Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the the Focus on the Family Singapore 20th Anniversary Celebration on 19 May 2022.
Mr Tony Soh, Chairman, Focus on the Family Singapore
Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe, CEO, Focus on the Family Singapore
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very good evening to all of you.
My wife and I are very happy to join Focus on the Family Singapore and all of you on this very special 20th anniversary celebration. The last time I joined you was during another of your milestones eight years ago, when the baton was passed from your founding Chairman to your immediate-past-Chairman and now-Advisor, Jason Wong.
Family during COVID-19
Strong families are the bedrock of our society and remain a core part of our values. Surveys have shown that Singaporeans continue to view family as an important priority, and that our families continue to be close-knit. This is valuable. Families are a critical part of our lives, where we share our joys and sorrows, where we support one another to overcome difficulties and challenges, and where we share our joy and fulfilment.
In the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of family. Prior to COVID-19, many of us spent a large part of each day outside our homes, working or having other engagements. For some, the home was simply a place to recharge for the next day. As we get caught up in the hustle and bustle, it is easy to miss out on the little things that matter. It could be a quiet evening conversation with our spouse, doing an activity together with our children, or simply spending time with our family and asking them about their day. COVID-19 has hit the pause button. It allowed us to spend more time with our loved ones, especially during the circuit breaker. The extra time has brought many families closer, although sometimes it has also caused some frictions. COVID-19 also made us realise that there are some things that we could have taken for granted. Many of us missed spending time with our extended family. With the easing of safe management measures, I am glad to see families meeting up again and enjoying each other’s company.
The COVID pandemic has indeed taken its toll on the lives and livelihood of many people. But if there is a silver lining, it is that the pandemic has made us appreciate our family more, and brought many families closer. It has also made us appreciate coming together as one big family like this. For me, it had been a long time since I had so many meals together with my wife and children.
The Evolving Context
Beyond COVID-19, there are important changes in the structure of our families that we must recognise and prepare for. Marriage rates have declined over the past two decades and couples are having fewer children. Among those who tied the knot more recently, an increasing proportion are going their separate ways earlier. Our society has also become more open and diverse. In recent years, around 1 in 3 citizen marriages here involve a spouse from another country, and around 1 in 5 marriages are inter-ethnic. We must recognise that the needs of some families are evolving, as we continue to support strong families.
Family practices are also evolving. Parenting for instance has changed significantly over the years. When my generation was growing up, Singapore was fighting for our survival. Our parents were mostly concerned with having enough food on the table to feed the family. New textbooks were a luxury. Many were hand me downs, or shared. And I think some of you will relate with this experience. By the time I became a father myself, most parents were in a better position economically. There was a growing focus on providing for the material and educational needs of our children. Today, parents are looking beyond just preparing their children academically. They want their children to develop holistically, both socially and emotionally. They also want to encourage them to be confident self-directed learners, and spend quality time with them. Just as important, couples today see parenting not just as a responsibility, but as an experience that they want to take part in and enjoy. So even though couples have fewer children now, parenting is arguably more involved than ever.
With all the different demands and expectations, parenting may seem stressful. Indeed, Hwee Nee and I found it challenging to balance work and family life when our children were growing up. But at the end of the day, being parents have given us immense joy and fulfilment. So let me take this opportunity to encourage young parents to have more children, and our youths to get married earlier.
Collectively Building A Great Place for Families
Looking ahead, there is more that we can do as a society, to make Singapore a great place for families.
To build momentum for these efforts, our Ministry for Social and Family Development has designated 2022 as the Year of Celebrating Singapore Families. In doing so, Minister Masagos explained that we want to journey alongside families – for all of us to collectively prioritise our family, and strengthen family ties. This is a whole-of-society movement. Indeed a whole of Singapore extended family movement. I encourage everyone to do our part.
There will be events throughout the year to celebrate the Family, with collaborations involving government agencies, companies, community partners and individuals. One such initiative is the FamilyTrees initiative, a collaboration between NParks and Families for Life to celebrate strong, inter-generational family bonds. There’s a Chinese saying – 十年树木，百年树人。It takes ten years to grow a tree, but a hundred years to nurture a person. The same goes for families, as we strengthen the bonds across generations.
As a society, we must do our utmost to build strong families. An Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships was formed last year to co-create and implement solutions with key stakeholders and community groups. This includes providing more resources to young couples on marriage and parenting. I look forward to the work of the Alliance in the coming months! The Alliance will be engaging the community and partners to understand the aspirations of our families. I hope you will participate in these engagements, which will culminate in a Celebrating SG Families Plan to be unveiled at the end of this year.
20 Years of Helping Families Thrive
As we celebrate the Year of the Family this year, we are building upon the efforts of many community groups which have been championing the strengthening of families. One of these is Focus on the Family Singapore. Let me express my deep appreciation for your dedication to this cause over the past two decades, and my heartiest congratulations on your 20th anniversary! Over the years, you have organised many useful family life education programmes as well as campaigns for our families. For example, your signature programmes such as Date with Dad, Create with Mum, and FamChamps, have created stronger bonds between children and their parents. During this pandemic, you have been agile and pivoted some of these programmes to a hybrid format. Your programmes now reach out to about 40,000 people each year. You also have a lovely website with many excellent articles to support families.You are also partners with close to 500 organisations, community leaders and schools – many of which are represented here today. I am also glad to see that you are working with many stakeholders that reflect the diversity of our society, such as MENDAKI, CDAC, and SINDA. I encourage you to do even more in the years ahead, together with others in the community.
It also heartens me to see so many family champions present among us today. Thank you for your efforts and contributions towards making Singapore a great place for families. And congratulations to those who have been recognised this evening. The awards show that everyone can play a part – whether you are an individual, a community partner, or a corporate stakeholder. Ultimately, to create a real movement to strengthen our families, family champions like yourself will play a critical role.
To conclude, as we work to strengthen the partnership between families, the community, and the government, I am hopeful that we will see the results of our labour in the lives of the generations ahead of us.
Here’s to many more great years to come for Focus on the Family Singapore!
Please enjoy the rest of the evening.
Explore recent content
Explore related topics