Maternity leave entitlements in Singapore is woefully inadequate

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Motherhood brings unique joys and pains to every mum, and we are better off acknowledging that. In this series called Mum Truths, mums reveal their secret successes, miseries and gripes about parenting in a no-holds-barred first-person recount.

I am currently three months postpartum and am considering submitting my resignation letter at the end of my maternity leave. I am anxious about leaving the workforce just as my career is taking off but like many mothers, I wish to be around for my child’s formative years, especially in the crucial first year where they hit so many of their milestones. However, I’m acutely aware of the costs – both tangible and intangible – that will come with this decision.

For one, our household income will take a big hit. Going from two incomes to a single income stream will definitely be uncomfortable as we will have to cut back on expenses and dip into our savings. Also a major concern for me, is how I might be perceived by future employers once I start looking for a job again

It’s a dilemma that many working mothers feel at some point – to quit or not to quit. While we appreciate the steady income flow that comes from having a full-time job, the pull of being at home with our child is also there. Honestly I didn’t know I would feel so strongly about being at home when I was pregnant, but now that my son is almost four months old, I realise I don’t want to miss out on anything if I can. 

According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), job-seekers cited motherhood as being the second-most common reason for being discriminated against. As unfair as it sounds, if I were to put on an employer’s hat, I can see the reasons why that might be the case. An employer might be hesitant to hire somebody who is pregnant and/or has a young child as having a kid takes up a lot of time, energy and attention – finite resources that the employer might prefer to be channeled towards work. 

This is why I believe that for a fairer, more inclusive workplace, there needs to be an overhaul in the system.

In April 2022, the Workers’ Party (WP) released a proposal to replace the current 16-week maternity and two-week paternity leave entitlements with a shared parental leave scheme that would entitle parents to a total of 24 weeks of government-paid leave. WP MP Louis Chua said that with increased time off, the hope is that it will reinforce the belief that parenthood is a responsibility that is shared equally by both parents (which I wholeheartedly agree with).  

The People’s Action Party (PAP) MP Louis Ng echoed these sentiments, citing research that demonstrated how fathers’ involvement at home led to long-term benefits such as fewer behavioural problems for the child, lower maternal depression, and lower family conflict. He also stressed the importance of having a father around to care for the child, otherwise “mothers will spend their 16 weeks of leave single-handedly caring for the newborn – and that is no rest at all.”

I don’t believe that improving parental entitlements has to spell doom for businesses. In fact, by creating an inclusive and supportive workplace – through extended parenting leave or flexible work policies – companies are more likely to attract and retain talent. Not only that, research has shown that in workplaces with a positive culture and high staff morale, employee productivity is also higher. It’s a win-win.  

As I prepare to write my resignation letter, and my husband and I decide where we can trim our expenses, I am apprehensive about not pulling an income for the first time in my adult life. At the same time, I know watching my son grow and learning what kind of person he is becoming in his first year is not something I want to miss. I just hope going forward, greater workplace flexibility could lead to a society where mothers like me do not have to be forced to leave our jobs just to spend a bit more time with our children. 

Victoria Tan is a new mother-of-one navigating the weird and wonderful journey that is parenthood. Even amidst the sleep deprivation, breastfeeding woes and endless diaper changes, she’s finding joy in rediscovering the world through her son’s eyes.