HE WAS busy holding down two jobs to earn $1,500 to support his family of seven.
The result: His daughter Mary (not her real name) had sex with five boyfriends and became pregnant at 15.
Dad had assumed that her school, or her housewife mother, would teach his daughter about sex. Also, he told The New Paper, his children did not approach him.
Now, 16, Mary is one of a growing number of teens having underage sex. She became pregnant after sleeping with a 39-year-old divorcé who is now in remand on drug charges.
“Maybe,” he conceded, “she had all these boyfriends because I did not spend time with her.”
The rationale is all too common among Singapore parents.
Indeed, counsellors say they notice a growing number of parents who are too busy and ill-equipped to handle sensitive issues such as sex.
Moral Family Service Centre executive director Gerard Tan, 37, said many parents work long hours and so are too tired to be attentive to their children’s needs when they are home.
They may also be too busy dealing with their own issues to notice their children’s problems.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, the Singapore Children’s Society director of youth services, agrees.
But, she said: “You can’t just say you don’t have time. We have got to make time (for our kids). When you decide you are going to have children, you have got to make time for them.
“By the time the child is labelled BPC (beyond parental control), and the parents regret it, it’s too late.”
Mary’s father had assumed she would learn about sexual responsibility from school.
He said: “I did not tell her about sex. My kids, they never talk to me about these things. I think at school they teach them that.
“When they study science, they should know already.”
“For me, it’s not possible to talk about sex because they are still young. Anyway, whatever they know, they will learn in school.”
But that is not good enough, say counsellors.
Mr Tan said some parents he had seen at his centre did not seem interested in the welfare of their children.
Being ready and able to reproduce does not necessarily mean you are ready and able to be a good parent, he said.
He said: “You need to look at the broader family context and not just at the child’s problem when trying to address an issue.”
NO ROLE MODEL
Mr Tan has also met parents who have difficulties raising children because they themselves may have had bad parents.
So if they were raised by violent parents, that may be the only model they know, he said. “Take a colour-blind person. It would be difficult to explain to him what the colour red is if he has never seen it. So, he can’t be a good parent if he doesn’t know what good parenting looks like.”
He once had a case of a boy who was absent from school for weeks. His father claimed they needed money and had to sleep on the beach for two weeks.
But Mr Tan and his staff managed to track them to Johor Baru where they were staying in a house. They claimed it belonged to a friend and only returned to Singapore when the school said they had raised money to pay for the boy’s transport to and from Singapore.
Mr Tan also later found out the family took trips to Johor during holidays and travelled to other parts of Malaysia.
Another parent quit his job and refused to work to support his six children. He preferred to rely on charity.
Said Mr Tan: “When children see bad examples of parenting like these, they might model themselves after their parents because these are the only examples of parenting they have seen.” Good parents, said Mr Tan, are those who try to ensure their kids have a good start in life and they try to provide the basics like a good education, sufficient food, and take care of their children’s health.
Mr Tan added: “What makes a good parent is someone who provides a warm nurturing environment for their children, and this would be the parent’s biggest gift to a child.”
This article was first published in The New Paper.