Amanda Lim, American fitness coach and mum of two, chats about navigating different cultural norms (like doing confinement and shaving her babies’ heads) – plus why she asks herself ‘is this my hill to die on’?
Our ‘That Mama’ this month is Amanda Lim, an American mum of two and fitness expert who has lived in Singapore since 2015. We chat to Amanda about meeting her Singaporean husband and how she has been welcomed into his Chinese Singaporean family. The good parts, the ‘big-family feel of CNY’, her doting inlaws, the Chinese food, and the more challenging parts – picking battles with different cultural norms and expectancies, shaving her babies’ heads at the 100-day mark, and her trepidation of the pressures of the local education system which her husband struggled with himself. Read on for Amanda’s interview and her wise words (I especially love her ‘surrendering’ coping strategy)!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in the Chicago, IL suburbs – though I lived for 16 years in L.A. before moving to Singapore in 2015, so I consider California “home.” My husband Tyler Lim is a born-and-bred Singaporean and we have two kids, Louise (28 months) and Arch (9 months).
What do you do for a living?
I am a fitness & nutrition coach @coachamandalim and own a wellness consulting firm called Peak Health. My husband is a family & sports medicine physician and owns two GP clinics (Intemedical Kovan & Intemedical Potong Pasir).
Tell us something quirky about yourself!
I have ten tattoos and already have the design for my eleventh in the works – when they say it’s addictive, it’s true!
How did you meet your husband?
We met through mutual friends – nothing too exciting, but sparks definitely flew from that very first meet.
What has it been like assimilating into a Chinese Singaporean family?
I’ve been lucky to have been assimilated into probably the most welcoming – though still very traditional – Chinese Singaporean family. My MIL and FIL have always been supportive and kind, even if we don’t always see directly eye-to-eye.
My first Chinese New Year was definitely one example of trial-by-fire assimilation; I had NO IDEA about the commitments of multiple-house visitations, the copious and overwhelming food expectations, and in our case, the 4-hour traffic jam (both ways!) waiting for us on the Singapore-Malaysia border – not to mention the fact that none of the relatives we visited spoke English. That said, I have come to love the big-family feel of CNY and look forward to it every year now.
Happily, I enjoy most Chinese food (chicken feet, braised pig organs, and oily mala soup are notable exceptions), and I’ve loved learning about and practising certain Chinese traditions, including the herbal soups and teas during my postpartum confinement period, walking with my kids and their lanterns under the moonlight during the Mid-Autumn festival, and enjoying red-dyed eggs and ang ku kueh for my kids’ one-month birthdays.
What is your parenting philosophy?
We both grew up, in a lot of ways, similarly – middle class families, one sibling, and lots of outdoor playtime and sports. Where we differ is definitely on our memories of, and thus evaluation of, formal education – my husband had a hard time in the highly competitive, rigorous and often unforgiving Singapore school system, whereas I loved school (my mom was a teacher!) and consider my educational journey one of the highlights of my childhood.
That said, when it comes to an overarching parenting philosophy, both of us agree that family comes first (we are keeping our daughter at home to bond with her little brother, for example, rather than rushing her to preschool, movement and nutrition are constantly top priority (we get our kids outdoors every single day to run, cycle, or swim), and sleep is the system that makes the whole house function (we sleep trained our kids from very young and now they give us 12 hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet every night!).
Did you do the traditional confinement period after giving birth and was this expected of you?
I did elements of confinement after both my pregnancies, though the common theme was that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t!) actually stay “confined” for too long. Despite leaving the house for walks every day after coming home from the hospital, with both kids, I used the herbal baths, drank the herbal soups, sipped the proper teas, and ate a traditional diet rich in iron, ginger, and green vegetables. I also did a combination of TCM and Jamu styles of postnatal massage, as well as binding, after both births and I attribute a great deal of my fast recovery to the internal and external practices of confinement.
My first confinement nanny did not speak English, scolded me for not wearing socks in the house, and gave lactation massages so rough-and-tumble I thought my neighbours would hear my (involuntary!) cries of pain during her visits. But to be fair – I never had mastitis and I always had ample supply, so I guess I can’t argue with her methods!
Are your parents-in-law very involved with the kids?
My parents-in-law are amazingly involved – they come over nearly every afternoon to relieve us and our helper of some of the duties of taking care of small kids, while also speaking exclusively in Chinese to the kids (both Mandarin and Hokkien, my husband’s dialect), which is invaluable to us. My own parents, though they live in California, also join us for 2-4 months per year to spend time with the kiddos. We are truly blessed with help and support!
Accommodating the different ways of parenting over the generations can be tough, it must be even more complicated navigating different cultures! Any areas where you have had to compromise?
I remember saying, before our first child was born and after a lifelong career in nutrition, that “no baby of mine would be raised on rice porridge.” Oh, how naive I was! Turns out that both my kids love traditional rice porridge (though I do still try to doctor it up a bit with protein and vegetables), and it gives my MIL such joy to cook it for them that I backed down on that one.
The sleep training was definitely a foreign concept, especially when my parents-in-law were over during (short!) periods of hearing my daughter “cry it out.” I had to stop my MIL from going into her room a couple of times, but after seeing the results of the process, they were converted – and by my second baby, there was no further discussion on the topic.
The big one – and the one that brought actual tears to my eyes – was the fact that we were expected to shave both our kids’ heads at their 100-day birthdays. We did! It was heartbreaking with Louise, but I tried to shift my mindset with Arch, reframing it as a fun cultural memory rather than a devastating setback of hair growth – and that helped (a bit).
Any tips for others in this area?
My big tip for navigating the culture clash is to ask yourself: is this my hill to die on? Rice porridge fills their bellies. The hair will grow back. If the thing your family-in-law is asking you to do isn’t compromising your main parenting philosophy or causing your kids actual harm – let it go. You’ll be happier and live in a more harmonious household once you do.
We hear you did exclusive pumping for your babies? Tell us about this decision?
I had full intentions of nursing, but once Louise was born, I realised quickly that it wasn’t for me. Despite having no information about pumping – I didn’t even own a pump! – I got deep into the EP (exclusive pumping) community via Facebook and Instagram and carved out a pump schedule and system that worked for us.
When Arch arrived, it was a no brainer – I knew what I had to do to build and sustain supply, I had two freezers on the ready to store milk, and I executed an EP schedule that made those first few months a (relative) breeze.
If I can offer one piece of advice for moms who are struggling to nurse, but want to provide the valuable nutrition of breastmilk to their babies: don’t be afraid to start exclusively pumping, no matter what stage of the BF journey you’re in! Remember that pumping is still breastfeeding – you’re feeding your milk from your breast. It’s also a great way to share the labour of feeding with others in the household, give yourself the freedom to detach a bit from your baby so that you can take care of your recovery, and build up a supply stash to feed your baby even after you’ve decided to wean.
Did you do baby-led weaning or purees for your babies?
Again, an expectations-versus-reality situation: I started Louise on BLW and very quickly realised that the time commitment, mess, and preparation needs were a bit outside what I could manage – so we switched to a mixture of BLW techniques (such as finger foods), purees, and porridge, and it worked beautifully for us. She’s now a toddler who, though she doesn’t each much, eats a little bit of everything, and that’s great for now. Arch is following the same path, mixing finger foods with purees and porridge, and is a hearty and increasingly independent eater himself.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
When I got pregnant with my daughter and was suffering horrible morning sickness, I was still trying to do everything to the exact level (work, exercise, meals, social life) I did before I was pregnant – and I was exhausted. A client of mine, during a workout session, offered the following advice: “surrender.” It was so simple and yet so profound – it encompassed everything from being kind to myself, to listening to my body, to being grateful for the present moment, to giving myself permission to take a break – all in that one word. Whenever the going gets tough these days and my blood pressure starts to rise (toddler tantrums, sibling fights, screaming car rides, or any the rest of it), I collect my thoughts, take a deep breath, and simply surrender to that moment. It works.
With your children being half American half Singaporean Chinese, do you have concerns about them experiencing racism (if you were to move back to the States) and how are you dealing with this?
We don’t have any plans to move back to the USA, but we may move overseas in the future, and I think that whenever you become an outsider in a country that has a dominant race or culture, you will experience some level of racism. Our kids are still very young, but we are an actively anti-racist family, making friends and colleagues from all races and cultures, refusing to stay quiet when certain jokes or incidents happen, and choosing not to participate in reinforcing race-specific standards of beauty or size. In this way, we plan to keep educating our kids about their roles in a global community and equipping them to combat incidences of racism in their own lives.
Your husband has experience of local school while you went to school in the US. Have you had discussions on how you will help your kids cope with the academic rigours of local school?
This is a tough one – and while we’ve had lots of conversations about it, I know that I won’t really be able to comment until our kids are actively in that system. That said, I will not sit idly by if my kids are suffering from pressures and norms that don’t line up with the values of balance and well-roundedness that we prioritise in our family. We value sportsmanship, movement, nature, and kindness more than scholarship, rote academic skills, classroom attendance or specific grades. But because I loved my time in school, and excelling there gave me a great deal of self-confidence and affirmation, I hope also to encourage in my kids an intrinsic love of learning, no matter what that looks like for them as children and into their adult lives.
Do you manage to have any ‘me time’ and what do you do for this if so?
My “me time” is basically all “we time” with my husband – we work in the same building, exercise together every day, and will always choose an outing together with our kids (or a date night!) over doing separate activities. I do have “me time” in the sense of seeing my girlfriends for dinner catch-ups or the occasional spa day, but to be fair, those are few and far between with two small kids (save for playdates, which we all know aren’t exactly “me time,” either).
Do you have any tips for other parents for keeping the romance alive?
We are lucky to live in Singapore where we have an amazing helper (and two local in-laws) on the ready for childcare six days per week – it allows us the freedom to have a weekly date night, enjoy a quick lunch together after a workout, or simply feel more present when we’re together knowing the kids are well taken care of. Setting aside time each week to figure out exactly when that date night/meal will be – yes, we actually schedule our dates ahead of time – takes the guesswork out of it and ensures we’ll be able to secure a reservation or movie tickets or whatever before the busy week gets away from us.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Right now, we are probably GoCycling’s #1 customers – we take the kids on cycling trips at least twice a week, and it’s easier for us to rent bikes in different parts of the island (some faves are Punggol Waterway park, Changi Beach park, and West Coast Pier) and explore different playgrounds, restaurants, and scenic adventures as we go.
On a daily basis, we bathe the kids together, read them a story together, and then my husband and I read a guided meditation together after the kids go down at bedtime. This little ritual takes only about 5 minutes and connects us to each other and to our personal and professional goals as a couple, in those first precious minutes of quiet time.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
cooking. My daughter once remarked that our home’s kitchen is “aunty Marlyn’s kitchen” (my helper) and honestly…she’s not wrong.
I wish I had more time for…
getting ready for those aforementioned date nights. I always have big dreams of doing my hair and makeup and nine times out of ten, I’m walking out the door in a ponytail and sneakers just so we can make it on time.
I always feel saner after…
a solid workout. What can I say, I’m a trainer!
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
whether or not we’ll have another kid. We hope that we can, but we are also grateful for the happy, healthy family we have.
My favourite moment of the day is…
waking up my kids, just before sunrise. I love hearing the first words out of their mouths in the morning, as it tells me what they’ve been dreaming and thinking about all night. They’re also so cute and sweet in their little footy pajamas that I can’t help but start the day with a smile. 🙂
Thank you for a lovely chat and some great tips Amanda!