A dear friend once told me many years ago, that the thought of being a mother scared her somewhat. After all, between running her own marketing and communications business, and helming one of the biggest fashion events in the region for the last decade, motherhood seemed like a far-flung concept in her busy, globe-trotting life.
Who would have thought that fast forward to today, not only is she an accomplished entrepreneur in her own right, with a dozen businesses under her belt, she is also a dedicated mother of two toddlers who travel with her every other month. She even finds time to blog about their travel escapades and experiences and is a social media powerhouse to boot.
I have known Tjin Lee as a friend, a colleague, and as a business owner for over 16 years but today, I go behind the pen to discover Tjin Lee, the mother.
Dolores Au: You were an entrepreneur before you became a mother. How has motherhood changed your perspective about work and life, in general?
Tjin Lee: Motherhood was a game-changer, it completely transformed everything I thought I knew about work and life. It also became a huge inspiration and catalyst for all the things that were to come, such as the founding of CRIB society and Trehaus.
CRIB started over a year ago and has over 200 members to date. It is a not-for-profit social enterprise which aims to empowers women through entrepreneurship — with a core value that one doesn’t only need to be a full-time stay at home mother or a full-time working mother — both are great choices, but there are also alternatives for those who are not content with only two options, and that is to find a balance between work and family through being an entrepreneur. Through this ethos, also came about the birth of my family-oriented co-working business Trehaus, which is the first of its kind in Asia, offering flexible child-minding in a co-working office space where parents can work, spend time with their kids and find that much-needed work-life balance.
Has motherhood altered you as a person? Your values, life’s goals, professional ethos etc? And how do these changes manifest itself in your day-to-day decision making?
Success does not make you happy, being happy is what success means to me. I don’t chase materials things, I seek experiences and adventures. I am happiest with my sons, but I also realise that being an empowered, working mother makes me happy, and that it is also important. It is important for one to be happy, and not to lose your sense of self in all that we juggle in life. I hope that I can be a role model to my boys, and teach them to respect and love strong women. Perhaps that is one of the most important things you can do for your children at the end of it all, give them perspective and a good set of values, teach them grit and tenacity, kindness and compassion, courage and integrity. If my sons grow up to be individuals that have these traits, I would have achieved my life’s goal, all the while pursuing my own professional dreams – what could be better?
How do you juggle work, family time, time to bond with the boys, time for the husband and still have some precious ‘me time?’ Is having ‘me time’ important to you?
I do have a very strong sense of self, but it integrates my family, my work and my passions — e.g for travel, photography, chasing new experiences etc. I think we spend too much time dissecting work life balance, when what it really is — is that we all have 24 hours in a day, and we all make that work. You can really over-think this whole self and sacrifice thing, but at the end of the day, we are wives, mothers, daughters, (and some bosses)…. The entire sum of it all is what makes one’s self. I find it impossible to separate it into neat little compartments. I really am happiest with my sense of self when I am with my boys — but I would not also hesitate to take an afternoon off for a spa day with the girls — don’t think so much about it, just do it!
Tyler and Jake are such adorable bubs, evident by the legions of fans on social media. But what we see are their public persona. Can you share with us a little bit more about what they are like as individuals and their relationship as brothers?
Tyler is the mischievous, funny one, a happy, lovable rascal who spends a lot of time on imaginative play, he loves cars and airplanes and his favourite song is ‘Sugar How You get So Fly’. Jake is a serious little man. At just 10 months old, he has a strong mind of his own, can be impatient and is not afraid to tell you what he wants. They have very different personalities.
As a mother who has never subscribed to pre-conceived notions of textbook parenting styles myself, I love how you encourage Tyler to embrace activities and cultures that break the boundaries of gender stereotyping. You have sent him to ballet classes and one of his favourite bag is a pink trolley luggage from Disney Land! Is this a conscious effort on your part to bring him up with an open world view?
It wasn’t a conscious effort at all. Tyler chose the pink bag himself when we were in HK Disneyland, he pounced on it and got extremely attached, refusing to let go of it. My weakness perhaps is that I am an indulgent mother (!), I bought it for him. As for the ballet classes, the doctor said it would be good for his feet, which are turned inward at the moment. He hasn’t shown much interest in sports, but he seemed to have a blast in ballet class. Children aren’t born thinking pink is for girls and blue Is for boys, I feel it is important to raise them as open-minded individuals, with as few of our pre-conceived notions foisted on them, to let them find themselves as much as possible.
If you could have one wish each for the boys, what would it be?
That they grow to be happy, adventures, good and kind people. That they love and respect women (but that they always love Mummy best!)
And as a successful mumpreneur that other women look up to, what precious nuggets of advice would you give to new mothers who are thinking of starting their own business in the hope of spending more time bringing up baby?
Start by understanding your own entrepreneurship profile. At CRIB, we believe that you need ABCs to succeed as a an entrepreneur (As are Angels, Bs are Business Managers and Cs are Creatives). You will need all three to succeed. If you are a Creative, find a good B (business manager). If you are a B, find a good Creative partner to complement you. And never forget you will need enough cash flow and money to fund the startup. Many business fail, not because they were not good or viable, but because they ran into cash flow problems, it kills many startups. Check into www.crib.com.sg to take the ABC Entrepreneurship quiz if you aren’t sure which you are, but most people kind of already know which is their strength! Lastly, once you have started that little business and you are looking for a like-minded community — check out Trehaus! As they say, it can take a village to raise a child.
A spice-loving bibliophile who can’t live without her books, her chillies and her heels. Queen to her King and mother to five cubs. Known to have adamantium claws that are as sharp as her tongue and temper with a soft spot for sake, Japanese cuisine and Husband Au – in that order.