Wednesday 9 March 2011
S'pore MD gives up 5-figure salary to be Mister Mum
This couple believe that a maid can never be a substitute for parents.
Especially when their offspring are twins conceived by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.
It was a painful process and a difficult pregnancy for Madam Rachel Foo who was 33 when she gave birth to a pair of non-identical twins on June 29, 2005.
The couple, who married in 2001, named their boy, Aston, and their girl, Chelsea.
But when it came to the crunch on whether it would be Madam Foo, 39, or her husband, Mr Peter Chua, 56, who should stay home to look after their precious twins, the decision wasn't easy.
He was older. And he had a successful career.
Mr Chua was the managing director (Asia Pacific) of a US company in the cruise and resort industry, earning more than $10,000 a month.
On the other hand, the wife, who was then working as an executive assistant to the manager in a finance company, was earning about $4,000 a month.
But Madam Foo felt that she was not as patient as her husband and she did not like to stay at home.
The couple then decided that Mr Chua would stay home in their four-room HDB flat in Punggol, to look after the children while the wife would be responsible for bringing home the bacon.
Mr Chua said: "Rachel has a career to build. I think I have done enough in my career. To stop working and stay home to look after the children is just sacrificing my income.
"Our children are our primary concern..."
"To me, I want to spend more time with my children."
Madam Foo agreed, saying: "I told my husband that maids can never substitute us as parents.
"Peter is very open-minded and he didn't mind. He really looks after the kids very well. And I respect him for his sacrifices."
The first few years were tough as the couple struggled a little to make ends meet. They had to plan for everything that they were going to spend on. It also meant shorter holidays to places like Hong Kong and Macau and eating out less.
Madam Foo said: "It helped that we were staying with my mother while waiting for our new flat in Punggol."
But six years on and the couple are still very happy with the arrangement. Their twins are now six years old and attending pre-school.
Madam Foo has since joined a fund investment firm as a business manager and earns more than $5,000 a month.
She pays for her children's school fees and household expenses such as utility bills and groceries. When Aston and Chelsea were born, they spent three and five weeks respectively in the intensive care unit in the hospital.
"They were so tiny and it was not easy to care for them," Mr Chua recalled.
The couple had to hire a maid to do the household chores so that Mr Chua could fully concentrate on looking after the twins.
With the role reversal, Mr Chua was the one who woke up in the middle of the night to feed the twins and changed their diapers.
Now that the twins are in pre-school, Mr Chua begins his day by waking up at 6.30am to get them ready. He drops them off before taking his wife to the MRT station where she takes the train to work.
Before picking up his kids at 11am, Mr Chua goes grocery shopping or dabbles in stock trading activities.
After fetching the twins home, he ensures that Aston and Chelsea have a good bath and lunch before supervising them in their homework.
"After they have finished their homework, I play with them or read to them," Mr Chua said.
In the past six years as a house husband, Mr Chua has learned to be careful with his grocery spending as he would have to fork out the extra money whenever he exceeded the budget, he added jokingly.
"I did not have any training before, but I learned to bathe them, feed them and take care of them when they are sick.
"I call it a parent's instinct. Be it the dad or the mum, it is the parents' instinct to look after their children. I had learned to identify their cries, whether it was a cry that they had wet their diapers or a cry for milk," Mr Chua said.
As the twins grew older, Mr Chua attended toddler classes with them. It was inevitable that he received curious stares from other toddlers' mothers. But Mr Chua took the stares in his stride. He said: "I was the only man in my kids' class. And unlike them, I didn't just look after one kid, but two. I took the initiative to interact with them and even gave them some parenting tips that I had learnt."
Mr Chua said his family and friends supported his decision to care for the children, much to his surprise.
He said: "They told me that I have made the right decision and they actually envy me for being able to do it.
"There are always sacrifices in life. Sometimes money can create a lot of family problems, but I am glad that it has never been our problem.
"When Rachel and I decided on this arrangement, we knew what we were getting into. We had our little struggles and we don't envy others who are able to take their children on holiday during every school holiday. We need to strike a good balance."
On her part, his wife has never doubted his ability to take care of the children.
She said: "In my previous job, I would get very stressed out with the office politics and I would ask Peter if we could switch back our roles. But I also knew that I wouldn't last more than two months at home."
Madam Foo admits that her husband has done a better job than she ever could.
When Madam Foo returns home in the evenings, Mr Chua would patiently wait for her to settle down and have her dinner before lending her a listening ear.
He said: "I would listen to her talk about her work in the office and sometimes give her my advice. That's what a husband is for."
It is something his wife greatly appreciates.
Madam Foo said: "Sometimes I can get very carried away with my work and Peter is always there to remind me that our family is equally important."
With this reversal of roles, Mr Chua admitted he can now appreciate the role of a housewife better.
He said: "In our relationship, there is no one party who is superior to the other.
"Few men would like to do what I do. For it to work, you must believe in what you are doing and there needs to be trust between the spouses.
"If right now, I tell my wife that I would like to rejoin the workforce, she will support me in my decision.
"But now that I have grown so close to my children, it would be a huge sacrifice for me to go back to work and not be able to care for them.
"Unless the work is very challenging, I value my time with my children more than earning an income."
Wives: No respect lost for house hubbies
IF ONE party has to give up the job to look after the children, who should it be? Should it be dad or mum?
The New Paper on Sunday spoke to five couples who said that they have no issue with the man staying home to look after the children.
Most of them were more concerned with the loss of income of the party who needs to stay home, given the high cost of living in Singapore.
Typically, they felt that the person with the lower income should be the one to stay home.
Madam Jennifer Tan, 35, a sales executive, who gave birth to a son last week, said: "If the woman is earning $10,000 a month and the man is earning only $5,000 a month, then it makes more sense for the woman to keep her job to support the family."
Madam Tan's husband, Dr Andy Lee, 37, an entrepreneur, was asked if his wife would lose respect for him for if he stayed home to look after their baby.
Dr Lee replied: "I don't think so. If she wants me to be a stay-home dad, she can't say that I am worth nothing. I would have contributed by looking after our son."
Madam Tan said: "Why would I lose my respect for him? I feel it's a big sacrifice for the man to be able to do this. It just shows that he loves the family a lot."
Psychologist and family counsellor Richard Lim said there is a big jump in the number of wives who now earn the same, if not higher, salaries than their husbands. Often, this leads to unhappy situations at home.
Dr Lim said: "Regardless of what the initial arrangement was, it's hard for the man not to feel insecure. When the power shifts, it'll take for both the man and woman to adjust.
"Pride, which is an emotion, is not something that can be controlled."
Lawyer Steven Lam of JTJB has handled a few cases of wives divorcing their house husbands.
He said: "We're still an Asian society and the man is still regarded as the breadwinner. I have came across some cases where the woman had loved the man because of his status. And problems popped up when he became a house husband and she did not see him as capable as he used to be."