International Women’s Day is commemorated worldwide on Mar. 8 as a celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. Closer to home, City News celebrates the lives of three women who have lived a life less ordinary.
Contributed By Mavis Toh & Yong Yung Shin
THE HOUSEWIFE WHO REDISCOVERED HER PASSION
Joanne Toh, 44, gave up her hairstyling business when her second child came along, but got it all back and more when started serving in the make-up ministry at City Harvest Church. Today, she is a freelance makeup artist with three grown-up boys aged 17, 18 and 21.
How did you transit from running your own business to becoming a stay-home mother?
I had to give up my business because there was nobody to take care of my children. and the babysitter who was taking care of my first child could not handle another one. So I made the decision to stay home. It was terribly routine, having to do the same chores day in, day out.
What motivated me to stay in that kind of mundane life was the joy I derived from my kids, in how they would tell me about their day at school, and the close bonds they share with one another—it is all worth it.
Tell us about your involvement in the Make-up Ministry at City Harvest Church.
I came to Christ because I was at my wit’s end with my youngest son—he was facing a lot of emotional problems which in turn created a lot of behavioral issues.
For two years, every week without fail, one of the zone supervisors at CHC, Agnes Soh, would come to my house and give me Bible study. As I grew spiritually, I saw God’s hand upon the lives of my family, and even my youngest son’s problems disappeared.
The possibility of serving in the church then opened up and someone asked if I wanted to serve in the Make-up Ministry, given my background in hairstyling. My first thought was, “I’m only a housewife; I don’t know anything. I have no social life.” But I eventually signed on and underwent the necessary training. It has been about six years now, and from serving in the ministry, I have been able to take on external assignments like bridal and corporate grooming jobs.
What was it like coming back to styling?
At first I felt really lost—you have to remember that I’d been out of touch with the outside world for very long, being a housewife whose life only revolved around housechores and caring for the family. But I learned to lean on the Holy Spirit for guidance whenever the workload got too heavy or when I didn’t know how to create a particular hairstyle. It’s hard to explain, but everything comes easily to me when I do it in His strength.
What advice do you have for other mothers or would-be mothers who might be considering the route of becoming a stay-home mother?
Think about the fact that the baby you hold in your arms is specially made for you by God—you don’t want to miss the moment when they take their first step or break into their first smile. It’s precious!
Of course, some women do not have a choice, but if you can, you should at least spend the first few years of your child’s life by their side. When they are a little older, then you can consider working from home or taking on a part-time job because it’s so important to create that bond and set the right foundations in them.
THE ONE WOMAN SHOW
Elaine Ng, 40, had the carpet pulled out from under her feet when her marriage unraveled eight years ago. Yet today she holds the fort as the executive director of operations at Academies Australasia College and mother to 6-year-old Koen Wong.
Under what circumstances did you become a single mother?
I discovered that my husband was unfaithful to me. Nothing prepares you for a failed marriage. You fall in love, get married, say your vows and think that if you do your part by being a good wife and mother, what can go wrong? I was not the perfect wife but I never expected my life to take this route. My first reaction was loss, betrayal, grief, helplessness, anger and heartbrokenness.
We went through counseling but things did not work out. We were separated for three years and are now divorced. I have been a single parent for the last five years.
How did you pull through?
I thank God for my relationship with Him, my friends and family. What I learned from the Bible gave me the reassurance that I still had a purpose in life and there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. Practically, I had to keep my act together because I still had to bring up Koen.
I must give mention to Sun, Pastor Kong, Pastor Tan and his wife, Jacqueline because they were there guiding and advising me in every way, and are still doing so today. Other than Jesus, they were the ones who kept me sane and helped me rebuild my life and create a healthy environment for my son to grow up in.
How has this event shaped your take on life?
Because I made it out with my sanity intact, it has made me appreciate life more. I learned not to take life so seriously or be too quick to react, but instead to take a step back and look at things in perspective. I do not allow myself to care too much about what people think, because everybody has an opinion about what you should do and most of the time they mean well. But I’ve come to a stage where I realized I need to live my life based on my decisions and not anybody else’s.
How do you play both the roles of mother and father to your son? What is your parenting approach?
With great difficulty and by trial and error. When God put His Son on earth, He made sure He grew up with two parents too. I take it a day at a time and tell my son this, “It’s just you and me. I am not always right, I will make mistakes and you tell me if I am wrong (and he does)!”
If I am in the wrong I will apologize to him. I try my best to communicate with him and explain to him the rationale behind the things I do and the things I make him do. I am glad to say, so far so good. We get along well together. He is never afraid to question things, and is very sensible and well-adjusted.
What’s the toughest thing about being a single mother?
You are entirely on your own. The worst is when your child is sick or when you need to discipline him; you don’t have the luxury of saying “you’re going to get it when Daddy comes back.” The buck stops here. I am blessed with a good helper but I cannot and should not let her be the disciplinarian. If you allow your thoughts and concerns to run wild, it can become overwhelming and make you panic and feel helpless.
What practical tips do you adhere to in order not get overwhelmed, as you’re also managing a company?
One of the things I have learned is not to be afraid to ask for help. I tell myself not to be a hero when there are too many things on my plate, because being a parent is a full-time job and when you are a single parent it’s double the challenge.
What is your advice to other single mothers out there?
Come to terms with your situation. Yes, you are a mother, you are single, and you don’t know what to do, but come to terms with it because there is life ahead. Do not dwell in the past, it does not help in any way.
I always encourage myself with the knowledge that when Jesus said He came in order that we can live life abundantly, He meant it for everyone—even single mothers. So whatever crisis you are going through, remember not to blame God. He is always on your side. You can walk out of the valley.
THE CORPORATE JUNGLE TROOPER
Jane Khoo Li Li, 37, has been married for 13 years with two children, Jolene, 10 and Jarell, 7. As a team leader at a local bank, she struggles with the archetype modern woman’s dilemma between career and children. Here, she talks about striking a fine balance.
How tough is it for a working mother to advance her career in an industry as demanding and results-oriented as banking?
Most of the banks are still headed by men at the CEO and chairman level but it is not difficult to find women leaders in key management roles today. I don’t see any constraints in women rising up the ranks if they are truly capable, at least not at my current work place. It is more a case of self-restraint, in light of one’s family commitments.
What do you think is a significant contribution of the female workforce to the place where you work?
I have seen and heard of a number of inspiring women leaders in the industry. Instead of drumming to the “give me the results” beat, they inspire performance by showing that they care for their staff’s personal well-being. I aspire to be like them.
How do you juggle between work and home?
I wish to tell you a fancy fairy tale but the truth is—it is difficult. I must say that I am extremely blessed with good parents-in-law and a helper who takes good care of my children when I am at work. I know of many female colleagues who have to rush off after work, or take leave whenever their kids fall sick or when the child care center closes due to HFMD. I am grateful for the family support.
What are some of the greatest challenges facing a working mother like yourself, and how do you cope?
Guilt. Despite the strong support at home, I wish I could be home with my children. After all, they are my children and my husband and I do have high aspirations for their future. I will try to rush home before their bedtime to at least say a prayer for them and tuck them into bed. I help them with their homework during the weekend.
What would be your advice to working mothers out there?
There is no standard advice. I do not envy stay-home mums but I admire them a great deal and I think their roles are sacred. For those without family support, this is what I mean by self-restraint in my earlier answer—the choice is clearly your children.
There is a time and season for everything and I guess for those with younger kids, the season is for your children.
For those with family support, show appreciation to your family and remember not to exploit it—I remind myself about this daily!