Singapore announced its circuit breaker period in early April 2020 in a bid to combat the Covid-19 spread – a measure it extended to 1 June earlier this week. The strict measures that were put in place has seen the closure of non-essential businesses, offices and schools around the island. And while some bemoan the impending loss of bubble tea, mothers across the Red Dot are patiently counting down the days to schools reopening.
Between working from home, managing the household, dealing with the recent HBL initiatives and keeping their kids engaged, mums everywhere are certainly putting in the extra hours to ensure things at home run as smoothly as possible. These eight mums share how they’ve been coping with the circuit breaker and what they’ve grown to love (and hate) about the experience:
One of the biggest struggles is undoubtedly trying to manage two full-time jobs at the same time. “It has been a mixed bag of emotions, an equal mix of happiness and frustration, fun and fatigue,” says 34-year-old Joy Nanayakara, who has had to build her work-from home schedule around her toddler’s daily needs.
It’s one that’s shared by many moms; in fact, Michelle Ng, thought that the circuit breaker measures would offer plenty of bonding time, but struggled a week after its introduction to divide her time between work, preparing her daughter’s meals, homework and catering to her need for attention. “She doesn’t understand why I can’t sit and play with her like we do on weekends,” says the 41-year-old graphic designer. The art of juggling house chores, parenting duties and working from home has also proven to be challenge for Carolina Marelie. “I’m trying hard to survive,” admits the 36-year-old mother of two, who recently had her second baby.
“I spend most of my time trying to be present at work while having to make sure she doesn’t make a bigger mess,” sighs Joy. It was also overwhelming when the kindergarten sent worksheets and videos to continue her three-year-old son’s lessons at home, says 30-year-old Natalina Chan. “It added to my already busy load working from home, and then having to manage my child’s frustrations when the school and playgrounds closed.”
But even if having the children around all day is stressful, all eight mums agreed that the perks far outweighed the stress. For 30-year old Natalina, her role as marketing manager in an international organisation means travelling for work frequently. As such, the circuit breaker, however stressful initially, has given her the opportunity to spend more time with her three-year-old son. “I intentionally set aside about 30 minutes of special time each day to do simple crafts or play Lego with my child. I am grateful that I now have the chance to observe his developmental growth on a daily basis,” she adds.
The extra family time has also been a welcome bonus for 31-year-old Zahra Hamzah-Libby. “We look forward to having breakfast and dinner together where we sit and have a meal together. We look forward to doing everything together when I’m done with work. It can be as simple as laying by our balcony or doing house chores together,” she says. Her two-year-old son has become more independent, too. “When I’ve told him I have to work, he will play by himself or go to his father,” she adds.
The mandatory stay-home period has also increased the sense of safety for many mommas. Sharifah feels safer knowing that her two young children are home with her at all times; the 32-year-old stay-at-home mum recently hit the brakes on her part-time GrabFood delivery job to spend more time with her son and daughter, aged 5 and 3. “I tend to focus on teaching them things the school might not offer such as personal hygiene and their mother tongue, which is Malay,” she explains. Another wonderful perk? “Not having to wake up so early in the mornings!” quips Shazeen Tye, a 43-year-old community manager with two active sons aged 8 and 10.
One lifesaving technique these mums credit for their stay-at-home success is a dependable routine. It’s a good habit to start while they’re still young, says Carolina, who feels it will teach children to “manage themselves and set them up with good habits for life.” And while her five-year-old’s day is filled with online classes and a little free time for her to “do her own thing” in the evening, she prefers to end the day with her daughter and lots of conversation. “We talk about the day while colouring, baking or watching Netflix together.”
“A routine is necessary in order to complete my own workload,” says Michelle, who adds that her daughter’s routine includes study time, crafting, a quick nap, high tea and a spot of Netflix each day. Joy strives to plan a full day that engages and educates her toddler. And while her little one enjoys a range of school activities, sticker books, colouring or painting, play dough, books, toys, water play and bubbles, television has helped plenty, too. “Educational videos and Paw Patrol have been a lifesaver. People might judge, but without any support, it’s almost impossible to make a two-year-old sit still for more than 10 minutes without an engaging show.”
For Sharifah, exercise and role-play are an important part of the day for the entire family. She starts their day with exercise before breakfast, followed by play time, naps and lessons before a round of role-playing games. “Sometimes I pretend that I’m a customer at my son’s restaurant, and he pretends to cook me a meal. Or I pretend I’m a patient and my children are doctors. Before the pandemic, we were often caught up with work or busy on our phones, so having our full attention is something they’ve really enjoyed. Plus, we’ve found that trying these role-playing games for a full hour without touching our phones or any screens has helped boost their imagination and creativity.”
The routine doesn’t just apply to the children, says Sylvia Victor who has two daughters aged 12 and 15. It’s for mums, too. “Their daily routine is HBL, as it’s the first important task of the day. But on my part, I have to make sure that they have well-balanced meals and healthy time away from the screens, as well as get enough sleep and exercise at home so that their body clocks don’t get disrupted,” explains the 44-year-old stay-at-home mum.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has proven, it’s that it truly takes a village to raise a child. But in the time of social distancing, these strong mums have only their spouses, helpers and children to turn to when they need a helping hand.
Some, like Zahra and Carolina take turns with their spouses to care for their children and juggle important tasks. “My husband is a great support for me. He handles house-related stuff — the cleaning, buying of groceries, laundry and more. I do most of the stuff that has to do with the kid although he does take over when I have to work on something else,” adds Joys.
Others, like Natalina, are extremely thankful for their helpers. “I tag team with my helper to care for my child, as my husband still goes to work regularly due to the nature of his job. My helper is experienced and has also been taking care of my meals and the housekeeping. I’m extremely thankful for help since my energy wanes, as I’m currently in the late stage of my pregnancy,” says Chan.
Mums like Sylvia and Shazeen who have older children have roped them in to help with household chores and other responsibilities. “While I’m the cook, cleaner, tutor and nanny, I have tasked my boys to help with household chores during this time; so one helps with mopping and the other with laundry,” says Shazeen. Sylvia’s husband, on the other hand, helps with laundry or kitchen-cleaning duties on weekdays while the kids do simpler chores on weekends. “Everybody has a part to upkeep in the cleaning of the household so that I don’t get overwhelmed and it helps greatly.” It’s something Michelle agrees with wholeheartedly, chiming, “We all need that extra pair of hands every now and then.”
While ‘me-time’ is a luxury for many mums, it’s vital to add it to your day, these mums say. Joy tries to squeeze in a workout every day during her daughter’s nap time. “For my husband and I, ‘Us Time’ is after 10pm when she sleeps. It’s an hour or two of Netflix and ice-cream,” she adds.
And while the uncertainty that Covid-19 brings can be mentally challenging, it’s also good to try and enjoy moments like these, suggests Sharifah because “we don’t often get much time to spend with our loved ones. Now, we have plenty of it, so you should treat every moment like your last because you never know if you will be able to wake up tomorrow.”
For Sylvia, practicing self-love means keeping stress at bay. She encourages mums to trust their instincts and “have faith in all that you are doing for your family and children. Don’t let any criticism get to you. Everyone has different ways in working around situations, so you’ve got this!” When times get tough, she finds that fun apps like TikTok can help. “It’s a great way to bond with them, get them excited and have a good laugh, which is the best medicine.”
It’s a wonderful time to work on your patience threshold, too, suggests Zahra. “We need to respect each other and help each other out. A give-and-take attitude matters right now, so talk to your husband calmly even if he can be annoying,” she adds, encouraging stressed-out mums to unwind through video chats with friends and family.
On the other hand, the pandemic has provided Natalina with plenty of retrospective. “This period has forced me to pause and ask myself what really matters, and then let go of everything else that doesn’t.”
Text: Hazel Vincent De Paul