Being a mum is a full-time job.
So how do some women juggle a career and kids?
We spoke with three women: Azidah Kamis, who runs a café, Cheryl Neo, a financial consultant and Isnarti Abdullah, a lab manager.
How do they do it? And what do their kids feel about it?
We sit down with these three extraordinary mums and their kids for Mother’s Day.
As the boss of Hajjah Mariam Cafe at Beach Road, Azidah, 46, is in charge of the welfare of her 11 employees.
That means she’s always on call.
“She’s always ‘in the know’,” Azidah’s eldest daughter Hanisah Munis, 22, laughs.
“She’s always on the phone making deals or talking to my aunt Adhana (who co-owns the café). When there’s an issue, I always hear her go, ‘Is there something happening? What’s happening?!’”
Aside from Hanisah, Azidah has four other children and an elderly mother who is on kidney dialysis.
Her next oldest is 21-year-old Hilman, who has autism and battled cancer and depression; Hisyam, 19, and Hazwani, 18, are both poly students and Hazwan is taking PSLEs this year.
If that’s not enough, Azidah vounteers on the executive committee at Ar-Raudah mosque near her home in Bukit Batok, helping to manage staff and collaborate with grassroots and religious organisations.
Azidah laughs when she sees my eyes widen at her to-do list.
“I cannot sit still. I must have a bit of everything – family, business, community – so I see myself as a more balanced person,” she explains with a chuckle.
It’s no surprise that she won The Most Inspiring Women’s award in her estate for International Women’s Day this year.
But she doesn’t let it get to her head. Azidah humbly describes her busy life just as ‘a handful’.
She was a teacher for 15 years before she becoming a business owner in 2014, which she appreciates.
“[Managing a] business works for me because I have more time for my obligations. When I was a teacher, I had less time because we’re mostly needed at school,” she says.
Similar to Azidah, Cheryl Neo, 42, has a flexible working arrangement.
The financial consultant depends on good time management to take care of her two children – Kalen, 12 and Jairus, 8.
I ask Kalen and Jairus to describe what their mum does.
“She controls people’s money!” says Jairus shyly.
Cheryl laughs and corrects her son: “No, I don’t control people’s money. I help my clients have a macro view of their financial standing and help them identify their needs.”
“I don’t know how to say that!” protests Jairus.
As a financial consultant, Cheryl schedules meetings around family commitments, but it isn’t always easy.
“I think [my mum is] hardworking because I always see her going out at night to work, but I get very sad,” says Jairus. “I think it’s too much! I want her to spend more time with me.”
Cheryl explains how she tries to juggle family and work: “I try to keep it to three evenings a week for work. I try to arrange appointments during the day so that I’m at home in the evening, but it’s not easy because my clients work during the day.”
Kalen also misses her mum in the evenings: “I know that she squeezes out time no matter how busy she is but sometimes we just miss her…”
So Cheryl often takes the family out to make up. She says: “We go out every week… rock climbing, picnics, going to the library, studying together… we really go out a lot!”
Spending time with one another
While going on excursions is bonding time for Cheryl’s family, quality time can be found at home too.
Like how Isnarti Abdullah spends most of her time at home with the family.
Her oldest, Iffah Batrisyia, 16 is doing her O levels this year while her second, Ieisha Hanisah, 13, just finished PSLE. Her youngest is Iman Sabreeya, 8, is in Primary 2.
At home, Isnarti has three children, but as a lab manager at A*Star, she manages 30, she jokes.
She works long hours, handling recruitment, project management, finance, logistics, welfare issues… “Like how you run a business, I run a lab,” says Isnarti.
Even though she has a flexible work arrangement where she goes to the lab two or three times a week, she’s working almost constantly, including on weekends.
“I work after hours because my teammates work round the clock. They are the most dedicated team I have been with in my 15 years with A*Star. It’s only fair that I match (their work ethic),” says Isnarti.
Isnarti’s husband, Mohammad Khairudin Jaaffar, is a big help. At any one time, at least one of them is at home with the kids, monitoring their schoolwork and wellbeing. The kids chip in too, taking responsibility for their own things and contributing to house chores.
Neverless, Iffah, Isnarti’s oldest, greatly appreciates the little moments that she gets with her mum between dinner and prayer time.
“During those moments, we can have conversations together. It allows us to catch up and open up with each other much more, so I truly cherish them,” says Iffah.
Grateful for the littlest things
Being a mother is no easy task.
“It’s tough juggling but as mothers we just bite the bullet,” says Isnarti.
Isnarti shared about the challenges of raising her two older daughters when Iffah started suffering from eczema when she was 1.
“I just gave birth to Ieisha and I had to bring Iffah to the skin centre… All the things that we mothers go through, you know, just to make sure that the child is more comfortable,” she recalls.
“There are many instances like that where we mothers sacrifice for our children but we don’t tell them until much later. I’ve been to office with vomit on my clothes!”
It was only during our interview that Iffah and Isnarti could share their thoughts on gratitude and love because nowadays they are too busy to do have such deep conversations!
Saying ‘I love you’
For Cheryl and her kids, saying “I love you” is an everyday occasion.
That’s why Kalen and Jarius don’t like her working in the evenings, because that means they can’t tell her ‘Goodnight, I love you’ in English and Mandarin.
Laughs Cheryl: “Hearing them complain [about me going to work] makes me happy. It makes me feel wanted!”
So these days, Kalen and Jairus would leave their mum little love messages or, like for her birthday recently, plan a treasure hunt (with the help of daddy, of course)!
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Azidah’s children are a little older than Kalen and Jairus but they still remember a happy childhood.
“Being at home together is good enough already. It’s being in the presence of each other,” explains 18-year-old Hazwani, Azidah’s fourth child.
Even though growing up was stressful with Azidah’s humble salary and Hilman’s expensive cancer treatment, Hanisah says that she was encouraged by how her mother never gave up.
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“[Somehow my mother] always spends time with us with puppet shows, pillow forts…even though there were stressful bits, it was a nice childhood,” says Hanisah.
“Don’t you know that having a nice childhood is a rare thing?” she jokes.
Hazwani on the other hand, is just grateful for her mother.
“I appreciate her more for her than what she has done,” says Hazwani. “Every time I’m with her, it just feels like home.”