No Kidding: Why We’re Terrified of Having Children


As someone who knows the beauty of parenting intimately, when Minister Indranee Rajah announced in Parliament that our country’s total fertility rate (TFR) fell to a historic low of 0.97 in 2023, it was hard for me not to feel a deep sense of loss and concern for my country.

Why Fewer Are Having Babies

The issue of falling fertility here is not new. The death knell has been sounding for several years now. Unfortunately, as a nation, it is clear with this latest statistic, that we haven’t paid heed.

Many probably think that, while 0.97 is an important statistic, the number doesn’t paint the full picture when it comes to whether a couple should have a child, or not.

Some may feel that the fewer children we have, the better the quality of love and care each child will get and would no doubt quip, “Quality is more important than quantity”.

It might appear that the impact of the declining TFR, including a reduction in the workforce across various economic sectors and fewer caregivers for the elderly and others requiring continuous care, is a distant concern. One might think we can simply address these issues by hiring foreign workers, as we have done in the past.

Why fuss about our long-term collective future now, when there are far more pressing concerns today? Concerns such as the cost of living, the threat of AI-induced job insecurity, the constant pressure to up-skill, and environmental degradation caused by climate change and our irresponsible management of the planet.

The list goes on.

The desire to have children should be reason enough to do so.

And let’s not forget the common belief that deciding to have children is ultimately a private matter. The argument that citizens should have children out of a sense of national duty is one that many people, myself included, would baulk at. Simply having a desire for offspring should be sufficient reason to, well, have them.

Parenting Can Be A Fearful Journey 

I have been a father for 15 years now. In all this time, even though the parenting journey has been rewarding in countless ways, it’s not been a bed of roses either.

As I explore why younger Singaporeans are avoiding marriage and parenthood, it is clear that the fear of losing independence, choices, agency, and freedom lies at the root of their reluctance. Not to mention the palpable risk of failing to raise a child well.

There is a constellation of overriding primal fears that lies at the heart of this issue.

  • We fear babies are too much work. We have heard enough horror stories of how new parents struggle with the time and resources needed to raise just one child in the most expensive city in the world. Stories of couples quarrelling over how best to raise young ones; quarrels that sometimes tragically lead to divorce. 
  • We fear how competitive our educational landscape and work environments will be for future generations, and how as parents, we will raise kids who will inherit nothing but the growing plethora of societal issues we’re already plagued with.
  • We fear our bosses and colleagues will raise more than one eyebrow if we have to regularly exchange a work commitment for an urgent parental one, like taking our kids to (invariably) more than one follow-up medical appointment. We fear this will seriously affect our standing in the company, and jeopardise our chances for promotion. 
  • We fear the loss of our independence. That we will not have the time and energy to pursue all the niceties life can offer, free from the expenses, inconveniences and delays of screaming children; the kind of niceties singles and DINKs (Double Income No Kids) regularly savour. Like a beautiful ski vacation in the Swiss Alps, or a leisurely cruise to the Antarctic. Achieving self-actualisation through earning a postgraduate degree. Starting a new company. 

This list, too, is endless.

Overcome Fear, With Love

I understand all that, and have wrestled with these fears at different points of my life, even before deciding to be a parent.

But if we let fear stop us from having children, we might never realise just how strong and capable we truly are.

I remember when my eldest was just 20 months old. It was New Year’s Day 2011, and our family was getting ready to welcome my youngest, who was scheduled to be born in two weeks’ time. The new year was looking promising, as was the day itself, because we had a family friend visiting.

I placed my son in the master bedroom for a while and stepped out to get something. A sudden gust of wind from the window blew the door shut, with my son alone inside! I tried to open it but to no avail. For reasons that still baffle me today, the usually compliant doorknob simply refused to budge, no matter what I tried.

If we let fear stop us from having children, we might never realize just how strong and capable we truly are

I recall vividly my rising sense of fear and desperation. My wife and I could hear my son calling for help, but we couldn’t get to him. There were no suitable tools in the house for us to break the door down with and getting a locksmith on a public holiday would have taken longer than usual . 

In that moment, all I had was one overriding thought: to get to my son no matter what! Nothing else mattered. There and then, I summoned a courage I never knew I had. Without thinking, I ran to the adjoining bedroom window, climbed onto the sill, and somehow made my way to the master bedroom window like Spiderman… but without the dexterity or grip. There were no safety nets or harnesses. It was just me, dangling precariously between windows, over 30 metres above ground (we lived on the eighth floor of an HDB-apartment block).

Thankfully, my family survived that day unscathed, save for a very heavy diaper and a dad still in shock at his unplanned bravado.

I share this challenging experience not to highlight my accomplishments, but to point out something often overlooked in the journey of parenting. The truth is, in moments of great need, we can uncover new aspects of ourselves and realise our true capabilities.

What You Stand To Gain

Just as generations before us had more kids with fewer resources but no fewer challenges, we, who now live in the most resourced and knowledge-rich era in human history, should easily be able to overcome any fears and even exceed our forebears’ accomplishments in raising kids.

Over the years, I have had many harrowing experiences with my sons. They range from medical (numerous visits and stays in hospitals) to existential (I’ve lost, and found, my sons more than once!).

Life that is shared and passed on to many, trumps life experienced and consumed by few.

But I also had countless lovely moments, like when my kids finally learn to ride the bicycle after umpteen tries. Or when we watch a great movie that we still talk about weeks later.

Over time, I have learned that these seemingly small moments of life are where love, connections and lasting memories are truly made. As we share with our kids, our lives in turn become richer, more layered and matured, and immeasurably more fulfilling. Because life that is shared and passed on to many, trumps life experienced and consumed by few.

In the end, the motivations to have children are both straightforward and nuanced. It boils down to the conviction that no matter the challenges and fear of becoming parents, the love for a child that’s “flesh of my flesh” will eventually overcome any fear.

That has been my parenting journey to date. It still is. And it is one I would encourage everyone who can to embark on with me.

Kelvin Seah is a stay-at-home dad, whose favourite roles in life are being a husband of one wife since 2000, a hands-on father to his sons (15 and 13), and blogging about special needs, parenting, culture, education, work, writing, and life in general. He writes about autism, parenting, and life at

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