Over the weekend, Channel NewsAsia published an article on the Hengs – a family with 7 kids and living on less than $3,000 per month. The article’s comments section largely revolved around the view that having that many children, and still wanting to have more if he were to do it again, was a irresponsible thing to do.
The debate intrigued me. As a topic vaguely related to personal finance, I thought I’ll examine the topic here, through the various lenses of Financial Responsibility, Social Responsibility and Family Responsibility.
1) Financial Responsibility
This aspect is the most clear cut facet of the debate. The more children you have, the more income you should have to adequately support your large family.
For the Hengs, for a take home pay of $2,500, that works out to $278 per capita per month. Even with external help, it works out to $333 per capita per month, based on their $3,000 of monthly expenses. Being able to live off of that as a family is most impressive.
Depending on your perspective, one could view it as most irresponsible financially as every person has had to make sacrifices in expenditure in order to maintain that level of expenditure. On the flip side, you could say that they were being responsible financially by living within their means.
For me, as a strong believer in self sufficiency, I feel the biggest problem is that they are essentially living paycheck to paycheck, with no savings / emergency funds / retirement for the parents. If something were to happen to Mr Heng, the family would have problems. If that doesn’t happen, Mr and Mrs Heng essentially have to rely on their children for survive in retirement. Asian values may encourage the children to support their parents, but that is not guaranteed.
2) Social Responsibility
This aspect is far more uncertain. If you are unable to support your family to a sufficient level, is it responsible for you to rely on charity or government support to raise your family?
The believer in self sufficiency in me once again rejects this concept. Why should you create a problem, once you can’t solve it, pile it onto others? No doubt this way of thinking is applicable to most problems people create for society.
That is until my father brought up the “National Service” aspect of the issue. Everyone knows how Singaporeans are simply not having enough children to replace themselves. GE 2011 also showed that we do not wish to have excessive immigration as a way to solve this problem. As such, shouldn’t we support those who embrace the “duty” of having more children even if they do not have the means? Isn’t it in the nation’s interest to ensure the success of such families?
3) Family Responsibility
This aspect refers to the strain on the constituent members of the family. Is it responsible to the members of the family to add further burden by having more children?
The strain on the Hengs is very much evident in the article. How Mrs Heng is overworked, having to cover all the aspects of the children’s lives alone. How Mr Heng and his eldest daughter Samantha have drifted apart. How 2nd daughter Rachael has had to take up the mantle of mother and peacekeeper. How Mr and Mrs Heng feel guilty about various aspects of their children’s rapid growth.
Every family will face different types of strain and problems. One might argue that growing up in challenging circumstances could give the children a strong and independent mindset, while growing up in a carefree environment can create a sense of entitlement. Another might argue the emotional strain will adversely influence the children’s perception of family and life.
Ultimately, every person and child responds to their upbringing in a different way. There is no way to judge the effects of this aspect definitively either way.
A Parent’s Ultimate Responsibility
Based on the 3 facets of responsibility, it is safe to say that it is financially irresponsible to have a large family if you can’t afford it, with the other 2 aspects a wash. At this point, we should consider a parent’s ultimate responsibility – to ensure that they raise good and useful members of society. If a parent wholeheartedly wishes to achieve that goal, like the Hengs, we as a society / nation should be supportive of that goal, even if it is financially strenuous. Especially in a time where we need more local Singaporeans.
What we don’t want is irresponsible parents maintaining a large broken family that only adds to societal problems. How charities / the Government are able to differentiate between the 2 is beyond me though.
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