Supporting the Family Unit

By Michelle Ng

When I was a teenager, I would keep telling mum to not worry about me. It was difficult seeing all that energy drain out of her for something that I am capable of handling – my first primary school exam, driving my first drive alone, being on my own for the first time overseas.

But every time I tell her not to worry, she’ll always only say “You’ll understand when you become a mum. You’ll always be my child.”

To be honest, I never thought this remark to be true. I had always thought that mum was an over-worrier.

But having just delivered my firstborn, I can now absolutely comprehend why.

I will say, hands down, that parenthood is by far the hardest thing that I have ever done.

Having gone through this steep learning curve (with high stakes at that – a little human life!), it really has given me space to reflect on how as governments, we need to do better to support the family unit.

There is so much that needs to be learnt in such a short span of time – cues (Is he fussy? In pain? Hungry? Needs a diaper change? Too hot? Too cold?), breastfeeding (and along with it, technique, position, pumping, leaking, how milk supply works, foremilk, hindmilk, underfeeding, overfeeding, feeding on demand or on schedule? The mother’s nutritional needs, weaning, bottle feeding), hygiene (bathing, diaper changing), health (jaundice, vaccines, how baby’s immune system develops, infection) – the list goes on.

That is just a snapshot of what a parent has to learn in a child’s first months of life, and there’s 18 years to go!

Looking back, I realised that the mistake I made was to think that knowing all these will come naturally, just like how pregnancy and childbirth is a natural process. That’s a lie. It doesn’t. But no one told us that. Now knowing this fact, I wonder how many other parents are finding or once found themselves in this position.

On this note, I welcome the decision to extend maternity leave from 60 days to 98 days and paternity leave from 3 days to 7 days. That said, we need to do more.

Support and knowledge regarding child care should come before delivery. Had I known a lot of what I’ve learnt (the hard way), my little family and I could have avoided a lot of mistakes.

As an example (and many parents will laugh at us for this), we weren’t taught the idea of feeding on demand – so when we brought baby home for the first night and it wasn’t time for him to feed, it didn’t click when he was wailing for such a long time that he was hungry. We were taught that babies feed every 3 hours, which wasn’t up then.

Much of such knowledge can be integrated in pre-natal care. Pamphlets and classes can be conducted in Klinik Kesihatan-s simultaneously with monthly check-ups. The Ministry of Health can also draft such advisories for private hospitals.

The idea is this – impart much needed knowledge far in advance; as opposed to the current system which at best does so upon reaching that milestone, which in my opinion is too late as it does not allow the parent practice and preparation. This should be done not just for infant care, but parenthood in general – there are some common fundamentals that all parents need to know and learn.

On this note, I wish also to say to employers – when your employee’s house is in order, they will be more productive at work. They will be less likely to carry their worry to work, which means that they will be more present.

When one of my staff had child, I did not deduct leave when she had to take time off for hospital and clinic appointments. When another one of my staff had to take some time off (up to a month) and travel outstation to settle some family matters, we worked out a system where s/he will work remotely from where s/he is, so that no leave need be deducted.

My message is this – do not be too calculative with benefits when it comes to supporting the family unit. Honour the time and space that they need, and you will instead reap the benefits manifold later on.

Whilst parenthood has been the most difficult thing I’ve done, it certainly is also the most rewarding. I never knew that I could push myself this much out of love for a little person.

To all parents – I honour you. Every day that you wake up and show up for the lives that God has entrusted you is a testament of how strong a person you are. You got this.