr Ching. He connects with his children by following them on Facebook and Instagram.

His son Christian, 17, a student at St Joseph's Institution, said: "He's cool. We can talk about anything from flora and fauna to what I just had for dinner."

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