Bringing up kids in Singapore

Some friends from Singapore are in town and they very generously trekked over to East London for dinner last night. Lucky me as I wasn’t sure my 36-week pregnant self would take me very far these days. We went Turkish and headed for Mangal on Kingsland Road.

As they have two children, conversation automatically steered towards the topic of children. Typically.

I am always curious about my Singapore friends’ childcare arrangements. Just for background information: Singapore’s a city-state in Southeast Asia famed for its high standard of living. Low crime rate, good food and an education system that regularly tops global league tables. The streets are so clean you could even lie down on it – although why anyone would want to do that, I wouldn’t have a clue.

Back to the topic of childcare. Nursery fees in Singapore average $700 (Montessori nurseries probably about $1400) a month, which comes to roughly £350. The majority of families with kids have live-in help. Filipino maids are paid about $600 a month (£300), but you can find cheaper ones. For $400 (£200) a month, my friends’ Burmese maid looks after their two kids, cooks for them and baths them. Both parents work, and long hours (10 hours) is normal. Leaving just weekends for family time. A typical week day for my friend would be reading bedtime stories and none of the chores that come with bringing up children.

A part of me is envious. But the more time I mull over a set-up like that, the less I think it suits me. Peel away my daily grumblings and frustration, I do actually enjoy being able to do the basic things for the kids like picking them up from nursery and slaving over a hot stove. How often do I wish I could be relieved of these chores so I can concentrate on work or have an hour of time to myself? All the time.

But without a family life routine consisting of boring chores which the kids are integrated into, I think I’d feel very disconnected from reality.

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SAHM is hard work

This weekend, while looking after the children, it hit me that being a SAHM is much harder work than working. On Saturday, while older had his tennis lesson, younger was throwing the mother of all tantrums and refused to stand down. At that moment, I thought, “Gosh, this is much harder than working.”

After a weekend of family time, I always feel like some recovery time is necessary. Work gives me that space. It’s nice to drop the kids off at school and nursery, watch them skip off into their classes, happy to get away from mum for a change.

If younger stayed at home with me, I’d worry that she’d turn feral. I’d never be able to give her the stimulation that nursery gives her. Socialising with her little mates, clear behavioural boundaries, set meal times, a variety of stimulating activities. A mother’s love is wonderful, but from the ages of 2 to 5, I think my younger needs much more than that.

She’s only at nursery from 10am to 4pm, so we still have plenty of quality time together. Through years of experimenting (my older is now 7), I’ve found that a mix of flexi-work and nursery is the healthiest option for my kids and me.

My conclusion: Hats off to all SAHM. I could not do what you do.

I can’t afford to go back to an office job

From time to time, I like nosing around the jobs board to see what’s on the market and at what price positions are going for. In the last six months, what I’ve seen is alarming. Managing editors go for £29,000 pa. and journalists for £26,000 pa. Unless you’re trained in finance journalism, there doesn’t seem to be many jobs offering over £40,000 pa.

I’m currently working for myself, but say if I wanted to go back to being an employee, I’m seriously questioning whether I can even afford to do it.

Working for somebody else means putting my two children into full-time childcare. When I was doing this a year ago, childcare costs me about £1600 a month. Then there are kids’ miscellaneous expenses, travel costs and weekly grocery to factor in. And, as of April, another baby will be joining the brood.

In my job, I often have to work late too. Which means either paying extra for childcare (that I can’t afford) or my husband stepping in. His work often stretches into the evenings too, and I don’t like it when we have to negotiate our schedules. It can be stressful when the conversation creeps dangerously close to the critical ‘my work is as important as yours’ point.

My career was built in print publishing. But with the Leveson inquiry, News Corp crisis and the impact of a fast changing digital environment on print, who knows what the world of newspapers and magazines will look like in two years’ time.

For the first time in my professional life, I am really worried.

I’d better go back to the drawing board and take stock of other skills I have. Anyone needs a Mandarin speaker with over 10 years of UK magazine publishing experience who’s also handy with tweeting and blogging?