As I am typing this, I am sitting in bed with an open bottle of cider beside me. The other side of my bed is empty because, solo parenting.
When the husband took on this job, we knew that travelling was involved. It wasn’t going to be often – once a quarter – but it was usually between three to four weeks each trip. Truth be told, it isn’t difficult to be a solo parent. I am very routine-driven when it comes to my littles (because, hello, I want them to go to bed early!!) and I usually run the household like clockwork when the husband is not around.
In fact, his presence sometimes throws the routine into disarray because he is not too concerned about routine (read: he is the chill and “fun” papa who brings them out for ice-cream and lets them watch videos of aeroplanes/space shuttles/sporting competitions.)
But then, I decided to study part-time, on top of working full-time, and that turned solo parenting into a whole new ball game altogether. Four days a week, I attend online classes, and spend alternate Saturday evenings on video-conferences. A typical day would look like this.
630-7am: the littlest rises. He either comes into my room to wake me (“IT’S MORNING! WAKE UP MUMMY! I OPEN THE CURTAINS!” Noooooo…) or he goes out to get his breakfast prepared by the helper.
7am: the alarm on my Apple Watch buzzes. I hit the snooze button.
715am: the alarm buzzes again, insistently. I rouse reluctantly and try to wake Mr 5, who usually transplants himself into my bed in the middle of the night. He grunts and rolls out of my reach.
720am: I haul myself into the bathroom. Sometime during my shower, Mr 5 will go out to get his breakfast.
735am: I get dressed and try to look more human.
750am: Time for breakfast. By this time, there is half-eaten breakfast lying on the empty dining table and a pile of Lego on the floor. The little buggers simply cannot focus on eating, they just want to play.
805am: I have finished eating and I start requesting (read: threatening) the littles to put on their shoes. There is usually a fair bit of negotiation at this point.
815am: We finally get out of the house. I drop them off at school and then I go to work.
6pm: Shit. No time to finish marking, I have to go and pick up the boys. I miss them like crazy!
620pm: Finally got them both loaded into their car seats. I am usually the only parent screaming at my kid(s): “Put on your shoes! Stop touching the thermometer! Don’t climb the wall! Okay you can sanitise your hands. I said not to climb, right? Don’t run out of the road!” One would think that I birthed monkeys instead of boys. I roll my eyes to the high heavens and pray for patience.
640pm: We get home. They put their shoes into the cupboard, wash their hands, change out of their uniforms and we eat our dinner.
720pm: They play while I log online to start on my class for that day.
8pm: I hustle them into the bathroom and shower them. After that, I get them changed into their jammies and they brush their teeth.
830pm: We finally go into their bedroom. I tell them to read on their own while I continue my online class. They usually end up performing some strange antics like marching like soldiers.
9pm: Lights out. I shut down my computer and try to cuddle them to sleep.
930-10pm: I finally crawl out of their room and go back to my computer to continue my online lesson.
130am-2am: Shut down and shuteye. Time for bed.
So, how do I survive? Well, hmm, I am not too sure I survive. I continue to exist. Below are some ways in which I try to exist a wee bit longer.
Seek help when you need it.
I am a mother who tries to do as much for her kids as she can. But there are moments when I am simply too worn down, or too frustrated to continue. And I recognise that it is okay to seek help. It is okay to admit that I don’t have it all and I need somebody to step in, even if it’s for a couple of hours.
I am no martyr mum.
So there are times when I have had to ask my mother to watch over the boys when I have evening video-conferences and the husband is away. Or when I drop them off with my in-laws so I can get my grocery shopping done in peace. Or I get my helper to watch them while I put myself back together in the bedroom.
Build a village.
I am lucky that my kids love their school and their teachers care for them genuinely. It allows me to go to work everyday with peace of mind. And at the same time, I also know that I can rely on the grandparents for help.
Look, there are times when the grandparents drive me crazy with their indulgence and methods of caregiving. But at the end of the day, they love the boys and are willing to step in when I am this close to losing it. Some battles are meant to be fought and some battles can be left alone. Pick your battles wisely.
Have your girlfriends on WhatsApp.
I would not have been able to survive the way I do without the moral support of my girlfriends. When I am in the toilet hiding from my boys, I can be sure that texting them would save my sanity. They don’t judge, they comfort me and then they make me laugh.
Plus, they are in the same time zone (the husband is 15 hours behind, which is OF NO HELP).
Carve out some me time.
Again, I am no martyr. I don’t need to spend every waking moment with my children. In fact, I would rather not. As an introvert, I need to recalibrate my mental well-being every once in a while and take myself away from the noise that my kids generate. I need to be away from their need of me.
So I started working out once a week. By myself, for 45 minutes or so. It’s a time for my mind and my soul to reset. Sometimes, I take the day off from work just to get my hair done or hit the gym or get some shopping done. A day, just for me. It’s a luxury but it’s also a necessity.
I’ve also stopped feeling guilty for opting to nap with the kids on weekends instead of, say, making dinner. If I need my rest, I need my rest. My family isn’t going to die if I cook one less meal.
It probably sounds arrogant but I believe firmly that I am doing my best as a mother and that I am a good mother. I try not to doubt myself or second-guess my methods. And this confidence probably saves me a lot of unnecessary angst. I don’t waste energy on questioning myself and I trust that I have done all the research and consideration needed to make a decision when it comes to parenting.
It does not mean that I don’t have moments when I feel like an utter failure. When my kids are little jerks and I wonder why I am doing this. But being confident about who I am and what kind of mother I am allows me to bounce up from these parenting lows quicker.
Have faith in yourself. Because if you don’t, you are always going to be chasing after affirmation in your life. And frankly, that’s exhausting.
So, that’s me as a mother right now in a nutshell. And guess what? I have a small warm body lying next to me – the five-year-old bed intruder has made his way over. I suppose that’s my cue to stop writing and get to sleep!
This post is part of the ‘Mothers Make It Work!’ Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories please click on the picture below.
If you would like to travel to the previous stops on this Blog Train and read more interesting stories about how Mothers make it work, you can start with this one here, David at Life’s Tiny Miracles. David and Angie are co-authors of their parenting blog. Having suffered child losses and childlessness, they believe in celebrating the tiny miracles God gives in their everyday lives with their kids. Their blog is a journal of their parenting journey. It covers an extensively from travels with their kids, to kid-friendly products and experiences and most importantly, their reflections as parents and as a couple.
After this post, the next one on the train is Katherine from BubbaMama. Katherine is a strong advocate of healthy lifestyle through exercise; eating right; keeping a positive and youthful outlook of life; and, to live vicariously while one can. When she is not working, she is catching up with friends over coffee or dinner on the latest news and tips to help mummies save time. She firmly believes that empowerment is possible for anyone, as long as they believe in themselves and the people around them.
My skin has been abysmal since I was a teenager. I was plagued by acne, which left me with scars all over my cheeks and chin. When I started working, I started seeing a dermatologist, who told me that my skin was confused (dry cheeks and oily T-zone), and it wasn’t good that I was still getting acne at my, uhhmm, advanced age. She prescribed me some of her products and a simple routine of wash, moisturise and sunblock. Since then, I have not varied in my skincare routine.
Last year, I went to London and my skin went berserk in the cold, dry air. My normal moisturiser just did not cut it and I broke out in terrible acne which took weeks to subside. With trips to Europe and wintry Australia planned for 2017, I was rather worried about how my skin would react.
Then Dermagold wrote to me and asked if I was willing to try their products. I was hesitant because I have sworn off skincare products other than the ones recommended by my dermatologist. But I did some research and what I read reassured me.
Firstly, this is a brand that was developed in Singapore. Which means it is likely to suit a Singaporean like me with confused, rojak skin. Secondly, the products were developed by aesthetic physicians. This wasn’t something that was concocted for the mass market but thoughtfully brought to life by people who really know the ins and outs of skin.
I received three products – the Miracle C+, Skin Elixir and the Hydra Recovery Gel – and I tested them when I was in Europe for two weeks. I would use my daily moisturiser and sunblock in the day, and “treated” my skin at night.
First, I would apply the Miracle C+ all over immediately after my shower (a tip from my dermatologist, to treat my dry cheeks). This product contains 18% vitamin C Ester serum and is an antioxidant and anti-wrinkle to boot. After 10 minutes, I would then apply the Skin Elixir, followed by the Hydra Recovery Gel. The latter is especially good for angry skin as it’s been formulated to calm post-aesthetic treatment skin down.
The result? No dry skin, no inflamed skin and no nasty flare-ups.
I continued with this routine back home and then recently brought the arsenal of products with me to Perth in June. Which was winter. Which was cold and dry. And again, my skin remained well and happy.
Photo taken by Mr 5 when we were at Busselton Jetty.
Now, this is not to say that I now have perfect, clear skin and I glow. Hah. HAHAHAHA. Far from it – I think I am just genetically predisposed to having lousy skin. I mean, my pores probably contain enough sebum for me to deep fry chicken nuggets. But the Dermagold products have definitely helped to keep my breakouts and dryness under control, and for that I am very thankful.
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(Disclaimer: I received the products from Dermagold for the review but all opinions are strictly my own. No other monetary compensation was received.)
Some days, I feel as if I am back to newborn days. Those days of interrupted sleep, waking up every three hours to ensure that the little mewling creature that I birthed was fed and nourished.
Except right now, my babies are three and five. While they don’t need me for sustenance, their needs have evolved and I still have their hands tugging at me for this and that. Then there is my full-time job and the other baby that I am nursing and which keeps me up till the wee hours – my Masters.
It’s okay though, I mean, on most days we get by. Even on days when I have to juggle my work, kids, studies, household as a solo parent, we stay alive (AND SANE!!). I scream a bit too much, chug down wine like it’s water, devour cheese by the bucket and quaff down too much tea. But I reckon that’s perfectly okay under these circumstances. RIGHT?
There was this one time which really epitomises the many hats I am juggling right now. It was a Saturday evening and I had back-to-back video-conference classes from 7pm to 1030pm. The husband was away on his business trip, which meant that neither of us could put our kids down at bedtime. I enlisted the help of my mother, who blessedly helped to shower the kids and stayed with them in their bedroom to wind down as I attended my virtual class at my desk.
At close to 9pm, the door to their bedroom suddenly burst open and the boys piled out. Their eyes were red-rimmed as they pleaded with me to lie down with them as they fall asleep. My mother managed to gather them back to the room while I continued with my class.
Not more than 15 minutes later, they burst out of their room again, this time sobbing. Urghs. What’s a mother to do?
So picture this. Off I went into their room, still plugged into the earphones that’s connected to my laptop. The room was dark. I sat on Zac’s floor bed with my laptop in front of me, trying to pay attention to the class. Aidan was lying on his bed next to me, and I was holding on to his hand. Zac asked to nurse to sleep and so I cradled him with my other hand as he nursed.
ALL THE WHILE STILL CONNECTED TO THE VIDEO-CONFERENCE.
By the time my mother and I exited the room, it was 10pm. I called for a Grab car to send her home while I continued with my class. When it was done, I poured myself a large glass of wine and sank into my sofa, doing nothing for a while.
It reminded me of the video of the analyst who was doing a video interview with the BBC when his daughter danced into the room. Not so much the original, but the parody. It’s funny but also oh-so-familiar. I’ll bet you most working mums were watching it and going, yeah totally right.
So, there you go. A moment for the archives, one to look back on in the future and have a good laugh about.
I am a full-time working mother with two littles and I am currently working on my part-time Masters degree.
I say this not because I want you to heap accolades on me on being a super mum (because I am not, I am just an ordinary mum) but to let you know that these are the hats that I am juggling. And yes, these are also the choices that I made consciously and deliberately.
The notion of pursuing my Masters came last year. I will leave the origins of this thought for another post on another day but as the seed of the idea grew and grew, I decided that it had to be done. It took a while to materialise because I was plagued by so many doubts and considerations.
How would I juggle everything?
Am I going to kill myself, especially when the man is away on yet another long business trip?
Am I clever enough to do the Masters?
Will I be able to spend enough quality time with my boys?
Will this compromise my health?
How will I be able to run the household efficiently?
Truth is, I still don’t have the answers. But I realised that the more I weighed the pros and cons, the less likely I am to act. And so I jumped in, fully-clothed, and mooted the idea to my husband and my superiors at work.
I would have said that luckily for me, my boss pushed for this opportunity to happen. But to attribute it solely to luck would be to negate my own efforts. I have worked very hard over the past five years and my performance has been a key factor in this coming to life. Plus, I knew what I wanted and I asked for exactly what I wanted. (That, and a fantastic boss, as well, which I am lucky to have.)
One month in and I can honestly tell you that it’s tough. I don’t have it all. I am constantly exhausted from sleeping at 1am every night. Most days, I forget to read my boys’ comm books from school and they have had to go to school without a photo or a leaf for their class activities. I sometimes forgo putting them to bed because I have to work on assignments or attend my virtual classes. My readings are usually done in bursts and spurts because I have to attend to somebody or I fall asleep. I get relief from my helper, who ensures that the chores are done and my house is neat and clean. My mother pops by occasionally to make dinner for us.
I don’t do it all by myself. I am not a super mum. And I willingly admit to having help because I don’t believe that makes me a lesser woman or a lesser mum.
But it’s also been great in so many ways. I got to travel to Europe to attend classes. Being an unsociable and awkward introvert, I stepped out of my comfort zone and met new people from all over the world. It’s been so, so intellectually stimulating to be driven by the pursuit of academic (and professional) knowledge again.
This opportunity has allowed my husband to step up his game and be well and truly an equal partner in parenting. Not that he wasn’t pulling his weight previously, but I think he now feels a stronger sense of responsibility to ensure that I am not overly taxed (I am still his soft spot after all these years, heh heh!).
More importantly, I have started prioritising me. We have had a spate of poor health over the past year and I know that to run this marathon, I have to be in good shape. So I have started exercising regularly again (at least three times a week, I hope!), just to ensure that the engines are well oiled and running efficiently. My life is a little more structured than before.
Prioritising me also meant that I could squeeze in a little trip to Paris after my week of lessons was done. I had absolutely zero qualms in leaving my children to the care of their father – ZERO. Part of it is because I know that they would all be fine without me and he is more than capable to be a solo parent (he’s their father, he ought to be capable). The other part, of course, is that I have been solo-parenting quite a bit so it’s time mama has a break!
So talk to me about how well I juggle everything in a year’s time. Meanwhile, I will be quietly slogging away, typing those assignments late into the night. Wish me luck!
I had a really rough day at work yesterday. The day was mostly spent trying to contain the wildfire that spread with a mistake that I had made, as well as cleaning up the mess made by others. On top of that, the unpredictable weather caused my allergic rhinitis to flare up and I was having problems breathing.
Hah. So much for taking a deep breath and calming down when you can’t even breathe. *snort*
Anyway, by the time I picked up my littles, I was in a terrible mood. I was ready to be a Monster Mum and yell terrible things at them if they hadn’t cooperated. When Zac refused to leave the school because he wanted to watch his friends dance (!!!), I was all ready to blow my top. I grabbed him, swiped his bag and shoes from the floor (while holding on to that little bugger, yes!) and was all ready to Y.E.L.L.
But, I didn’t. Because I was too exhausted and also because I thought, I have missed them so much and is this how I want to start my evening with them?
Instead, I talked. I am very good at talking. So I did. I said, look guys, I had a really bad day at work and I am very tired. Mummy has been working very hard today because I made a mistake, can you please help me?
Immediately, Aidan hugged me and said he would go home and draw a present for me. Zac leaned his head on my shoulder and said, “Sorry mummy. Don’t be sad, okay? I kiss you!” And then he proceeded to give me a huge kiss on my lips. And then he did it again.
When we got home, I had to make several phone calls for work. As I was talking, Aidan ran in and gestured to a piece of paper in his hand. The boy had really drawn me a picture! He produced it with a flourish, wordlessly, and ran out when I smiled. And when Zac came into the room, he shushed his little brother and told him to be quiet because mummy was on the phone.
And that’s when I knew that being honest with my boys, as little as they are, is a good thing. I have always wanted to shield them from my weary adult world, wanted them to steer clear from the problems that I face. I don’t usually talk about work to them.
In reality, I have been doing it all wrong. I should be sharing more about my day with them, telling them about my joys and my lows. They may not necessarily understand the context but it helps to build their sense of empathy. It also helps them to see that life isn’t pretty all the time, and that we face problems all the time. Hopefully, if I involve them in the process, I am showing them that the most important thing about problems is in how we approach and solve them (this is honestly a WIP for me even at 36! I react so quickly and so emotionally, it takes a while before I start seeing the logical steps to reaching a (re)solution).
Thank you, my littles. Thank you for teaching mama a lesson and for making me feel so much better about myself.
I don’t know about you but the arrival of my first child was a huge shock to my system.
After that long struggle with infertility, after the many treatments and procedures, we were all ready for our baby boy to join us. Well, we were as ready as one could be – afterall, I don’t really think that anyone can say that they are well and truly prepared to be parents.
And so, the shock. There was resentment, sadness, stress, frustration. There were many, many moments when I burst into tears and sank to the floor of my baby’s room.
Part of it was the lack of sleep, for sure. Exclusively breastfeeding my child meant that I had to sleep in three-hourly chunks. My entire life was broken down into three-hourly chunks. Add to the fact that anxiety over being a first-time mother – am I producing milk? Is he latching properly? Did he drink enough? Are there enough wet diapers? – made me sleep poorly. Nap when baby naps? Hah! (He didn’t nap much.)
Then, there was the sudden realisation that this mewling, helpless, tiny being was entirely dependent on me for survival. What if I didn’t know what I was doing? If he wasn’t sleeping (my first-born hated sleep with a vengeance – even as a newborn!), was his development ruined? Why was he crying? How can I make him stop?
In the days and the months of his life early on, it was just me and him alone in the house. I had no help, my mother was preoccupied with my nephew and we hadn’t had a helper yet. And so, I had to take on the roles of mother and wife and housekeeper all by myself.
That made me miserable. I was struggling to get used to caring for an infant and trying to get everything else done at the same time. Perhaps it was postpartum depression, I wouldn’t know. I had no idea, nobody ever told me that I would feel this way. I had assumed that once the baby was here, I would be glowing with maternal love and motherhood would come naturally to me.
It took me more than 10 weeks before I emerged from the cobwebs.
Thankfully, that gave me enough time to enjoy my newborn before I went back to work. And in that respect, I was really grateful that I had 16 weeks of maternity leave. Those 16 weeks were not only to help me recover from the physical aspect of the birth, they were necessary for my mental and emotional health. I simply cannot fathom how I would have been like if I had to go back to work a month or two or even three after the birth. My anxiety levels would have been through the roof, and don’t even get me started on the mum guilt.
Is 16 weeks enough? To be perfectly honest, I think six months would have been ideal. At four months, my babies were still itty bitty and dependent solely on my breast milk for sustenance so I felt so stressed at work, trying to find time (and space) to express. But then again, even the USA does not even mandate paid maternity leave – 16 weeks is great compared to that.
When I went back to work, I was lucky enough to have both sides of the family pitch in to help with caregiving. And when my son turned 28 months – and had a baby brother by then – we enrolled him in the childcare centre at my workplace. We chose to do so because, honestly, we decided that it was better than having our littles stay home with grandma and do nothing. They can pick up social, verbal and academic skills by being in school – and we have not had an ounce of regret since then.
It was a no-brainer: the school’s proximity ensured convenience in dropping him off and picking him up, and the costs were really reasonable. In addition to the basic $300 childcare subsidy that we receive from the government, we were also eligible for an employee subsidy.
This meant that we weren’t working just to earn enough to pay childcare fees! Plus – and that is a big PLUS – we were able to top up our boys’ Child Development Accounts after we had received the Baby Bonus ($6,000 during our time, it’s apparently $8,000 these days!) so the government matched it dollar for dollar. That sum of money has been used to pay off their childcare centre fees.
I know that when the Baby Bonus was first launched, many Singaporeans complained that the government was trying to bribe us to have children. There were grumbles of how $6,000 is not enough to bring up a child. I was probably one of them, heh.
But I will eat my words here and say that as a sandwiched middle-income group, the $6,000 and subsequent dollar-for-dollar matching programme has come in very useful. Will I have kids just for that $6,000? Nope. But as somebody who’s always wanted to have kids? Yes, that money helps, more than I could possibly have imagined.
Looking back on our five-year parenting journey, I sometimes wonder aloud to my husband if we would have kids all over again, given what we know now. Honestly? I would. It’s tough, exhausting, humbling, frustrating. But it is also amazing and joyful.
I wouldn’t change a single minute of it.