GRAPHIC: BRENDAN TANWhen was the last time you spent time with your family? Discounting the mandatory family dinners enforced by your parents, the annual birthday celebrations and the customary home visits during traditional festivals, chances are, you might not even recall.
A survey of 700 respondents in Singapore conducted in 2016 revealed that over half spent less than 35 hours a week with their immediate families. Furthermore, one in 10 cited just six hours or fewer a week. The results were collected from Singaporeans aged 20 to 69 by Families for Life, a council which seeks to promote family ties.
Among the reasons cited for the lack of time spent with family were busy school schedules and social activities. Often too entrenched in the melodrama of our own lives, we lose that connection with our family members.
But this is barely reason enough for us to take for granted people who are close to us. Time spent with family should not only be cherished but also, prioritised.
Family time is finite
There is a certain truth to the timeworn saying: “You’d never know it might happen to you until it does”. When I was about 14 years old, I came home from school to find my mother sobbing on the phone. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that age, I never thought that a terminal illness could happen to my family.
It was a rude awakening and a lesson for me on the fragility of life.
My mother’s diagnosis, however, did not shift my perspective overnight. At 14, I barely had a social life and most of my days were spent at home.
But as I grew older, home slowly became a place simply for shelter and food. The lessons from my mother’s diagnosis were forgotten with her subsequent remission.
It was only when my brother moved out of the house last year after getting married did it all sink in — while we may be bonded by blood, we may not always have the luxury of time together.
Memories of my mother’s past brush with cancer also came flooding back, reminding me that it would be folly to think that family would be around forever. Since then, I have made it a point to take time off every Sunday to stay home with my family.
Family over friends
Many of us turn to friends in difficult times. Strong friendships are an integral part of life, but your friends who are probably battling the same problems as you may not be the best people to turn to for advice.
What we are ignoring could be the vast amounts of experience that our family members can offer. These are adults who have lived and experienced life. Herein lies the importance of building a strong relationship with our parents who can help us navigate the transition into adulthood.
From experience, priorities shift once we graduate. Chances are, the number of friendships we have will dwindle over time.
But even our closest friends might not stick it out with us to the end. Family will. By being more discerning in the relationships we choose to invest our time in, we may be able to dedicate more time to the people who really matter.
Looking back on my university days, contact with my family were mere greetings in the morning, and a brief catch up on life in the evenings.
I have learnt that as our social calendars start to get crowded, scaling back and re-prioritising our relationships is crucial.
After all, laying the foundations for a close relationship with our family members can only be built with time. Familial ties may be a part of us since the day we are born but the onus is on us to maintain these relationships.