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Overseas Mamas in the Time of Coronavirus: How Singaporean Families around the World are Coping with Covid-19

overseas mama covid-19 coronavirus quarantine
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life

Overseas Singaporean families share what life has been like under quarantine and the Covid-19 crisis in countries around the world

Nothing could have prepared us for this year’s COVID-19 pandemic. What started as a series of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan, China spread like wildfire across the world. As the world witnesses an unprecedented number of infections and peacetime fatalities in recent memory, flights are grounded and more countries are implementing lockdowns and imposing tough measures from office and school closures to mandatory face masks.

Will life as we know it be forever altered? We know social distancing is here to stay at least for the next 18 to 24 months before the development, production and equitable distribution of viable vaccines can take place. We speak to some of our overseas mamas to find out how they are doing across the world amid the uncertainty.

overseas mama singaporean family sweden angelina ho

Angelina Ho in Älmhult, Sweden

There is no lockdown in Sweden. It is still business as usual but in a cautious way. Kids are in school and I have been working from home. Where we live is surrounded by lakes and forests; it’s a privilege to be close to nature, especially in times like these. We still go about doing the things we want to do – like BBQs by the lake, hiking in the woods and visiting outdoor art exhibitions in the forest – but do it in isolation.

Licia Lee in Rennes, France

My two boys, 7 and 3 years old respectively, spend most of their time engaging in free play in their pyjamas, which means less laundry and more bonding. Home-based learning for the kids is communicated from their teachers via email and to be honest, I don’t get them to do everything and would only select some activities for them to do. We try to make use of what we can find in our recycling bin as I consider art materials non-essential goods in these times. As the days go by, I have learnt to take it easy and be happier.

overseas mama singaporean family germany vivien won

Vivien Won in Koblenz, Germany

In Germany, school closures started in late March but the lockdown measures were fortunately only partial and not like the total lockdowns in France and Italy. Only the states of Bavaria and Saarland took a stricter stance. We could still go about our daily activities like grocery shopping, exercising and being outdoors as a family without having to put on masks. We have to maintain social distancing of course, so we have stopped our weekly dinners at my in-laws’.

The hardest part is having to deal with my 9-year-old’s home-based learning. The school didn’t set up any online classes and apart from one or two YouTube videos and voice messages, parents are expected to take on the supervision and correction of schoolwork. To me, this is the most disappointing revelation of the lockdown — the stark lack of school leadership as I see my friends’ children going through a very different process in Singapore, where teachers are making more effort to adapt to challenging conditions and use unfamiliar technology. This has led to additional stress at home. Children are now expected to learn and perform, but without classroom conditions and teachers’ authority. Parents have to juggle new responsibilities on top of working from home.

For my son, it has been difficult not being able to play with his friends every day or go for football training as all group activities have been cancelled. He watches a lot more TV and he plays regularly with two friends after a discussion between all three sets of parents where we disclosed the number of playmates each child has at this moment.

We are lucky to live in a house with a big garden so it’s a lot more comfortable than being cooped up in a smaller space, as all playgrounds are closed. Retail shops are now allowed to open but everyone has to wear a mask to go shopping in our state. This is not required in some states. What I’m most looking forward to is my next hairdressing appointment! This period has brought a few truths to the fore: I feel grateful for everything that I have, I have to work on being more patient now that I have my child with me 24/7, and this pandemic has brought me closer to my family and friends. I definitely see how important these networks are in maintaining my mental health!

overseas mama singaporean family nellie huang amsterdam

Nellie Huang in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

We have been in self isolation at home in Amsterdam since 19 March. The Dutch government has adopted an “intelligent lockdown” where schools, restaurants, and cafes are shut down but most other establishments are still open. We are advised to stay home and practise social distancing when we are out for daily walks or exercise.

Personally, I have been making the most out of this downtime, homeschooling my daughter and doing fun crafting activities together. We have been cooking together, doing puzzles and learning all about wildlife, geography and space! We also go on daily bike rides and have started growing our own plants. These are things I rarely used to do with my daughter because of my hectic travel schedule. But now, with so much free time, we have found a lot of creative channels to make our time at home fun and enjoyable.

On the professional front, I have also been working on projects I never had time for. I have been working on my new book and also recently started an online map store specialising in unique custom maps. I do miss traveling, but this pandemic has taught me to enjoy the little things in life.

overseas mama singaporean family jolene sng ong houston usa

Jolene Sng-Ong in Houston, USA

Most non-essential businesses remain closed even though the state of Texas is starting to reopen some businesses in phases and with limitations. A mask order is in place, and social distancing is still highly recommended. All our schools have been closed since we returned from spring break in March and will remain closed till the end of our school year (May/June). We’ve been keeping ourselves busy with homeschooling. I am so grateful that our teachers and school district have worked really hard to provide us with so many resources. We are also taking this opportunity to slow down, spending lots of quality time together as a family. We have game nights, we bake together and even had a sushi-making day recently. We’re also really fortunate to have a backyard and a pool.

overseas mama singaporean family phoebe charn paris france
Phoebe Charn in Paris, France

I’m so used to travelling and moving around that the first couple of weeks were kind of uncomfortable for me, but I’m glad to say I’m getting the hang of staying put at home. Since the lockdown, we have adapted to our new routine at home and time passes very quickly. We do not watch the news on TV because we do not want to be affected by it. It’s a good time for family bonding and a good time to do some self-reflection. These days, when I am feeling negative, I look at what I can be grateful for in this situation and it changes my perspective immediately. Worrying about tomorrow is not living in the present so every day, I note down in my journal little moments of joy or small victories, even the very insignificant ones!

overseas mama singaporean family new zealand christine ng

Christine Ng in Christchurch, New Zealand

We are doing fine here in Christchurch. New Zealand went into level 4 lockdown on 26 March. School closed on 23 March after the government announced that afternoon that the nation would go into lockdown in 48 hours. Everything was shut – only supermarkets and dairy stores could remain open. I guess drastic times call for drastic measures. We are now at level 3 since 28 April. Not quite out of the woods yet, the government here is still asking everyone to continue with social distancing and remain at home if possible. More shops are allowed to open, but most of the shopping has to be done online.

Just this week, we finally managed to go out for a cycle around our neighbourhood and bought bubble tea on the way home… such bliss haha! I think the initial weeks of lockdown were the toughest with huge adjustments for the whole family. My boys are loving every bit of the lockdown though, since it means more screen time and more time to play with each other. On the whole, we are coping well. This lockdown has given my family more time to bond and we are learning to slow down, enjoy, and appreciate life.

Michele Rajic in Shanghai, China

My family went through three different lockdowns. Our story began in Shanghai towards the end of January. As the virus spread in China, Shanghai authorities started implementing restrictions and it was during the Chinese New Year period that we were advised to stay at home. So we stocked up on supplies and did not go out at all for a week. The frustrating thing in the early days of the virus was that there was so little information to go by. All we knew was that Wuhan was on lockdown and since my husband works for the US government, we heard that the US government might move all families out of China. 

My husband and I decided that if the Authorised Departure order came, meaning voluntary evacuations, then the kids and I would stay with him in Shanghai. But one day after we received the Authorised Departure order, the US government escalated it to Ordered Departure, which means everyone under 21 years old has to return to the US. We had less than 12 hours to depart as flights were scarce. I got on the plane with three kids, heading to my in-laws’ in California. When we arrived in San Francisco, we spent 14 days in voluntary quarantine. After 14 days, I took the kids on a few day trips to Carmel, Pebble Bay and Monterey, where we went to the beach and also spent some time in nature.

Mid-March, we moved back to Washington, DC, our home city in the US. After moving there, the general situation in the US went from bad to worse. It was ironic that we could have been safer in China than in the US now. We have been in one form of lockdown after another since we arrived in DC with restrictions on movement at first and finally the full stay-at-home order. Since then, the kids have not been able to go out so I have spent a great deal of my time trying to figure out how to keep them engaged and entertained.

While my older son has been attending school online, my two other children needed activities to keep them busy and occupied. We have done lots of craft activities and I go out once a week to get supplies. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy by facilitating mask donations from China to the frontliners here in the US, and also helping to support our Singaporean restaurants in Shanghai. I have not seen my husband since we were evacuated on 3 February and we do not know when we will be reunited again. Although we video call each other as much as we can, it still does not change the fact that the kids miss their father… and I miss my husband.

overseas mama singaporean family pakistan syahirah anwar

Syahirah Anwar in Islamabad, Pakistan

Currently the situation in Pakistan isn’t too great, but so far the government has managed to keep it from going out of control in comparison to Europe and the US. COVID-19 infection and death rates in Islamabad are still relatively low compared to the other cities and lockdown measures have been in place since March. It has been over two months now that my kids have not left the house (like literally not at all!). I myself have only gone out twice in these two months for a grocery run and a doctor’s appointment. It is tough but I have been keeping myself and the girls busy with activities (luckily we had stocked up on art supplies), story time, baking and cooking! It is definitely challenging wearing so many hats to fill different roles each day, but we are trying to stay sane and remain grateful for all we have because there are many others who are truly struggling with this situation.

Lead image courtesy of Licia Lee

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