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Nick Ang

Raising a newborn in Berlin vs Singapore

All of this is speculative.

My wife and I will soon have a newborn, and I will manage to look after my wife and child without help from family or friends in Berlin, while others in Singapore struggle even though they have help.

Why do I believe that?

In Germany, paternity leave can be up to 12 months if your partner does not take maternity leave. In fact, in Germany, the concept of paternity and maternity leave is better understood generally as parental leave (already its name is more inclusive). It’s designed with one thing in mind: to help parents spend more time together as a family, especially in the first 3 years.

My wife is not working at the moment, so that means I can be on government-assisted parental leave for up to 12 months in Germany.

And in Singapore? I’d get only two weeks of paternity leave.

12 months versus 2 weeks.

In which place should we expect a tight-knit family to form? One where both parents chip in equal amounts of time and energy into raising a newborn and creating a family, or one where it is disproportionately weighing on the mother?

In Singapore it is common at least in the Chinese community to employ a confinement nanny who stays a month with you, postpartum, to help cook nutritious food for the recovering mother and help with baby duties. Then, after that month is up, many choose to employ a domestic helper — almost always a woman from Indonesia or the Philippines — to continue helping generally at home as a live-in butler. They’d usually stay for many years.

These things cost money and thinking about how to make more money leads to stress. Understandably, since money is time. Stress, if applied to a lob-sided marriage, leads to strain. And strain leads to negative effects that spill over onto the child.

So, the Singapore story for raising a child goes like this: the husband gets only two weeks paid paternity leave, and the couple soon employs outside help for the mother to cope with raising the child in the reduced presence of the father.

A man is ironically painted into the corner of needing to pour time into his work as soon as possible to support his family. Support of course is not just about money, but you already know that.

And to be honest, a man has it easier than a woman in this scenario. Her aspirations are sometimes completely ignored while she is obliged to care for their child with little help from her husband and some help from a domestic helper.

The sad thing is, I’ve grown up in Singapore and I can tell you that I’ve seen many fathers having acclimated and who have justified this as the “right way” to be a father. To work and work and work, so that the paychecks continue to come and the bills, including the employed helper’s salary, continue to be paid. That’s their definition of a rightful contribution as a parent. But it’s 2021. Get your head out of your ass, man.

My definition of parenthood is that it is a shared journey between mother and father and child. A healthy family requires some money and a lot of attention, not a lot of money and some attention.

Here’s the thing: attention and money both consume time. Since how we spend our time is one of the rare things that is actually within our control, if we were to have a good family life, we ought to apportion it wisely.

In the end, I know it will be easier to live away from family and friends in Singapore to raise our child alone in Berlin. We will manage better and we will be happier in a place like Germany during this period of raising a newborn, and perhaps longer.

Why? Because we will both have more time to be parents in the crucial first years of a newborn’s life.


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