“Papa, if you smoke too much, you will die, then we cannot be together.”
I’ve recently spotted a father smoking at a pedestrian crossing, with one hand holding onto his young daughter’s hand, and the other holding that lit cigarette. I instantly felt disgusted at how he could subject his young child to his second-hand smoke with not a thought for her health. So I have a lot of respect for fathers (and mothers too) who decide to quit smoking because of the young ones at home.
I got to know about daddy blogger Steven Teo via Facebook and mutual friends. And yes, admittedly, I was surprised at the number of children he has. FOUR! And the family lives in a 3-room flat!
I love those wall stickers, by the way :D
[From left: Stacci, Steven, Laifong, Steffi, baby Louie, and Leroy. All pictures in this blogpost are courtesy of Steven Teo from http://theperfectfathersg.blogspot.sg/]
Naturally, I have too many questions for Steven – why four children, how the couple coped with that miscarriage, how they navigate our crowded public transport system as the family doesn’t own a car, the financial burden of raising four children in Singapore, and so much more!
But first, that saying goodbye to cigarettes…
Back in May 2011, his firstborn (Steffi) came up to him just as he was reaching for his cigarette pack and uttered those words: “Papa, if you smoke too much, you will die, then we cannot be together.”
1) You decided to immediately quit smoking because of what your daughter told you that day?
Well, I did smoke that last pack because I felt it was a waste of money to throw it away. :D
And I’ve always suspected that my wife had taught my daughter to say those words to me. But she has never admitted it.
At that time, I had been smoking for some 12 to 13 years, and Steffi said those words to me just as I was reaching for the cigarettes.
I mean… which smoker doesn’t know smoking is bad? We just have to find the right reason to quit. And usually that reason is not for ourselves. It’s usually for our family.
2) Few people know that before you had this huge family with 4 kids, there was a miscarriage. How did you both, as a couple, pick yourselves up and decide to continue trying for children?
Well, we thought we were still young. I’d gotten married at age 24, and my wife was my poly classmate. And we had already been trying for a while before conceiving. Despite the miscarriage, we thought we would try again.
And we didn’t expect that it would be so fast… my wife conceived Steffi within a year!
3) I’ve also seen a recent Facebook post you did, in which you mentioned that borrowing or lending money to relatives is one sure way of never hearing from them again. What was that about?
I tried to borrow money from a wealthy relative, so I could purchase a bigger flat. Because it’s a resale flat, there’s a high COV (*cash over valuation) amount that I had to fork out in cash. I wanted to borrow 30K to 40K from that rich relative, not as a pure loan, but with collateral I’d put up. I knew I could pay it back.
But that relative did not contact me anymore after I’d broached the idea of a loan.
It worked out well in the end, thankfully, as we dropped the idea of the resale property and applied for a BTO flat, and with a big family, we were accorded priority status.
4) That question you’ve probably been asked a million times: Why FOUR kids? :D
The running joke among friends is that I don’t have a television set at home and so there is nothing to do at night! :D
People are always asking why we have so many kids that I’m used to those questions already.
I think one important factor, besides the love of children, is that we have strong support from my mother-in-law, who is actually our ‘neighbor’ – she lives just two units away on the same level. She loves kids, took great care of our firstborn, and encouraged us to have more children. She has 4 daughters, while my own parents have 4 sons, so you might say this runs in the family.
Baby Louie and that very photogenic Leroy:
We don’t have serious thoughts about number 5 at the moment, but I think it’s still possible! :D
[Grace: Give this couple an award already! Come on! Any award! SG50 Most Inspiring Couple???]
5) Would it be possible for either you or your wife to quit and stay home to take care of the children?
It will definitely take a lot of courage to do so, though it is not impossible. I’ve been toying with the idea, actually. If it happens, we’ll definitely have to “tighten the belt” much more!
6) How does Blogging help relieve some of that financial pressure when you have 4 kids to take care of?
Blogging definitely helps with regard to visits to places of interest. A family of my size will have to spend quite a bit on admission tickets to places such as the Zoo or Universal Studios Singapore. With invites, my kids get to enjoy all of these attractions for free.
Aside from blogging, I’ve also won a number of Facebook contests, such as Friso’s Family Of The Month award, which gave us S$600 in vouchers that we used to buy milk powder with.
Last year, we also had a ‘Name Our Baby Boy’ contest on Facebook because we were at a loss for a name starting with ‘L’ for him. The older boy, Leroy, was named after a cartoon character in that ‘Stitch’ movie and he lives up to his name, being quite naughty. ;)
The youngest one was eventually named Louie, and we think the name suits him because he is cute, and also because it sounds like “lui” which is a hokkien term meaning “money”, and therefore easy for his grandparents to pronounce. :D
7) How do you deal with materialistic demands from children, e.g. wanting a new iPad or iPhone?
I don’t really buy new things for my kids. From Steffi onwards, we have been thrifty and there are a lot of hand-me-downs. For instance, Stacci is wearing clothes that Steffi used to wear.
Through my mother-in-law and through contests, we get many toys. In fact, we have an endless supply of toys as birthday gifts and Christmas presents from family and friends. It has gotten to the point whereby I think the children don’t really treasure these toys, unlike people from our generation – we cherished the toys we had! I think it’s not a very good thing.
I try to inculcate the right values in them, but it’s often a matter of ‘They ask, and they get’ from relatives and friends. They bank on their ‘cuteness’ to ask for the toys they want. It’s kind of scary, actually.
8) I’ve met other bloggers’ kids who can be quite unfriendly and maybe even a tad arrogant. However, your kids are so friendly, happy, and approachable! Why?
We encourage them to interact with our friends, and even with strangers. When Steffi was 18 months old, we sent her to a childcare centre to socialize with other people. We teach them to be polite, courteous to all, and to always put themselves in other people’s shoes – “Will you want your friend to treat you like that?”
And my wife also says that I’m like a big kid! :D We play a lot at home. You’ve probably seen me executing a balancing act with my 4 kids.
And when there were 3:
At the end of the day, each kid is different. Louie gave us a scare with Kawasaki Disease. He had an ongoing fever which didn’t subside even with medication. Only treatment via an IV transfusion of hemoglobin would work. This disease has to be diagnosed early or else there will be heart problems and enlarged arteries. Even though it was diagnosed early, Louie has an enlarged artery and this means he is at risk of coronary problems later in life, such as heart attacks or heart failure.
9) How do you navigate our transport system with FOUR kids?!
It’s always a problem on buses. My twin-seater pram (which can actually seat 3 kids) is allowed on MRT trains. However, open prams are not allowed on buses. So I have to fold the pram and get 3 kids on board.
Most of the time, they will fall asleep during the ride, and this can be ‘sucky’ especially if I’m on my own with them. If you wake them up, they’ll throw tantrums and so I usually end up carrying all 3 of them. Yes, it’s actually possible to carry 3 children all at once.
10) What’s your advice for couples who are inspired by your example, and despite having no kids yet, want to aim for 4 children?
That Nike slogan! :D
My neighborhood friends all have 2 or 3 children. They see us with 4 kids, and how it can work out, and they go ahead and have 2 or even 3. The people you hang out with could help determine your number of offspring. :D
[Grace: Maybe I should stay away from Steven then. Hahaha! But his kids are the most adorable!!!]
And going on group holidays can be described in one word: Terrible.
The last trip to Bali (two years ago), which I organized, was just… MASSIVE. We had a total of 8 families and 13 kids then. Now, there’s an addition of 6 babies!
And at home, yes, with a big family and many kids, the guilt is inevitable. One kid or another will sometimes come up to me and say “It’s been a long time since I went out with you and Mommy alone”. So I try to bring them out on my own too. :)
Check out Louie’s face in the picture on the right :D
Through Steven’s sharing, and via his blogposts, I get to appreciate the joys of being in a large(er) family. While I would personally heed the government’s (previous) call to stop at one, I do think Steven and his wife have made the right decision in making more cute babies.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s largely due to selfish desires that I do not want to have, say, two or more children. It’ll likely turn my life upside down (or right side up, I wouldn’t know). But, like Steven, I do also believe in spending as much time as possible with my kid(s) at home and engaging them in play. We can buy kids all the toys in the world but it’ll never be as good as a parent’s undivided attention during those minutes or hours of play. With the financial burden of a larger family, it is unlikely that I’ll be able to spend more time with my (future) children if I’m constantly thinking about making more money to pay the bills.
And I’m glad that Blogging is able to give Steven’s kids certain opportunities that they might not have had. Admission tickets to some of these places of interest are indeed pricey. And I, too, have been on the receiving end of some lovely invites and freebies because of my status as a blogger. I’ve been to places I’d probably never visit on my own, and done things I’d not attempt previously, such as climbing Mount Kinabalu or going seawalking! :D
And I do think that among the many things Steven has done right as a blogger, what I appreciate most is that he does not ‘pimp’ his children on social media, even though they are super cute. I think it’s morally reprehensible to make your young children your money-making tools and to be proud of it. From his blog and social media accounts, I get to know Steven as Steven, not as the father of that cute kid Leroy or that sweet Stacci. Because I believe even little kids should have their privacy respected and not have pictures or videos of them uploaded multiple times a day, everyday, for all and sundry to view.
And despite being the busy father of 4 children, Steven has also taken some time out to inspire other parents via the Health Promotion Board’s I Quit campaign. I believe his sharing has touched the hearts of many smokers who want to quit smoking but have never quite found the “right reason” to. I’m a Health Ambassador (on a voluntary basis) with the Health Promotion Board, and I’ve always had difficulties explaining to smokers at our roadshows about why and how they should quit smoking, having never been a smoker myself.
If you are a parent and also a smoker looking for a good reason to quit, I do hope you think about what 3-year-old Steffi said…
“Papa, if you smoke too much, you will die, then we cannot be together.”