As we speak to working mothers at various stages in their careers, some things become apparent. The primary thing is that working mothers cannot do this without support.
Support, in this day and age, comes from a constantly shifting and improvised patchwork of help from spouses, parents, parents-in-law, helpers, nannies, childcare centres and after-school care centres.
Gone are the days of our parents’ generation where they could hold down jobs without outsourcing the bulk of childcare to others.
Today, work follows you home and across different timezones, leaching into your many digital devices and into your personal space. A common theme for the working mothers we spoke to has been one of trade-offs. Some have had to take a more scenic route through the corporate world, or delegate child-rearing to someone else.
Amidst the tug-of-war over a working mother’s time and energy, the biggest battle takes place within – mommy guilt is a constant feature on the emotional landscape.
A survey by online employment marketplace JobStreet in 2016 found that 69 per cent of working mothers in Singapore would quit, if they have the option. They are working out of necessity – to support their family, plan for retirement and to be financially independent.
There are success stories, of course, of women who have been able to find the right balance, and we have featured them here:
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In addition to leading a team of over 50 employees in Shopee, she is also raising her 4-year-old daughter to be a kind and confident toddler.
She carefully plans out her time in order to ensure she is able to bond daily with her daughter, waking up before 7am every day to have breakfast with her in the mornings and reading storybooks to her every evening before she goes to bed.
Peggy shared “I hope that by seeing me do what I love and how passionate I am, it will inspire my daughter to chase her dreams and teach her that she can achieve whatever she puts her mind to.”
She also regularly exchanges information and advice with fellow working mothers and fathers in Shopee’s Working Mums Group, and says it’s beneficial to work with an employer that provides flexible working hours for parents with young children.
Jane Kwang and her husband Altona Widjaja are raising their two sons, aged four and six, without a helper. This, the couple has found, requires constantly juggling the twin demands of parenthood and their respective careers.
She says that it is a constant rebalancing of career and family for both herself and her spouse, “Sometimes due to work requirements, career may have a higher priority for a period of time. During those periods, ideally my spouse should be able to commit to having family as a higher priority and vice versa.”
In the juggling of parenthood and career, she shares that building rapport and trust with bosses and colleagues is important. This is so that the boss knows that “you would deliver your deliverables on time” based on past experience, Ms Kwang says.
At times, Gopi Mirchandani is away from home for weeks on end. Her three-year-old son sometimes sees her more on screen than in the flesh.
“He’s now very used to it. From the get-go, he’s seen his mom on FaceTime in different countries,” says Ms Mirchandani, CEO and head of client group Asia (ex-Japan) of NN Investment Partners in Singapore. “It’s always about the airport and the airlines. I would always give him a call just before I board so that he can see the aeroplane that I’m getting on to because that excites little boys.”
She relies on a helper for the time-being, “As a full-time working mom, I realised that my young child is not going to spend most of his time with me and I had to delegate caregiving to help who are not related to me.
“That was a difficult call as it meant that my baby could be close to my helper and perhaps even closer to her than to me. It was a trade-off I had to make if I wanted to continue working full-time and I had to be mentally strong to do it.”
Sharon Sng used to put in 100 to 120 hours of work a week at the office and pull all-nighters for more than half of her 12 years in investment banking.
About six years ago, she switched over to corporate work, which gave her more control of her time and made it easier for her to manage her career and motherhood.
Currently serving as senior vice-president for Indonesia with CapitaLand, Ms Sng says: “With those hours and being at the beck and call of the clients, it was a challenge to continue in the same career path as a mother, more because I was not prepared to delegate too much of the child-caring to someone else.
“I knew I wanted to work, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be a weekend mother only. It was a conscious decision to make the switch to the corporate side, which allowed me more control of my schedule.”
As a new mother, Shoawen is working to find balance while juggling her 8 month old baby daughter, marriage, career and everyday life.
She has a flexible work schedule at Shopee currently, which allows her to have the best of both worlds; she is able to forge ahead in her career and make an impact in her organisation while still participating in her baby’s formative first year.
In order to strike a balance between work and family, she made the conscious decision to spread out her four months of maternity leave instead of taking it at one go. Shaowen advocates for working mothers
to find what works best for them.
Personally, she chooses to rise early every day to bring her baby out for a morning walk, and sets aside evenings and weekends to spend with her. She hopes her daughter will one day work in an environment where women are able to benefit from workplace schemes that allow them to simultaneously build careers and take care of their families.
Running a startup is challenging enough, but Rhonda Wong has doubled down on the endeavour by adding motherhood to the mix.
She runs Ohmyhome – a free app that lets HDB owners connect directly with buyers.
In the morning, she’s up at 6.30 to express milk and play with her six-month-old baby Ashton for 10 minutes before she’s off to work. In the afternoon, she rushes home for lunch, breastfeeds the baby or expresses breast milk and then zips back to work. She leaves the office by 7.30pm, goes home for dinner and feeds her son again.
She resumes working at 8.30pm till 11.30pm when she expresses breast milk one more time before she heads to bed. “I have been pretty blessed as I was able to work even after delivery. But it’s very tiring as every night, I’m not sleeping very well. I’m still waking up every night to feed Ashton,” she says.
A nanny, Jane, looks after her baby while she’s at work. She says: “There’s no way I can have this routine, of going to work, without Jane. I have my parents at home too. They play with baby, bring him for walks. But I would never want my parents to have to do all the work when (they are) retired.”
(Text: Chai Hung Yin, Business Times / Additional reporting: Natalya Molok)