SINGAPORE: Offers of free music lessons for the children, a rocking horse for the youngest child, a hamper of bread goodies – and brickbats online. These are some of the responses this family have received in the past fortnight.
And the Hengs are touched by the generosity shown, as well as a tad upset by the criticisms, since the publication of CNA Insider’s story and video about them raising seven children on a monthly income of less than S$3,000.
The Hengs, one of Singapore’s rare big families nowadays when couples are having fewer children, were featured initially on the programme On The Red Dot.
And the financial, logistical and parenting challenges faced by the family struck a chord with readers and viewers online, who wrote in offering items like toys, books, and bicycles as well as food vouchers and help with groceries.
In response, dad and sole breadwinner David Heng, 42, said: “These can all be useful in many ways. But what I value most is the heart behind the offers.”
STUNG BY COMMENTS AT FIRST
Appreciative as he is now, however, he admitted that he was “disturbed and hurt” at first by the negative reactions on social media.
The main issues raised included the question of whether having a large family is unfair to the children if affordability is a struggle and whether it is irresponsible to fall back on state assistance.
The Hengs receive help under schemes such as the Education Ministry’s Financial Assistance Scheme and the Health Ministry’s Community Health Assist Scheme, as well as from the Social Service Office for things like their service and conservancy charges.
Now that he has “calmed down” since the initial sting of some of the comments, Mr Heng wonders: “Has anyone never needed help? Help can come in many forms.”
His wife and stay-at-home mum Esther added that the family does not depend on such help for their daily expenses, which her husband still pays for, “but since there’s financial assistance, we can make good use of it”.
“What goes around comes around. My children are young now. In the end, when you grow old in Singapore, you may need assistance too,” said the 40-year-old.
FINANCES AREN’T EVERYTHING
The couple do not think their children are being short-changed either. Mrs Heng has asked them, for example, whether they wanted to have tuition at the Chinese Development Assistance Council, “but they weren’t keen”.
They may not go to “exotic” places overseas, but they enjoy holidays in Malaysia, which sometimes her parents treat them to, she said. “We don’t ask (my parents), but they choose to help us.”
Mr Heng cited his social work with children who have done well “without a strong financial background”, and he added: “Physical resources contribute a percentage of how they turn out, but what’s more important is the non-material input.”
While their children may be more mature than their peers and have more sibling responsibilities, Mr Heng does not think this is a bad thing. His wife added:
What Mr Heng has realised is that “time is the biggest commodity”, which is why he just started a new job as a church executive, freeing up his evenings and weekends to spend with his children, unlike before.
He took four months to decide on leaving his previous job at a children’s home, which he “loved”, before he tendered and told his family.
FROM A SCOOTER TO A MEAL
Even as the couple say they do more to provide for their children than what others saw or read about, they have already received messages of support.
Mr Heng subscribes to the point made in the commentary “Raising 7 children on S$3,000 a month in Singapore, and a tale of constructive parenting” that big families benefit from practising values like saving on food and necessities.
“My children understand the values of delayed gratification and of gratitude,” he said.
This is one of the reasons that Gardenia gave the family a hamper, loaves of bread and an assortment of cream rolls and buns this week.
“Mr and Mrs Heng have instilled family values of trust, responsibility and love in their children, and we’re very touched when we can see a loving, big family,” said Gardenia Foods marketing manager Carrie Tan.
“We hope that our little gesture can bring some joy to the children.”
One member of the public, who wanted to remain anonymous, contacted CNA to offer the Hengs a scooter and some toys because their story “resonated” with her as the youngest of seven siblings in her family.
In the case of food and beverage businessman James Peck, he hopes to treat the Hengs at one of his company’s eateries after reading that they seldom dine outside together.
“Growing up, my family didn’t always have a chance to have a meal together because my parents were always working. And when we went out to eat, they had to work within a really tight budget,” he said. “I sort of know what the children are feeling.”
Mr and Mrs Heng plan to respond to all the offers of help in due course, so that they are not overwhelmed by donations coming in at one go.