When you reach your late 20s or early 30s, like I have, you will likely find yourself inundated with questions – from relatives, friends, and general busybodies – about your future in terms of marriage, and eventually, kids.
I generally field these questions as tactfully as I can, all the while keeping in mind that I am in no way obligated to share in detail my life’s plans with anyone.
But, much as I try to be patient, having the same conversations and repeating the same answers can get tiresome after a while.
Worryingly, however, the more people asked such questions of me, the more I began to feel pressured to conform to society’s expectations for someone my age, which is to settle down and have kids.
According to the annual Population in Brief report last month, fewer Singaporean women got married last year as compared to a decade ago, with 68.1 per cent of women aged between 25 and 29 – regarded as the prime childbearing years – still single as of 2017, as compared to 60.9 per cent in 2007.
Singapore’s total fertility rate also dived to a seven-year low of 1.16 last year.
As a result, Singapore is set to face a population crunch in the near future, with Second Minister for Home Affairs and Manpower Josephine Teo remarking in
Parliament earlier this year that the country’s population in 2030 will likely be “significantly below” the previous estimation of 6.9 million.
Fortunately for me, I do intend to eventually get married and have kids. So, I am able to provide the so-called ‘right’ answers to questions regarding this topic, which helps alleviate the pressure on my girlfriend and me in the interim.
I can only imagine how it must feel for those who have no intention of ever getting married or having children.
It can be especially stressful for those who come from families which still hold on to traditional values and cultures, where there is great emphasis on carrying the family lineage.
But, shouldn’t the concept of marriage and parenthood be something that is borne out of our desire, rather than because it is deemed a societal norm?
In particular, how emotionally, psychologically and financially ready are we for marriage and kids?
After all, getting married and starting a family are huge commitments that will, more often than not, drastically alter our lifestyle and priorities.
And, with more millennials in Singapore preferring to focus on their careers, it is no surprise that many of us are unwilling to get married or start a family till later on in our lives.
Having seen first-hand how some of my friends with kids struggle to juggle the demands of their jobs with their family commitments, I can understand why there are those who prefer to remain single or childfree.
And yes, this struggle is something that both men and women face.
Let’s not forget as well, while the 20s and 30s are considered the prime ages for childbearing, it is also generally the period of a person’s life where they not only build on the foundation of their careers, but also begin to establish themselves in their respective industries.
Whether we like it or not, the reality of climbing the corporate ladder in Singapore usually entails not just how well you do your work, but also the relationships you have with others in the industry.
Building these connections often comes in the form of networking events or social gatherings, which typically happens after working hours.
It would naturally be harder for someone with children to spare time to attend these events, compared to those with less familial commitments.
Alternatively, one can still make time to attend these events, but it will likely come at the expense of the time you spend with your children and spouse.
The loss of personal time, space and freedom – that usually comes with marriage and children – is also something that many millennials like myself are loath to give up.
It would, for example, be much harder for my future wife and me to go on spontaneous holidays if we had a young child, or children, in tow.
And, instead of spending what precious free time we have recovering from the exertions of work, or on enjoying our hobbies, we would likely have to devote a majority of it towards taking care of our children.
It is a huge sacrifice, and one that many of us millennials find hard to make, especially given that we have grown up in an age of instant gratification – this, according to an article in Forbes by Aaron Levy, the founder and CEO of consultancy firm Raise The Bar, drives millennials to “seek success, contribution and personal growth at a more rapid rate than other previous generations”.
This mindset leads to a trend where millennials would rather spend most of their money on themselves and their own enjoyment, as compared to having to sacrifice that to sustain a family.
This, I believe, is the real reason why many millennials cite the “high cost of living” in Singapore as one of the reasons they choose to stay unmarried or childfree.
After all, based on what I see on social media, most millennials are seemingly able to spend tens of thousands of dollars on the latest technological innovations, exotic holidays, the latest fashion, or the trendiest restaurants – luxuries that are all easily accessible in a modern country like Singapore.
So, surely, they have the means to raise a child and sustain a family. But, to do so would likely mean giving up a large portion of the fancy lifestyle that they are used to.
This means forgoing the latest iPhone, cutting down on restaurant meals, giving up on that trip to Europe.
How many millennials would be willing, and happy, to do that when they are still in their 20s or 30s – essentially the prime of their lives?
So personally, while I do intend to start a family one day, I remain apprehensive about the sort of sacrifices I’ll have to make when that day comes.
It is likely I’d have to cut down on the number of times I play football each week. Gone as well will be the days when I can just relax and recharge at home, alone in my room, during the weekends.
Instead, I’d be inundated with the various duties of a husband and a father that comes along with marriage, parenthood, and the ownership of a home.
My schedule would have to be tailored towards ‘family-friendly’ activities, while my holidays would also take on a very different dynamic with kids on board.
Of course, I recognise that different people have different dreams in life. There will be those who want to start a family when they’re in their 20s, there will be those who prefer to wait till later on in life before having kids, and there will be yet others who choose to remain completely childfree.
There will be those who like large families, and those who think one child is enough.
Ultimately, though, no matter what one chooses to do, the rest of us should respect that choice.
After all, pressuring someone into getting married or having kids before they’re ready can lead to them feeling unhappy and unfulfilled in life. This, in turn, can lead to divorces and broken families.
I certainly would not like to be told when I should get married, or when I should have kids. My girlfriend and I have our own plans and our own goals – when we decide to start a family is really down to us, and no one else.
After all, we would know best what works for us. Pressuring us into getting married or having kids when we’re not ready would just make us resentful. It would also take the joy out of these otherwise happy occasions.
So, please understand that it is a different generation now, with different norms, and different values that we hold on to.
Instead of judging, please respect and support our choices regarding marriage and parenthood.
Us millennials would really appreciate that, I kid you not.