Love comes in many different forms. This month, we celebrate the most important women in our lives – our mothers.
Mums come in all shapes and sizes, all styles and forms. There’s the hipster mum, the cool mum, the naggy mum, the uber-strict mum, the helicopter mum who won’t leave you alone, and even the oh-so-famous Tiger mum, who fills her kids’ schedules with everything from violin classes, to art lessons, to character enrichment courses…
This Mother’s Day, we speak to four different women from diverse backgrounds, but with one thing in common – undeniable strength.
You Can Stand Under My Umbrella
Self-sacrificial. That’s how Hock Chuan describes his wife, Lee Siew Mui. And it couldn’t be more apt for the 57-year-old, who gave up her career to look after her two children – Janel (26) and Joel (21).
The full-time mum has been fearless when it comes to looking after Joel, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 6. Like all mothers, she wants to give him every opportunity for him to succeed. She strongly believes that to do so, he needs to learn to be independent. Together, they’ve tried out different forms of occupational therapy – Joel has always been in mainstream schools and has thrived because of Siew Mui’s foresight to engage therapists for him since young. She also taught him how to take public transport on his own, and just like any other teenager, he would take the bus to school every day.
This was a huge stepping stone for Joel. After completing Autism Resource Centre’s (ARC) Employability and Employment (E2C) training programme, he now works for the National Library Board as a Quality Checker. Being employed has created meaning in Joel’s life, and Siew Mui has noticed a huge change in him. He is much calmer now, and he has grown into an independent working adult. For Joel, his job is so much more than just earning a salary. Being able to now support his parents and himself is a huge confidence boost.
I want to work for NLB forever because I love this job. I want to earn money and support my parents when they are old.
Quality Checker at the National Library Board
Motherhood has been completely different from what Siew Mui expected. Letting go of her child has not been easy, but the journey she’s been on with Joel – the satisfaction of guiding him and watching him grow and gain independence over the years – has been priceless.
This Mother’s Day, give the gift of independence to a child with autism, and help more be as independent as Joel by supporting ARC’s E2C training programme.
It Takes A Village
Dian Syahidah Bte Rapi’ee was only 14 when she had her first child, Qoid. To complicate matters, he was born premature, at only 24 weeks. Back then, Dian didn’t know how to look after herself, let alone a premature baby.
Fast forward 6 years, and Dian is now a mother of two (soon-to-be 3!) children, happily married, and has landed her dream job as a make-up artist. It wasn’t an easy journey getting to where Dian is today, and she couldn’t have done it without the support of the people around her. “Even strangers, when I told them my baby was premature, would give me advice on how to look after him”.
But the biggest support she received was from her Big Sisters and family at Beautiful People, a volunteer movement that builds mentoring relationships that change lives. Dian was one of the pioneer members of their Baby Reader programme, where she was supposed to learn how to read to her children using flashcards. The programme evolved into something bigger, and she learnt so much more than just reading from it. It became a support group that saw Dian through the difficult times of motherhood, giving her advice, ears and a shoulder when she and her children needed it. Beyond supporting her as a mother, they also encouraged her to follow her dreams of being a make-up artist. In particular, Meena, her Big Sister and mentor, has seen Dian grow as a parent, and as her own person. She’s been there every step of the way, walking with her as she learnt to be a parent, being in the labour suite for her second child, and more recently, attending her wedding.
Looking at Dian today, with her two very charming and energetic children, she oozes confidence and patience. There’s no second-guessing when it comes to looking after them; she knows what she’s doing.
She may have taken a different route to get to where she is now, but with the support of a group of very special mentor mums, she made it to her happy ending. They were, and still are, her village.
One Step At A Time
After Siti’s* divorce, she turned to bad company. She abused and trafficked drugs, but was eventually caught. It was a life-changing moment when she was handcuffed in front of her son. She was convicted and imprisoned for 3 years, during which her son, Ahmad* (then only 8 years old), had to be sent to a children’s home. During his time there, he ran away more than 20 times. What broke her heart the most was that he would always run to places she used to take him to, a sign of how much he missed and needed his mum.
That was a turning point for Siti, and since then, she’s worked hard to get her life back on track. The most important part for her was gaining back Ahmad’s love and trust. By the time she was released, he had grown from a boy to a young teenager. Their relationship was a bit strained, but she persevered, adapting to his new lifestyle. Today, they have a strong relationship, and Ahmad loves helping her cook and look after her new baby.
It’s clear to Siti now, that family is the most important thing. She is now happily married and has just given birth to another son. Her relationship with her own parents is also a lot better. Most of all, she’s learnt to treasure every moment she has with her children. Even after a long day at work, her favourite thing to do is to listen to her son’s stories.
I wasted a lot of time doing drugs and in prison. I would rather have spent the time with Ahmad. He’s more wonderful than drugs could ever be.
SITIMother of two
Siti managed to turn her life around because it came from within. With a little help and support from her mentors at Beautiful People, who never once looked down on her, “I stopped being such a negative person.” She’s learnt not only to look at things more positively, but more importantly, to trust herself. Once regained her self-belief, it became a lot easier for her to rebuild her life again.
“I fell a lot of times after I was released, but I managed to stand up again because of Beautiful People – because of their support, motivation and encouragement. Where I am today, is partly because of them”.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Inspired by what Beautiful People do? You can help more mothers like Dian and Siti get back on their feet by making a donation to their Families for Families programme!
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Son
When asked what a typical day is like for Lai Peng, 40, she is quick to reply that “no one day is the same”. She juggles three part-time jobs, so that she can provide for her four-year-old son, Kendre, who has Down Syndrome.
Being a single, working mum is undeniably tough. After her husband passed away, Lai Peng suddenly found herself with a huge amount of responsibility and no one to share it with. But with the help of Daughters Of Tomorrow, a charity that empowers underprivileged women to build financially independent and resilient families, she managed to find part-time employment. It gave her the flexibility to work on alternate days, so that she could still spend time with Kendre.
Me-time is a luxury she can barely afford. “Time is not on my side. It’s hard to juggle spending time with Kendre, his therapy, and my own hobbies.” But Lai Peng has managed to find some balance, by involving him in some of her interests. She takes him to libraries on her days off, and he now shares her love for reading. When given a choice between his toys or a book, Kendre will always choose a book. Editor’s note: we saw this first hand during our photoshoot! We entertained him by reading (and eventually, singing) nursery rhymes while Lai Peng worked the camera.
As he gets older and more independent, she hopes to be able to pursue more of her own interests. Because of Kendre, she would like to attend courses and get certified in early childhood development or how to look after children with special needs – something that would be useful for both mother and son.
With such long working hours, the best part of Lai Peng’s day is, of course, coming home. Not because it means she can catch a break (do you ever get a break from parenting?), but because Kendre always welcomes her home with a huge hug. He might not be verbal yet, but to Lai Peng, it’s a gesture that speaks louder than words.
The flowers featured in this article were specially curated by our floral expert and friend, Katherine, and were chosen based on each mother’s story.
Special thanks to our volunteer photographer, @elevated_reform, who not only patiently shot the photos in this story, but also kept the energetic kids entertained!