Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mummy or the maid

I read with some ambivalence a letter published in the Straits Times forum entitled “Young adult thinks parents should take responsibility for their children rather than rely on ‘the authorities’” by Eric Ho Wee Kim.[1] I wonder if I should agree or disagree with his observations.

Mr. Ho wrote:
“All too often, there are letters from parents with concerns or complaints about content in the media or issues their children have to deal with in and out of school. Almost always, a reply is expected from 'the authorities'. This raises a question in my mind: ‘Are parents fulfilling their roles as parents?’”
A more pertinent question for Singaporeans today would be “Functionally, who are really the parents?” The average child in Singapore goes to school, attends tuition, and even takes up extra classes like music or ballet. But the perspicacious observer would discern that the moral education and character building of the child are actually executed by the family’s domestic helper, the grandparents, Rover the collie, and the one-eyed monster – the goggle box.

An interesting phenomenon in Singapore would be the amount of time each child spends on watching television. The most frequent, non-confrontational communication between family members at home would be that of a child, and the resident goggle box. The Singaporean child would spend at least 12.3 hours per week watching television; that would average to 1.75 hours per day. [2] The programs watched by the toddler include a hodgepodge of cartoons, Barney, Sesame Street, and even an occasional ‘Baywatch’ or ‘Desperate Housewives’ - with his parents’ permission and supervision, of course.

The child is conveniently placed in front of the television as part of ‘good parenting,’ that is, parenting skills that will allow the parents to spend more time earning good money. But which child in Singapore utilizes an exclusive 1.75 hours talking to their mother daily? That would be 105 minutes face to face with the mummy who is usually very busy with her work.

It is no wonder that the average Singaporean child acquire at least three languages in his childhood: English, Mandarin, and an assortment of linguistic expletives. Most of his vocabulary and moral values are procured insidiously from certain cartoon series and adult sitcoms. Sexual content and violence in television programs have also increased exponentially over the past few decades. And the Singaporean parent can be assured that Judeo-Christian values are not part of national education in this country.

In the United States, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of programs aired on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB, PBS Lifetime, TNT, USA, and HBO gave the following conclusions: “The study found that 70 per cent of all shows included some sexual content, averaging about five scenes with sexual content per hour. That’s up from about three scenes per hour in 1998, and from nearly 4.” [3] Thus, according to this survey, television programs in the United States contain twice the number of sex scenes compared to seven years ago. This survey does not take into account the programs’ language content or moral philosophy.

Singapore would not fare any better if a similar survey were to be conducted on Mediacorp’s programs. A production that taps into the feral instinct of a desperately prurient audience, “Desperate Housewives” ranks as one of the most popular television series in Singapore. Other hits on the goggle box include “Crime Scene Investigation”, “Singapore Idol,” and some locally produced sitcoms with its fair share of lewdness, burlesque and Singlish.

Adultery and fornication are portrayed as part of a pleasurable, healthy lifestyle in television shows such as “Desperate Housewives.” Impressionable young minds, as a result, might imbibe certain values that no decent parent would ever sanction: sexual promiscuity, unfaithfulness, irresponsibility, lesbianism and homosexuality. The Christian family would do well to heed the Psalmist admonition, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me (Psalm 101:3).” Nevertheless, the television continues to provide the child not only with entertainment, but also serves as a constant source of social commentary and moral lessons from the viewpoint of Hollywood.

As divorce rates are soaring in Singapore, coupled with the rapidly declining childbirth rates, the government has to answer a question quickly: “What could be the reasons for the widespread dissolution of marriage covenants in Singapore’s society?”

If Adam insists on marrying Steve, or if Eve prefers to wed her girlfriend, it does not require a biologist to figure out that such family units would not contribute to a nation’s birth statistics. Contrariwise, such a trend in human sexuality would seriously jeopardise individual fecundity. With increasing decadence and infidelity within our society, together with the escalating number of same-sex relationships, the integrity of each Singaporean family is indubitably threatened. Unless the government is able to understand the gestalt of the situation, and provide the nation with the required solution, we can expect the social fabric to collapse over the next few decades.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, homosexual couples can be legally married. Innumerable same-sex couples are flocking to marriage registries all across the country to set up their own families. This includes singer Sir Elton John and his “long term partner,” David Furnish. In fact, it had been predicted that up to 22,000 couples would register over the next five years. So, if your own child tells you he is getting married soon, ask whether you are expecting a daughter-in-law or a son-in-law. By the way, same-sex marriage is still outlawed in Singapore.

A couple of days ago, I saw a child in a yellow T-shirt with a Barney soft toy in his arms asking his father, “Papa, why does that mummy look so young?” The father, unflustered by the child’s question, answered awkwardly, “She is not the mother. She is the maid.”

Another anomaly is taking place in this nation over the past years. Conflicts between mother and child in public places are apparently decreasing in frequency. This is not due to improved interpersonal relationships or greater understanding, but a consequence of the rampant replacement of Singaporean mothers with domestic helpers.

I am not reminiscing about some science fiction work whereby humans are progressively and clandestinely replaced with the bodies of invading aliens from another galaxy. I am speaking of another social phenomenon in Singapore: the pervasive usage of domestic helpers in families as ersatz mothers.

Gone are the days when the petulant child creates a sturm und drang in shopping malls. With the primary objective eliminated – that is, to vex the mother into purchasing his favorite toy – the child is left to his own devices with the maid of the house. The child’s mother is, on the other hand, battling with the rise and fall of stocks and shares in a commercial enterprise.

In times past, the Singaporean mother would usually stay at home, and perform her duties as the matron (Proverbs 31). However, the double income family is now the norm in this country. Both father and mother brings back the bread, or rather, the gold. It is more profitable to have a double income, and leave the children with their maid; but it is most profitable to leave the kids with their grandparents, because grandparents do not require a monthly salary to get them doing the errands. But sadly, not all grandparents are long-lived.

Holding on to jobs that bring great dividends, with car loans and home mortgages to boot, it is indeed tempting to worship the god of Singapore – filthy lucre. But the Christian family must never sacrifice the proper upbringing of the child for a bowl of plutocratic pottage. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).”

So when the character building of a child is dependant upon the domestic helper, the goggle box and household pets, we do not expect good moral values or civic mindedness in the young Singaporean, or do we?

Returning to the question Mr. Eric Ho had asked earlier, “Are parents fulfilling their roles as parents?” I believe the children themselves best answer this question. Look at any child, assess his character and mien, and you will see a nebulous reflection of his parents’ nurture, or the lack of it.

The authorities, the church and foreign labor can never substitute the godly upbringing and nurturing that a Christian father or mother can provide. But again, if the head of the family is not performing his role as spiritual leader, neither can the child perceive the father as the role model. Who knows, Rover the collie might someday usurp the position of patriarch cum matriarch in the heart of the Singaporean child.


1. Eric Ho Wee Kim, “Young adult thinks parents should take responsibility for their children rather than rely on ‘the authorities,’” Straits Times Forum. Internet; accessed 23 May 2006; available from,5562,394769,00.html. Also see Nicodemus Ching Cheok Hui, “Kidz Bop spreads wrong values,” Straits Times Forum. Internet; accessed 23 May 2006; available from,5562,394129,00.html.

2. Wai Peng Lee and Eddie C. Y. Kuo, “Internet and Displacement Effect: Children's Media Use and Activities in Singapore,” Journal of Computer Mediated Communication 7, no. 2 (2002), available from This paper also noted an increase of Internet usage associated with decreased television viewing. Teenagers in Singapore are often engaged in Internet gaming activities.

3. “Most Sexed-up Shows on Idiot Box,” AP, Hindustan Times, 10th November 2006.

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