SINGAPORE: “Will you apply for a BTO flat with me?” It’s not uncommon to hear wedding proposals like this in Singapore and couples planning their weddings around the time they get their new house.
My wedding proposal to my wife was however more conventional and didn’t hinge on the timing of our new home.
My wife and I had always wanted to be parents. Since we were only in our late twenties when I proposed, we agreed to spend the first few years of our marriage life with each other before having children.
We also agreed on having children after a few years as we would hopefully be more financially comfortable by then.
While this conversation turned out fairly calm and non-confrontational, figuring out the living arrangements after getting married was a tricky affair and quite a practical conundrum.
We had to choose between staying at either one of our parents’ house or getting our own flat. If building our financial stability was key before we became parents, then the former was a choice in the right direction.
Moreover, being the eldest son, my plan was also to take on the responsibility to stay with my parents so that I could better look after their needs.
The agreement was that we would stay at my parents’ place - a 85sqm 4-room HDB flat and I would visit my in-laws as frequently as my wife wanted.
PRIORITISATION OF FAMILY OVER PERSONAL NEEDS
Marriage is a lifelong commitment and should be built on a solid foundation of love, shared values, and trust.
While every couple faces varying issues in their relationship, being open and communicating honestly about one’s expectations and aspirations is very important in keeping the relationship going and strong.
My wife and I openly discussed and recognised the complexities of staying with parents.
Inevitably, there were sacrifices of space and privacy when we chose to stay with parents or in-laws.
Quite uncomfortably at times, topics such as when to have our first child, segregation of finances and certain major purchase decisions were also on the plate during dinner. Despite these adjustments and initial discomfort, as family-oriented individuals, my wife and I were fortunate to find ourselves aligned on many levels.
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I have heard of some couples staying with their parents who have to be answerable on their whereabouts, their timings and their recreational activities.
Some conservative parents frown upon their children and their spouses’ lifestyles including, but not limited to, their dressing, spending and eating habits.
Such tensions can be difficult to manoeuvre for young couples who may already be dealing with daily work challenges. Left unchecked, it can lead to a fractious home environment.
One other obvious question is navigating the financial conundrum: Contributing to household finances – how much is enough? Should it be calculated as rent?
Whatever the case is, we felt it was a much smaller amount compared to running our own household. I am grateful that my parents were reasonable in seeking a fair amount of contribution to the household finances during the period when we stayed with them.
When I saw the shape of my child in the ultrasound screen in October 2009, I knew that our sacrifices and prioritisation of family needs over our personal ones were all worthwhile.
We had our first child in our early thirties before moving into our BTO flat. We also invited my parents to stay over with us.
WHEN THINGS DON’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN
Regularly, I would deliberately jog past the construction site where my BTO flat was being built just to catch a glimpse of my future home. I longed for the moment to receive the HDB letter to pick up the flat keys.
As a couple, there were so many things to look forward to when moving into a new house. From choosing the colour of our wall paint and what type of kitchen cabinets to install, to which sofa and TV set to adorn our living room, these are exciting life choices to make and can seem somewhat empowering.
For many of us, getting the keys to our house is like a dream come true.
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When I read about the delay of BTO flats recently due to COVID-19, I could feel the frustration and disappointment among the applicants and empathised with them.
It is understandable that construction projects have been delayed due to the global shortage of resources and restricted manpower movement, but it is likely the expected extent of the delay of six to nine months, as revealed by HDB, that threw a spanner in the works.
For couples who are expecting their child to be delivered, not getting their BTO flat on time can be frustrating.
You probably wanted a room dedicated as a nursery for your new born so that you can get some sleep at night too. You were probably looking to get a domestic helper to support you in your childcare needs and the extra space would have been useful to house her.
Quite likely, you wanted to raise your child within your own privacy so that you could do in your own terms rather than be inundated by advice and old wives’ tales from in-laws and extended family of what you should and shouldn’t do.
The situation may be frustrating, but there are other living arrangement options that a couple can explore such as renting a place near to their BTO.
This way, they could experience living with the nearby amenities and experiment with commuting arrangements that they would have to live with in time to come.
Although renting from the open market provides a lot more choices, most often it comes with a premium price tag especially in the current tight market where the supply of flats are seemingly limited.
Data for March reveals that rental volumes for HDB flats hit a nine-month high, pushing rentals up by 0.5 per cent for the month from February.
Moreover, one may not want to move homes twice within a year, especially with a baby in tow.
But if you are, then couples on a budget could also tap on the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme, where eligible applicants could rent from HDB while waiting for their BTO flat.
According to the HDB website, monthly rental rates fall anywhere from S$400 to S$1,500 depending on the location and type of flat. However, reports also reveal the demand for flats under this scheme outstrips supply with 71 applicants to 25 flats in February. So this option looks rather unlikely too.
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IT ISN’T THAT BAD
All things considered, staying with either set of parents is not a bad thing. For instance, couples could make use of this waiting period to spend more time with their elderly parents before the eventual shift out.
This would also be a golden opportunity for the grandparents to bond with their grandchild and enjoy many blissfulness family memories, even if they live together for a few months.
Moreover, with increased cost and administration of getting foreign domestic workers entering Singapore, especially now during COVID-19, the extra pair of experienced hands would provide more warmth and tender loving care than interim care undertaken by a non-family member.
Even if you have a domestic helper, having a family elder as a watchful eye at home gives parents added reassurances when they are at work.
Perhaps at the core of this conundrum is one of mindsets. If we were open about our options and hierarchy of needs, we might find that getting a BTO flat may not be absolutely necessary for marriage or even parenthood to work.
Staying with our parents has many accrued benefits if the relationship with them is harmonious and well-managed, and if we are willing to compromise on some privacy and independence.
Tan Chin Hock is recipient of the filial piety award conferred by the Nanyang Confucian Association and Founder of Holdinghands.sg.