Something old, something new, and something borrowed.
Nope, we’re not talking about the time-honoured wedding tradition, but rather, an apt summary of the changing face of families in Singapore.
While traditional nuclear family units still make up the majority of family structures here, more varied households – such as interracial couples, families that have adopted kids, or blended families – have been on the rise in recent years.
We’ve always been proud to call ourselves a cultural melting pot, so let’s make good on that promise to celebrate diversity and move towards less stigma for non-mainstream families.
Here are four modern families that will show you the true meaning of ties that bind – beyond race, DNA, or social conventions.
“Race and skin colour were never issues in our relationship.”
When Poovan Sundram met Fabio Paradiso in 2012, it wasn’t love at first sight. Many supper dates and conversations over a shared love of food – specifically, Indian food – later, the couple grew closer and the relationship took off from there.
Today, Poovan, 28, a stay-at-home mum, and Fabio, 41, an associate, are happily married with a one-year-old boy, Leonardo.
“Growing up in Singapore as a minority, I was used to people looking at me differently. For Fabio, though, the stares we got whenever we went out together, or held hands, took some getting used to.
Aside from snide remarks labelling me an SPG, there were also hushed whispers – especially after I got pregnant – about how my “white” husband would probably leave me after a few years, and I’d have to raise our child alone.
Worse still, are the insensitive comments about how my child would be considered a minority, too, if he were dark like me. Leonardo is fair, like his father, and with that also comes statements like: “I don’t think that’s her son; she must be the nanny.”
It wasn’t easy to swallow at first, but we’re now immune to it.
Race and skin colour were never issues for us. We don’t see ourselves as “white man” and “Indian woman” – we are simply a man and a woman in a marriage, who now have a child together.
Even so, I’m prepared for the day Leonardo gets singled out for his unique family situation. I’ve read comments on mixed-family support groups on Facebook, like SG Mixed Babies, about how some children have come home from school crying after being called a zebra. It’s heartbreaking.
Fabio and I have already talked about it, and we want to raise Leonardo to embrace his differences and appreciate both his Italian and Indian heritage. More importantly, we want to teach him to rise above racism and see people beyond their skin colour. We want him to know that different is beautiful, too.” – Poovan
“Coming from a ‘broken’ family doesn’t mean my son is unhappy or unloved.”
For flight stewardess Eileen Tan, 27, time spent with her nine-year-old son is even more precious because she’s based in Doha, Qatar. The single mother and sole breadwinner looks forward to every opportunity to come home and see her son, who currently lives with her parents.
“I’ve never felt that my son and I are an incomplete family just because I’m now a single parent. He is growing up happily and healthily in a loving, albeit unconventional, family unit, thanks to the wonderful support of my parents as well.
At the beginning, I did wonder if going through with the divorce would mean that I’m not doing right by my son – I didn’t want him to be stereotyped as a child from a broken family who wouldn’t turn out well.
It used to bother me when the first thing people say when they find out that I’m divorced is: “Oh, your child is so poor thing.” I thought, why should coming from a single-parent household mean that my child would be at a disadvantage?
Now, I’ve learnt to block out the naysayers and focus on making the most of my time with my son.
Depending on my roster, I might spend as little as two days or up to 10 days in Singapore, but one thing’s for sure: we Skype every day.
And when I’m back, I take my son with me everywhere I go to maximise our time together. For instance, he’ll join me when I meet my friends for tea or karaoke – he knows all the lyrics to the newest pop songs – and some days, we’d spend a leisurely afternoon at Sentosa.
I do worry that as he grows older, he wouldn’t have a father figure to look up to – someone to help him with his studies or take part in sports with him. I’m not naturally sporty, but I’ve since taken up a more active lifestyle. Now when I’m home, I’ll go cycling and swimming with my son.
My son was only six when the divorce was finalised, so I didn’t overwhelm him with a lengthy explanation – I simply told him that his father and I would not be living together anymore. He hasn’t asked me much about it, but when he does, I’m prepared to speak freely with him.
I want him – and other single-parent families out there – to know that there’s nothing wrong with us, so don’t be discouraged by what other people say. And if you see “complete” families out on an outing, don’t be upset. As long as you and your child are together and love each other, you’re as much a family as they are.” – Eileen
“My adopted son showed me a new meaning of family”
Long before former national footballer and principal of Active SG Football Academy Aleksandar Duric, 46, and his wife Natasha had their own children – daughter Isabella, 15, and son Alessandro, 13 – they had always talked about adopting. Finally in 2010, the Durics welcomed baby Massimo, then two weeks old, into their family.
The kids now split their time between Singapore, where Aleksandar is based, and Australia, where they live with their mum during the school term.
“Adoption was never a taboo subject in our household. When Natasha and I started looking for a child to adopt in 2007, it took us three years to find Massimo. During that time, there was always open conversation about it; we never shied away from answering any of the children’s questions, if they had any.
It never mattered to us whether our adopted child was going to be from a different race. All we cared about was being able to love him or her as our own.
When Massimo came home, Isabella was eight and Alessandro was seven. At that age, they were just happy to have a new baby brother to play with. As they grew older, they started asking us about him and we’ve always told them the truth: that his mother could not raise him on her own and was looking for a loving home for him, so that’s how he came to us.
At six, Massimo has begun to ask me why he looks different from us. I tell him that his birth mother is different from us, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I’ve always taught my children to protect one another, as family should. So, when their school friends ask them about Massimo, my two older kids have replied that while their brother may be different, they’re happy to have him and he’s very much a part of the family.
I’m proud of them for being protective of Massimo and I’m glad their friends are asking these tough questions, because people need to understand that there’s no stigma attached to adoption, or even adopting a child from another race.
People might think that Massimo is lucky to have found us, but I think I’m the lucky one. Having him in our lives has helped me realise that being a family can mean more than just blood ties. Now, all three of them are asking me to adopt another child, so that they can have a new sibling!” – Aleksandar
“A blended family unit is made up of parents and children – just like all families.”
Local arts company ACT 3’s power couple R. Chandran, 61, and Amy J Cheng, 47, first got together in 2002 and got married three years later. According to the man himself, he had “been waiting 40-odd years for Amy to turn up, then one day, she did. That’s the love story”.
The couple have two sons – Joshua, 20, from Amy’s first marriage, and Jivan, nine.
“While I have not heard unkind remarks or rude questions about our relationship, my wish is for mixed-marriages to become a non-issue. That said, I have never truly bothered about what others think. Therefore, I focused on making first, our relationship, then our family unit, work.
I’m not even sure what a “traditional” family means, and I must emphasise that our family unit is not unique – it is made up of parents and children, just like all other families.
In the initial stages of settling into our blended family, though, I was conscious of having to be sensitive to Joshua’s state of mind. For the first eight years of his life, he had grown up in an environment that I was not a part of.
Being unaware of his experiences and the value systems he was used to, I had to remind myself regularly not to impose my thoughts abruptly, but to gently feel the middle ground.
What helped very much was that from day one, Joshua and I have a smooth, easy and fun relationship. And even after Jivan came along, I don’t make a distinction between them – they’re both my sons – so it is a blessing that they love each other deeply, and are secure in the relationship.
For Jivan especially, who’s born into a mixed heritage, we encourage him to cherish the rich blend of cultures that makes him who he is, and tell him that it doesn’t make him any superior, nor inferior, to others.” – R. Chandran