SINGAPORE: When my wife and I were deciding on our BTO flat back in 2007, we had a few options to choose from.
There were more affordable choices in non-mature estates such as Woodlands, Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang and coveted ones in the Bukit Merah and Queenstown area nearer to our workplaces.
Nevertheless, we chose to settle down in Punggol. It wasn’t because of the Punggol 21 initiative nor its popularity among young couples.
We just wanted to stay closer to my siblings - my younger brother and elder sister’s place was three bus stops away and a 15-minute drive across the expressway respectively.
We loved the idea that doing so meant more frequent visits, more quality time and stronger family ties. The kids will grow up alongside their cousins as friends rather than distant relatives you see only annually at Chinese New Year.
The grandparents also get to see their grandchildren more often and enjoy blissful moments of joy with the family.
A CNA story of siblings who built a huge compound so they could live with each other captured the imagination of readers. It’s a luxury few of us can afford.
And if we’re honest, most of us might want a little more space than that away from our siblings, no matter how huge the place may be.
After all, it’s not all a bed of roses when proximity, on top of familiarity, breeds friction.
LESS TIME GETTING TO EACH OTHERS’ PLACES
Convenience is a huge consideration. My wife and I do not have a car so the time saved on commuting was key when we thought about living close to my siblings.
Although Singapore’s extensive road-rail-bus network facilitates a seamless travel, one could still spend a an hour or more commuting had we lived in a different neighbourhood seeing that you have to connect from an MRT to bus and walk from the bus stop to their flat, not to mention the occasional traffic jam.
Had I chosen a flat in Chua Chu Kang, it would take us an hour and a half getting to my brother’s Punggol place.
A friend of mine, who lives a few floors away from her siblings and parents, shared that despite being married with two children, she still heads back to her parents’ place each day to enjoy a home-cooked dinner.
This ritual means a lot to the entire family where it gives her parents time with her children regardless of the hustle and bustle of each day.
CARING FOR AGED PARENTS
Often, siblings live near each other to share in caring for aged parents. My parents, both in their 60s and 70s, live with us and being close to my brothers and sisters makes it easier for them to come around.
Caring for the elderly is a physically and emotionally draining job that gets progressively more demanding when old folks develop complicated health conditions.
About four in 10 of carers of stroke survivors have depressive symptoms, according to a 2017 study by the Institute of Mental Health and the National University of Singapore,
Temporary respite care for caregivers is available for a few hours to a day, with mean tested subsidies for eligible households from the Agency for Integrated Care, but in my experience, it has been challenging to get help at very short notice.
In situations like these, a close living sibling can be a game-changer for cash strapped families.
When my dad had to undergo treatment for his prostate condition, I was thankful my brother helped chaperone him to the hospital a few times when I could not do so due to work commitments.
Living close can help ease the logistical challenge. But what more is gained cannot be counted in dollars and cents.
The familiarity of a loved one’s voice and physical presence can help soothe a sick elderly’s anxiety. This intimate support might not easily be replaced by a non-family member.
A sibling living nearby can also help look over a child during work exigencies.
Another friend of mine, Mdm Toh, a customer service representative, told me she found it hard to take last-minute childcare leave and pry herself from work when her child fell sick and was thankful her sister living across a few blocks could.
NOT A BED OR ROSES
For every happy tale however, there are unpleasant experiences too. The one thing that matters is your relationship with your siblings.
You have to be honest about the state of your relationship and how much work you want to put into it. Be frank about whether you get along well and why.
If you don’t see eye-to-eye on most issues, living so close that frequent interactions become the default will not magically transform a poor relationship into a close one.
It might even strain the relationship further.
Unless the relationship is harmonious and strong to start with, the outcomes might be disastrous.
When siblings aren’t in similar economic circumstances, getting a nearby place may be a financial challenge. Resale flats nearer to downtown and in mature estates command a higher asking price.
A resale 4-room flat at Bishan Street 22 and the coveted Duxton at Cantonment Road transacted at S$688,000 and S$1.03 million respectively in October.
Families can tap into the HDB’s Proximity Housing Grant (PHG) to buy a resale flat but these might not make a huge world of difference.
Even if you have decided to move closer to your sibling, beware that proximity is two-way street and will come with certain expectation of reciprocity in providing help readily when you are called upon.
HOW TO MAKE IT WORK
Let’s not forget there is a very important person in this equation too: your other half. They have to be fine with being physically close to your family.
The challenge also is that even the closest of siblings have different commitments and priorities. It would not be fair to rely on one who seems to have more work flexibility or fewer family commitments to bear the lion’s share of caring for elderly parents and drop everything on hand to help out on a regular basis.
This is why I believe it is important to respect each other’s need for privacy, manage guidelines regarding visits, and be conscious of not imposing your parenting style on your sibling’s children.
Taking into account these dynamics, deciding whether to move closer to your siblings is quite heavily dependent on your relationship with each other.
Being closer could mean more time and effort to talk, and is always a good way to improve relationships.
Conversely, closeness can also lead to differences becoming obvious. If parties take each other for granted, unhappiness can set in.
Before making the move, assess your priorities, take your family’s personality into consideration and have plenty of conversations with your siblings about the boundaries and expectations.
For all you know, a Whatsapp family chat group might suffice if you are just looking to stay updated on family affairs.
Tan Chin Hock is recipient of the filial piety award conferred by the Nanyang Confucian Association and Founder of Holdinghands.sg