Friday, September 20, 2013

The Ideal Child - sMothered.

Before I dive into the main issue, I would like to tell the Apple fans out there that the iOS7, while pretty, is also pretty useless. Before you start hurling your overly-priced handsets at me, let it be known that I consider myself a fair critique and use both an iMac and Macbook. Nevertheless, for the phone of choice, Android systems still seem to suit my needs better.

I'm just putting it out there.

But before I lose whatever little readers I dismally earned (and I sincerely thank you for continuing to humour my aimless and wandering thoughts), I shall go right to the heart of the issue.

I have been asking myself if I want children in the future, and if I will be able to bring them up "successfully" in Singapore. Lest I sound creepy to my future dates who might be reading this, I am simply voicing the concerns of a would-be-potentially-fertile mother, amongst many others, who have been clued in on the developments of our small nation-state.

Many young people post-1980s like me, have been taught since the earliest of memories, how Singapore is a small and vulnerable nation with scarce resources. As a result, we have to invest in human capital and have an open economy. Lately, this discourse have shifted to also justify the need for immigration policies (as opposed to increasing productivity), and the strive for a knowledge economy due to the increase in skill level of Singaporeans. There is also a belief that Singaporeans are not "yet ready" to walk alone, and still need the guidance of groups/types of people who "know better" (the government, various agencies and foreign think-tanks). This is a story we are very familiar with and so, you might be asking - what has this got to do with having children?

Be patient with me, as I state another case.

Most debates in newspapers, media, even in universities, concern themselves with the rising costs of living, the mad competition in schools and busy schedules of women as the reason for low birth rates in Singapore. Academics in Singapore like Straughan and Jones have reasoned that the low birth rates in Singapore is due to the conflicting needs of women to be both good at work and at home. In addition, the need to "grow" the perfect child adds pressure on families which further limit the number of children. They also found that lower-income group tend to have more children than those from the middle-income group, and attribute the reason stated earlier. 

I can't help but seem to draw certain parallels here. We live in a society that is obsessed with a survivalist mentality and the way to "survive" is to excel. As a result, would-be parents see their time/money as a kind of resource, scarce and limited - which means they see the need to devote what little they have to maximise the effect. Childrearing has become a national project of efficiency. We put what "little" material, emotional and financial resources into a child (or two), so that this child can someday become the "greatest" s/he can be in the future. We are projects of investment and dividends, and childhood has been reduced to an overly objectified economic output of performance and worth. Furthermore, we put all these demands on them, and assume that this will be good for them in the long run because it was good for us. When these children grow up, they are still seen not quite "grown" because we then lament that they lack the social and emotional capital to deal with the 'real world', so we have all sorts of paranoid programs and mothercoddling attitudes towards young adults. We then moan at the lack of initiative and zest needed for "entrepreneurship" and "effective leadership". It is no wonder that our children feel stressed, overworked and constantly fatigued. They feel like adults at a workplace, pressured to perform to KPIs and hit targets. At least adults get paid, children just get tired. If we assume so much of their lives, can we really blame them later if they no longer find meaning and need to pursue what they want, since they have come to believe that no one will listen anyway? Is it any wonder why young people today are apathetic?

The excessive competition and frustration read in newspapers and such, are symptoms of a larger discursive construction of our "nation-building" project (who is part of this nation? Nation vs Country vs City vs State?). I have no sympathies for parents who vex themselves silly to get their children in good schools, good tuition and good "enrichment" activities. I also do not have sympathies for parents who have children that simply rebel by being completely disinterested in what they are doing, only to have their parents vex/stress even more and in turn send them to even more classes to "build character". These parents outsource their children to external caretakers, like how they outsource manufacturing components in the running of their companies/MNCs. 

On the contrary, I believe we are asking the wrong questions. We should not, and cannot see children as economic gain/loss. We also cannot see family resources as a sort of problem of scarcity. In fact, I would even argue that it is a positive sum game - that is the less you put in, the more the reward. What do I mean? If you stress the child less, if you put in less hours to constantly keep him/her "occupied", the more the child wanders and explores - the more creative/fun-loving and understanding s/he will be. There is a national obsession to want to occupy a child's time all the time, without letting him/her the space to do what they do best as children - ask the darnest questions. 

I do not have the solution, and I do not declare myself as a know-it-all. However, this project of nation building needs to stop, or else, we will all be children in the eyes of those who feel we are still not yet "ready". I am not that pessimistic to say that we are a lost generation, or to be totalising that we have all made a mistake. I guess I'm aiming for a little more empathy and perhaps, a way to reverse the tide is to start to inspire in people, to give them the belief that they have a part to play in whatever they do.

Children is not about how old you are, but how responsible you can be for your own life. Children is a conceptual category of those who feel the overarching desire to "take care" of what is presumed to be the needs of others. That of course includes an infantile attitude of one group towards another. I'll leave it to your imagination what those two groups may be ;)

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