Welcome to our very first Singaporean Mum Abroad story. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to parent my children overseas, instead of in Singapore. Would I do anything differently? How would being in a different culture influence my parenting style? In this series we’ll be asking Singaporean women who are now mums — overseas — to share their lives as women and as mothers away from home. We hope you’ll enjoy reading this. Do let us know if you are a Singaporean mum abroad who would like to share your experiences, or if you have a friend who would. Just email <email@example.com>. We’d love to hear from you!
Audrey Chang spent 15 years crewing for Singapore Airlines before leaving the friendly skies to teach at the Singapore School for the Deaf. She also dabbled in real estate, and was an auto journalist in Dubai for two years. These days, however, the 46-year-old is a stay-at-home-mum to Hugh Love, 7. Audrey met her husband Andrew, 54, a Product Manager in a medical software company, through a mutual friend in Singapore.
Giving birth in Dubai: Hugh was born in Dubai, U.A.E. Due to a short cervix, mine was labelled a high-risk pregnancy and I had to have a cervical cerclage. Of course that wasn’t a full-proof measure so we needed a hospital with an excellent Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. All the private hospitals didn’t offer that. Only the government hospital, Al Wasl Hospital, did.
The upside was that the cost of delivering a baby was cheaper. The downside was that I didn’t have a regular obgyn; I had to see any doctor who was available on the day of my appointment. However, I was able to reserve a private room for recovery after delivery, on a first-come-first-served basis.
I was scheduled to have my cerclage removed at 38 weeks but Hugh decided to grace us with his presence at 35 weeks! Since my cervix was very dilated, the doctor couldn’t locate the cerclage. To prevent my cervix from tearing, she decided to do an emergency C-Section. Because men weren’t allowed in the delivery room, Andrew had to wait outside.
As luck would have it, the private rooms were all occupied so I was placed in a room with three other new mums. It was fine but the symphony of baby cries woke Hugh up very often.
The nurses were like military officers, commanding you to feed the baby or express milk, wash the baby, and so on. I was terrified of them! Plus, no one could pronounce Hugh’s name properly; he was either “Huge” or “Hi” or “Hug”.
Finally, since Hugh was born during Ramadan, all my visitors weren’t allowed to consume anything, and the cafes downstairs were closed.
Then and now: We moved to Australia in June 2010. Andrew’s company offered him a position in New South Wales so it was a good opportunity to be near his mum and his siblings. When we first arrived, I hardly ran into a fellow Asian, let alone a Singaporean. Most Asians were living in Sydney, which is about 87 km south of where we are. These days, I see many more Asian faces. We chose to live here as we wanted to be in-between Andrew’s workplace in Sydney, and his family in Newcastle (90 km north of us).
Life in Wyoming, NSW: Wyoming has all the amenities we require: several supermarkets within a 5 km radius, and an area across our house with a swimming complex, gymnasium, and a karate school, all of which Hugh attends.
His school is 10 km away and next to a huge shopping complex that has two supermarkets (Coles and Woolworths), three hyper markets (Target, Big W and Kmart), a cinema, an ice-skating rink, a public library, more than 10 restaurants, and over 50 retail stores. So there’s no real need to travel to Sydney often. I return once or twice annually to Singapore. My mum flies over every year, and my brother and his family meet us once or twice annually somewhere on the globe.
Parenting in Australia: It seems like parents are more relaxed with their kids here. They let them run around in parks in their bare feet, and get dirty. I can’t believe how parents can let their kids walk around in bare feet, even in the malls and when it’s in the middle of winter! Booties? What are they? I haven’t seen a single baby wear them!
Parents here are also very patient. Punishment doesn’t happen until after probably three to five warnings. I don’t hear many scream or yell at their kids like I do in Singapore. They also teach the children independence at a very young age, letting them do most things themselves.
Most people are very friendly. Drivers are patient on the roads too. Retail staff are always greeting customers and chatting with seniors. They will also accompany you to an item if you need help locating it, instead of just pointing in the general direction of where it is. Young children also tend to interact with other children and adults a lot. Consequently, they are not shy at all.
Making friends: I feel that it’s easy to make friends with other parents when you have children. You meet at the playground or park and can easily strike up a conversation. Some of my good friends were made that way. Others are mums of Hugh’s classmates. We help each other out with school pick-ups and emergency childcare.
The biggest adjustment: It has to be living in a big house with a huge backyard and a pool! I used to be able to clean my whole apartment within two hours but now I need to split the days between the living room and the bedrooms, the kitchen and the bathrooms, and a couple of days for the backyard and the pool area.
Differences in childcare and schooling, compared to Singapore: Hugh is currently in a private Adventist school. Children start school at approximately 6 years of age. They do Kindergarten, Year 1-6 in Primary, Year 7-10 in High School, and Year 11 & 12 in College. How is it different? Hugh is in Year 3 and so far… We can complete the whole week’s homework in one day!
• Public school is free
• Private school uniforms cost a lot! (Eg. $30 for a shirt, $76 for a sports jacket, $35 for a hat, $9 for a pair of socks, and $66-79 for a school bag)
• Learning through play is emphasised
• Second language isn’t offered till high school
Work-life balance: There’s very little “overtime”. People generally go home on time. Shops close early (about 5.30-6 pm) so most people are home for dinner. I don’t hear of people working long hours and many have the whole weekend off to spend with their families.
(See also: Singaporean Mums Abroad: Sweden & China)
Favourite family-friendly places in Sydney:
i) Treetops Adventure Park, Wyong — adults and kids get to climb obstacles and test out balancing skills. There are areas for picnics after.
ii) Gourmet Pizza Kitchen at Erina Fair Shopping Centre — great pizzas and pastas at reasonable prices. Kids get to play with dough while they wait for their meals. There’s a playground nearby so you can dine alfresco while watching the kids play.
iii) Henry Kendall Cottage & Historical Museum — Has exhibits of items from the past, like drink bottles, typewriters, and telephones. There are picnic tables on the grounds as well.
iv) Reptile Park (requires entrance fee) — A zoo with wallabies, wombats, dingoes, snakes, crocodiles. and insects. There are daily educational talks about these marsupials and reptiles, and how to handle the deadly Funnel Web Spider if you encounter one. Huge playground and picnic area.
v) Unima Beach park (FOC) — Has a children’s playground, and bike and skating paths. Large area for kids to run around.
What Audrey misses most about Singapore: Hawker food and more hawker food! I attempted to cook some on my own but was not too successful.
The best thing about living in Wyoming: No traffic!
Are you a Singaporean mum abroad? Would you like to share your experiences? Or do you have a friend who would? Just email <firstname.lastname@example.org>, we’d love to hear from you :)