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I was scrolling through my Facebook feed recently when I chanced upon a photo of a friend cradling her newborn baby.
What would it be like to have a kid at 24?
We were from the same secondary school, and just like me, she is 24 years old. The crucial difference between us, though, is that she already has a husband and child.
Naturally, this prompted me to think about how different our lives must be at this point.
What would my life be like if I had made the same choices as her; to settle down and have a child in my early twenties?
I found myself shuddering at the thought.
While I know of plenty of friends who absolutely cannot wait to start families of their own, not everyone can be sure that they want to be a parent.
Yes, I belong to the latter group of people, and here are my personal reasons for my reluctance:
#1: It is incredibly expensive
This first reason is perhaps the most obvious one.
Given the rising cost of living, it is becoming increasingly challenging to comfortably support and raise a child in Singapore.
Government findings echo this sentiment: 61 per cent of married Singaporeans surveyed by the government's Strategy Group in 2016 cited financial cost as one of their top three reasons for choosing not to have children or more children.
And according to a Straits Times article by Chia Ngee Choon and Chia Han Mae in September 2018, the cost of raising a kid starts from an estimated S$560,000 for mothers in the median income percentile.
Even for mothers in the 30th income percentile (i.e. household earns less than S$7,500 a month), the total child-rearing cost is estimated at S$280,000, after including tax benefits and direct subsidies.
This is me, after thinking about the money I would need to spend:
But wait, what about the Baby Bonus?
If you're reading this, you most definitely know this fact all too well: Singapore's Total Fertility Rate has been on the decline. In 2017, it dropped to 1.16 — the lowest figure since 1.15 in 2010 and the second-lowest ever recorded.
And so, as you would also know, the government has been dishing out baby bonuses since 2001 to incentivise having children.
Currently, parents with children born after 2015 may be eligible for an S$8,000 cash gift for their first and second child.
Other than cash gifts, the child will also have a Child Development Account where the government will match the savings in that account. The savings can be used to pay for the child's educational and healthcare expenses.
In addition, new parents can also enjoy a parenthood tax rebate that starts with S$5,000, and increases with each subsequent child.
While all this sounds rather attractive, the ST article points out that these measures hardly defray the long-term costs of child-rearing.
In fact, the economists estimate that pro-natalist tax policies (excluding the Baby Bonus) account for only around 10 per cent of the costs of raising a kid.
People have different expectations of what is "comfortable"
We already know that raising a kid is expensive, but we also need to acknowledge that many households have differing expectations of what it takes to support a family.
For instance, a family earning a five-figure household income sparked controversy in 2018 following an interview that quoted them saying they were "suffering".
Another couple who has seven children with a S$3,000 income also provoked extensive debate. In this case, some suggested that limited resources could possibly affect the children's quality of life.
Clearly, these two pairs of parents show there are no hard and fast rules as to what is "enough".
But factoring in this, and the rising cost of living here in Singapore, the additional financial stress from raising a kid is a burden I am not prepared to shoulder.
#2: It involves sacrifice, all over and for everything
In my parents' generation, getting married and having children can be considered a rite of passage into adulthood.
Even now, some people also have children due to societal pressures surrounding the need to carry on the family line.
However, I would argue this is no longer as huge of a driving factor as before, given that more people are seriously considering the demands of parenting in the 21st century.
Besides, having children just because of societal pressures is absolutely crazy.
This is a commitment to another person (or indeed, persons) we're talking about, and certainly not to be treated lightly.
We don't even have to talk about finances — there is so much more to raising a child than simply (dare I even say it's "simple"??) providing for his or her material well-being.
It is one heck of a huge commitment, requiring parents to consistently put their children's needs ahead of their own, pretty much round the clock. There is no quitting this gig, even if it is legally possible to quit a marriage.
Think about it: You can't go on holiday without having to make childcare arrangements, you would have a lot less (perhaps "a lot less" is interchangeable with the word "no") time to themselves to pursue hobbies, and probably wouldn't even have the energy to think about them anyway.
Our priorities in life — family, career, passion (if it doesn't happen to be either of the former), for instance — all come with sacrifices, and not everyone (me included) is willing to accept the trade-offs that come with being a parent.
#3: Can I be the type of person I want my child to become?
Honestly, looking around, the world is an ugly place.
Take a look at this Reddit post listing the "harms that can be prevented for your future child":
Bringing a kid into this world is one thing, but guiding him or her to navigate their place in this world? That's an entirely different story.
I believe that an indicator of good parenting is when your child
doesn't grow up to be a litle sh*t makes the world a better, kinder, place.
Children amplify our flaws
The family, of course, plays a crucial role here because a child takes cues from his or her family for standards of what constitutes "good" and "right".
Unfortunately, children may also amplify our flaws and least-desirable characteristics.
While it would be foolish to expect that parents be perfect role models, they should, as far as possible, embody the values that they hope to instil in their children.
And until I can confidently be the role model I'd like to be, I think I would rather not be a parent.
Children suffer as a result of our own imperfections
Sadly, children will also be forced to live with and bear the brunt of their parents' shortcomings. Being highly critical, impatient, or short-tempered, for instance, are all flaws that affect a young person's quality of life.
And despite our best efforts, all it takes is a single moment of carelessness with our thoughts and actions to permanently scar a child who never chose to be here in the first place.
Some may respond to this point by saying that nobody will ever "feel ready" to become a parent, nothing can prepare a person for parenthood, and that learning on-the-job is part and parcel of the entire journey.
But I personally fear that my mistakes will unintentionally leave an indelible mark on my children's lives and the way they view themselves.
Why would I want to needlessly put any child through that?
It's selfish to rush into parenthood
Granted, even without societal pressures, plenty of people out there want to have children.
For instance, they may think that having children enriches their lives, makes them better people or fulfils an ideal of what they want their family to look like.
Some also think of children as a way to advocate their values, carry on their family business, legacy or even just their bloodline.
Given some of these perfectly valid reasons as to how having children can be good for the world, I understand that my decision not to have children can be seen as selfish.
I think of this the other way, though — what is selfish is if someone like me threw myself head-on into parenthood, just because I wanted to have children, without properly considering the extent of the commitment involved, the sacrifices I would have to make, and indeed, all the implications that go way beyond what I've mentioned above.
Perhaps I'm excessively practical and rational, and am failing to take the "heart" approach. But for me, becoming a parent has far less to do with being mentally, psychologically or emotionally "ready", but rather, a matter of whether or not I am willing to accept the trade-offs that come with having children.
I may also be a perfectionist. Of course no parents are perfect. Mine aren't, yours aren't, nobody's are. But I do feel that to be responsible, I must be able to provide what I feel to be the best for my children.
And given the concerns I have about my own parenting abilities (financially, in terms of being a role model and the sacrifices involved), it would be irresponsible of me to subject any future children I may have to the inadequate limits of what I am capable of providing them.
Top photo via Wikimedia & Tan Xingqi.