amanda lim expat mum

All images: Amanda Lim

When expats come here to work, not many end up settling down with a local to have their kids in Singapore. For Amanda Louise Lim, a fitness coach and nutritionist from Southern California, that is exactly what happened. The soon-to-be mum of three has a 3.5-year-old girl, a 2-year-old boy, and another boy due next February.

Both Amanda and her husband Tyler work at LIFT Clinic, a clinic they set up that specialises in weight management and metabolic health.

Integrating into her husband’s Singaporean Chinese family has definitely had its ups and downs. While she loved confinement, she was devastated to learn that her firstborn’s head had to be shaved at 100 days old, a practice said to cleanse the baby’s body at the start of their life.

Below, Amanda gets candid about adopting the cultural beliefs of her in-laws, her non-negotiable parenting style, as well as her thoughts on Singapore’s education system.

Read on for her #MumStory.

What’s your biggest reason for having kids?

I was one of those people who always said I would never have kids. And that all changed when I met my husband. So I can honestly say my main reason for having kids was just falling in love with my husband.

Early in our relationship, he was saying: “You know, when we have kids…” and I didn’t find the idea weird. It seemed totally normal. I wanted to have a family only with him.

How did you know your husband was “the one”?

I know it sounds cheesy, but meeting Tyler was love at first sight. We met at a party and the spark was instantaneous. The moment I laid eyes on him, I felt drawn to him, and we had such an easy chemistry from our first conversation. I’d also never met a man who was so honest and open with his feelings for me and his desire to build a future together; he was definitely talking about having kids together well before I had even considered it — as you can tell, he had me convinced!

Was race ever an issue in your relationship?

It wasn’t a case of “I don’t see colour”; I definitely knew he was a Singaporean Chinese. But race was never an issue. It was the first time I intimately interacted with someone that was a local. Most expats can honestly say that their interactions with Singaporeans are professional, or sometimes at a friendship level. Rarely do you have an intimate relationship with a local when you are an expat.

So it was more of an adjustment of our nationalities because I was definitely the first American that he had an intimate relationship with. Coming together culturally was the main thing.

I didn’t have any concerns moving into the relationship, though. I always say that my experience with Singaporean men is that they are very genuine, trustworthy and heartwarming. Not to say that American men aren’t, but there’s a bigger variability within the range in America.

What was it like to merge you and your husband’s families together?

There is a bit of a language difference. His parents speak primarily Mandarin at home, and my parents speak only English. When our parents met for the first time, there was a translation issue where there was zero Chinese on one side, moderate English on the other side, and then us in the middle, kind of connecting those conversations.

But I think our parents get along beautifully. The norm in our family is that my parents will come and stay with us for two to four months at a time, so there’s plenty of time for interactions with the in-laws. Everyone has become comfortable with each other; the way we all communicate is pretty seamless and easy, to be honest.

Did you and Tyler discuss how you would raise your kids before becoming parents?

To be fair, we got pregnant before we got married. So our discussions were mostly logistical until the baby arrived. At that time, I was not yet a Singapore permanent resident (PR). I was still on an employment pass and we had to make some decisions about our future.

Before the discussion around parenting, we first needed to have a discussion about marriage. Were we going to parent from a married perspective? In Singapore, we had to make that decision very thoughtfully. Without marriage, Singapore citizenship is not available to a baby between an expat and a Singaporean. If we want our kids to have Singapore citizenship, do I want to become a PR so that all of us would have similar rights and privileges?

With the wonderful nature of my husband, he proposed three weeks after we found out we were pregnant. He had a very clear direction of where he wanted our family to go, and I was on board with that.

Did you ever consider raising your kids in America?

Never. I would never bring my kids back to the US. I told Tyler: if they want to go back for college, that’s on them, because it’s expensive. It’s great to be American and I’m grateful I am, but it doesn’t do for me anything that Singapore can’t give me.

On a personal note, the safety in US is not up to par, and it’s getting worse every day. The homelessness issues, the gun issues, the political issues, conflicts with gangs and cultural fighting… that is not a place I’d raise my kids.

How did you envision yourself parenting your kids?

I was obsessed with the idea of baby-led weaning (BLW). It is the idea that you don’t feed your kids; they feed themselves. They use tactile learning which increases motor skills. I was all for it. I made printouts for my helper to show the different shapes the food should be cut into. I had all these BLW tools, like little training forks and stuff.

But I had to give it up in the end. The reality is that it’s messy. Man, every meal of a BLW ended with stained clothes and hair, and general destruction on the floor. During the process of introducing 100 foods to my daughter, Tyler even pointed out that durian wasn’t on the list. So we let her just dig in and smear it all over herself. We had to throw away that bib and that placemat because it never got clean. It never got un-durianed. It was poison.

While BLW was semi-doable with my daughter, we absolutely did not want to do it with my son. I could not have two babies close in age messing up the kitchen three times a day for every meal.

My in-laws prefer a more traditional feeding method, where they prepare food and help feed the babies. And that brings them so much joy. So I was like, since traditional feeding is bringing them so much joy and it spares us a massive nuclear showdown every time, let’s just give up BLW.

Did you initially see yourself parenting with a more Americanised approach?

Since I’ve only had kids in Singapore with a Singaporean family, I don’t know what the American way would really be. What I can say is that something that is perhaps American, or just a certain parenting style that I hold tight to, is sleep training. I am an absolute stoic for sleep training, and I will not relent. We have strong family values of independence and self-reliance, which I believe starts even when the kids are very young.

From two weeks old, they have slept outside of our bedroom. And then from four months old, they were sleeping through the night every night. I do not allow co-sleeping; never have, and never will. Our household is on a solid 12-hour block of sleep every night. By introducing them to a firm sleep schedule, in their own beds and with their own coping and self-soothing methods, we’ve also given them the lifelong gift of a proper sleep routine, which is something even my adult clients often struggle with!

I have Singaporean neighbours and I can hear their kids making noise and having a good old time at 9pm. It blows my mind because my kids are silent and in bed at 6.30pm. There is no 9pm in their world. So I think the sleep training thing is probably the most stark difference that I noticed between other families that we interact with and our own kids. But I don’t know if that’s distinctly American or if it’s just me.

Sleep training definitely startled my in-laws at the start simply because during the process, there’s a lot of crying. I think my in-laws were not used to hearing babies cry for that long, so there was definitely some kind of unspoken tension during the time with my daughter. But by the time my son came around, they were so on board with the 12 hours of sleep part, they were like, “well, whatever you did, do that again.”

One of the Chinese practices you picked up during your motherhood journey was confinement. Did you have any hesitation going into it?

At the beginning, I had no idea what confinement was. I’d never heard of the term. There is nothing similar in the US; no such thing as binding or herbal remedy. In comparison, being a new mum in America is very confusing and isolating.

When I had my first child Louise, what my mother-in-law did, which was incredible, was make me soups, tonics and teas every single day, for 40 days. She did that all by hand. Obviously, I took them as prescribed; and I think that was really wonderful.

Since she had a more relaxed approach to confinement, we were able to relax on some aspects such as hair washing and going outdoors. So I did go outside almost every day to get my vitamin D, which was important to me as a fitness coach. In the end, I could combine confinement practices with some of the health practices that I believe in, and it worked out great.

I really enjoyed confinement. I voluntarily did it the second time and I will do it with my third baby. For me, it was the reason I was able to recover; the combination of being encouraged to rest, relax and heal.

What’s a cultural practice you were shocked to learn about?

When I heard that we had to shave my baby’s head at 100 days old, I was in disbelief. My lovely husband isn’t the greatest explainer of traditions.

Tyler first gently slid it into the conversation during the full month celebration when we were having the red eggs and everything. He suddenly said: “70 more days and then we get to shave the head.” And I was like: wait, what? I’m enjoying the full month celebration and my ang ku kueh, but what is head shaving?

I didn’t think he was serious; didn’t think this was a real tradition; didn’t think like any of that was mandatory or anything. I thought I would just skip it.

But it was definitely real, and we did it. It was absolutely shocking to me.

With my daughter’s hair shaving, I initially felt resentment, because it felt like a very arbitrary thing (why would shaving a baby’s head bald have any special meaning?). But I later read more about the tradition and worked on releasing my attachment to something as silly as baby hair, though I do still have the hair from both kids’ shaves in my memory box!

Why were you so against shaving your baby’s head?

It’s a really good question. This may be where the American tradition is ingrained in me. There’s no point where you would remove the baby’s hair in America. There just isn’t. Normally, it’s like you’re waiting for the baby to have enough hair that you can braid it and do things with it.

The fact that you would ever take it away is such a weird, jarring sensation for me. My mum didn’t support the idea of shaving Louise’s head either, especially since she had a lot of hair at three months.

How do you choose which cultural practices to follow?

It depends on what is important to my mother-in-law. For example, the full month celebration. It was important that we had the right treats and the red eggs, and that we went to the temple for prayers.

I could tell that these things were important to her; she wouldn’t have brought it up if she didn’t really want us to do it. Especially at 30 days postpartum, when she knew I was really vulnerable.

If she’s that serious about it, I will make it happen. If it’s something that I can tell she’s indifferent towards, then I know it’s not that important. So I read the cues from her more than anyone to see what’s appropriate and what’s maybe pushing a boundary.

How has your relationship with your in-laws been?

They are, as I mentioned, very traditional. Whatever you might imagine a traditional Singaporean Chinese couple to be, they are definitely that. At the same time, they’re super open-minded about different practices. I’m six years older than my husband, so we are both generationally and culturally different. I think my in-laws knew that they were going to have to roll with some punches.

From the beginning, his parents have been so welcoming and accepting. They’ve never treated me like an outsider ever once. And they are the same with my parents. My parents are 74. They had never travelled the world. They got their passports just to come to Singapore, so they are learning every time they visit. And Tyler’s parents could not be more welcoming of them as well.

Do you live with your in-laws? We understand this is different from how it normally is like in America.

Yes. It blows my friend’s mind when I casually bring that up. Staying with them definitely helps keep the family bond strong. Even if we didn’t have kids, it would be lovely to live with Tyler’s parents. It’s nice to see them and spend time together. But since we have the kids, staying with them is a necessity.

Since both Tyler’s parents are retired, I think what brings them the most joy in their day-to-day life is to be with our kids. The more they can be with our kids, the happier they are. And I think when you live with your in-laws, they get to be in the kids’ world in a way that they never would if they lived apart.

And let’s be real; you want to have as many people there as possible to pitch in with everything.

As someone who grew up in America, what are your thoughts on the local education system?

This is something we talk about quite a bit because I know it’s super rigorous and expectations are intense. Everything rides on the PSLE. I told my husband: it’s not that I don’t value education – I truly do. I mean, I went through two graduate degrees. 

I just can’t get hyped about it all, such as which primary school they get into, what PSLE score is needed to get them into this secondary school, etc. In America, we don’t really have that system. You go to the school closest to your house. And from there, go to the high school that’s closest to your house. So I don’t have the participative urge in the way that my Singaporean friends have.

Parents with kids Louise’s age (3.5 years old) are already volunteering at the primary school that they want their children to get into. They will even move houses or get an address at a location that will help them get into a better school. This is not a culture that exists in our home. We have a much more relaxed approach.

We are just hoping they go to a school that’s close by so we can continue walking to school together because we really enjoy that – that’s about it. My kids will never get these messages that she will have to be the top; the “A”; the 99%. That’s just not how our values are.

I just hope that Louise initiates a level of love for school that’s innate to her level of learning. I really hope that for her.

With this mindset, do you find it hard to fit into this local parenting culture?

Sometimes. I think it’s more that they think I’m not doing much as a parent than me not fitting in with them. We have a really close friend whose daughter is five, and she’s in five activities on top of school. She has a sport, an instrument, a Chinese language tutor, and two others.

My daughter started school this year, which is huge for us – we kept her home till she was three. And we are just thinking about putting her in gymnastics just to see how it goes. I’m already scared of how overwhelming it would be to go to a full day of school and also go to gymnastics class.

So my Singaporean friends are probably wondering what we are doing and why our kids are just playing all day. This is true — they always play in the front or backyard or at the park. I don’t think it’s an issue of fitting in as it is perceiving that we don’t do very much.

What’s the hardest part about being a mother?

The hardest part is just the fact that you want to spend all of your time with your kids. You want to be in their lives 100% of the time and you just can’t, especially as a working mum. I have to give the same amount of effort and attention to work; I have to have my own life as a woman; and I still have to be a wife to my husband.

So it’s like splitting what your heart wants.

What do you wish you knew before becoming a mum?

I wish I knew that as long as you have help and a plan, becoming a mother is not a completely life-ending or life-altering thing. Motherhood becomes difficult if you don’t have the support that you need in your life. So I was lucky enough; by the time I got around to being a mother, which was when I was 36 years old, I already had systems in place that would allow me to be a successful mother.

Some of these systems including the feeding and sleep training manual, Moms On Call, which gave me a sense of control and calm during a time when everything felt new and uncertain. We also had my husband’s parents living just down the street, and in addition to helping with confinement logistics, they would come by to offer help with feeding, cooking, and other essentials.

I also really benefited from the postpartum Jamu package I completed with All-Ten-Tic; their care and attention to my recovery and early lactation support were really helpful for my physical needs as a new mum as well.

So I wish I knew that as long as you have a system in place, being a mother is actually pretty great.

Are you planning to have any more children after your third one?

Oh, I have made it clear as day that the “shop is closed” at three! I’m perfectly happy to complete our family here. I’m also over 40 now, so it’s time to close the childbearing chapter and focus on building our family traditions with a family of five.