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Linda & Richard Eyre: Lesson from Singapore on supporting families

Published: Wednesday, April 9 2014 11:00 a.m. MDT

A Muslim family prays outside the Darul Makmur Mosque during Eid al-Adha celebrations, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Singapore.

Wong Maye-E, Associated Press

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We are writing this week’s column from Singapore where we’ve just had the interesting opportunity of presenting a parenting and family relationships seminar to a large audience composed of roughly equal proportions of Buddhists, Muslims and Christians.

We were again reminded of how great it is that parents, when thinking about their love, their hopes and their fears for their children, become united in a way that supersedes any political, economic, cultural or religious differences.

We were honored to have the speaker of the Singapore National Parliament introduce us and talk a little about the government’s Ministry of Community and Family Development that was added to their Cabinet a few years ago, partially to encourage parents to have more children to replenish a dwindling population (Singapore has the lowest birthrate of any country in the world).

It is interesting, and somewhat sad, that developing countries around the globe seem to unintentionally go through a similar sequence with regard to how they think about families. We are generalizing a little here, but the sequence looks something like this:

Phase 1: An effort to lower the birthrate and limit the population, based on the belief that too many people will lower the quality of life.

Phase 2: A migration from countryside and rural areas to cities where more money can be earned but where the concept of family is limited or eliminated for many young people, and where more abortions occur, and where more kids are born out of wedlock and with no family ties.

Phase 3: More government intervention and programs to take care of the increasing homelessness, orphans, drugs and crime that result from less family structure.

Phase 4: A dramatically declining birthrate and a dwindling workforce that causes the government to try to reverse phases 1 and 2 and to offer people incentives to have children. (Parents of children born in Singapore now receive a $20,000 birth benefit per child.)

Phase 5: The government recognizes that even if it persuades people to have children, the parents need to be motivated and taught how to raise kids because their own exposure to family and parenting has been limited.

Countries such as Singapore that have been through all five phases are finding that it is not easy to recover or rekindle a family centric culture once it has largely slipped away in the face of materialism, urbanization, government intervention, cohabitation or chosen childlessness.

The United States, though its size and diversity slow down the process, is going through the same sequence.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could short circuit the process and jump directly from where we are now, in phases 2 and 3, to an expanded version of phase 5, where not only the public sector of government, but also the private sector of business and the voluntary sector of churches and communities recognize the supreme importance of families and give parents more support, more encouragement and more credit for the huge contribution they make to society?

America is far enough into the sequence and into phase 3 to understand that the "treatments, medications and surgeries" we try to perform on the ills and social problems of society are vastly more expensive and far less efficient than the "preventative medicine” of doing all we can to help families survive and thrive and turn their children into responsible citizens.

Here’s to doing all we can for families before we have to try to clean up and catch up as they begin to disappear.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or valuesparenting.com, or follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.

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