This Father's Day, we speak with Dr. Mathew Mathews on his parenting experience and how he was influenced by his own father.
Dr. Mathew Mathews is a Champion of Focal Area ‘Parenting Together’, under the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships, and Head, Social Lab and Principal Research Fellow, Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.
He has 3 sons and we speak with him on his parenting experience.
*This article is done in collaboration with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)
- Happy Father’s Day! Could you tell us more about your relationship with your 3 sons? What are the unique dynamics between you and each of them?
We do have a close relationship as a family. While my wife has had to put up with some of their more difficult behavior (like focusing them when they were younger on getting their school work done), I have had the much easier task of engaging in a lot of the fun side of parenting.
Ben is 19. We do have common interests since both of us are active in the church group we are part of. That translates into considerable discussion about what goes on at church. We do have different opinions about how things should be done, so some of our discussions can be heated. He is of the age when he prefers to treat me as an equal. Of course, I prefer some deference since “fathers know better”, but I have to agree I haven’t been right all the time! Anyway, deference doesn’t come easy at this stage of young adulthood, where young people focus on developing their unique identities.
My second son Emmanuel is 16 and I spend more time trying to access what he is thinking about. He has a keen interest in animals and nature; topics which I know little about, so I do get educated considerably on these subjects from him. He seems happy to share what he is reading and watching.
My youngest son Zachary is 12 and still feels like the baby of the family – he is still at that stage where he wants to snuggle up in our bed, hug and be comforted when he goes through the difficulties of secondary school life.
- Do these unique dynamics influence the types of bonding activities you engage in? Are there activities that the whole family does together e.g. family bonding rituals?
The kids have fairly different interests so planning for common activities is difficult. We do have some meals together weekly as a family as well as visits to their grandparents. That certainly has been bonding moments. During the course of the year we try to get out for vacations; during the pandemic, it has been staycations and we have enjoyed playing card games together.
- May you share what your relationship with your own father was like growing up, and how that influences how you parent your children?
My late dad was very much traditional. Like many dads of his era, he was very responsible about his parenting role but low on affirmation and affection. My brother and I were well aware that he was concerned for us, supportive of our endeavors and wanted the best for us. I don’t recall sharing very much with him about my feelings or what life was like for me, and he didn’t ask too much – he just wanted to make sure we were studying and behaving ourselves, though he didn’t try to push us too much. We also appreciated his occasional sharing of his perspectives and wisdom.
I certainly treasured my dad, but consciously decided that I would raise my children a little differently – having a much more closer relationship with them, getting involved in knowing what they were going through or thinking, and trying to engage with them as much as possible. Like my dad of course, I try to share some of what I have learnt in life (even if it is unsolicited).
- What are some of the traits and values you hope your children will develop for themselves?
We want our children to value the family unit. This means caring for family members and feeling a sense of responsibility for the well-being of others and working towards keeping good relationships within the family. We also want them to value giving and doing whatever they can to help others.
More about Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships
In August last year, The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) had launched the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships, which brings together stakeholders, community partners and Singaporeans together to co-create solutions and implement them to strengthen marriages and families. There are 6 focal areas and I champion Focal Area 3, Parenting Together. Through these efforts, we hope to inspire and support parents in their parenting journey. In order to cope with key transitions and better support their children’s development, parents can access various parenting resources such as just-in-time tips and topics as well as bite-sized parenting information.
Parents may also turn to Families for Life 365, which offers a suite of parenting and marriage programmes available in workplaces and community touchpoints e.g., the Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P), available as webinars or self-directed learning Triple P online. You may visit https://go.gov.sg/ffl-parenting-programmes for more information.
MSF has also designated 2022 as the Year of Celebrating SG Families (YCF). Led by the Families for Life (FFL) Council with support from the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships (AFAM), YCF is a whole-of-society movement which celebrates the importance of our families. For more information, please visit https://go.gov.sg/CelebratingSGFamilies.