With their global connectedness, sense of adventure and parenting quirks, millennials are redefining parenting in Singapore. EVELINE GAN reports on this phenomenon.
The Millennials, the Gen-Yers or Generation Me. Whatever you call them, one thing’s for sure: You can probably spot them a HDB block away, preening and primping for their next Instagram selfie. Born after 1980 in an era of affluence and the Internet boom, the millennials are tech-savvy, knowledgeable and a whiz at multitasking. They are also often negatively portrayed as a coddled, apathetic and narcissistic bunch addicted to social media.
At about one million-strong, Singapore millennials between the ages of 15 and 34 form over a quarter (or about 27 per cent) of the resident population, as of June last year, according to a Population Trends 2015 report released by the Singapore Department of Statistics. And now, the older half of this selfie-loving generation – ranging from 25 to 34 years – is grown-up enough to add another profile to their Facebook status: Parenthood.
In the US, there are currently 10.8 million households with children among the older millennials. Over here, this age group of mums accounts for around two thirds of live births in 2014, based on figures from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. As they take over the child-rearing reins from their baby-boomer parents, the millennials are redefining parenthood on their terms, Young Parents finds out.
Photography Frenchescar Lim
WHO NEEDS A CORPORATE JOB? Hong Qiuting, 28, full-time blogger, and her one-year-old daughter, Meredith @bongqiuqiu @meregoround
It took us at least five attempts to pin down Qiuting, who goes by the online moniker Bong Qiuqiu, for a phone interview. Since the birth of her baby, Meredith, the resident Budget Barbie on Clicknetwork.tv, has been busy juggling the demands of motherhood and endorsement commitments. Revealing that she has raked in a “five-figure” fee from various mum and baby brand endorsements including Philips Avent, Merries Diapers, Biolane and Expressions Wellness Redefine, the mother-daughter duo is living proof that a fat pay cheque doesn’t necessarily involve climbing the corporate ladder.
And that narcissism may, in fact, pay better in this social media era. Qiuting churns out content on her blog (http://bongqiuqiu.blogspot.sg) and social media accounts, as well as those on her Meredith’s Instagram, which garnered an impressive 60,000 following by her first birthday in March. Her husband, Joshua Tan, 43, is a commercial photographer. “I was quite surprised to see that Meredith has so many supporters on Instagram. When we went on a holiday in Penang recently, some people even took emergency leave from work just to meet up with her,” Qiuting says. “It’s really nice to see my baby interacting with people around the world.”
Photography Frenchescar Lim
THE GLASS IS FULL? NO, IT’S OVERFLOWING Aarika Lee, 32, is a multihyphenate while hubby Kevin Lester, 31, is a local rapper who goes by the moniker Thelioncityboy. Their kids, Zola Mae and Ari Jon, are aged two years and 10 months, respectively. @aarikalee @thelioncityboy
Singer, songwriter, businesswoman, marketing director, copywriter, mama to two kids under two and wife to local rapper Kevin. We feel all out of breath just trying to keep up with multitasking modern mum Aarika. (Oh, did we also mention that she co-produced a series of SG50 Youtube videos on local personalities with Kevin just two months after delivering Ari?) While juggling multiple work responsibilities with two young kids is a challenge, they are the reason why Aarika continues to pursue her aspirations.
“Kevin and I believe in living a full life so that we have more life lessons and experiences to share with the children as they grow up,” says Aarika, who is also a household name in the local indie music scene. She performs at the The Mad Men Attic Bar on Tuesday nights. “An analogy I often like to give is that of a glass under running water. The only way for the glass to overflow is if the tap is kept running. Life’s like that glass for us; if we want to give more to our children, we have to fill ourselves up constantly.”
Neither has motherhood stopped her from looking impossibly chic, as seen on her #ootd posts on her social media feed. “Trust me when I say it doesn’t always feel that way,” she says. “I think style comes with an attitude and it’s easier to look right when you feel right.” So what’s her secret to being a successful multitasking parent? Write everything down, she advises. “On days that we have to do everything on our own, we plan every portion of the day to a T and pray that it goes as planned. If it doesn’t, we just try again.”
1 THEY LIVE A PUBLIC LIFE
Forget privacy. Armed with their trusty smartphone cameras and selfie sticks, millennials continue to be active online after parenthood. In fact, they now have a legitimate excuse – their too-cute-for-words offspring – to post even more photos. Only 19 per cent of millennials have never shared a picture of their kid online, compared to half of the baby-boomer generation, according to a Time magazine poll on over 2,000 American parents across generations.
In fact, today’s children will have an average of 973 photos posted online by their fifth birthday, according to a 2015 survey by Nominet, an international Internet company based in the UK. That translates to an average of about 200 photos per year, a number which Meredith Tan, who recently turned one, busted even before her first birthday.
By 11 months old, the Instagram star had more than 300 photos posted on her account set up and managed by her 28-year-old blogger mum, Hong Qiuting, better known by her online moniker, Bong Qiuqiu. And we haven’t even counted those on Qiuting’s personal social media feed.
While Grandma may balk at the overexposure, millennials say online platforms allow them to document their little ones’ childhood more conveniently. “It makes it so much easier for us to share the babies’ pictures and experiences with our family and friends who constantly want updates,” says Amber Yong, 32, a marketing manager who documents her 10-month-old twin girls’ growing journey on Instagram.
Sharing online also allows likeminded parents to connect with one another, adds Aarika Lee, 32. “When you become a parent, you automatically join a club; a community of people who know exactly how insane and rewarding it is at the same time to try and live life with kids,” says the mum of two kids aged two years and seven months. “I feel somewhat reassured and empowered every time I read about another parent going through a similar situation.” Qiuting says sharing her baby’s photos online is an extension of her blogging lifestyle.
She has a 300,000-strong following on Instagram. “Meredith is the biggest thing happening in my life now, so it is natural for me to share my joy online. But gosh, I’m really surprised that the number of ‘likes’ she gets per picture way surpasses mine – sometimes by almost twice!” Still, there are limits as to how much she shares now that she has become a mum. For instance, photos of Meredith topless or showing her bum are a no-no. “I also don’t use swear words online anymore,” she points out. “I feel a need to be responsible about what I post.”
2 GOOGLE IS THEIR BEST FRIEND
With access to information a click away, millennial parents are less likely to get face-to-face child-rearing advice from older family members and professionals. A 2014 Google survey has found that Singaporeans from all age groups use the Internet daily, with 96 per cent of the older millennials being the most active users. Fiona Walker, chief executive officer and principal of schools at Julia Gabriel Education, who has over 20 years of experience in the education eld, has noticed a shift in teacher-parent engagement in the last five to six years.
“The new generation of parents is so well-connected to information that they don’t feel the need to ask for expert advice. That has really changed the way our teachers communicate with them,” she says. For instance, traditional parentteacher meetings have evolved to less formal updates via e-mail or Whatsapp chat groups. Now, almost all of the 78 classes across the five Chiltern House Preschool centres each has a Whatsapp discussion group where parents can trade information and photos, adds Fiona.
But experts observe that the wealth of online information has led to another trend: Parents who worry needlessly or worse, downplay symptoms, which can be dangerous. “Parents are Googling too much and self-diagnosing themselves and their kids instead of going to the doctor when they need to,” says Wong Boh Boi, assistant director of clinical services and senior parentcraft and lactation consultant at Thomson Medical Centre (TMC), who has seen her fair share of nursing mums with “breast damage” and other issues that could have been prevented after getting wrong online advice.
The lack of moderation online can make it hard for parents who are not medically trained to differentiate between fact and myth, Dr Natalie Epton, a specialist paediatrician and neonatologist at International Paediatric Clinic, points out. “As a result, some parents may put their children on diets that are not recommended, or avoid certain medications or vaccinations in the belief that they are harmful,” she adds.
“I once heard of a parent who posted a photograph of her child’s skin rash online to ask what other parents what they should do. One of my patient’s parent sensibly recommended to see a doctor!” The experts’ advice: Use only reputable, trustworthy online sites and check with a doctor, particularly for health issues.
3 #BUYBUYBUY ONLINE
“If the previous generation of parents is considered kiasu (afraid to lose),” quips Dr Foo Koong Hean, senior lecturer in psychology from James Cook University, Singapore, “then today’s parent will do even more to ensure their kids get the best because they have extra income and fewer kids to splurge on.”
His current research focuses on Singaporean parenting styles. According to a recent report by multinational professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), Singapore’s millennial women are the most financially independent – 69 per cent earning equal or higher salaries than their partner or spouses – a figure 3 per cent higher than the global average. Nine in 10 female millennials here were also reported to be part of a dual-income couple.
PWC surveyed over 8,000 female millennials born between 1980 and 1995 across 75 countries. With their growing spending power, the millennial parent is every marketeer’s dream. In the last five to six years, retailers of mum and baby products say they have seen a shift in buying patterns. “Millennials are now shopping online more frequently.
Retailers must learn to leverage on these channels to stay relevant to their customers,” says Pang Shuxin, executive director of Mothercare Singapore. The trend spurred the maternity and baby retail chain to set up shop online last December, as well as widen its social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. Shuxin says a mobile online store version is in the pipelines.
Web stores are also experiencing a boom in business, thanks to this generation’s addiction to all things digital. Owners of two Singapore-based Web stores, Pupsik Studio and Oh Happy Fry, say they started out getting just a several orders a day, but now handle hundreds of packages.
“Since we started the online store, our range of products has expanded dramatically – from about 100 products to over 5,000 now. We are also releasing a mobile-friendly version of the store soon,” shares founder of Pupsik Studio, Su Ling Zagorodnova. Clued in on global trends, these savvy shoppers look for variety and have no qualms paying top dollar for premium products, says Rae Yun, who runs Oh Happy Fry. Jocelyn Chua, marketing director of Agapebabies.com, notes a surge in demand for premium organic food and skincare products; the Web store has doubled its organic brand offerings since 2009. Also on the uptrend is demand for designer baby gear like strollers and highchairs, which can cost more than $1,000.
For the millennial, shopping isn’t just about making the purchase. “They are looking for a whole lifestyle experience, which means we retailers have to work hard to add value,” says Jocelyn. Pupsik Studio’s Su Ling adds: “These customers know what the latest products and their prices are, and will e-mail us whenever they can find a lower price elsewhere. In short, they are now our best market researchers and feedback channel.”
4 DADS ARE COOL WITH DIAPER DUTY
As mothers have evolved, so have the dads. TMC’s Boh Boi says the increasing presence of men at antenatal classes and childbirth is a telltale sign that they are now “equal partners in pregnancy and parenting”. “Today’s dads are entirely different; they no longer run off when their wives are in labour but, instead, support and cheer them along,” says Boh Boi. Fiona thinks the changing work landscape has bred a new generation of mobile dads, who have more time to be more involved in their kids’ lives.
Photography Frenchescar Lim
FIGHTING FOR GENDER EQUALITY Mrinalini Venkatachalam, 30, is the head of Public Awareness and Youth Initiatives at the Singapore Committee for UN Women. Her daughter, Ahalya, is 11 months old.
Whoever said millennials are an apathetic bunch clearly hasn’t met this social activist. The outspoken Mrinalini heads the Public Awareness and Youth Initiatives team at the Singapore Committee for UN Women, crusading for women’s rights by coordinating and executing awareness events and activities. Her work also highlights the challenges that today’s youth face, including cyber-harassment, bullying and dating violence.
As an only child, Mrinalini was brought up to embrace gender equality – something which she wishes to instil in her own kids. “I grew up in a household where I saw equality between my parents. It irks me that not all women and girls are empowered in the same way,” she says. As the world becomes increasingly digitally connected, she also hopes to empower her little one on safe cyber practices as she grows. “My goal at work has always been to make the world a safer and more just place for the next generation of girls,” she shares. “Having a daughter of my own strengthens my resolve to achieve this in the shortest time frame possible.”
Photography Frenchescar Lim
RUN 10KM WITH A PREGNANT BELLY? WHY NOT? Eng Ying Tian, 29, leasing executive, and her six-month-old son, Stryder @eyeletskirt
Who says you should lie down and rest when you’re expecting? This fitness buff completed a 10km run when she was about six months pregnant – and another just six weeks after delivering Stryder, both with her doctor’s approval. “Regular exercise really helped me cope better with the challenges of pregnancy, like nausea and lethargy,” Ying Tian says.
Mental strength, stamina, perseverance and patience – the same traits she uses to complete her gruelling marathons saw her through a drug-free birth in November last year. Those are also the qualities that will help her last the greatest race of her life: Parenthood. “The perseverance and determination I honed from my regular training helped me go through a natural delivery without an epidural. Everything boiled down to mind power,” says the first-time mum.
Ying Tian got hooked on running after completing her first 10km run in 2009. She began training for her first marathon after she started dating her husband, TC Sue, a 29-year-old veteran marathon runner, around the same time. Although Baby is now their top priority, the couple say they continue to squeeze in time to get their exercise fix. They also hope their love of sports will rub off on their little one. “It’s not about getting our kid to like the same activities as us, but rather, adopt the same never-say-die mindset that sports has instilled in us,” says Ying Tian.
Changing expectations is another reason why men have stepped up daddy duties. “Fatherhood is no longer just about putting food on the table. The millennial mums now expect dads to change diapers, carry Baby and still give them some breathing space and me-time,” quips Boh Boi. First-time mum Eng Ying Tian shares that was exactly what her husband, a 29-year-old media-shy civil servant, did when their first child arrived last November. “He is the one who will watch Youtube videos to learn baby-care tips. He could also handle the baby even better than I did on my first try,” says the 29-year-old leasing executive. “The only thing he can’t do is breastfeed!”
5 THEY ARE MASTERS OF MULTITASKING
Juggling several tasks is a way of life for the Singapore millennial, who is at the top of the multitasking league compared to their counterparts across South-east Asia, China, Korea, India, Russia, South Africa and United Arab Emirates, according to a 2012 Visa study on over 5,500 millennials.
With their hectic on-the-go lifestyles, today’s parents value products and services that help simplify life, such as multipurpose portable baby gear, say retailers. These busy mums and dads also want everything fast, Boh Boi notes. That’s why TMC’s Parentcraft Centre recently launched a one-day prenatal crash course and intends to condense its regular class from a six-week to fourweek schedule. But millennials’ motivation for multitasking goes beyond juggling day-to-day responsibilities.
The Visa study found that multitasking helps to “generate” five extra hours on weekdays and seven on weekends, allowing them to continue with their personal aspirations and hobbies even after becoming mums and dads. Ying Tian, a running enthusiast who completed a 10km run just six weeks after delivering her first child last November, says: “My husband and I take turns to get our exercise fix by multitasking and forming a tag-team (to juggle baby duties). Although Baby is our top priority now, we don’t want to completely give up what we’re passionate about.”
’’Fatherhood is no longer just about putting food on the table. (Dads are expected) to change diapers, carry Baby, and give mums some me-time.’’
6 THE PAPER CHASE ISN’T EVERYTHING
Despite their global connectivity, Singapore millennials continue to uphold family-oriented values. Four in five Singapore millennials surveyed in Visa’s 2012 Connecting the Millennials study cited family as an important consideration when they made decisions. Many stereotypical traits associated with this generation don’t always make them less wholesome mums and dads, Fiona of Julia Gabriel Education says.
Photography Frenchescar Lim
PUSH FOR CHANGE Jen Pan, 31, and Ray Co, 33, are photographers. Their kids, Julian and Shernice, are aged four and one. @jenpanphotography
What do millennials do when they want to push for a social change? If you’re photographers like Jen and Ray, you embark on a controversial project to create awareness. Earlier this year, the husband-andwife team made headlines for their bold three-part photo series dubbed The Magical World of Breastfeeding (http://jenpan.photography/blog) which featured mums nursing their babies in public without a cover.
The project, which took half a year to realise, aims to normalise breastfeeding and highlight issues nursing mums face, including the lack of workplace support and discrimination, says Jen, who is still nursing Shernice. “It was a personal project to explore topics close to my heart, and I never expected it to go viral,” she shares.
“I myself nurse on demand, sometimes with a cover and sometimes without. There was once or twice where people might stare, but I usually just ignore them.” Like Jen, Ray holds the same views on breastfeeding in public. “When babies are hungry, they need to be fed, regardless of how it is done.
We should just leave the mothers to it and give them the space they need,” he says. The creative duo, who are also avid backpackers, want to raise their kids the way they approach their artistic endeavours, which means doing away with self-imposed boundaries. “Kids learn more when they are given space to explore,” Jen adds. “We’ve encountered too many parents who dwell on the details of their child’s life and get stressed easily. We prefer not to have everything perfectly planned.”
Photography Frenchescar Lim
STANDING UP FOR HER BELIEFS Audra Khoo, 34, is a stayat- home mum. Her kids, Caelan, Danielle and Elden, are aged five, two and one, respectively.
Once a diehard workaholic, Audra was a former executive assistant and preschool educator who “would rather see cash growing in the bank than waste time taking breaks”. Today, motherhood has lent new meaning to Audra’s life, although it offers zero remuneration. She shocked relatives and friends by quitting her job when her eldest child was 18 months, and is now excelling at being a stay-athome mum to her three kids.
Another shocker for them: Photographs of her breastfeeding Elden – without a nursing cover at Raffles Place – that were splashed on the front page of major newspapers and went viral, as well. Audra is one of the three mums featured in the The Magical World of Breastfeeding photo series. She volunteered for the photo shoot by Jen Pan and Ray Co (see page 50) to make a stand against workplace discrimination against nursing.
“People were probably wondering why that siao char bor (crazy woman) was nursing her kid right smack in the CBD,” she says with a laugh. “But I feel an awareness project like this is necessary to help people understand that there is nothing wrong with mums breastfeeding in public.”
Photography Frenchescar Lim
WHO’S AFRAID TO BE A WORK-FROMHOME MUM? Rae Yun, 32, is the founder of Web store Oh Happy Fry. Her son, Jun Jie, is two years old. @theramengirl
Giving up a stable career to carve out an online business from scratch while juggling Mummy duties sounds like a huge risk to take. But when you’re a gung-ho millennial like Rae, that isn’t a far-fetched idea. When her son turned seven months old, Rae decided to quit her full-time job as an assistant marketing manager to run Oh Happy Fry (www.ohhappyfry.com) from home.
The lifestyle Web store, which stocks children’s clothing, accessories, toys and home decor from around the world, is also an outlet for Rae to push her creative boundaries. “It takes strength and courage to walk away from a good career with attractive benefits, especially in the initial months when you’re starting out to build a brand. But an online business allowed me the flexibility to work from home and care for my child,” says Rae, who used to do marketing for brands such as Tangs, Goods of Desire and Dr Martens.
The huge risk she took paid off. From just one to two online orders a day, she now sends out hundreds of packages each month. But working from home is not all roses. She struggles to find a balance between her work and Mummy hours. “Work-from-home mums appear to have the life many mums dream of.
The truth is, it is not easy to separate home and work when your office is also your living room or kitchen,” shares Rae, who is expecting her second child in August. “There are days when I wish I could just put on some decent clothes and work in a nine-to-five job. But my husband and I know deep down that being at home for our child is currently the best decision for us as a family.”
Photography Frenchescar Lim
HAVE BABIES, WILL TRAVEL Amber Yong, 32, is a marketing manager. Her twins, Leia and Lauren, are 10 months old. @leialauren
Everyone thought Amber was mad to take her babies to Iceland for a holiday last year. Born prematurely, they were just five months old. But in true millennial style, the first time mum did her own research, then bundled the girls up and survived a 22-hour journey to the land of fire and ice with her husband Peter, 40. “Everyone thought it was a bad idea.
Their worries were well-intentioned, but we’ve seen many infants long-haul travelling with parents, so surely it would have been manageable,” Amber reasons. “We also consulted multiple paediatricians and made sure their major vaccinations were all done before travel.”
A seasoned globetrotter, Amber explored over 20 countries before the babies came along. Encouraged by the success of their first family trip, she has planned more holidays this year – to Iceland again, Japan, and possibly Hawaii. “The babies’ well-being will always be our priority, but we don’t see them as a barrier to our travels,“ she says.
“While they will probably not remember a thing at this age, we will have so many stories and pictures to share with them when they get older. That, to us, makes everything all worthwhile.” Her unconventional views also extend to her everyday parenting approach. She and Peter, who works in the finance sector, have relatively flexible work hours and they take turns to take care of their twins – without a helper. In between work and baby-care duties, she also runs a hugely successful Instagram account with over 217,000 followers, who can’t get enough of the matching outfits she dresses the twins in.
“All parents want the best for their child, but the approach often varies. I see many parents stressing over the smallest of things. My parenting philosophy is simple – just chill!”
Their exposure to diverse world views has reshaped their idea of success. For millennials with kids, the best does not necessarily involve the paper chase.
They still continue to hold on to fundamental values passed on by their parents. However, their exposure to diverse world views has reshaped their idea of success. For millennials with kids, “the best” does not necessarily involve the paper chase. “During my parents’ generation, children were judged purely by their academic prowess,” says Mrinalini Venkatachalam, a 30-year-old head of Public Awareness and Youth Initiatives at the Singapore Committee for UN Women. Her daughter is 11 months old.
“I hope to encourage my daughter to live a balanced lifestyle and explore opportunities that will prepare her to be versatile, adaptable and think on her feet.” Stay-home-mum Audra Khoo, 34, points out: “It just doesn’t make sense for me to drill ABCs and 123s into my kids before they first get the fundamentals, like their character, right.” Her three kids are aged between one and five years.
Amber, mum of the twin Instagram darlings, wants to raise socially compassionate children who are in tune with the world around them.“I hope that my daughters will learn to appreciate and care for others – animals included – as they grow up. My parenting philosophy is to be a chill mum and allow my daughters to have more exposure. Life isn’t just about academics!” she declares. Clearly, even as parents, the millennials won’t be boxed in by conventionality. We can’t wait to see how their kids turn out.