Friday, November 23, 2012

Parents in Singapore Don't Raise Their Own Children

Here's R at the doctor's office. Another sick baby is across the way: his mother is on her cell phone, in typical Singaporean style. So who is the one holding (and interacting with, at least for the entire time we were there) the baby? The Indonesian maid. It's quite common for parents not to come with their sick children at all: the maid takes the baby and speaks to the doctor.

This isn't a habit only of native Singaporeans. Here's R at the park, with some other expat children (we don't know them: it's just that mostly only white people like the outdoors here), each set with their own maid. In our condo, it's pretty uncommon to see other mothers with their children (unless they are Japanese: the Japanese have a very different cultural attitude on this issue): in fact, there are quite a few children whose parents I have never seen, even though I see the children almost every day.

The maids tend to have quite a different parenting style, not only because they are from a different culture (being mostly Filipina if working for expats), but because of the nature of their job. They can't let the children take any risks (or they will get in trouble), which means little independence for them (note that in the picture above, both maids are right there: I, meanwhile, am taking this with the zoom function); and they often can't really discipline them, which means an incredible amount of spoiling, bribery and manipulative behavior (like telling children the police will arrest them if they don't shape up).

I don't really know what sort of effect this custom has on the personality (though being raised by someone who is subordinate to you in status, and yet controls you, must be a distinct experience). Many Singaporeans disapprove of it, at least in theory, and compliment me on raising my child "myself". The expats (who do it, as there's a sizable minority for whom this is not the case) mostly live in a state of denial and do not acknowledge the extent to which someone else is caring for their child(ren): but are all agreed that the other people who do it are not especially good parents.

I am not really sure if it's a bad thing or not (for one, many parents with maids are either really busy or non-nurturing, and their children may in fact be better off with non-parental care). What do you think?

**Note: maids live in the house, typically work 12-hour+ days, and are not yet entitled to days off. Having one provide your childcare really is quite distinct from a daycare experience, and far more parental in nature.


  1. Do most of the people you wrote about work, or not? That's what is puzzling to me. I wouldn't find it especially odd for a caretaker to take a sick kid to the doctor, but I do find it odd that the caregiver AND the mom go to the appointment. What do moms do during the day if they have a nanny but don't work?

    1. Usually Singaporean mothers work (I think Singapore has one of the highest rates of workforce participation of mothers with small children), often 6 days a week for 10 or 12 hour days. Many expat mothers do not: they spend their time seeing friends, shopping, doing volunteer work, exercising, decorating, etc. Also they often have several children and will spend time with one, while the maid takes care of the other(s).

      I think the reason for both maid and mom to go to the doctor is often because the parent doesn't know how to deal with their child very well. Multiple people have told me that they can't leave the house with their child(ren), without the maid, because it's too hard (most people take them on vacations with them, for instance). If you never get experience in dealing with your child one-on-one, then it's not surprising you aren't good at doing it. Plus children raised in this fashion tend to be harder to deal with, since they don't get as much practice in waiting, following rules and realizing that other people have preferences too.

      The other reason to take the maid to the doctor is that the child feels more comfortable with them there (since to the child, the maid is their primary caregiver/mother). It's not that uncommon for Singaporeans to only see their children on weekends, for instance.

    2. I wonder if another reason is that the mom wanted to be there, but could not or did not want to take more time off work or whatever her other obligations are than necessary in order to be there, so the maid is needed to get the child to and from the appointment.

    3. That's a good point too FM!

  2. Yikes. If people rely to that extent on child care, why have children in the first place? And what happens if the mother isn't happy with that maid and fires her? The kid loses his/her primary caregiver and is traumatized. Poor kids.

  3. that's crazy. i can't even imagine someone else raising my kid....then I realize that daycare has her most of her waking hours. Crap.