More fathers in Singapore are choosing to be stay-at-home dads.
After teaching communications at a polytechnic for 12 years, 49-year-old Kelvin Seah decided to quit last year and work from home so he could look after his two sons.
Not enough to work from home
His wife, a 47-year-old social worker, felt it was important for one parent to be at home all the time to supervise Jaedon, 10, and Caleb, an eight-year-old who has moderate autism and global developmental delay – which means he lags behind his peers in two or more areas of development.
Initially, Kelvin took on a digital marketing job which allowed him to work from home. But although he was around physically, he was often too caught up in his work to give his sons the mental and emotional attention they needed.
“I want to try to be available to them,” he said. “I’m not an ambitious nor career driven person – the career is a means to an end and that is to raise my family.”
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Kelvin is one of a growing number of men choosing to become a stay-at-home dad. He quit the job in May 2019 and does not plan to look for another soon.
Instead he spends his days taking Caleb to and from school and helps him with exercises to build his muscle strength, among other things. A maid does the household chores.
“On my death bed, I probably wouldn’t regret the loss of a career but I would regret not being there for my kids,”Kelvin added.
More dads choosing to stay at home
According to the Manpower Ministry’s (MOM) Labour Force in Singapore report – the latest comparative data available – there were about 1,500 stay-at-home fathers in 2017, up from around 700 a decade earlier.
Just 0.2 per cent of all men who were not working and not looking for work gave childcare as the main reason for them being in that situation in 2007 but that rose to 0.4 per cent in 2017.
Bryan Tan, chief executive of the Centre for Fathering, said: “With the societal trend of greater gender equality at the workplace, and more women rising into leadership positions, it has become more acceptable for women to be the breadwinner of the family.
“This is especially so for families where the men are also confident and comfortable in their unique identities as men, husbands and fathers, and open to taking on the different roles required of shared parenting responsibilities in the 21st Century.”
Other reasons for the trend
Greater awareness of the importance of fathers and practicality are other reasons for the rise in stay-at-home dads.
For example, some wives earn more than their husbands so it makes financial sense for the man to stay at home, while fathers may also be better suited to care for a child with special needs.
Lack of social support
Despite changing gender roles and social norms, it is still rare for a man to be a full-time stay-at-home dad. Adrian Lim, a 52-year-old family counselling psychologist, believes this is because it is harder for a man to give up their career, as their identity and self-worth are often tied to their career and status.
“If you are a stay-at-home dad, how will other men see you?” he said. “They don’t have social support, unlike women. And men and women are wired differently, with men being the hunters and gatherers, while women are the nurturers.”
Adrian gave up his career as a school counsellor more than 10 years ago to care for his eldest son, who is autistic and suffers from other health conditions like severe eczema.
He now does freelance training, consultancy and counselling while his wife is a medical social worker.
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Expect even more stay-at-home dads in future
Sociologist Tan Ern Ser expects that, gradually, the number of stay-at-home dads will increase further.
“Despite greater gender equality and acceptance of stay-at-home dads, I believe patriarchal norms do not change rapidly,” he said, explaining that this is because women are more likely to marry someone of a higher social class and men are more likely to be the main breadwinner, despite the growing acceptance of stay-at- home dads.
For Kelvin, his decision to quit work has helped him to establish closer bonds with his sons. Yet, it can be a lonely journey as he feels he is “flying solo”. His family is “financially stable” for now, but he plans to go back to part-time teaching eventually.
“My peers have moved so far up the corporate ladder and the male part of me feels some envy,” he added. “Traditionally, men still attach their identity to their career and status. But everything comes at an opportunity cost – you can’t turn back the loss of time with your kids.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times; additional reporting by Natalya Molok/The Singapore Women’s Weekly