SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

March 2013

Singaporean Mum Abroad: Not All Fun and Play

We were the perfect Singaporean family: one child, two incomes, car, condo, all that jazz. But we decided to give all that up when we were given an opportunity to move to Perth.

Which Singaporean hasn’t been to Perth and loved it? It has lovely weather, vast space, no crowds and well, affordable housing and cheap cars. It’s the perfect place to raise a family, with plenty of kid-friendly facilities and amenities. Plus, it’s only a five hour flight away.
So we went. We left our family, friends and familiar creature comforts. In Perth, I decided to be a stay-at-home mum in order to spend more time with my (then) two year old. With the husband at work, we settled into a basic comfortable daily routine which consisted of lots of play for him, while I did the housework, grocery shopping and cooking – which I’d been very inept at.

Back home in Singapore, there was no shortage of hawker centres and coffeeshops, and eating out was cheap. But in Perth, a basic dish at a food court would cost at least A$10 (approximately S$13). So it was out of necessity and for the sake of survival that one would cook. If you don’t cook, you don’t eat.

A few months into our move, I was pregnant. Nine months later I gave birth to another boy, in Perth. I was then faced with being a stay-at-home mum with two kids, one of whom was still a newborn. Fortunately, my mother and my sister came over for two months to help. After that, I braced myself.

Andri was now three years old. But there wasn’t any daily pre-school or nursery that I could send him to. Daycare, at $60 to $80 per day, was expensive. So I enrolled him in a kindergarten programme for two hours, once a week.

I figured that was better than nothing. I was looking after an active three-year-old and a baby, with no help or support from family and friends. There were no domestic helpers or ‘tingkat’ food catering. Of course there were professional cleaning services, but they were expensive. Also, being in a foreign country, I didn’t feel safe letting a stranger into my house. So it was kids, housework, and cooking, day in and day out.

On good days, I’d haul the kids into the car and go to the playground or the beach, or treat us to lunch out. Thankfully, my husband works decent hours. He’s home by five every day, helps out with the kids, and even does the cooking most of the time.

But there were some days when I felt that I was just going through the motions like a robot, just making sure that everyone’s basic necessities were met – bathed, clothed, fed and so on.

I was too tired to do quality activities with Andri and the house was in a constant state of mess. On bad days, I was a mess. I missed working. I missed my family and some really good friends. I hated being at home with the kids 24/7. I hated that I felt guilty about it. I hated being tired all the time.

Sometimes I feel that mums in Singapore have it all. Career, domestic helpers, caregivers, support from family and friends. Overseas, you have none of that. But you do your best to cope with what you have and what you don’t have.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is to let go. So what if Andri doesn’t want to have his breakfast, he’ll eat when he is hungry. And so what if the house is not 100 per cent pristine all the time? A friend shared this quote: “A good mum has dirty ovens, sticky floors and happy kids”. At the end of the day, kids only need to have their basic needs met to be happy.

As for me, I’m still a struggling stay-at-home mum. And as a family, we’re still struggling to decide if this move is better for us. I guess it’s an ongoing journey and at the expense of sounding cliché, “que sera sera”.

Ex-TV producer Sharynn Sapari is a 37-year-old, stay-at-home mum in denial. She has two sons, Andri, 4 and Ayden, nine months.

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Singaporean Mum Abroad: Not All Fun and Play