Family is where the heart is

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(Taken on a family trip to Japan, Dec 2016)

The picture you see above was first shared on my Instagram page, which received an interesting comment: “落叶“.

Literally translated, this phrase refers to how the fallen leaves have returned to its roots. The fallen leaves are a metaphor for old age, and ‘roots’ describe one’s home.

In a related way, I think ‘roots’ also represents our families – where our values, memories and ties were first formed, and firmly anchored. If you think about it, the family really is the building block for a safe and stable society, and it is important for our families to stay strong. Families are also who we turn to for comfort and support, and a refuge when times are difficult and uncertain.

Giving children a good start in life

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(During my visit to one of the KidSTART group sessions at Henderson.)

This year, we’ve made some progress to enhance our support to help strengthen families, as well as to help our children get a good start in life. It’s a continual effort, and I’m proud of the work put in by my MSF team. It is a cause they feel passionate about.

For example, to help couples build stronger marriages, we have been offering an evidence-based introductory marriage preparation programme, PREP, free-of-charge, at the Singapore Registry of Marriage (ROM) during lunch time.

To give our children a good start in life, we rolled out additional support measures this year. All newborns now get a $3,000 Child Development Account First Step grant. Changes to the Child Development Co-Savings Act accorded all new mothers the full 16-week maternity leave, and mandatory two weeks of paternity leave for new fathers from 2017. We made important moves on maternity leave and the CDA account to better support unwed mothers.

KidSTART is a pilot programme that aims to provide more assistance to children from vulnerable backgrounds to ensure their future success. This effort by the Early Childhood Development Agency brings together family, community and pre-schools to build a strong support system for the child. I look forward to meeting the little ones at their first day of (pre)school in a few days’ time. 🙂 I trust that this programme will succeed and move on beyond its pilot status.

Faishal has also shared in his blog post about the work done to help parents via the Positive Parenting Programme and the Safe and Strong Families pilot, as well as to support parents and children amidst divorce.

We are also working to further develop the early childhood education sector to offer meaningful and rewarding careers for Singaporeans, and quality care and education for our children. We announced the Early Childhood Manpower Plan this year, and we hope to attract another 4,000 educators by 2020.

Building a community of support for those in need

Notwithstanding our best efforts, unfortunate circumstances do occur. We need to be always ready to provide help and timely services to the more vulnerable in society.

Our ComCare schemes disbursed $130 million to about 87,000 beneficiaries in FY2015, this is 10% higher than the previous financial year. We have also enhanced the assistance package to households on ComCare Long-Term Assistance by raising the cash assistance rates for our beneficiaries. For example, a one-person household will now receive $500 per month from $450. We will continue to work closely with the community and voluntary welfare organisations to support the less unfortunate among our midst.

Even as we recognise families as important sources of refuge and support, sadly, for some, they can be vulnerable to abuse by loved ones. Last month, we launched a three-year “Break the Silence” campaign to encourage bystanders to speak up against family violence. Violence is not a private matter and is not acceptable.  All of us have a role to play to step up and help, by having the courage and knowledge to take action.  You can interrupt incidents of family violence with little acts of kindness, and contact the various help centres. Do call the Police immediately if a life is in danger.

 


(Ah Ma made the first step to break the silence against family violence.)

For those who need foster homes and families for support, we were pleased to see an increase in fostering as we celebrated 60 years of fostering in Singapore. Foster parents are such incredible big-hearted folks who open their homes and heart to care for vulnerable children. To further support the efforts taken to help these children, a third fostering agency will be set up in 2017.

Fostering a more inclusive Singapore

We have also achieved much in helping each and every Singaporean to fulfil their potential, regardless of their abilities. In the past two years, MSF, together with MOE and SG Enable, piloted the School-to-Work Transition Programme with five Special Education schools to facilitate a smooth transition from school to the workplace for graduating students with disabilities. I am heartened that 80% of the first graduating cohort of were successfully employed, and 83% stayed in the job for more than six months.

Just last week we received the 3rd Enabling Masterplan report from the steering committee led by Ms Anita Fam. We will study their findings and recommendations carefully to make Singapore even more caring and inclusive for persons with disabilities.

Supporting one another in the year ahead

While MSF continues to do its best to support the vulnerable and those in need, and strengthen families so that they can fulfil their dreams, it is also my hope that fellow Singaporeans can do their part to care for one other.  If we could all reach out to others in the community, and begin to look beyond ourselves and our own families, we would begin to see a very different society – one that is more caring, more selfless and more compassionate.

One way you can show support to one another is through the Singapore Cares movement. Many of us have expressed the desire to do more and work with others to support individuals and families that need help. The movement is an opportunity for everyone – you, your company, or institution – to partner with charities in Singapore and/or areas where needs exist, and make an impactful difference. By coming together and contributing to the social causes you care about, we can support one another in the year ahead. Together, we can show that Singapore cares.

As 2017 approaches, there could be more challenges ahead that we have to face.  But I take heart in knowing that we will all walk this journey together with our loved ones and support one another as one big Singapore family.

Happy 2017!

The Greatest Joys in My Life

For many parents like myself, raising our children to adulthood is akin to an emotional rollercoaster ride.

When they are born, we take delight in how sweet and innocent they are. In their formative years, we relish the time spent hearing them say their first word, and watching them take their first step.

We shed tears on their first day of school, miss them throughout the day and count down the hours until we can pick them from school.

Then the trials and tribulations come as they go through their teenage years, when we wonder how our sweet, innocent children evolved into the bundle of anxieties before us. We spend sleepless nights wondering how we can protect them from the evils of the world.

And then comes the emptiness and feelings of loss, when seemingly in the blink of an eye, they are on the cusp of adulthood, ready to leave the nest and live their own lives.

Children really grow up so fast, and I am sure that deep down, every parent wants to be there for his or her children throughout their journey to adulthood.

For many of us, this can be a challenge as we struggle with the demands of work, family and other commitments. Work-life balance becomes increasingly difficult to maintain and it is easy to get caught up in the rat race.

Parenthood certainly has its ups and downs, but my children have been one of the greatest joys in my life. Children are the embodiment of love between a couple, and the start of life together as a family.

I am glad that I was able to share many milestones in my children’s lives and that we have forged a strong bond over the years.

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With my son and daughter when they were younger

My relationship with my children has evolved over the years; from a father figure when they were young to a friend, now that my daughter and son are 20 and 16 years old respectively. Despite my busy schedule as a community leader then, and a Member of Parliament now, I consciously make and take time to be in contact with them, so that we can share our moments together — physically and virtually.

I must say, technology has really helped to complement my efforts in engaging my children. Although my daughter is now overseas continuing her studies, technology has enabled us to remain close and continue our journey in developing our family bond.

Let us dedicate this day to our children and be active and present parents. 😊

For me, I will spend time with my son watching the Causeway Challenge between Singapore and Malaysia at the National Stadium tonight. I hope you will find some time to share the joy of Children’s Day with your child.

To all the children out there, Happy Children’s Day!

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Celebrate our Children Often

I am sure that many sighs of relief and cries of joy were heard at the end of this week’s PSLE. Congrats to all our P6 students (and their parents!) who have worked so hard this past year!

To many 12-year-olds, PSLE is a time in their lives when even the most caring of parents suddenly turn into fire-breathing dragons! But of course, parents want their children to study hard and do well.

Sometimes, this may cause us to give our children too much pressure. In our eagerness to mould our children, it is easy to forget that they are not our “Mini Me”s. They are unique individuals with their own strengths and passions. Our aspirations for our children should not come at the expense of their own ambitions and happiness.

What our children really need is to feel that we are proud of them for who they are, not what they have achieved. They need us to take an interest in them as individuals, and to connect with them at their level.

For my children, whether it’s the school exams, sports or other activities they take part in, I’d often talk to them about the process, and not just focus on the outcome. I’d ask them questions such as: “How did you think it went?” “What went well?” “What didn’t go so well?” “How do you feel about it?” “How do you think you can deal with the disappointment?” “What would you have done differently?” “What did you learn from it?”

Apart from helping them to reflect and grow, it’s an opportunity to know your children better. It’s also an affirmation of how we value their thoughts and feelings, who they are and not just what they have achieved.

This Children’s Day, let’s make it a day where we affirm our children. Affirmation does not mean that we praise them for everything under the sun. Let’s focus on their effort, rather than the result. It could be a simple acknowledgement for remembering to do their chores, or picking up their toys without being told.

Children’s Day is a day where we should celebrate our children for who they are, and the joy that they bring to our lives. It’s a day to do something our children find fun, together as a family. Most importantly, make that conscious effort to affirm our children often, not just on Children’s Day!

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Making Singapore a Home for all Families

As a father of two, I know that family outings (especially with young children or an elderly parent) can be a real challenge.

In the past, there weren’t as many shopping malls, and most did not cater to families with young children or elderly parents. Popping out for a quick dinner with kids in tow was no walk in the park! I still remember the days when my wife and I would try to plan every outing in advance to ensure that it would be as fun and stress-free as possible.

Shopping malls are now a common feature in most neighbourhoods. With the government’s requirement to provide family-friendly facilities through the Code of Accessibility, many malls now boast features such as nursing rooms, and ramps and wider corridors for wheelchair-users.

grandstand14From my visit to The Grandstand yesterday, to see its enhanced family-friendly features.

I visited one of the seven neighbourhood malls that received an enhanced grant to increase their family-friendly features yesterday. The improved facilities encourage more family outings and made it convenient for families to eat, shop and have fun together.

But a family-friendly environment cannot be achieved just by infrastructure alone.

We need to complement that with a family-friendly mindset and passion to go that extra mile to give customers a positive experience during family outings. It is important that our service professionals have a deeper understanding of different families’ needs. To equip them with the necessary skillsets, MSF will soon roll out training courses for the service industry.

grandstand12Speaking to a concierge who’d received many complimentary letters for his service

Courses for frontline staff include communication skills and dealing with specific situations, such as helping an elderly person with dementia or calming a lost toddler. Courses catering to managerial staff include fostering a customer-centric culture and planning innovative initiatives for families.

I would like to encourage businesses that aim to attract a larger family customer base to attend these courses. I hope that more businesses will join our efforts in building a family-friendly environment and encourage their staff to take up courses to improve their customer service skills.

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We want to celebrate families in Singapore.

Apart from encouraging family time through programmes or events, it is important to ensure that our infrastructure and service standards are in place to make Singapore truly a home for families to interact, bond and connect with each other.

Helping your child succeed

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

As parents, we always want to give our children the best. I do believe that at the very least, we need to make a conscious choice to be active and present in our children’s lives. But then comes the hard part –what do we do next? 

How do we connect with our children when we can’t understand their lingo? How do we guide our children when they do not behave? I am sure we all have our own stories. Every day is a new challenge.

Let’s face it. Sometimes, we parents need a little help too. When our children came, they did not come with an instruction manuals did they?!

The journey to being a good parent

The reality is that parenting is like a running a marathon. You don’t just wake up one day and decide, “I am going to run 42km today”, and expect to complete the run in record time.

We need to learn about how we prepare ourselves. We need to spend months putting what we know into training and to consciously make changes to your diet and lifestyle. There is no ‘cheat sheet’ that will instantly transform you into the best marathon runner. Even when you are able to complete the marathon, you have to continue training to improve the time you take to finish the run.

It’s the same for parenting – we don’t become great parents overnight. Each child is a unique individual. Just because certain methods worked for us growing up, does not mean the same methods will work for our children. Parenting is an evolving process; as your child grows, you may have to adjust the way you guide them.

We brought in the evidence-based Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) and have been running a two-year pilot here, involving over 5,000 parents. This programme has worked well in other countries, and the feedback here in our schools has been very encouraging. I was really glad to hear from the trainers directly. They were incredibly passionate and convinced by the effectiveness of the programme and had many stories to share. They were also motivated because they could see how parents were highly engaged, and had found the techniques and approaches useful.

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There was a mother whose child had a gaming addiction and she was at her wits end. Banning him from gaming wasn’t working. Triple P taught her to apply new skills to better engage and motivate her son – by setting limits, and affirming him when he kept to the agreed time.

We will be expanding this effort.

Singapore Parenting Congress

This weekend, I will be at the Singapore Parenting Congress as a guest panellist. Am looking forward to the dialogue with parents on being a Superhero to their kids. I for one am certainly not one…but am trying to be as best a father as I can be.

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Parenting is tough, with the many twists and turns, and ups and downs. But we will try and provide support and signposts to guide the way.

Let’s keep growing and learning as parents. There is no better feeling of accomplishment than seeing our children succeed in life and knowing that we had a hand in it. And there is no greater joy than in simply being a parent. This is one journey that is completely worth walking and running!

Embracing our Roles in Life

By Parliamentary Secretary Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim

Throughout our lives, we take on many different roles. And the importance we place on each of these roles changes at different stages of our lives.

Sometimes, the beauty of life lies in its cyclical nature. Just last week, I saw 12 couples renew their marriage vows at the Family Life First Carnival and also sat in for a session of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Programme (PREP).

At PREP, I met a lovely young couple – Darren and Clare – who will soon embark on their own journey together as husband and wife. They attended PREP to learn tips on building a marriage based on a strong foundation of love and understanding.

family life first_parl secAnd they said “I Do”…again.

This reminds me of how my wife and I learnt over the years that maintaining a strong marriage and being good parents does not come easy. We need to make a conscious effort to communicate, understand and to encourage each other. To keep our strong commitment to each other and to our children.

When my children were born, I felt like the happiest father alive! At the same time, I felt the pressure – I knew that as a father, I had to be a good role model and inculcate good values in my children. My father must have felt the same too.

Strong marriages lead to strong families. When we have a strong marriage, we will then be better able to create a happier environment for our children to grow in. If we lead by example, our children will learn to develop strong and lasting relationships of their own.

A father’s presence and influence in their children’s lives often mean more to them than they realise.

It is on occasions like Father’s Day that we are reminded of the responsibilities we have in shaping our children into individuals who are responsible, capable, giving and nurturing – who can also teach their children to embrace the various roles in life well.

This Father’s Day, let’s make the personal choice to spend time with our families meaningfully.

To all fathers and grandfathers, Happy Father’s Day!

Be a Dad for Life

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

Quick question for all dads: Has your Father’s Day celebrations been rather low key as compared to Mother’s Day celebrations?

Maybe it’s our traditional cultural roles that make it that way. How we think it’s Dad’s job to go out and make money, and Mum’s role to take care of the family.

But today, these traditional roles are evolving. Now, more couples take on shared responsibilities in supporting the family. Fathers are becoming more actively involved in their families.

There is no doubt that we, as fathers, play an important role in our children’s lives.

Sure, it’s easy to get caught up with work. But is the tradeoff really worth it? I’m sure we don’t want to miss hearing our child say their first word, or take their first step.

Children grow up so fast. I think it’s immensely important to create special memories and moments with our children from young. But we can start from everyday activities.

For example, I was glad to catch ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (on a movie date!) with my daughter after her exams were over. We had a great time discussing the movie afterwards…

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(…Such as how Professor X may need some Beijing 101 after the events of the movie)
Image: 20th Century Fox

So, time spent in both quality and quantity does matter. At the same time, do remember to appreciate our own fathers and include them in our celebrations too!

On the whole, it is good to see that more families and organisations are starting to celebrate Father’s Day in a big way. I’m glad to be a part of a few of these celebrations – such as the “Dad’s Day Out” event on Father’s Day today, and the Families for Life Father’s Day picnic later this month.

Fathering is a beautiful and meaningful journey, and I am proud to be a father. To answer my own question? It’s not about the size of the celebration, but the strength of the bond with my children that matters more to me. 🙂

To all Dads and Grandfathers out there, Happy Father’s Day!