To be a mother in modern society is a tough thing to do, whether you’re looking after a newborn, or guiding your children through primary school, or raising teenagers into adulthood. City News writer Dawn Seow and two other City Harvest mothers share their challenges and practical tips in this Mother’s Day feature.
Author Elizabeth Stone once said, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
When I first read this quote, I was a new mom, and those words were simply something cute to post on Instagram.
Today, nine years later, at the age of 37, that quote hits a little closer home. If “forever” sounds like a long time when you get married, it will feel even longer when you have a child. Children tug at your heartstrings forever, no matter how old they get. Whether they are babies, teenagers or adults, born or unborn, birthed by us or adopted, they are ours—we can’t return them. They weigh on our hearts forever.
The job of a mother is therefore possibly the hardest thing a woman can do—to have our hearts running around outside our bodies all the time can be exhausting. But we wouldn’t exchange it for the world.
NEW BOUNDARIES FOR NEW MOMS
Summer Lee, 32, is the mother of three young children: Dara, 5 and Hana, 3 and baby Oska. Since she was a little girl, Summer had always dreamed of becoming a mother, and the thought of caring for her own children always made her happy.
But when that dream became reality at 27, she realised it could not be further from the utopia of her imagination. As a new parent, she found her emotions swinging from one extreme to the other.
“Some days, I was happy when I looked at my newborn. Other days, I would feel discouraged that I couldn’t do what I used to do,” Summer admits. “At times, I would lose my footing as I didn’t know what my future looked like, or how to go about handling things. Many times, I would feel completely exhausted.”
While motherhood is not an easy task, Summer feels that it is a role every woman can grow into.
Becoming a mother is a huge life transition. Many modern women, particularly in Singapore, inadvertently build their identity on their career, ministry, or their marriage—things they have achieved in life. Summer used to be one such woman: she was driven in ministry and work, co-leading nine cell groups with her husband, Oh Yan Ming, who also serves on the board of City Harvest Church.
“I served every single day, wrote sermons, ran events. There were many things I wanted to achieve, and I would work late into the night,” she recalls. “I loved the thrill of activity.”
But since becoming a mother, her perspective has changed. “I often ask myself this question: Can I continue doing what I do now that I’m a mother? Does it mean I need to give up things in my life that I love and enjoy?”
While motherhood is joyful and exciting, it can also be overwhelming. Summer soon found that she had to pause and evaluate the whole transition. One of the things she found she needed to do was to set clear boundaries between the different aspects of her life.
Becoming a mother brings new commitments and demands, yet every mother is still limited to 24 hours in a day. “Pray for the courage to live the life that you want,” Summer advises. “The more kids I have, the more intentional I need to be with my time. I need to know when to say no to certain things and when to say yes.”
That means mothers need to learn to communicate. “Communicate with your husband about your feelings. Communicate with your ministry leader about your boundaries. Set expectations for your boss and explain your boundaries at work,” she says.
“Also, run your own race and don’t compare yourself with others,” she adds. “Everyone is unique in her own way—it doesn’t matter if your child reaches a milestone more slowly than other people’s children. Don’t let competition hinder you from seeing the best in your child.”
NAVIGATING THE PRIMARY SCHOOL YEARS
Change is the only constant in life. Just when we mothers get used to enjoying having our little ones glued to our sides, they grow up and leave us to go to school.
I remember the day my firstborn stepped into his kindergarten for the last time—I sat in my car and cried. I thought about all the times I held his tiny hands and walked him to the gate of the kindergarten. Those were moments we would never have again.
Entering primary school is a big transition, not just for my sons, Daniel, 9 and Danzel, 7, but also for me. For them, the environment is new, the workload is new and the freedom they gain in school is also new. All this is also new to to their mother.
In Singapore, schoolwork makes up a large part of our children’s life. I did not expect that it would become my responsibility as well. When Daniel entered primary one, I was relieved to find that I could communicate with their teachers on apps like Parents Gateway and Class Dojo. But I soon realised that those platforms also became a means for the teachers to constantly remind parents of test dates, classwork and projects. This meant that beside dealing with my own work deadlines, I had to find space in my brain to accommodate my children’s school schedules as well.
While tedious, these new challenges also present us an opportunity to grow with our children. After a while, I learned that my sons were no longer toddlers who needed me to hold their hands. With a little guidance and reminding, they could learn to take responsibility for their own schedules.
I devised a calendar and taught my sons to put in important dates for spelling and tests. They now know that it’s their responsibility to write down their homework and show it to me after school. Together, we came up with an after-school schedule, and I trust that they will follow it while I’m at work and away from them.
Becoming a primary school parent taught me that I, as a mother, need to teach my children responsibility, and then to trust them to do what they have been taught. Beyond that, the next most important lesson for me was to give them a chance to fail. Any task takes time to learn and when they know it’s okay to fail, they will be confident to get up and try again.
As much as I lament the multitude of things I have to do for my pre-teen children now, I am also aware that one day it will all come to an end. Before I know it, the chatter in the house will die down. The sound of my boys role-playing their favourite characters will give way to silent teenagers brooding over… whatever teenagers brood about.
Paullyn Tay, 49, who is a realtor as well as a vice-president of sales at Creative eWorld, knows this well. She and her husband, Martin Ong have three daughters: Vevien, 27, Emiko, 21 and Darlene, 17. The couple has been serving God faithfully as cell group leaders for many years.
But that has not meant that they are spared all the hardships of parenthood. Vevien suffered from hearing loss at a young age, which affected her studies. “But God is good, and she was healed at a Benny Hinn service,” Paullyn recalls. By then, Vevien was already in her teens and had fallen too far behind in her studies to catch up to her peers.
“I was very frustrated back then because I had to go and meet with the principal and teachers all the time,” she shares. “It came to a point where I asked the principal, ‘What else can I do for her?’ It was very hard for me too.”
While Vevien was never rude to the teachers and did not get into any trouble in school, she had no interest in her lessons and would often fall asleep in class. She was deeply unhappy, and had to drag herself to school every day.
At that point, Paullyn and Martin made the tough call of pulling Vevien out of mainstream school at secondary three and enrolling her into City College to sit for her O-levels as a private candidate. “Many people told us we were being ridiculous, but we prayed and we felt the peace from God.”
“After speaking to Kenny (Low, principal of City College), we knew immediately that we needed to let Vevien try City College. We needed to send her to a place where there were people who believed in her. Most importantly, we didn’t want her self-esteem to be crushed,” Paullyn says.
“I think if a child is in an environment that destroys their self-esteem, we as parents have to do something about it, even if it seems illogical. Because if they grow up with unhealthy self-esteem, they will struggle through life thinking they are not good enough.”
Vevien did well at City College and that success rekindled her enthusiasm for studying. Even though she had to take O-levels twice, she went on to do a diploma and graduated from the University of Birmingham with Second Class honours (upper). Today, she is a successful realtor.
When Emiko and Darlene entered their teenage years, they too faced their own problems. It was tough not just for them but for Paullyn. She is grateful that she had God and a strong support system in CHC.
“Sometimes, I would cry out to God, especially when my children were not doing well,” she shares candidly. “I would ask God why my children are struggling when I serve Him so faithfully. Other times, I wonder if I haven’t done enough for them because I’m so busy with my ministry and career.”
It was the encouragement of her church leaders and their prayers that covered her during that season. “Through that period, I learned to trust God. His calling for us is irrevocable, and even though it was very tough when our children are not doing well, I chose to believe that when we seek His Kingdom first, everything will be added to us,” she says.
“Sun (Ho, CHC’s executive pastor) once said that we can pray for our children into their destiny. In that same season, Pastor Kong (Hee, senior pastor of CHC) also preached on the fourth dimension, that if we keep believing, visualising and speaking out in faith, we will see our prayers coming to pass. I started visualising Vevien standing on stage, sharing her testimony on how God turned her life around. Sure enough, just a few years ago, Vevien went on stage during Teacher’s Day to share her testimony and thanked Kenny, her teachers in City College, as well as Pastor Eileen Toh, who oversees CHC’s children’s service.
“God really turned my mourning into dancing, He really cares, and He hears our prayers and sees our tears. We are very, very grateful to God.”
Having raised two teenagers into adulthood, Paullyn’s advice is that “we need to be a friend to our teenagers because they are transitioning into adulthood, and we cannot treat them like kids anymore. Moreover, they like it when we speak to them as if they are our friends.”
In her conversations with her daughters during their teenage years, Paullyn would look for opportunities to bring God into the picture, to share her personal testimonies with them. But even given a parent’s best efforts, there is always a chance that teenagers may mix with the wrong company. When that happens, Paullyn’s advice is to pray and trust God.
“It worked for me,” she vouches. Once, when she discovered one of her daughters mixed up in unsavoury company, she prayed, and before she knew it, her daughter had parted ways with that “friend”. “When things go beyond what we can handle, we just have to pray because God cares for them as much as we do,” she says.
Having gone through tough times with her children has taught Paullyn to depend on God. “I would never have seen the joy of the breakthrough I see now if not for the things we went through,” she says. “My experiences also allow me to help other mothers. When I tell them my stories, it helps them to have hope for their own situation.”
HOW MOTHERS LAST THE DISTANCE
After fighting the battles that we moms have to fight, it’s always important to have some time just for ourselves. I’m an avid reader and a huge Korean drama fan. After a long day meeting deadlines and feeding children, I like to curl up, either with a good book or in front of the TV with a glass of wine. That always helps me feel better.
Summer and Paullyn have healthier me-time activities. Summer takes time to connect with herself by exercising and having some good food. “We need to carve out time for ourselves, so engage help if you need to and delegate certain tasks to others,” she advises.
Paullyn likes to go dining, shopping and travel with her sisters and girlfriends. But to recharge, she needs her quiet time with the Lord. “That time is very precious to me—it’s when I get myself strengthened and refreshed. Eating, drinking and even laughing with friends are all temporal and it cannot help me on the inside. My me-time with the Lord sustain me and is part of my routine.”