As told by Selene Goh, 43, full-time educator, to ELLE Singapore: I have three kids, a 6-year-old boy Elliott, and a pair of boy-girl twins, Edith and Everett, who are turning 3 years old in June. The twins have home-based learning at 9am which really just involves dancing, story-telling and singing….Fun stuff. Elliott has his sessions at 10.45am. I am a full-time educator which means that on many weekdays, I have online classes to conduct. Wow, where do I begin to describe how different life has become!
There have been days where I have a 9am to 12pm class and my husband is on conference calls for almost the entire day, and I have to set up the Zoom calls for the kids in a hurry before my own class starts at 9am. Thankfully, we have a capable helper who helps to oversee the children when both parents are tied up with work. It is not ideal, but these are extraordinary times and we just have to go with the flow.
The mental load on working mums has increased many times over because on top of my own work, I now have to remember when they have homework to submit, what homework to submit, whether there are parent-teacher meetings. In a word, it’s exhausting. There is also the planning of our meals so that our helper gets a break from cooking. Then, there is nap time for the kids. They usually take an afternoon nap and if I have lessons to conduct that takes place in the middle of it, it gets extremely challenging because I am not there to put them down for the nap — and the husband is still on those 10,000 conference calls all day, everyday.
Everett has also suddenly become really attached to me. I suspect that this is because of the drastic change in routines, as toddlers thrive on routine.
He doesn’t really allow me out of his sight and I have to take my shower in record time just so that he does not scream the house down. I have also taken to sleeping with the kids in their room just so that he feels more assured; he was waking up at 4am in tears and looking for me in my room.
There have been so many incidents when my children have really tested my patience. A particular one remains etched in my memory. It was in the evening after dinner, and it had been a pretty good day and all seemed to be well. I asked them nicely in a gentle tone to please put away their toys and pack up the living room, which now looked like a tornado had swept through it. They ignored me and continued to play. I repeated myself many times and finally, I blew my top. I am not proud of this but I threw their toys across the floor while screaming at the top of my voice to pack up their toys now. They moved really quickly after that.
Did I feel like the world’s worst mother after? Of course. But it also made me realise that I am human after all, and when the juggling of roles get too much, I become Scary Exhausted Mum.
That said, there are also sweet, tender moments. Their teacher got the kids to fold a paper flower for their mums because it is Mother’s Day this Sunday. Elliott was very enthusiastic about it and presented it to me after he was done. It was only a paper flower, but it brought tears to my eyes because it feels nice to be appreciated.
The only time I get to carve out for myself is when the kids are asleep, and I collapse onto my own bed. Even when it’s already 10pm, I still need to scroll through Instagram and Facebook mindlessly, or watch brainless, romantic flicks on Netflix because honestly, my brain can’t deal with complicated plot lines. I have also developed a love for plants during this circuit breaker period and will spend some time checking my plants out — just to make sure that they’re still alive and not dead.
I have really come to realise, once again, that children will always see their mum as a safe harbour. They come to me when they’re scared, or when they need comforting. I have had to hug my youngest boy in the middle of an online class because he just needed a hug from mum, and working from home during these times made me glad that I was able to do that. But this also means that my kids are also at their worst around me and on weekdays, it is very hard to remain calm and patient.
As much as it is exhausting balancing the roles of an educator as well as a mum, I do enjoy the fact that my kids are home with me. During regular days, I only see them on the way to school and when I pick them up in the evenings. Family also means that even if you don’t like each other very much (due to work and general life stress), we are still family and will work together to ride out tough times.
For Mother’s Day in the past, my kids would bring home craft work from school and the husband will take all the mums — myself, my mother and my mother-in-law — out for a nice meal. I foresee the occasion to resemble any regular day this year, now that we cannot head out for a nice meal.
But what I really, really want, and can’t get right now, is a strong, tui na-style full body massage. The sort that irons out all the tight knots and kinks in the body, because mine feels wrecked!
A big bunch of flowers would be nice too, with a little handmade card to say: “We appreciate all that you do, mum”. Because truly, a mother’s work is never done and much of it is unseen.