There was a lot to digest at the National Day Rally 2023. Some have called it a message of assurance, as our Prime Minister spoke to assure the nation that Singapore is well-prepared for the global economic uncertainties ahead, with political leadership transition well underway, and plenty of initiatives to help our society age well.
While PM Lee aptly addressed the challenges of an ageing society and outlined measures to enhance the lives of senior citizens, as well as Young Seniors in their 50s and early 60s, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring absence throughout the entire speech – the invaluable role of caregivers and the dire need for initiatives that support them.
An overlooked segment of the population
So you can say I was greatly disappointed, even a little surprised, that while the needs of the elderly – as well as the retirement needs of the Young Seniors – were acknowledged, nothing was spoken about the burden of caregiving.
In a segment dedicated to Young Seniors, folks who shoulder the responsibility of caring for their kids who are young adults, as well as their elderly parents, a strong message was delivered: “Do not worry – the government will help you.” Cue the Majulah Package that comprises three types of bonuses to help Young Seniors, plus the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations meet their retirement needs.
But what about the young parents, the ones whose young children are completely dependent on them for the littlest tasks (like showering and wiping their butts)? Why were we left out, just because we aren’t Young Seniors?
Caregiving is a full-time job
Anyone who is the primary caregiver to their young children or ageing parents would agree that caregiving often comes at a staggering personal cost.
We know of mothers who have given up their career aspirations to dedicate themselves to raising their kids. Some have no choice but to resign in order to tend to sick parents, while others try to strike a balance between their careers while being sandwiched between caring for both the young and old.
The simultaneous responsibility of tending to young children and elderly parents leaves caregivers (like myself) with no choice but to juggle a delicate balancing act that extends far beyond managing multiple people’s schedules.
We find ourselves navigating complex healthcare systems, coordinating medical appointments, keeping up with school-related communication, while trying to find time to help our kids with their school projects, assignments and tests.
In a particularly trying week, I remember having to be at the hospital for my retired dad who was warded for pneumonia, while burning three evenings at the GP clinic because my two young kids fell sick within a few days of each other… and trying to meet three work deadlines at the same time.
These responsibilities continuously clash with the demands of a full-time job, forcing us caregivers to make difficult choices all the time between our career progression versus familial obligations.
The strain on our careers, mental health, and emotional well-being can be overwhelming, sometimes even crippling. Is it then any surprise that caregivers often experience burnout, a phenomenon that has only started gaining worldwide recognition in the aftermath of the mental health movement on social media?
While the Prime Minister’s speech addresses active ageing, pre-emptive health measures and enhancing the social lives of seniors, it falls short in recognising the immense contributions of caregivers.
Throughout the National Day Rally speech, I was waiting for the Prime Minister to acknowledge or thank the caregivers, and hopefully even promise that their work is being seen.
But alas, the invisible mental load and personal sacrifices of caregivers continue to go unnoticed.
Can we do better?
Acknowledging the burden of caregivers
The initiatives to enhance the lives of senior citizens should naturally be accompanied by efforts to enhance the lives of those who care for them. These efforts don’t always have to cost a lot of money; sometimes, simply acknowledging the value and sacrifices that a caregiver chooses to undertake can go a long way.
If the government truly wants its people to have more children and bring up the national birth rate, well, then we need to show that the ones who have already done so are being well taken care of.
I hope the day will come soon when the silent struggles of caregivers (especially the sandwiched group caring for both the young and old) are acknowledged, understood, and eased.
It is time that Singapore becomes a society which values the backbone of caregiving, and acknowledges that taking care of our seniors includes caring for those who care for them.
Dawn Cher is a mother of two boys, 4 and 2, and the founder of financial blog SG Budget Babe. She is also part of the sandwiched generation, and constantly questions what more can be done to help peers like herself who grapple with caring for both the young and old.