This month’s That Mama is Blithe and Merry jewellery designer and Work-at-Home-Mom of two Joanna Wee
Mother of two Joanna Wee is living the dream: she initially gave up a job in corporate communications to focus on raising her daughter Tiffany (now 5), but the pull of her love for jewellery making was too strong to ignore. Fast forward five years (and the addition of daughter Elisha, now 2) and she balances childcare (she doesn’t have a helper, but gets some support from her own mama) with running her gorgeous jewellery line Blithe and Merry full-time from home! We loved reading Joanna’s wonderfully down-to-earth advice; in regard to launching her business right after the birth of her first child, she tells us: “I realised that I’m an ‘all or nothing’ person. If I wanted to really get back into the swing of things, I had to jump back into it completely.” Read on for some more practical tips about following your dreams, mamas!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m the founder and designer of Blithe & Merry, a local jewellery label with the mission to make women happy through well-designed and well-made jewellery. We use genuine leather as the main medium for our designs because there’s so much potential to go big and bold while keeping the end product light in weight, which is crucial for feeling comfortable in our hot weather.
I’m also the main caregiver to my two daughters – Tiffany, who turns 5 in December, and Elisha, who just turned 2 in February – and I run our household on my own. My husband, Kai Urn, is an engineer with ST Engineering Land Systems, and we celebrate 6 years of marriage this year!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Before we had Tiffany, I worked in various Corporate Communications positions at the National Skin Centre, ST Kinetics, ST Marine, and the Health Sciences Authority. At that time, my jewellery business was my side hustle; I started making jewellery when I was studying in university and had kept on doing so through the years purely out of passion for the craft.
I’d always known that I was going to leave the corporate world when I had a child — it was something my husband and I discussed and decided on together before we planned for a family. I wasn’t sure then whether I would continue with my jewellery business because I wanted to concentrate on our baby. As it turned out, I had a threatened miscarriage during my first trimester due to a hectic period at work, and my gynae told me to rest more. So I resigned from my job in order to fully rest and just focus on growing a healthy baby. With very little to do at home, I decided to work full-time on my business and rebranded my label.
After Tiffany was born, I knew that Blithe & Merry was something that I really wanted to make work, regardless of how busy and tired I would be caring for her and running our household; it was so much a part of me. I dived further head on into the business and haven’t looked back since!
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
Oh my, it took me a long time to get back on track — not just with Blithe & Merry, but with life in general. At first I tried baby steps, just doing something from my pre-baby routine for a short while each day, but it didn’t work. Then I realised that I’m an “all or nothing” person. If I wanted to really get back into the swing of things, I had to jump back into it completely. So I drew up a timetable for myself and followed it strictly, and it worked!
How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
I steal pockets of time throughout the day to do something for myself, like a short workout, reading a few pages of a novel, watching TV, and working. Designing, crafting, and being creative really makes me feel like I’m me, and not just Tiffany and Elisha’s mum.
How has having a child changed the way you define work?
Pre-baby, work was just about earning money. I had only mild interest and no passion for what I was doing in the corporate world.
After having kids, work, to me, is about leaving a legacy for my daughters. I want to show them that it is possible to stay home with their children and spend quality time with them and have a career at the same time. Also, I want to show them that, with hard work and passion, they can build a successful business (still working on this).
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
For Blithe & Merry, I always plan the next month’s schedule before I reach the end of the current month – social media postings, design deadlines, production deadlines, collection launches, events etc – whatever can be planned and penned down is in my calendar so that I have as complete a schedule as possible.
On the home front, because I don’t have a helper and I’m the main caregiver to Tiffany and Elisha, my mum is a godsend. She comes over once a week to babysit the girls so that I can run errands. Other than that, closing both eyes to messy tables and floors (par for the course when you have young children) and one-pot meals and freezer meals are great ways to save time, too!
I wish I had more time for…
Reading and baking. I love reading fiction, especially thrillers, and used to be able to finish an entire novel in a day. Now, if I’m lucky, it takes me weeks to finish one novel. Otherwise, I’ll start on a book and never get past the first 10 pages. I also used to bake quite often before we had kids and I really enjoyed trying out new cookie and cake recipes.
I always feel saner after….
An outing with my girlfriends, most of whom are at the same stage of their lives as me. OR a date with my husband. OR a Caramel Macchiato Frappucino from Starbucks.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
I lived in Bedok my whole life and only moved to Jurong West four years ago, so I’m still discovering new things that I like about this area. It’s been exciting seeing the new shopping centres, schools and other community facilities popping up here and knowing that they are accessible to me.
I also like that there are many farms like the Hay Dairies Goat Farm, Farmart, Qian Hu Fish Farm etc, which are a short drive away from us – we’ve brought the girls there a couple of times and they still love it every time!
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
Picnicking at Gardens by the Bay – the girls love it there because Tiffany loves to scoot around on her scooter and Elisha is starting to show interest in scooting too; or they’ll both play ball together. Also, playing with sand at East Coast Park. I say playing with sand because all they do is dig holes with their sand castle tools, pour seawater in, put in some sand, and repeat the whole process. It was a little puzzling to my husband and me in the beginning but they really enjoyed it, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it?
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
Can I say McDonald’s? Seriously, Tiffany and Elisha only need their McNuggets and French fries to be happy. Also, we don’t bring them to restaurants often.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
We don’t have a particular country that we like to go. We prefer to explore different countries each time, kid-friendly or not, so we just plan our itinerary around the girls’ nap times.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Go to bed together. My husband and I did this every night when we first got married; it enabled us to chat about our day at our workplaces and to connect a bit more with each other before falling asleep. Now, this is even more important to us because we are so busy with our own responsibilities in the day, and in the evening, we are busy with Tiffany and Elisha until their bedtime. Going to bed together helps us to feel emotional intimacy and adds to our love tank.
Favourite date night restaurants?
The Carving Board, a little café housed in a coffee shop at one of the HDB blocks in Jurong East. They serve a really mean pork loin steak which I order every single time we visit.
Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?
People always say it takes a village to raise a child and it’s true! Find a few people – family, friends, relatives, nannies – whom you trust and who are willing to take your children for a while in times of emergencies. Working mums don’t have many days of childcare leave in a year, and chances are you’ll need to activate someone on your list more often than you like.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
“Put your marriage first.” When we focus on having a loving relationship with each other first, we create a harmonious and loving environment for our children to grow in. Plus, we set an example for what the girls to expect from their own marriages in future.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Baby developmental milestones that you read about online or hear from others are just guides; they are not set in stone. It’s okay if your child hits his/her milestones later than what is stated; enjoy them at their current stage. I spent the first year of Tiffany’s life looking forward to her hitting the next milestone and the next again – I never fully enjoyed her at each stage and I really regretted that.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Being patient. I have a really short fuse and am super impatient – not exactly traits of a good mother! I also wish I were better at doing home activities with Tiffany and Elisha. So far, we’ve only done finger-painting, playing with waterbeads and colouring. I really need to look for more stuff to do with them!
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Before the girls go to bed, we all spend some time together reading stories, singing kids’ songs and just chatting about anything they want to talk about. Our time together here is always full of laughter and joy.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
New designs and marketing strategies for my jewellery label, Blithe & Merry, and wondering if I’ve forgotten anything school-related for Tiffany. Oh, and what to cook/have for dinner the following day!
My favourite moment of the day is…
When I’m showering Tiffany and Elisha. It’s my one-on-one time with each of them and I get to talk to Tiffany about what’s happening in her school. Another favourite moment is when I finally get to go to bed at night – bliss!
Thank you so much to Joanna and her girls for their time! And thanks to the always fabulous Sabrina Sikora Photography for the absolutely gorgeous snaps!